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Authorities hold out little hope for thousands listed as missing



Published: Sat, January 8, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



An accurate count is difficult because of poor records and the vast impact.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- The official death toll from the Asian tsunami climbed dramatically to 147,000 Friday and authorities held out little hope for tens of thousands still missing. Flying over miles of ravaged shoreline, a shaken U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked: "You wonder where are the people? What has happened to them?

Indonesia said searchers found 7,118 more bodies in the shattered coastal town of Meulaboh, where families picked through piles of rubble. Indian officials raised that country's toll by 310, most of them killed in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where 5,600 were missing and presumed dead.

Sweden, Britain and France warned they feared that nearly 1,100 of their citizens missing in the disaster were dead.

Nearly two weeks after huge waves struck 11 countries in Asia and Africa, the lists of missing were still rising. Sri Lanka, with more than 30,000 known dead, added 528 names to its ranks of missing, for a total of 4,984. Indonesia, the worst hit country, estimates 101,318 dead and 10,070 missing.

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.

The jump in official figures for dead and missing came a day after a United Nations official predicted the final toll would be far higher. "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.

Annan returned from a helicopter flight Friday over the western coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island unsettled by the devastation.

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

Powell and others

Secretary of State Colin 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.

People flying over Sumatra have reported a veritable skeleton coast, with bodies still floating at sea. Bleached concrete pads are all that is left of substantial structures, scattered corrugated iron roofs crumpled like paper the only evidence of flimsier houses. A few intact mosques rise eerily from wasteland.

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 daunting."

In a bleak announcement, Sweden's government said Friday that 637 missing Swedes were feared dead, along with 52 known dead. It had been reporting more than 1,900 missing, but drew a distinction Friday between those known to be missing and some 1,300 Swedes simply unaccounted for.

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.

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

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.

Thousands of aid workers are struggling to come up with an accurate count of deaths, but poor birth records, a lack of census data and the sheer expanse of destruction make it difficult. Bodies are decomposing and difficult to identify.

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

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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