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Tsunami deaths soar past 212,000


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Tsunami deaths soar past 212,000




Wednesday, January 19, 2005 Posted: 10:34 AM EST (1534 GMT)



JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- The Indonesian Health Ministry said Wednesday that the December 26 earthquake and tsunami killed 166,320 people in Indonesia, jumping the regional death toll for the disaster to 212,611.


The Health Ministry said 6,245 people were still missing.


Dodi Indrasanto, a director at the health ministry's department of health affairs, told Reuters that the new death total reflected the latest reports from the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, which were directly in the path of the killer tsunami spawned by a magnitude 9 earthquake the day after Christmas.


Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking before the health ministry released its latest figures, told a donors conference in Jakarta that the true extent of the catastrophe defied description.


"Perhaps we will never know the exact scale of the human casualties," he said.


Meanwhile in Japan, the U.N. head of emergency relief warned that natural disaster in any of the world's largest cities could set off a catastrophe that could be 100 times worse than the Indian Ocean tsunami.


Speaking on the first day of a disaster prevention conference in the Japanese city of Kobe, Jan Egeland, the U.N. Director of Disaster Relief, said many of the world's megacities, including Tokyo, are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters.


"Perhaps the most frightening prospect would be to have a truly megadisaster in a megacity," he told delegates from 150 nations Tuesday in Kobe, where an earthquake killed nearly 6,500 people a decade ago.


"Then we could have not only a tsunami-style casualty rate as we have seen late last year, but we could see one hundred times that in a worst case."


Megacities are densely concentrated cities, with a population of 10 million or more, and Egeland said time is running short for some of the largest cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.


The five most populated cities in the world are the greater Tokyo area with 35.3 million people, Mexico City with 19 million, New York-Newark with 18.5 million and Bombay and Sao Paulo both with a population of 18.3 million, U.N. figures show.


The five-day conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Kobe quake is also aiming to draw lessons from last month's quake and tsunamis.


Key to the meeting is laying the foundation for an Indian Ocean tsunami early warning system, similar to one set up in the Pacific.


The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has proposed a system in the Indian Ocean -- including offshore detection buoys and a communications center -- that would cost $30 million and go into operation by mid-2006.


Experts say well-placed breakwaters, quake-proof seawalls, detailed hazard maps showing danger areas and well-defined evacuation routes and shelters are also needed, according to The Associated Press.


In Tamil Nadu, the Indian state hit hardest by the tsunamis, more than 8,000 people died. Most of the victims lived along the state's lengthy coastline, and state officials are looking at ways to prevent natural disasters from exacting such a heavy toll in the future.


While deep-sea tsunami sensors and solid sea walls were among the proposals discussed, forest officials have suggested a simpler and cheaper alternative.


India's state government is now planning to plant 3 billion casuarina, coconut and cashew saplings along the entire coast after discovering that villages that survived were protected by forest cover.


The United Nations is also calling for the world's children to be educated in disaster reduction and prevention in the next 10 years.

Three weeks on


As experts talk about how to protect cities and nations against natural disasters, relief workers and militaries are trying to help the survivors and help rebuild communities three weeks after the tsunami struck.


A U.N. travel ban on aid workers in parts of the Indonesian province of Aceh has been lifted.


The United Nations had imposed a 24-hour ban on staff travel to specific regions because of security fears following reports of fighting between government forces and rebels in Aceh.


Indonesia's defense minister said the military is sending 5,000 more soldiers to the region to help with reconstruction efforts.


Sri Lanka is launching an extremely ambitious plan to rebuild parts of the country wiped out in the tsunami disaster.


By some estimates, almost two-thirds of Sri Lanka's coastal region was destroyed, including hundreds of thousands of homes.


The so-called "Rebuilding Nation" program is expected to cost $3.5 billion. It includes plans for constructing new townships, replanning transportation networks, and improving telecommunications infrastructure.




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