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Indonesian provinces suffered nearly $3 billion in damage

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia—More than 400 bridges damaged, 127,300 houses and apartments destroyed, 2,000 schools destroyed or damaged.

Indonesian officials, tallying the damage from the last month's tsunami, have concluded that the earthquake-generated wave did more than $2.9 billion worth of damage in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces and will cost Indonesia another $1.5 billion in lost economic activity over the next four years.

Rebuilding the damaged area will require years of effort and help, the government concluded in a 128-page preliminary assessment. "To recover from this disaster, Aceh and North Sumatra will need significant help from the government, its fellow citizens and the rest of the world," the report said.

How much of that aid will come from international sources is yet to be decided; pledges of aid for the 12 countries damaged by the tsunami total more than $4 billion.

But the size of the disaster in Indonesia, where as many as 216,000 people may have died, is overwhelming—and unlike anything local officials have seen.

"We often deal with natural disasters, but this one is like a super-disaster," said Zahrudin Resman, the deputy director of the highway department in Aceh, where the main coastal road sustained $169 million in damage and is gone in many places south of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. "Usually, it's just a flood or one bridge swept away."

"This was the worst natural disaster in Indonesia's history," the government's assessment said. "The scale of the damages to the local economy, infrastructure and administration were unprecedented."

In addition to the houses and apartments that were destroyed, another 151,600 were seriously damaged, according to the assessment. One-third of the housing units in the affected areas were destroyed or damaged. The housing losses total $1.4 billion, nearly half the total damages.

As an interim measure, the Department of Urban Settlement, which handles housing, is building barracks to house as many as 37,000 homeless refugees in 21 locations around the province. The first one opened this week. Whether more will be needed remains a question mark, said Chairani Tengku Abdullah, the deputy director of the housing department in Banda Aceh.

She expects the refugees to live in the barracks, with shared bathrooms and kitchens, for one to two years. That's how long officials think it will take to find land for them and build new homes.

How many people died is also an open question. Indonesian officials added 50,000 more to their earlier estimates of the death toll, bringing the number of known dead to more than 165,000. But tens of thousands more remain missing nearly four weeks after the disaster, suggesting that the death toll for Indonesia could approach 216,000.

The large number of dead means that the government may not have to replace all the lost facilities, the assessment said, noting, for example, that although more than 2,000 schools were damaged, 45,000 students and 1,870 teachers died.

That could cut the cost of replacing lost buildings. But Aceh had poor infrastructure to begin with, so the government and international donors may decide to improve on what had been there.

The cost of $1.5 billion to the Indonesian economy will come from a number of sources, including lost income for fishermen and higher transportation costs because of the damaged roads. That loss could reduce Indonesia's economic growth by 0.1 to 0.4 percentage points this year, the report estimates.

The highway south of Banda Aceh provides a good view of the task officials face as they try to rebuild. Nearly a third of the road was damaged, along with 110 bridges, and vehicles can travel only seven miles out of Banda Aceh before a washed-out bridge cuts off the road.

The bridge's metal frame lies in the river in two pieces, one on its side and the other mangled with the trunk of an uprooted palm tree lying on top. Only the concrete pylon that supported the middle of the bridge still stands.

The only way to cross the river is on a makeshift raft that consists of several planks lashed to empty oil drums. Refugees pull themselves from one side to the other with a rope tied to tree stumps on each side.

A short way down the road, a hulking barge filled with coal sits washed ashore, a few hundred feet from the shoreline. One corner of its rusty hull blocks one and a half lanes of the two-lane highway.

How the barge, which stretches about the length of a football field and towers 25 feet above the road, will be moved is difficult to fathom. A tugboat, big in its own right, sits on the other side of the road.

At the next bridge, the Indonesian army has bulldozed dirt and chunks of a destroyed brick wall into an incline to replace one of the washed-out ramps. The center of the bridge still stands, but half the asphalt has been shoved up onto the other half, apparently because of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that preceded the tsunami.

A little farther south, a thick tangle of tree trunks, household goods and wooden planks with rusty nails from the houses that once lined the road covers both sides of the road and the road itself, making it impassable even to those on foot.

Nur Azizah, 30, and her two brothers and sister left a refugee camp outside Banda Aceh at 8 a.m. one day this week for the 28-mile walk to their hometown of Lhong. They hoped to find their mother there and take her back to the camp.

"I'm very tired," Azizah said three hours into the walk, on a typically hot and humid morning during the rainy season.

Resman, the local highway official, wouldn't even venture a guess as to when this stretch of highway might be repaired.

"It's going to take very long," he said.

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The Indonesian government's preliminary assessment is available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTINDONESIA/Resources/Publication/280016-1106130305439/damage(underline)assessment.pdf.

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(Moritsugu is a special correspondent.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): TSUNAMI-DAMAGE

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