BANDA ACEH, Jan 7: United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan flew over the tsunami-ravaged landscape of Indonesia's Aceh province on Friday and wondered: "Where are the people?" as Jakarta raised its death toll by thousands.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell also expressed shock at the scale of the disaster as he toured another devastated Indian Ocean country, Sri Lanka. As aid workers strove to reach hundreds of thousands of people thought to be stranded in isolated parts of Indonesia's Sumatra island, Jakarta added more than 7,000 deaths to its tsunami toll.

It now stands at 101,318, out of a total of more than 153,000 for the 13 nations affected. "I have never seen such utter destruction, mile after mile. You wonder, where are the people?," Mr Annan told reporters after a helicopter tour with World Bank chief James Wolfensohn over Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra.

A day after a crisis aid summit in Jakarta, Mr Powell toured Sri Lanka's south, where the giant waves that crashed ashore on Dec 26 killed more than 30,000 and reduced coastal towns to piles of rubble.

"The destruction that we saw was significant," he said as he wrapped up his lightning visit. "It was more than just walls that have been knocked down or buildings that have been crushed, but lives that were crushed and snuffed out."

DEATH TOLL WARNING: The United Nations warned on Friday that the fate of tens of thousands was unknown and that the death toll could climb sharply if survivors scrabbling for food and clean water succumbed to dysentery and cholera.

Up to a million people may have lived in Aceh's isolated coastal areas before they were struck by the massive earthquake and its killer waves, UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said.

"I do not think we are even close to having any figures as to how many people have died, how many are missing, how many have been severely affected," he said. Nearly six billion dollars have been pledged by governments, individuals and corporations in an unprecedented global response to the widest-ranging natural calamity in living memory.

Finance ministers from the world's Group of Seven leading industrialized countries said they had struck an agreement to suspend tsunami-hit nations' debt repayments.

ANNAN RECALLS FAILURES: Mr Annan has called on world leaders to honour pledges of aid, citing failures to deliver fully on promised help after previous disasters, such as the earthquake that hit the Iranian city of Bam in Dec 2003.

His helicopter took him over the town of Meulaboh, on Sumatra's west coast, just 150kms from the epicentre of the undersea earthquake that unleashed the tsunami. The United Nations estimates one-third of Meulaboh's 120,000 people were killed when the giant waves ripped through.

The area south of the city remains a black hole. "We have no information at all below Meulaboh. It is a big worry," said Michael Elmquist, UN relief chief in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, adding that satellite photographs showed an "area that used to be land is now sea".

"VILLAGES EXTINCT": "The only way to describe some of the villages is extinct," said US helicopter pilot Scott Cohick after an airdrop to the area. "We drop off food where we are told and we save some to drop off to stragglers."

Hundreds of aid groups from round the world are setting up operations in Banda Aceh, and are providing much of the visible economic activity in the battered city.

The shattered infrastructure has made distributing aid outside the city a huge problem, while a shortage of air traffic controllers and space to park planes is holding up supplies. Hospitals in Banda Aceh are overflowing with sick and injured and not everyone gets a bed. Many are in danger of dying from infected wounds.

Amputations are increasingly the only option; even then patients die, having sacrificed a leg or an arm, due to the massive loss of blood or continued infection. "It's a life or limb decision," said anaesthetist Paul Luckin, an Australian navy lieutenant who has operated on 25 patients in the past six days. -Reuters


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