Saturday, January 8, 2005

NEW YORK — Relief workers discovered another 7,000 bodies in Indonesia yesterday as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan flew over areas that remained beyond the reach of rescuers nearly two weeks after being flattened by a killer earthquake and resultant tsunami.

“I must admit, I have never seen such utter destruction, mile after mile,” a shaken Mr. Annan told reporters. “And you wonder, where are the people, what happened to them?”

Indonesia said rescuers had discovered 7,118 more bodies in Meulaboh, a destroyed fishing town on Sumatra’s west coast that took the brunt of the Dec. 26 disaster.

The official death toll from nearly a dozen nations on the rim of the Indian Ocean rose to 147,000 with an estimated 5 million people left homeless.

Military transports continued bringing tons of aid to airports in Malaysia and Thailand, to be reloaded into smaller planes destined for hard-hit areas such as Sri Lanka and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Sumatra, where as many as 200 villages have not been reached by relief workers, is “the heart of the crisis,” said Kevin Kennedy of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Eleven nations, led by the United States, have deployed military assets in the region, supplying ships, planes, soldiers and civil engineers.

However, airlifting bulky supplies is too inefficient, given the volume of aid needed.

“A Black Hawk helicopter carries a ton of food,” Mr. Kennedy said, “but what we really need are roads” for 10-ton and 20-ton trucks.

“Many areas, particularly in the western coast of Sumatra, are still unreachable by land,” he said. “The military would be called on to render assistance in building and repairing bridges and roads and so forth, using the local capacities as much as possible.”

More than 400 international nongovernmental organizations and U.N.-related agencies are in the region, according to OCHA.

Also, more than $4 billion has been pledged from countries and international organizations.

The world’s wealthiest nations agreed yesterday to a temporary suspension of payments on $272 billion in debt owed by affected nations.

Nearly two weeks after huge waves struck, Sri Lanka, with more than 30,000 known dead, added 528 names to its list of missing for a total of 4,984.

Indonesia, the worst-hit country, put its latest toll at 101,318 dead and 10,070 missing.

Indian officials said their death toll of 10,001 was determined from a direct count of bodies recovered.

Officials said some people trying to find loved ones were only now reporting them as missing.

“First the people tried to find them among the dead, then went around the hospitals. Now they are coming to us,” said K.G. Wijesiri at Sri Lanka’s National Disaster Management Center.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell toured stricken areas in Sri Lanka and promised long-term American help to rebuild.

“Only by seeing it on the ground can you really appreciate what it must have been like on that terrible day,” he said.

U.S. Navy pilots and crewmen returning to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln after seven hours of nonstop flying struggled to find words to describe the devastation.

“You can’t really explain. There used to be towns and cities there. All the people once had homes, lives,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Wickland of Cumberland, Wis. “Now there is nothing.”

Touring the battered Thai resort of Phuket, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw was similarly moved by the suffering in Thailand, which has 5,291 confirmed deaths and 3,716 missing — many of them vacationing foreigners.

“Bodies are still being washed up and unearthed,” he said. “The scale of the effort still required is truly daunting.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said about 2,100 Americans remain unaccounted for. He said 17 others were confirmed dead and 20 presumed dead.

Sweden’s government said that at least 637 missing Swedes were feared dead, along with 52 known dead.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier issued a similar warning for his country, saying “there is little hope” for 69 missing French citizens. Twenty-two others are known dead.

Mr. Straw said 49 Britons were known dead, but added that his government felt 391 others listed as missing were “very likely” dead.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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