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Toll From Tsunami Rises Above 25,000

Threat of Hunger, Disease Looms As Reeling Nations Appeal for Aid

By John Lancaster
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 28, 2004; Page A01

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Dec. 27 -- Devastated coastal areas across South Asia struggled Monday to prevent hunger and outbreaks of disease as dazed survivors searched desperately for the missing a day after a tsunami surged across the region. The death toll rose to more than 25,000 people, a large percentage of them on this island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lankan officials said the freakish, earthquake-driven waves had killed nearly 11,000 people here and left many more injured or missing. They appealed for international aid to cope with a disaster that they declared was beyond their ability to handle on their own.

An unidentified man cries as he holds the hand of his 8-year-old son, who was killed in a tsunami in Cuddalore, in southern India. (Arko Datta -- Reuters)

_____Tsunamis Hit South Asia_____
Photo Gallery: Scenes after tsunamis hit coastal towns, fishing villages and tourist resorts across the region.
Video: The Post's John Lancaster reports on the recovery efforts in Sri Lanka.
Audio: The Post's Peter Goodman reports on Thailand's recovery process.
Video: The Post's Peter Goodman reports on vacationers' reactions from Phuket, Thailand.
Audio: The Post's Michael Dobbs describes the massive tsunami in Sri Lanka.
AP Report: Video of Devastation in South Asia
NOAA Animation: Preliminary model estimates of the Indonesia tsunami.
_____Earthquake Data_____
Map: Casualties in South Asia
Graphic: Making of a Tsunami
10 Deadliest Earthquakes
_____More From The Post_____
How to Help The Victims Of Tsunami (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)
Walls of Water Converge on Bus Depot, Killing Hundreds (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)
'All the Sea Was Like a Desert' (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)
Billions in Aid Needed for Devastated Areas, U.N. Official Says (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)
'We Didn't Understand, We Were Just Paralyzed' (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)
'The Water Has Eaten My Child' (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)
'Very, Very Bad of Course. . . . Cholera Is Going to Be a Problem' (The Washington Post, Dec 28, 2004)

While southern and eastern portions of Sri Lanka were among the hardest-hit areas, the tsunami killed people in 10 countries from Malaysia -- near the epicenter of the quake that struck Sunday morning off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra -- to Somalia, on Africa's east coast more than 3,000 miles away. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned of the potential for waterborne diseases such as cholera.

There were warnings throughout the affected area that the death toll might spike sharply higher. After touring stricken towns and villages in the province of Aceh, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said in an interview that as many as 25,000 people may have died in the country. His estimate, although not confirmed, was five times higher than the death toll previously offered by Indonesian officials, who reported earlier Monday that about 5,000 people had perished in the province, located at the western end of Sumatra.

In the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, the large downtown park surrounding the city's central mosque was heaped with debris, including the remains of damaged houses and motorcycles. Many people took shelter under the mosque's black onion domes while thousands of others sought refuge in smaller mosques and schools.

Dozens of corpses were laid out on the street, many covered with orange sheets. But with even these sheets in short supply, Indonesian television showed some victims shrouded with advertising banners that had been yanked from building facades. In one picture, about 10 dead children lay in a row on the ground, covered by plaid sarongs.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said that across the region, the quake and ensuing tsunami had affected millions of people, and he put the financial cost of the disaster in the billions. "We cannot fathom the cost of these poor societies and the nameless fishermen and fishing villages and so on that have just been wiped out. Hundreds of thousands of livelihoods have gone," he told reporters.

"The scale of the tragedy is massive," the president of Sri Lanka, Chandrika Kumaratunga, told the BBC. "Sri Lanka has never been hit by tidal waves or earthquakes or anything at all in its known history, so this is a grave tragedy which we have not been prepared for."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said eight Americans were among the dead.

India: 4,000-7,000 Dead

In India, officials on Monday put the death toll at more than 4,000 and as high as 7,000. Among the known dead, there were about 3,400 fatalities in the state of Tamil Nadu, where hundreds of fishermen were swept out to sea, as were strollers on a popular beach in Madras, the state capital. South of the capital, bulldozers dug mass graves for victims, including children, while desperate parents combed hospitals and morgues in search of those still missing. Rescue workers pulled bloated corpses from the sea and brought them ashore in motorboats.

As in Indonesia, Indian officials cautioned that the toll could continue to rise significantly. They expressed particular concern about the fate of residents of India's Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal, which have spotty communications with the mainland.

Later Monday, a police official told private NDTV television that 3,000 people might have died in the islands, a figure that would push India's total to 7,000. "The Andaman and Nicobar islands have been really badly hit," Hakan Sandbladh, senior health officer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva, told the Reuters news agency.

Thailand: 866 Dead

In Thailand, the Interior Ministry reported that 866 people had died, more than 4,000 had been injured and thousands more were unaccounted for, the Associated Press reported. One of the dead was identified as Poom Jensen, 21, the Thai American grandson of King Bhumipol Adulyadej. Many of the victims were foreigners vacationing at tourist resorts in Thailand's southern islands.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the toll would likely rise. "We have a long way to go in collecting bodies," he told reporters after a visit to Phuket island, one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

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