BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - The unmarked box sits in the corner of an Indonesian Red Cross office in a former Mitsubishi auto showroom. Inside, small sandwich bags hold what's known about a few of the dead.
There's a government ID card issued to Junaidi Usman Banta, a 24-year-old fisherman. And there's a mud-splattered wallet that indicates a man known only as Irwansyah voted last year and could afford a car.
The collection of 300 documents, plucked from bodies found under collapsed buildings or submerged in swamp water, allow some survivors to confirm that a missing brother or mother fell victim to the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami.
The three-month hunt for bodies goes on, but looks close to finished. Monday was the first day since the tsunami that no bodies were found in Aceh province, the Sumatra island coastal region that took the full brunt of the disaster, the government said. At least one body was found Tuesday.
But of the more than 126,000 Indonesians confirmed dead and more than 90,000 missing in Aceh, the photo IDs gathered at 10 Red Cross offices across the province represent a tiny fraction of the bodies recovered.
Many of the dead were buried in mass graves, and not until February was there a system in place to identify bodies. Of bodies found since then, less than half a percent have been identified, Red Cross officials estimate.
The exact number identified is hard to determine. The government keeps no list — only numbers of dead and missing — and the Red Cross list does not account for scores of bodies identified by relatives and friends just after the waves struck.
"I'm pretty sure he died, but I can still feel him," said Zuhaira, a 24-year-old student who wore plastic gloves as she picked through ID papers searching for information about her missing husband.
She also scanned a list of the identified dead — name, occupation, age, hometown personal effects — but left empty-handed. "I can accept if he is dead. I just want to know. If we find his ID, maybe then we could find his grave," she said.
The frustrating search for information has dogged the entire process of pinning down the human cost of one of the world's worst natural disasters.
More than 300,000 people are dead or missing in 11 Indian Ocean countries, but the count is hobbled by confusion, politics and the magnitude of the disaster. Thousands are believed to have been washed out to sea or bulldozed into mass graves.
The island of Sumatra was nearest the undersea epicenter of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the world's fourth-largest in the past 100 years — and the mountains of water it sent rushing shoreward at jetliner speed.
Bodies were left on the streets and beaches as the waves receded. Relief workers initially laid the dead out on sidewalks for relatives to identify. But within hours, the sight and smell prompted Muslim leaders to sanction mass burials. There are now at least 24 mass graves in Aceh.
"Every day, we were collecting 6,000 bodies," said Eka Susila, the Indonesian Red Cross coordinator, who recalled wrapping the dead in sheets or tablecloths for lack of body bags. "We had no time to identify them. We just had to find the bodies and bury them."
With roads and phone lines down, a running tally of the dead became nearly impossible. Coordination was difficult because more than 100 groups — from the military to charities run by Islamic radicals — helped clear away the bodies. Initial counts were little more than estimates, based on the size of mass graves or a rough census of survivors.
At one point, the Indonesian toll jumped by 20,000, only to be corrected downward by 12,000 because an official misheard the number.
Villagers, adhering to Muslim tradition to bury the dead quickly, dug graves without regard for protocol.
"We've probably buried about 5,000, but we're not reporting them to anyone," said H.M. Fadrin, whose camp of homeless survivors sent teams to recover bodies near the town of Lampaya.
With the decline in the number of bodies being found, volunteers are expanding into detective and counseling work as they struggle to identify the dead. More than two-thirds of the bodies recovered are naked or badly decomposed.
On one recent day, a Red Cross team raced in a battered pickup truck to an office complex where people said a body could be found. As children watched, they dug up a child's skull with a hoe, bagged it and moved on.
Over the radio, a voice crackled. A body had been discovered by a river. The team wove through traffic, past families patching up wrecked homes. The middle-aged man they found had died too recently to be a tsunami victim.
Ilyas Ibrahim, a 24-year-old volunteer, said the search is getting harder — in the early days they could see and smell the bodies, but "Now, we can't smell them."
In a few cases — 35 so far — personal documents lead to a positive ID. A cellphone on one body yielded a relative's number. Government identity cards led to a surviving relative's home.
Positive identification of a body can make it easier for survivors to get disaster relief, claim inheritance or collect a pension. Eventually, the government is expected to rule that many of the missing are dead.
"This is a sensitive subject," said Budi Atmadi, deputy chief of the government agency that tabulates the dead and missing. "We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and declare someone dead who is still alive."