01/19/2005, 00.00
Indonesia

Indonesian tsunami death toll to reach 150,000: official

Tsunami experts: 'Make December 26 an international day of tsunami commemoration".

Banda Aceh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Indonesia's tsunami death toll is likely to soar to 150,000 as the collection of bodies from the rubble in Aceh will carry on for another month, a senior government disaster team official said. "We estimate in the whole of Aceh 150,000 people have become victims of the tsunami," said Haniff Asmara, the secretary of Aceh province's disaster control taskforce who is in charge of body collection.

Mr Asmara said 89,832 bodies had been retrieved since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered the tsunamis that destroyed much of Aceh's west coast on December 26.

Speaking late on Tuesday, Mr Asmara said he expected about another 60,000 bodies to be collected, although the process was proving painfully slow as body collectors worked through enormous amounts of debris.

Indonesia's official death toll is 114,717, according to the social affairs ministry, but government officials said on Tuesday that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had ordered the body count to stop.

"Our director general told us that the president had asked that the dead no longer be counted," a ministry spokeswoman said.

The social affairs ministry put the number of missing as 12,082, while some 603,518 people are listed as displaced.

Mr Asmara said an average of 3,500 corpses were still being collected daily, more than three weeks after the catastrophe. "But it is below our expectation of 5,000 bodies per day," he said.

Gathered in Kobe, Japan, tsunami experts have proposed making December 26 an international day of commemoration, saying the simple idea could be just as effective as a pricey warning system. "If we make this day an international holiday, people will remember what a tsunami is" Harry Yeh, a professor of tsunamis at Oregon State University, said.

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