Today's Papers

40,000+ in Aceh

Everybody still leads big with the tsunamis, with the Wall Street Journal topping out the death count at nearly 70,000 and almost certain to go much higher. Indonesian officials report 32,500 dead but say it doesn’t include one particularly hard hit region of Aceh. USA Today, citing unknown wires, said 10,000 have died in that region’s main town. The New York Timessays the U.N. has “unconfirmed reports” that the number in just that part of Aceh is closer to 40,000. 

According to early morning reports caught by a few of the papers, 28 policemen in Baghdad were killed when they raided an apparently booby-trapped house. Another two dozen Iraqi soldiers and police were killed in an assortment of attacks yesterday.

A reporter for Indonesia’s official news service took a helicopter tour of Aceh’s hardest-hit area, Melulaboh. “There are no longer any signs of life along 240 kilometers,” he said. “All that is left from houses and offices are only foundations.” The Washington Postsays a helicopter tried a rescue mission but couldn’t find a dry place to land.

Indonesia allowed some foreign reporters into the largely destroyed capital of the normally closed Aceh. The Los Angeles Times said authorities “appeared unprepared to organize even the most basic services.” Gas is in such short supply, says the LAT, ambulances are being allocated a gallon per day. Hundreds of government workers died, and those that didn’t are focused on helping their own families. “There is not anyone to bury the bodies,” said one U.N. officer.

The Post also reports from Aceh’s capital and quotes one researcher estimating the tsunamis were about 50 feet high. People tried to outpace the waves in cars and often didn’t make it.

The NYT reports from the Indian Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which were only about 100 miles from the quake’s epicenter. The islands were “barely above sea level,” and rescuers are having a hard time getting into the capital, let alone outside it.

The NYT mentions that contrary to conventional wisdom, corpses don’t need to be buried ASAP in order to avoid epidemics. “The data shows that corpses are not a reason to have draconian measures that would undermine the ability of loved ones to identify bodies and go through burial,” said one top researcher. Still, considering the lack of proper sanitation and clean water, one top WHO official said, “There is certainly a chance that we could have as many dying from communicable diseases as from the tsunami.”

After a U.N. official criticized wealthy countries’ “stingy” overall aid numbers, the U.S. more than doubled its initial tsunami aid package to $35 million and promised much more. Secretary of State Powell also pointed out that no country gave more aid last year than the U.S. As the NYT mentions far down, proportionally the U.S. is “among the smallest donors” annually.

Noticing that President Bush is resting in Crawford on vacation and hasn’t commented on the tsunamis, the Post stirs the pot on Page One: “AID GROWS AMID REMARKS ABOUT PRESIDENT’S ABSENCE.” The “remarks” really aren’t all that; the highlight being one “senior career official” (?) saying, “It’s kind of freaky.”

A “White House official” defended Bush and also took a moment to slam President Clinton, who has urged a coordinated relief effort. “The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts,” said the official. “He didn’t want to make a symbolic statement about ‘We feel your pain.’ ”

In yesterday’s worst attack in Iraq, 13 cops were killed when insurgents overran a police station in Tikrit. Another five were killed in one of a handful of suicide car bombings. Eight Iraqis working for a U.S. security contractor were also murdered. And the deputy governor of the Anbar province was assassinated.

The Post has a dispatch from the former Saddam stronghold, saying until yesterday “it was one of the most peaceful and orderly cities in Iraq.” The local American commander has been waging a successful unconventional war that includes serious community building and hosting a “call-in radio show.”

The NYT says there were “several” other fatal attacks, “although they were not officially confirmed.” (Presumably because of that lack of imprimatur, the Times doesn’t give numbers.) The paper says the Iraqi government is keeping mum: “The authorities in central Iraq provided no totals for the day’s losses, and they have declined to say how many security officers have been killed this year.”

In the first of a three-part series, the Post says Osama would have a really hard time getting hold of a nuke. And even if he did, he’d have a hard time transporting it covertly and even more trouble bypassing safeguards. What’s more likely, says the Post inside, is a dirty bomb, which would cause more panic than destruction.

The NYT fronts the latest CIA shakeup: The agency’s chief has apparently fired the head of the analytical branch. That’s the unit that writes the president’s daily briefings. Page One play aside, this might be a simple justified termination: The department has taken heat for not exactly nailing down the precise nature of Saddam’s weapons program. And an internal inquiry earlier this year found the department has “never been more junior or more inexperienced.”

Most of the papers front the death of Susan Sontag, whom the Post describes as “among the foremost thinkers about the meaning of art, politics, war, silence and humanity.”

She changed positions over the years, including renouncing communism and calling for leftists to support intervention in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. Sontag explained during one interview she felt “moved to support things which I did not think would be necessary to support at all in the past. Like seriousness, for instance.”