The 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck at 5:54 a.m. as many residents of Yogyakarta, located about 250 miles east of the capital Jakarta, slept. Thousands of panicked people ran into the streets, some fearing a tsunami would strike, reported the Associated Press.
The earthquake's epicenter was 50 miles south of the Mount Merapi volcano, which then spewed hot clouds and sent debris cascading two miles down its western flank. Residents in the volcano's danger zone were evacuated.
"Buildings shook like pendulums, I thought it was Armageddon," said cab driver Ngadiman, who was working when the quake struck, according to Reuters.
Hospitals were overwhelmed with victims and makeshift morgues were set up. The wards and corridors of Sarjito hospital in Yogyakarta were crammed with the wounded.
Farmer Karjiman from Bantul lay in a corridor with his injured wife and 3-year-old daughter.
"My daughter here was buried under the rubble. We got her out, but we could not save my other daughter. ... It was just horrible," he said, reported Reuters.
The death toll reached 3,068 by late Saturday night, said Social Affairs Ministry official Sopar Jaya. Bantul town, located about 15 miles south of Yogyakarta, was hardest hit, accounting for more than two-thirds of the fatalities, the official said, according to the AP.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the army to help evacuate victims and arrived in the Central Java province Saturday afternoon with a team of Cabinet ministers to oversee rescue operations.
Doctors were coming into the region from other parts of the country. Japan said it was sending a seven-person medical team and financial aid, the Foreign Ministry said.
Neighboring Malaysia said it will send a 56-member search team, doctors and medical supplies, and the European Commission said it would release up to $3.8 million in emergency aid.
According to U.S. Embassy spokesman Max Kwak, the United States was donating $100,000 for search-and-rescue efforts and emergency care.
The Italian government prepared a plane loaded with 27 tons of tents, blankets, water purifiers, electric generators and other aid, the Foreign Ministry said.
The World Program sent a plane with 2 tons of medicine and eight truckloads of fortified noodles and biscuits, while UNICEF said it was donating 9,000 tarpaulins and 2,000 tents for the homeless, reported the AP.
Yogyakarta is 1,390 miles southeast of Aceh province, where 131,000 people died in a December 2004 tsunami triggered by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean.