Clinton to Lead U.N. Tsunami Aid Effort

Former President Clinton (search) became the U.N. point man for post-tsunami reconstruction and Australia's leader visited Indonesia's battered region of Aceh on Wednesday for a firsthand glimpse of the disaster.

No one could better ensure that the world does not forget the needs of countries devastated by the Dec. 26 disaster than Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) said in an announcement early Wednesday in Asia.

Clinton, who said he looked forward to his new role, also was tasked to help resolve conflicts with rebels in the two worst-hit countries — Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

"President Clinton will bring energy, dynamism and focus to the task of sustaining world interest in the vital recovery and reconstruction phase," a U.N. statement said.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard (search) — only the second foreign leader to visit Aceh — surveyed damage by helicopter, visited a field hospital to meet Australian aid workers and discussed Australian-funded relief efforts with Indonesian officials.

"Nothing I have seen on television could capture the extent of the devastation," Howard told reporters after flying the tsunami-battered coast of northern Sumatra.

"Out of this tremendous tragedy, the people and governments of Australia and Indonesia have worked together harmoniously, purposely and in a compassionate way to bring relief," he said.

Referring to Australian forces helping with recovery efforts, Howard said: "We are here when we are needed, and when we are no longer needed we go. We are guests in a foreign country."

The death toll Wednesday ranged from about 158,000 to 178,000 across 11 nations hit by the disaster, reflecting separate agency tolls in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. With estimates of up to 142,000 missing, more than a quarter-million people may have been lost.

Plans moved ahead to install a monitoring system in the Indian Ocean to warn coastal areas of tsunami dangers. The United Nations said it is developing an interim system to serve until there is a full-fledged network, which is not expected until mid-2006.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency and the IOC Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii were working together to provide the Indian Ocean region with information and warnings.

It would be "a first step to prevent a repeat of the horrendous toll" in the Dec. 26 tsunami, the U.N. said in a statement.

New images of the destruction emerged this week, more than a month after the disaster.

A video shot Dec. 26 showed residents floating on a carpet of debris atop torrents of water gushing through Banda Aceh's streets.

The video, made by a local cameraman and obtained by Associated Press Television News, shows people lying on the road as if on a listing ship as the ground is jolted by the magnitude-9 quake. The tape is perhaps the only one to record the earthquake.

The disaster has left many residents of the region jittery. A moderate earthquake of 5.2 magnitude on Indonesia's main island of Java on Wednesday caused panic among residents and cracks to some buildings, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.