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'Our Own Sept. 11'; Australia in State of Shock

Australia was gripped by grief and anger Monday as it struggled to cope with the loss of so many of its sons and daughters in the Bali bombings. 

As the injured survivors continued to arrive home, Parliament closed, church services were held in honor of the dead and plans were laid for a national day of mourning next Sunday. 

There were so many Australians among the dead and injured that hardly a town or village had not been touched. 

While some families waited by their telephones for news, others crowded into airport lounges to meet a fleet of jets carrying the walking wounded and those who simply wanted to leave the Indonesian island. 

There were emotional scenes at the Perth and Sydney airports as hundreds of casualties and other returning holiday-makers arrived, having joined a mass evacuation organized by the Australian airline Qantas and the federal government. 

The story was the same across Australia: there were thousands of grieving and anxious families, many of whom still do not know the fate of their relatives. The Department of Foreign Affairs had 15,000 calls from people desperate for news of a friend or relative. 

By Monday night more than 200 Australians were still unaccounted for and government officials said that it might be several days before the identification process was complete. 

John Howard, the Prime Minister, said that most of the bodies were beyond recognition. 

"It's a hard thing to say, but it has to be said to explain why more information isn't available," he said. 

Many of those flown out of Bali as part of the medical evacuation were later flown to Australian cities for treatment. An emergency-services official said that those able to travel would go to other hospitals, where burns units and casualty departments were under less pressure. 

Len Notaras, the Royal Darwin Hospital medical superintendent, said: "We're looking at full-body burns, which are quite horrendous. In a sense it has been our own September 11; it's a tragedy." 

The waiting ended for some with a telephone call from holiday-makers who had escaped. Brett Patterson called his home in Sydney to say that five young members of his Coogee Dolphines Rugby League team had died. They had been on an end-of-season trip to Bali. 

Peter Blomeley, the club's founder, said that the loss of the young men was devastating. 

"We've lost mates and we've lost friends," he said. 

There was a similar sense of loss in the Western Australia capital of Perth, where seven members of the Kingsley Senior Australian Rules Football Club were reported missing and feared dead. 

Marilyn Stuart, the mother of one of them, knew that there was only a slim chance of finding her son Anthony alive. She said that he had last been seen in the middle of the dance floor. 

"His friends have been looking constantly around the hospitals and today they were going around the morgues to identify the jeweler," she said. 

The despair was matched only by the sense of outrage felt by so many that Australians appear to have been deliberately targeted. Australia is not accustomed to terrorism, but now finds itself in the front line. 

Callers to radio stations sobbed and screamed as they sought an explanation of the terrorists' motive. 

Some accused the Prime Minister of having blood on his hands, suggesting that it was his active support of the Bush administration over Iraq that had provoked the attack. Others insisted that Mr Howard had to stand up to terrorism. 

In truth, the country seems equally divided on Australia's international political stance, although there are many who believe that the country is suffering the consequences of its high profile in the confrontation with Iraq. 

Bruce Haig, a former Australian diplomat, said that the Prime Minister had been too vocal in his support of U.S. threats to attack Iraq and was now paying the price. 

"Our Prime Minister should adopt a much lower profile," he said. 

Monsignor Tony Doherty asked the congregation at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Sydney for prayers. 

"Today the massive face of human tragedy has shown itself in our nation and in our city in a quite unprecedented way," Doherty said. "During these times of desperate uncertainty, when reports of the mayhem that is Kuta are confused and indefinite, we as a group in Sydney gather and pray with those who have members of their families and people they love traveling in Bali." 

Federal Parliament business was cut short as a mark of respect to the victims of the bombings, which Prime Minister Howard described as a barbaric act of mass murder. 

"The 12th of October, 2002, will for the rest of Australian history be counted as a day when evil struck with indiscriminate savagery," he said. 

In a motion expressing Parliament's outrage, Howard said: "The word 'terrorism' is too antiseptic an expression to describe what happened. It's too technical, it's too informal. What happened was barbaric, brutal mass murder without justification." 

Simon Crean, leader of the parliamentary opposition, described the bomb attack as a "calculated brutal act against innocent Australians." 

Bob Carr, the New South Wales Prime Minister, said that he would ask the army to secure potential terrorist targets in Sydney. 

"Terrorism has come demonstrably closer to our shores," he said. 

Australian police and government officials, led by Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister, were due to fly to Bali Monday night to visit the injured and to help the Indonesian investigation.