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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 December, 2004, 18:42 GMT
Indonesia toll surpasses 27,000
Victims in Banda Aceh, 27/12/04
Relatives have been trying to identify the dead
Indonesia says the death toll in the country from Sunday's earthquake and sea surges has surpassed 27,000.

"For now we have 27,174 deaths and 1,164 missing," an official at the health ministry told Reuters.

The Indonesian island of Sumatra was closest to the epicentre of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which is the world's worst for 40 years.

Officials said about 10,000 people died in Sumatra's Meulaboh town alone - a quarter of the community.

No contact had been made with the island's north-west coast since the earthquake hit.

It's just unbearable to know that our brothers and sisters in Aceh have to go through this kind of pain
Adelina M, Jakarta, Indonesia

But an e-mail received on Tuesday from Meulaboh spoke of widespread devastation.

The e-mail, released by officials in the capital Jakarta, spoke of food running out, looting, and the prospect of "mass deaths".

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla earlier estimated the toll could reach 25,000 people.

Million homeless

Many of the confirmed dead have been found in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey, who is in Banda Aceh, says the picture is one of total devastation, with bodies lined up for identification, or being taken away to mass graves.

The centre of Banda Aceh has been devastated

"The building of the main mosque is unscathed, but everywhere around are bodies, they haven't been moved yet. There are no communications here, telephone lines are all down, this satellite phone I am talking on is the only available communication," she says.

Almost a million people have been left homeless in Sumatra, many taking refuge on higher ground and in mosques and tents.

Officials have warned of the danger of disease, as bodies lay unburied and hospitals faced the possibility of running out of medicine.

Medicines and emergency supplies have started arriving in Aceh, but the flooding and the region's poor infrastructure will make it difficult to distribute equipment quickly.

The province is also under military rule as the army fights separatist rebels, and the movements of aid agencies and journalists is severely restricted.

Rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) have ordered a ceasefire so aid can be taken to affected areas, while the military has said it is too busy with disaster relief work to hunt rebels.

But as the relief effort picked up speed, the scale of the disaster became apparent.

Many of those killed were children and the elderly, swept away by the surging tides, also known as tsunamis. Witnesses said the retreating waters revealed many bodies hanging in the branches of trees.




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Scenes from Aceh, at the centre of the tsunami



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