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Tsunami Death Toll Surpasses 120,000


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Tsunami Death Toll Surpasses 120,000






BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) - The first U.S. military cargo plane arrived with supplies for this devastated town on Friday, and the country's health minister warned that Indonesia's death toll alone could reach 100,000 as the scope of devastation around Banda Aceh became apparent.


Planes dropped food into isolated towns, and boxes of aid piled up at the airports as global donations poured into the region. But some villagers complained of hunger, and hospitals ran low on medicine, highlighting the difficulties workers had in delivering supplies.


The death toll from the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunamis it spawned rose to more than 120,000 on Friday, including about 80,000 deaths in Indonesia, though Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supadi said the toll there could hit 100,000.


While residents in Banda Aceh, capital of the hardest hit area, struggled to dispose of rotting corpses, officials found that nearby coastal villages had largely vanished under the sea's fury.


In the fishing village of Meulaboh, whole swaths of land were stripped bare. About a quarter of the town's 40,000 people were feared dead, but only a fraction of that number had been found.


``It is very difficult to predict the final toll,'' said Dody Budiatman, coordinator of relief efforts for the government in Jakarta. ``We could search in small boats, but considering the numbers, it would be very difficult.''


With the fear of disease looming, medical workers scrambled to establish a foothold. Ade Bachtiar, a volunteer nurse from Jakarta, treated patients at an impromptu clinic set up in an abandoned souvenir shop.


``Yesterday, we could only stay open for about two hours due to the lack of electricity,'' he said. ``Medicine is running out, especially antiseptics.''


Aid officials estimated as much as 60 percent of Banda Aceh was destroyed in the quake and tsunami. ``It will take at least two weeks for us to have the people and equipment we need here,'' said Aigor Lacomba, of a consortium of European aid groups.


That time line is not likely to sit well with refugees like Darmidi, who has lived on the streets of Banda Aceh amid dozens of stinking corpses since Sunday.


``How are we going to live?'' the 43-year old fisherman asked, as his wife washed their 2-year-old son in a bucket. ``We have nothing anymore.''


Still, the $500 million international relief effort was making headway. The first of many expected U.S. C-130 cargo planes arrived at the regional airport, and Indonesia said supplies had arrived from 18 countries.


A Thai navy air base used by U.S. B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War was turned into the hub for the U.S. military-led relief effort for Sri Lanka and India, while a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group from Hong Kong was expected to reach the shores of Sumatra island as early as Saturday.


Singapore opened up the Southeast Asian city-state's naval and air forces bases so that donors could drop off supplies there.


Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean said airports in Sumatra were overstretched by the influx of aid, citing information he'd received from Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono.


Sunday's earthquake spawned tsunamis that crashed into coastlines up to 3,000 miles away and killed people in 11 Asian and African nations. Sri Lanka reported 28,500 deaths and India more than 7,300. A total of more than 400 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.


Thailand's government announced its toll had doubled to more than 4,500 people - including 2,230 foreigners - and hopes faded survivors would be found. Teams of forensic experts packed bodies in dry ice.


The World Bank pledged $250 million for the victims, bringing the total amount of promised international relief money to close to half a billion dollars, U.N. officials said. Countries continued to increase their pledges: China on Friday said it would give $60 million. Australia upped its pledge by $20 million to $46.7 million. The Netherlands pledged $36.5 million.


The Asian Development Bank said it would make available at least $325 million to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives for reconstruction work. An emergency meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was called for Jan. 6 to discuss the disaster response.


Relatives in Thailand refused to give up hope for missing family members. Canadian tourist Dan Kwan was still hunting for his parents.


``At this point we hope against hope that they are still alive somewhere,'' he said, adding it was possible they were unconscious.


Rescue and identification teams from a dozen countries focused their efforts on a 20-mile stretch of beach in Phang Nga province, north of the internationally popular resort island of Phuket, where Interior Minister Bhokin Balakula said 3,500 bodies were recovered.


On the Thai resort island of Phuket, people scoured photos pinned to notice boards of the dead and missing in scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York.


Up to 5 million people around the tsunami-struck Indian Ocean do not have access to the basics they need to stay alive, the U.N. World Health Organization said.


``Unless the necessary funds are urgently mobilized and coordinated in the field we could see as many fatalities from diseases as we have seen from the actual disaster itself,'' said Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations at WHO.






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