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Destruction in Indonesia Pushes Tsunami Death Toll Over 114,000

Indonesia’s sharply increased death toll pushed the total number of people killed in the catastrophe to more than 114,000.

The situation in the northern Aceh province of Sumatra continued to worsen as officials reached more villages, many with huge gouges cut into them where the tsunamis struck.

Aid flights have begun dropping food and medical aid into regions of Aceh still cut-off by destroyed roads and thick jungles.

In the provincial capital, flight after flight of international aid landed Thursday. The effort, described by some volunteers and officials on the ground as chaotic, has hit several logistical logjams.

“As you see, there are many planes, but it’s kind of useless because the main problem is fuel. There is no fuel now so how can we distribute the food and supplies,” Hasballah Saad, a volunteer worker and former Indonesian human rights Minister, told Reuters.

International aid officials said that although it has taken several days to organize and dispatch the large-scale relief efforts, the operations were moving forward more quickly now.

“When infrastructure, communications and administrative capacities are destroyed, it takes time for things to get moving,” Arjun Katoch, a senior United Nations disaster response official, told Reuters.

“The international aid effort is now gathering steam pretty well,” he said.

Complicating the effort were widespread rumors in villages already ravaged that new tsunamis triggered by powerful aftershocks could again swamp communities. Tens of thousands of residents fled coasts in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand after warnings were broadcast Thursday.

India issued a tsunami warning at midday, but then hours later the country’s science minister, Kapil Sibal, went on television to calm a startled public

Fears of a new tsunami were “unscientific, hogwash and should be discarded,” Sibal said.

In Thailand, the number of those killed also surged Thursday, when regional authorities issued a new accounting of Thais and foreigners killed when tsunamis slammed into the beaches of Khao Lak.

According to information gathered and tabulated by Reuters, the death toll in Thailand has now surpassed 4,500, of which nearly half, 2,230, were foreign tourists mainly from Europe.

In Europe, leaders in Germany and Scandinavian countries warned that thousands of their countrymen were likely killed in the disaster, calling on residents to donate to charity to help with the relief effort.

A growing number of European leaders have also endorsed the idea of relieving the debt burden of nations impacted. First proposed Wednesday by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, leaders in France and Italy appeared to back the idea Thursday.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called for an emergency meeting of the Group of Eight so that the developed nations could discuss aid and possible debt reduction following “the worst cataclysm of the modern era.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell continued to meet with embassy officials from the hardest hit nations, echoing President Bush’s comments yesterday that the United States stood ready to help the areas rebuild.

“You can be sure that the president is determined to do what is necessary to deal with this challenge,” he told reporters at the Thai embassy. “We’re working very closely with the international community.”

But American aid efforts did draw the fire of one major newspaper, which labeled the $35 million in pledged aid “a miserly drop in the bucket.”

“Mr. Bush said yesterday that the $35 million we’ve now pledged ‘is only the beginning’ of the United States’ recovery effort,” The New York Times editorialized on Thursday. “Let’s hope that is true, and that this time, our actions will match our promises.”

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