BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – More than two weeks after a huge earthquake and tsunami (search) killed 104,000 people in Indonesia's (search) Aceh province, the government is stepping up moves to recover and bury up to 50,000 remaining bodies while forging ahead with construction of shelters for survivors.
Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab said 58,281 bodies had been buried in the shattered region on the northern tip of Sumatra island and some 50,000 more are "scattered" around the region.
Some corpses are still trapped in collapsed buildings and rotting under debris in canals and rivers. Their stench still hangs over some areas of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
Many of those killed have been interred in mass graves and workers are busy every day at the main burial site in Banda Aceh (search), layering dirt and bodies on top of each another.
Shihab said the government was speeding its effort to collect and bury the corpses, putting workers on two shifts.
He said the government was building 24 camps around the province to house those now staying in tent cities. Wooden barrack-style buildings will replace the tents and the new camps will meet U.N. standards for water and sanitation, he said. Officials hope to complete the first of the camps in two to three weeks, Shihab said.
Shihab said 392,000 people in Aceh had been made homeless by the disaster, although the government has previously put that figure at 500,000.
He said no one was starving or unable to get medical care in Banda Aceh but fuel shortages were still slowing deliveries to rural areas. American helicopters have been flying supplies to remote towns.
The government puts Indonesia's death toll at 104,055, and Shihab said that was in line with U.N. estimates of between 80,000 and 130,000 dead. Indonesia was the hardest-hit country in a disaster that killed more than 150,000 across southern Asia and Africa.
Japan's ambassador to Indonesia, Yutaka Iimura, said Monday his country was sending 970 troops, two C-130 transport planes, five helicopters and three naval ships to Aceh. The C-130s were expected to arrive Monday and the rest in two weeks, he said.
Japan has pledged US$500 million (euro376 million) in tsunami aid, making it one of the top contributors to the relief effort.
In Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra reiterated Monday that his government was glad to have technical help from other nations but didn't want their cash.
"Help in the form of technical assistance and support of search-and-rescue equipment and personnel to help us identify the bodies is more than welcome," he said.
"But for the countries who wish to give us financial support, the government does not want to manage such money. So I suggest that the foreign countries who want to help the tsunami victims ... should provide the assistance directly to the victims. For example, if they want to build a school, a hospital or houses in the villages or towns that were severely hit by the tsunami, they can do that," Thaksin told reporters.