- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Rescue workers pulled thousands of additional rotting corpses from the mud and debris of flattened towns along the Sumatran coast yesterday, two weeks after surging walls of water caused unprecedented destruction on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

The death toll in 12 countries passed 150,000, with more than 100,000 of them in Indonesia alone.

Hungry people with haunted expressions were still emerging from isolated villages on Sumatra island.

Overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, aid officials announced plans to feed as many as two million survivors each day for the next six months, focusing particularly on young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

The operation likely would cost $180 million, James Morris, executive director of the World Food Program (WFP), said at a Jakarta press conference.

“Many of the places where we work are remote, detached, and their infrastructure has been dramatically compromised,” Mr. Morris said a day after he visited Aceh with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “We will be distributing food … by trucks, by barges, by ships, by helicopters, by big planes.”

He said the agency has now dispatched enough food in Sri Lanka to help feed 750,000 people there for 15 days.

Jeff Taft-Dick, WFP country director in Sri Lanka, said that was a critical milestone “because there is now enough food around the country to feed everyone who needs it.”

Mr. Morris said the agency was feeding 150,000 people in Indonesia and expected that number to increase to 400,000 within a week and possibly reach as high as a million eventually.

As two Indonesian navy amphibious vessels zoomed ashore in Calang, hundreds of refugees lined up amid the wreckage of boats to unload supplies. Eighty percent of Calang residents were killed by the giant waves. The Indonesian military set up two field hospitals, one with 50 beds, the other with 20.

“The tragedy was terrible, but considering this, the survivors here now are in pretty good shape,” said Steve Wignall, an American who works for Family Health International and was making an assessment with several other aid workers.

In other areas, victims were more vulnerable, though health officials said there were no signs yet of feared epidemics of disease.

Indonesia, which has a reputation as a base for child-trafficking gangs, said yesterday it was monitoring its borders to prevent such smuggling.

As aid poured into a region long troubled by separatist violence, Indonesian soldiers resumed patrols in Aceh province to search for rebels. International aid groups worried that renewed conflict could hamper their work.

Problems persisted in coordinating the humanitarian efforts. Aid groups complained that dignitaries visiting to look at the devastation have choked the tiny main airport in Banda Aceh and hampered distribution of relief supplies. The airport was temporarily shut for the visits of Mr. Annan and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

“It slows things down,” said Maj. Murad Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Tsunami Relief Task Force.

U.S. officials disputed the allegation, saying Mr. Powell’s plane took off immediately after dropping him off Wednesday so it would not be in the way. A delegation of U.S. congressmen traveled to Banda Aceh yesterday. They came by helicopter from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier so they would not disrupt other flights.

Mr. Annan toured a Sri Lankan town where hundreds of shoppers at an outdoor market were swept to their deaths. He reluctantly agreed to a government request to bypass stricken areas controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Tigers, who have fought a 20-year war for Tamil independence from the Sinhalese-dominated south, invited Mr. Annan to tour the northern province. But government officials said they could not guarantee Mr. Annan’s safety.

With volunteers and rescue workers reaching more remote areas, still more dead were found. Indonesian authorities raised their death toll estimate by nearly 3,000 to more than 100,000 and braced for tens of thousands more homeless than at first expected.

Sri Lanka, by contrast, closed scores of refugee camps as people began drifting back to their damaged homes. With 38 more confirmed deaths, the nation’s death toll stood at 30,718.

The World Bank said it will consider significantly boosting its aid, perhaps to as much as $1.5 billion. It already has pledged $175 million in assistance to the 12 countries in Asia and Africa hit by the Dec. 26 disaster, but bank President James Wolfensohn said he was flexible on the amount.

The Sri Lankan government estimates it will need between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion to rebuild.

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