A fire was raging in tsunami-stricken Banda Aceh city yesterday, with strong winds fanning the flames across a debris-strewn area spanning at least 1km.
The flames were approaching a power generator, raising fears gas and oil inside the machine may explode. The generator is on a barge that the tsunami washed 3km inland.
Gas cylinders among the ruins of homes were exploding as they caught fire.
Firefighters at the scene said they were running out of water. In one area, debris blocked three fire trucks from getting closer than 200m to the flames and firefighters were dragging dry wood away from the blaze to prevent it from spreading.
No one was known to be living in the area of the blaze, Ulee Lheu, which is part of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. Much of it was flattened by the Dec. 26 tsunami and detritus is stacked about 3m high.
The blaze started Monday night at 8pm, said a duty officer at the city fire department, Rusmadi, who like many Indonesians only uses one name. He speculated it had been caused by local residents burning garbage.
The fire was a further blow to Banda Aceh residents who survived the killer walls of water that killed about 40,000 people in the city.
Ibnu Sabi was looking for family members and attempting to retrieve what he could from his ruined house when the flames forced him back. He said he was angry because even the damaged remnants of his life had been burnt to nothing.
``This makes it harder for me to find my nine family members,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the health ministry said yesterday a total of 228,164 people are dead or missing in the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devasted northern Sumatra.
The ministry's crisis center said 95,992 bodies have been recovered and buried and another 132,172 people were missing.
The health ministry last week raised its death toll from the disaster to 173,981 by adding some 70,000 missing and presumed dead to its figure for confirmed deaths.
The crisis center said many of the 132,172 missing are presumed to be dead, four weeks after the magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami it produced. However, an undetermined number of them may be alive and living in temporary camps or otherwise unaccounted for.
"So, please don't say missing means dead," one doctor said. "The health ministry will only announce the confirmed deaths from now on. We are in coordination with other agencies."
Indonesia has reported conflicting casualty figures on the disaster from different ministries.