The Thai navy was called in to help with rescue efforts, and helicopters were reported to have rescued survivors on Ko Phi Phi, a nearby island. On Phuket, however, many tourists expressed anger at what they said was a poor response from rescue workers. An enormous wave rushed over the area's beaches about 10 a.m., but the first coast guard and military vessels did not arrive until several hours later to help search for survivors, witnesses said. Local police, however, used Jet Skis to pluck people from the sea.
"I sat on that beach and I watched and waited," said Mark Hayward, a Canadian advertising executive who was vacationing on Karon Beach, a major resort area on Phuket's west coast. The wave destroyed his hotel. "I never saw a police truck go by. I never saw a firetruck go by. It was three hours before the first vehicle with flashing lights came by."
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.
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)
Hayward said he was particularly incensed when Thai tourism police began announcing that more waves were on the way, three to four hours after the major destruction, something he said contributed to panic. "They made it look like they were on top of it," he said. "They weren't on top of it. There was nothing. People were on their own."
There were scenes of chaos at Phuket's airport as hundreds of tourists, many of them injured and in tears, competed for the few available seats on outgoing planes.
In Malaysia, authorities reported that waves had killed at least 52 people, including an unknown number of foreign tourists. In Burma, 34 people reportedly were killed; in Bangladesh, two; the Maldives, 52; in Seychelles, three; and in Somalia, where coastal villages were reported to have been inundated, at least 14 and as many as 100 were killed.
The 9.0 magnitude earthquake Sunday morning was the fourth most severe since 1900, and the strongest since a 9.2 magnitude temblor in Alaska in 1964, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It occurred at a depth of 6.2 miles, shifting a 620-mile section of subsurface tectonic plate. That triggered the massive sea surges that traveled for thousands of miles at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.
Sri Lanka: 11,000 Dead
Sri Lanka, a teardrop-shaped island nation of about 20 million off the tip of southern India, was squarely in the path of the tsunami. While the modern-looking capital of Colombo was largely unscathed, the waves caused massive damage to lower-lying coastal communities, especially on the exposed southern and eastern coasts.
The pounding waves washed away fishing villages, a shantytown near Colombo and idyllic, palm-fringed beach resorts that catered to foreign tourists. In Sri Lanka, at least 72 foreign tourists, including two Americans, died in the disaster. Railroad tracks were ripped up and tour buses were tossed into the jungle like broken toys. Unclaimed bodies piled up in makeshift, unrefrigerated morgues.
In a shattered community of crude wooden shacks next to railroad tracks about 10 miles south of Colombo, families gathered Monday afternoon in front of their former homes, now reduced to scraps of kindling. Some sat listlessly in salvaged furniture as if they had no other place to go, which many, perhaps, did not. The hull of a fiberglass motorboat rested against a shop window.
An even grimmer scene unfolded nearby at the government hospital in Kalutura, where 58 corpses -- including those of three unidentified foreign tourists -- lay on the concrete floor of a small, unrefrigerated outbuilding. Among the visitors to the morgue was a Slovakian tour guide who was trying to determine whether any of the three -- including one woman still dressed in a black bathing suit -- had been among her tour group. Masking the stench with a handkerchief over her mouth and nose, she strained to make out any familiar features on the blackened and rapidly decomposing bodies.
"I'm just missing two clients and I'm trying to find them," said the guide, who declined to give her name.
Occasionally, a helicopter clattered overhead, and every now and then a pickup truck rolled down the coastal road with a load of food or medicine. But officials acknowledged that they did not have the resources to cope with the disaster, and they broadcast international appeals for dry rations such as rice and powdered milk as well as antibiotics and plastic sheeting for use in the construction of temporary housing.
Many of the homeless sought shelter in schools, Buddhist temples and churches while tourists stranded in the capital camped out in the city's convention center or the lobbies of five-star hotels, none of which had vacancies.
In the port of Galle in southern Sri Lanka, a 40-foot torrent of ocean enveloped a 17th-century Dutch fortress and then cascaded into the local bus station.
Police said at least 200 people were killed at the terminal; some of them drowned in their bus seats, others were crushed. By the end of the day, rows of corpses lay in the baking sun. The devastating scene was repeated along much of the coastline, a popular destination for foreign tourists.
Correspondents Peter S. Goodman in Phuket, Thailand, and Alan Sipress in Medan, Indonesia, staff writer Michael Dobbs in Galle, Sri Lanka, and special correspondent Rama Lakshmi in Sonankuppam, India, contributed to this report.