Fire Rages Through Part of Tsunami-Hit Banda Aceh

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- Fire raged in this tsunami-battered city Tuesday, with gas cylinders strewn across a debris-strewn area began exploding and firefighters running out of water.

No injuries were reported as the blaze, fed by debris, approached a power generator, raising fears that gas and oil inside might explode. The generator is on a barge that the tsunami washed ashore. Destroyed and battered vehicles in the ruins also caught fire.

Firefighters said they were running out of water. In one area, debris blocked three fire trucks from getting closer than 200 yards to the flames and firefighters dragged dry wood away from the blaze to prevent it from spreading.

About 100 former residents in the area late Tuesday night tried to salvage their belongings and find still-missing relatives. The blaze began about 8 p.m. Monday, said a duty officer at the city fire department, Rusmadi, who like many Indonesians only uses one name.

``We are trying but we had sent our resources all over Aceh to help the cleanup. The blocked roads also make it hard for the trucks and hoses to reach the blaze,'' said Rusmadi, who said no injuries have been reported yet.

Indonesia's Health Ministry, meanwhile, significantly changed the way it tallies deaths from last month's waves, saying it would only count victims who have been buried and that the missing would retain that status for a full year.

The ministry's death toll dropped from about 170,000 to just over 96,000 under the new rules, but at the same time it added substantially to the missing, bringing the combined total of dead and missing from about 180,000 to 220,000. Most of the missing are presumed dead.

Both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the two worst-hit nations, have reported conflicting death toll figures - reflecting both the disaster's enormity and the difficultly of the task.

Sri Lankan officials were still unable to reconcile a discrepancy of more than 7,000 dead, with one ministry saying it has counted 38,195 bodies while another ministry puts the death toll at 30,957. President Chandrika Kumaratunga has been asked to intervene to sort out the problem.

The latest figures put the overall death toll - excluding the missing - across the 11-nation disaster zone at between 143,877 and 178,081.

Indonesia on Tuesday also moved to dispel charges that corrupt officials were siphoning off aid earmarked for tsunami-battered Aceh province, as Southeast Asian nations sought to lure back foreign tourists scared off by the disaster.

Indonesia, one of the world's most graft-ridden nations, said it would publish a monthly list of aid donated for relief operations in Aceh province.

``We will announce every month, on the 26th, the money we receive,'' said Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab. ``We will list down all contributions and where it is going to avoid any suspicion (of graft).''

Small-scale graft has already been reported, with some soldiers and government officials charging relief agencies ``administrative fees'' to escort convoys of trucks in Aceh or to process tents and other equipment arriving at Jakarta's airport, aid workers say.

On Tuesday, the Austrian government set up a $130 million disaster fund to aid victims of the Asia tsunami. The Foreign Ministry was to administer the fund.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said Tuesday that immediate warnings about the threat of infectious diseases following the tsunami helped prevent a major outbreak of cholera or dysentery.

WHO warned that as many people could die from infectious diseases as from the initial impact of the devastating waves due to the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation.

``I think our predictions that there was a potential serious set of health problems were correct. But also I think the way in which all the relief agencies, the national governments and other parts of the international community responded was a reflection of their understanding of the health challenges,'' said WHO crisis coordinator Dr. David Nabarro.

But he warned that psychological trauma among victims was still a major issue for health services to deal with, requiring as much attention as the threat of communicable diseases.

WHO has received reports of an outbreak of dengue fever in Jakarta and increased mosquito breeding in some areas of Indonesia's hard hit Aceh province, which could cause malaria. These two diseases remain a particular threat at this stage after the initial disaster, Nabarro said.

One month after the killer waves ravaged coastlines in the Indian Ocean region, scaring away foreigners at the height of the tourist season, affected nations were trying to find ways to bring them back.

After the tsunami, many European governments, such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, issued advisories to their citizens not to travel to devastated areas in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives. Some of the advisories have since been lifted.

Such warnings might lead to ``the perception that the whole region cannot be visited,'' Malaysian Tourism Minister Leo Michael Toyad said at a two-day conference attended by tourism ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The ministers, who wrap up the meeting in Malaysia later Tuesday, were expected to agree on a wide range of cooperation in tourism, including easing visa restrictions to boost travel by citizens within Southeast Asian countries.