BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Jan. 5 -- Secretary of State Colin L. Powell tried Wednesday to allay fears that thousands of Americans may have died in the South Asian tsunami, saying he did not believe "the numbers will be anything like what some of our fellow nations have suffered over the last week."
The State Department said 16 Americans were confirmed as dead and 20 are presumed dead. But news reports have repeatedly cited a much higher number of missing. J. Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said that of 24,000 inquiries the department has received about U.S. citizens possibly affected, officials have resolved all but 3,500.
In most cases, U.S. officials say, people on the list were likely nowhere near the coastal areas hit by the tsunami, but parents or other relatives called out of concern for a loved one traveling in the region. Then, once the relatives discovered the person was safe, they didn't contact the State Department again, meaning the person's name never came off the list.
The State Department has slowly been reducing the number of "unaccounted for" Americans by contacting every person who had expressed concern about a relative. Out of caution, however, Powell and other officials have not wanted to say officially that most people on the unaccounted list were probably safe.
U.S. officials in Thailand note that few Americans visit the resort island of Phuket, which was badly damaged by the tsunami, during the Christmas season because beaches in the Caribbean are much closer. But Phuket is very popular with Europeans, who accounted for nearly half of the known casualties there.