Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Race to Bury Asia's Dead as Toll Hits 68,000

GALLE, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Stricken countries on the Indian Ocean worked swiftly on Wednesday to bury thousands of bodies as experts warned disease could kill as many people as the 68,000 already dead from the violent crush of Sunday's tsunami.
While rescuers ventured into outlying areas cut off for three days since what was possibly the deadliest tsunami in more than 200 years, the United Nations mobilized what it called the biggest relief operation in its history.
The ocean surge was triggered by a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, spreading in an arc of death across the Indian Ocean and striking nations from Indonesia to Sri Lanka, and beyond to Africa.
U.S. scientists said the quake that set off the killer wall of water permanently moved tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean as much as 98 feet, slightly shifting islands near Sumatra.
Survivors told harrowing tales of the moment the tsunami, up to 33 feet high, struck towns and resorts, sucking holidaymakers off beaches into the ocean, smashing people and debris through buildings, leaving more than 68,400 dead and thousands more missing and injured.
UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said children could account for up to a third of the dead.
One of the worst-hit areas of southern Thailand was Khao Lak, a resort beach on the mainland north of Phuket island, where hundreds of bodies have been discovered and hundreds more are missing.
"Rescuers are holding their breath while using their bare hands, axes, or shovels to dig through piles of wrecked buildings and debris at Khao Lak," said senior Thai provincial official Chailert Piyorattanachote.


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