Thursday, December 30, 2004

Tsunami Toll Jumps to Over 125,000, Fear Lingers

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Asia's tsunami death toll soared above 125,000 on Friday as millions struggled to find food and clean water and persistent rumors of new giant waves sent many fleeing inland in panic.

Aid agencies warned a second wave of death could wash across Indian Ocean areas devastated by Sunday's tsunami if shattered infrastructure hampers what may prove to be history's biggest relief operation.

Workers in south India sprayed streets to ward off cholera.

"The worst is yet to come, I am afraid, because of the breakdown of sanitation facilities," said Dr. Robert Edelman, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.

Hungry crowds in Indonesia besieged aid workers delivering food and some drivers dared not stop. Aircraft dropped supplies to nearly obliterated towns in Sumatra, an island the size of Florida.

The tragedy that has touched all corners of the globe is ushering in a somber New Year's Eve. Some 5000 foreign tourists, mostly Europeans at popular Indian Ocean resorts, are missing and hopes are dimming they will be found alive.

A Red Cross Web site in Geneva to aid anxious relatives locate survivors partially crashed after being overwhelmed by 650,000 hits in the first 24 hours.

Dozens of aftershocks have unnerved the traumatized survivors after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest in 40 years, sent an unprecedented tsunami rolling from Indonesia to Africa.

After one such aftershock on Thursday, the Indian government issued a tsunami alert, later withdrawn, that caused residents to flee in panic and halted aid distribution in towns in Tamil Nadu.

"Waves are coming, waves are coming," some shouted.

This time, however, the waves did not come.

"I don't know how often this (tsunami) will happen but it has suddenly made our lives uncertain," said Apparachi Ashokan, a fisherman at Devanampatti village near Cuddalore town, 100 miles south of Madras.

Aftershocks on Thursday night in worst-hit Banda Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra sent residents fleeing their homes for the second night in a row.


The death toll had shot up more than 50 percent in a day with still no clear picture of conditions in some remote villages.

Indonesia's Health Ministry said just under 80,000 people had died in the northern Aceh province that was close to the undersea quake, some 28,000 more than previously announced.

People across the world opened their hearts and wallets to give millions of dollars to victims, jamming phone lines and web sites and outpacing their own governments in their generosity.

David Nabarro, head of a World Health Organization crisis team, said as many as 5 million people were now unable to obtain the minimum they needed to live.

But getting aid to the survivors is the big problem, with many roads washed out, petrol stations not operating and poor coordination among the military, aid groups and governments.

"Some cars come by and throw food like that," said Usman, 43, in Banda Aceh. "The fastest get the food, the strong one wins. The elderly and the injured don't get anything. We feel like dogs."

The World Bank offered $250 million in relief, bringing total international aid to nearly $500 million.

Many villages and resorts from Thailand to Indonesia are now mud-covered rubble, blanketed with the stench of corpses.


The cataclysm is stretching the world's ability to respond, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday.

While the initial outpouring of donations has been generous, "this is an unprecedented global catastrophe and it requires an unprecedented global response," he told a news conference.

A tragedy of biblical proportions is bringing together the mostly poor countries along the Indian Ocean rim and their rich counterparts in the West.

The Paris Club group of creditors is to examine a debt moratorium for disaster-struck countries, a source close to the Club said.

President Bush, criticized for his slow reaction to disaster, said he would send a delegation led by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region on Sunday to assess the need for U.S. assistance.

Analysts estimated damages from the disaster at about $14 billion, but that does not include potential losses of business and productivity. Some are cutting economic growth estimates for the hardest-hit countries.

For Australian mother-of-two Jillian Searle, who let go of her older son Lachie, 5, to cradle her 2 year-old as the wall of water struck, there was a happy ending.

Lachie was found alive about two hours later clinging to a door and, though traumatized by his ordeal, looked uninjured as his mother spoke to reporters on arrival back in Australia.

"I knew I had to let go of one of them and I just thought I'd better let go of the one that's the oldest," said Searle.

"And I was screaming, trying to find him, and we thought he was dead."



I want to preface my comments, regarding the ongoing disaster in south asia/africa/oceania by urging folks out there to PLEASE give a few bucks to the International Red Cross/Red Crescent societies. They will accept donations as small as one dollar, and there are hundreds of thousands needing help. There are a lot of other charities asking for material goods- contribute to them, if you are inclined to- but keep in mind that whatever goods you contribute will be sitting in a warehouse in San Diego for six months, while thousands go without.

The most vital thing you can do right now, is send cash, to the agencies who have the wherewithal to spend it well, and get it to where it's needed, and the best organization to send cash to, overall, is the Red Cross/Crescent

Now- a side note- the most striking news snippet I saw today was the DEPUTY press secretary for Bush, when he rolled out before the press, and promised that the United States would Pledge a WHOPPING 36 million, to the relief efforts, prefacing his comments by saying that The United States is the most generous contributor to relief funds, worldwide.

