Annan stunned at Indonesia devastation - East Valley Tribune: News

Annan stunned at Indonesia devastation

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Posted: Friday, January 7, 2005 12:14 pm | Updated: 8:35 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the devastation on tsunami-battered Sumatra island Friday as the worst he's ever seen, and authorities raised Indonesia's death toll by 7,000, bringing the overall total killed by the disaster to more than 147,000.

View tsunami devastation slideshow

Twelve days after the tsunami hit, Annan and World Bank President James Wolfensohn flew over the island's west coast and later drove around the shattered coastal town of Meulaboh, where families picked through piles of rubble six feet high.

"I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile," a shaken Annan told reporters. "You wonder where are the people? What has happened to them?"

Hardest hit was Sumatra, which was closest to the epicenter of the 9.0 magnitude quake, and where officials on Friday counted about 7,000 additional bodies - mostly in Meulaboh, which had been cut off by washed-out roads - raising Indonesia's toll to 101,318.

India's death toll also rose to 10,001 Friday after officials reported recovery of 301 bodies in the isolated Andaman and Nicobar islands and nine others on India's southern coast.

That raised the overall death toll from the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami to 147,841.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who toured the Thai holiday destination of Phuket on Friday, also said that 391 missing Britons were likely dead. Forty-nine Britons have been confirmed dead.

He called the effort to identify thousands of bodies one of the biggest international forensic operations in history.

Indonesian military spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki said the sharp increase was largely due to volunteers helping to recover bodies. "There was an incredible spike in the death toll," Basuki said. "A good deal of it was from Meulaboh."

With tens of thousands still missing and threatened by disease from the powerful waves that hit 11 nations, the United Nations said the death toll would keep climbing.

"I think we have to be aware that very, very many of the victims have been swept away and many, many will not reappear," U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said in New York. "The 150,000 dead figure is a very low figure. It will be much bigger."

Security concerns for foreign aid workers emerged. The South Korean government asked its aid workers, some of them affiliated with Christian groups, not to engage in religious activities that could provoke Islamic radicals.

Also, in an apparent sign that American relief agencies want to keep a lower profile, several trucks delivering supplies from U.S. AID removed large banners marking the source of the shipments.

Japan ordered nearly 900 troops to help with relief efforts, instructing ground and naval forces to leave next week for Indonesia and Thailand. Tokyo already has deployed three ships, 40 air force personnel and several teams of medical, rescue and forensics experts.

Annan's visit came after he attended a summit of world leaders in Jakarta on Thursday on how to turn one of history's largest-ever aid packages - nearly $4 billion in pledges - into food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless. Before traveling to Sri Lanka to tour damage there, the U.N. chief urged nations to come up immediately with their promised aid and to break with past practices of pledging much and delivering little.

Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Sri Lanka, where more than 30,000 people died, to inspect tsunami-devastated areas in the south and hold talks on relief efforts.

"I had a chance to witness the destruction firsthand, and only by seeing it on the ground can you really appreciate what it must have been like on that terrible day," he said. "But I am impressed to see people cleaning up, helping their neighbors."

While some areas in Thailand remained scenes of total devastation, other Thai resorts were looking to the future. Cleanup on several beaches was almost complete and tour operators were eager to get back to business.

"It's amazing how fast things have gone back to normal. The Thais have done a brilliant job of organizing disaster efforts and getting things cleaned up," said Peter Elsey, 48, an English tourist who lives in Singapore and owns a house in Phuket.

Tourism officials in Thailand said the disaster has driven hotel occupancy rates in the area down 10 to 20 percent amid a wave of cancellations.

Elsewhere in Thailand, officials said more than 500 migrant workers were being deported for looting tsunami-damaged buildings. Maj. Vachara Sangvorayothin said an "army of Burmese workers are on a stealing spree."

In Indonesia, some aid officials were reviewing security precautions after the arrival of some 80 members of a radical Islamic group. The group, Laskar Mujahidin, accused of taking part in Muslim-Christian fighting in another part of Indonesia between 1999 and 2001, has set up a relief camp - but said it was only there to help.

"We are not here to fight, we've come to help. We've got no problem with the foreigners as long as they have no hidden agenda," said group leader Salman Alfarizi.

Indonesian military spokesman Ahmad Yani Basuki said the group was not seen as a threat. "There is no need to keep a special eye on them," he said.

While armed guards have been posted at a U.N. compound in Banda Aceh, officials said they were part of normal security for such a relief operation. But a U.S. official in Aceh said American forces helping the relief effort were aware of Laskar Mujahidin's presence and were keeping a close eye on it.

India's finance minister, meanwhile, said his country was open to accepting international aid, a departure from the country's long-held stance of refusing outside help.

Minister P. Chidambaram said India is fully capable of providing short-term emergency aid to its citizens but needs help with the more expensive reconstruction stage. Almost 10,000 people died from the floods in India.

Muslims in Banda Aceh attended Friday prayers at the main mosque for the first time since it was used as a morgue in the aftermath of the tsunami. Worshippers sat cross-legged on the marble floor as the preacher said the disaster may have been punishment from Allah for "forgetting him and his teachings."

The smell of rotting corpses, thousands of which are still uncollected, wafted through the five-domed Baituraman mosque, which dates to 1614. Thousands of troops and volunteers from around Indonesia have been working to clean up the grounds.

"We Muslims are gathered here today to show the country and the world that we still exist," preacher Din Syamsuddin told around 2,000 worshippers.

Many of the mosques that withstood the earthquake and tsunami in the staunchly Islamic province on the northern tip of Sumatra Island now serve as refugee camps and emergency health clinics.

In Hong Kong, a group of pop stars and celebrities - including action hero Jet Li - appeared at a seven-hour benefit concert Friday televised by about 40 broadcasters. Organizers said they raised about $2.4 million for the victims.

Li recounted onstage how he, his two daughters and their maid had to run for their lives on a Maldives beach when the tsunami hit.

"The waves came really quickly and formed swirls. I carried my daughters and pulled my maid and ran. I'd only walked three steps when I realized that the water had already come up to my waist," the star of "Lethal Weapon 4" said.

"When I looked back, everything I saw minutes ago was gone. Everything was surrounded by the ocean. The houses collapsed. I continued to run but the water was already up to my mouth," he said, adding that they eventually made it back to their hotel.

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