Tsunami toll crosses the 153, 000 mark: • Annan says devastation worst he’s ever seen • 4,000 more bodies pulled out from debris

Agencies

Banda Aceh, January 7:

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the devastation on Indonesia’s tsunami-battered Sumatra island as the worst he’s ever seen, while authorities there pulled 4,000 new bodies from the rubble bringing the confirmed overall death toll to nearly 153,428.

Twelve days after the tsunami hit, Annan and World Bank President James Wolfensohn flew over the island’s west coast in a Singaporean helicopter and then drove to the shattered coastal town of Meulaboh. “I have never seen such utter destruction mile after mile,” a shaken Annan told reporters afterward. “You wonder where are the people? What has happened to them?”

Relief workers were still trying to come to terms with the scale of the December 26 earthquake and killer waves that hit 11 nations. With tens of thousands and still missing and threatened by disease, the UN said the number of dead would keep climbing. “I think we have to be aware that many of the victims have been swept away and many, many will not reappear,” UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said in New York.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Kofi Annan arrived in Sri Lanka, where more than 30,000 people died, to inspect tsunami-devastated areas in the south and hold talks on relief efforts with the government. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who toured the Thai holiday destination of Phuket today, indicated that the number of Britons who died could double from his government’s earlier estimate.

While some areas remained scenes of total devastation, other Thai resorts were looking to the future. Cleanup on several beaches is almost complete and tour operators were eager to get back to business. In Indonesia, some aid officials were reviewing their security precautions after the arrival of some 80 members of a radical Islamic group. The group, Laskar Mujahidin, accused of taking part in Muslim-Christian fighting in another part of Indonesia between 1999 and 2001, has set up a relief camp - but said it was only there to help. “We are not here to fight, we’ve come to help. We’ve got no problem with the foreigners as long as they have no hidden agenda,” said group leader Salman Alfarizi. Meanwhile, the number of people killed was at just over 153,000 today after Indonesia revised down its toll by almost 12,000. Indonesia’s socal affairs ministry’s relief coordination centre said a counting error added thousands of deaths to the country’s toll.

Death toll:

• Indonesia 101,318

• Sri Lanka 30,615

• India 15,684

• Thailand 5,291

• Myanmar 59

• Maldives 82

• Malaysia 68

• Bangladesh 2

• Somalia 298

• Tanzania 10

• Kenya 1

Total: 153,428

Foreign aid issue:

MUMBAI: Departing from India’s long-held stance of refusing outside aid, the finance minister said on Friday the government would consider international assistance for reconstruction of the tsunami-devastated south.

Minister P Chidambaram said the massive scale of the disaster made it necessary for India to consider foreign aid in dealing with long-term rebuilding and rehabilitation.

“India has wrongly been accused of taking an isolationist stand and of not accepting aid,” he said. — AP