First off- well- I could ramble on- but I'll keep it at this:

Bush's administration spent almost 200 billion, killing 100,000, in Iraq, but, in a situation such as this, the best they can come up with is 36 million bucks? Hell- that's less than the budget for his January coronation- which weighs in now at 40 million-plus.

Secondly- that smarmy- self-satisfied ego-boo they throw in there- about the United States being the most generous contributor...

It's GREAT the way they couched that statement- it's tailor-made. It makes us feel GOOD about ourselves. If I were dare to contradict it, I'd be accused of "tearing america down", and "denegrating the good will of the american people".

But here's the crux- lemme put it in newspeak:

"Realfacts counter party duckspeak reliefwise, Eastasia lifeloss"

The facts of the matter: Out of the 30 major industrialized nations on planet earth, the united states is LAST in relief and health aid, as indexed by available economic data.

Now- I'm not trying to denegrate our efforts, in this matter- we here in America are a good, giving people, and our generosity, when properly focussed, can do great and wonderful things. But when the press secretary gets up and tells a blatant lie, regarding such an important situation, it is indicative of the social schizophrenia, of our society, as a whole.

It is the same mindset that allows those in the red states to say that they know more about the sancitity of marriage, when divorce rates are, on average, 40% higher in the red states, than in the blue states. Or, when the Bush core claims a higher moral standard, even though crime, abortion, teen pregnancy, illiteracy, and other social ills are more prevelant in their own heartland.

There is a fundamental disconnect, there, and I find it just impossible to swallow.

To make an on-line donation to help the tens of thousands of children and families struggling to survive the aftermath of the Asian earthquakes and tsunamis, click here

Tsunami Death Toll Jumps Over 120,000

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - The mercilessness of Asia's tsunami grew clearer on Thursday as worst-hit Indonesia sharply raised its death toll, taking the number of fatalities around the whole Indian Ocean region above 120,000.

Health Ministry sources told Reuters just under 80,000 had died in Indonesia's northern Aceh province that was close to the undersea quake, some 28,000 more than previously announced. Two sources said the toll would be officially announced soon.

Aceh, already suffering a prolonged conflict, has emerged as the "ground zero" of Sunday's great earthquake just off its coast. It triggered monstrous waves all the way to Africa that killed thousands more in India, Thailand and elsewhere.

Sri Lanka, severely afflicted, raised its toll on Thursday by just under 3,000 people to 27,268.

Millions of people on Indian Ocean shores scrambled for food and clean water as disease, thirst, hunger and panic threatened survivors of the world's most lethal natural disaster since a cyclone in Bangladesh killed 138,000 people in 1991.

Aftershocks, rumors and an Indian tsunami warning that proved wrong added to the chaos in a still terrified region.

Despite Thursday's spiraling toll, the true scale of the disaster may not be known for weeks, if ever, as rescuers battled to reach remote areas and washed-away towns, and grieving survivors searched for bodies of locals and tourists alike.

The scale that was known grew ever more awesome.

"This isn't just a situation of giving out food and water. Entire towns and villages need to be rebuilt from the ground up," said Rod Volway of CARE Canada, whose emergency team was one of the first into Aceh.

As the world pledged $220 million in cash and sent a flotilla of ships and aircraft laden with supplies, history's biggest relief operation battled with the enormity of the task.

"As many as 5 million people are not able to access what they need for living," said David Nabarro, head of a World Health Organization (WHO) crisis team.

Many villages and resorts are now mud-covered rubble, blanketed with the stench of corpses after the 9.0 magnitude quake, the most powerful in 40 years.

Thousands of bodies rotting in the tropical heat were tumbled into mass graves, but health officials said polluted water posed a much greater threat than corpses.

Holiday-makers were among those caught by surprise. Nearly 5,000 foreigners -- half from Sweden and Germany -- are missing, many in Thailand, where 710 foreigners have been confirmed dead.


Authorities warned of many deaths from dysentery, cholera and typhoid fever caused by contaminated food and water, and malaria and dengue fever carried by mosquitoes.

Four days after the tsunami, most people had given up hope of finding loved ones alive, realizing the sea's power forbade the miracle rescues often seen after land-based quakes.

Indonesian aircraft dropped food to isolated areas in Aceh on northern Sumatra, an island the size of Florida -- areas that may not be reached by land for days.

Survivors complained aid was only trickling in, despite a mountain of supplies stacking up at the local airport. Aid officials blamed poor coordination with the military.

"There's no information. Just what you hear on the street. Coordination is very bad," said Zulkarnaen, 36, from the province's main city Banda Aceh.

Hungry crowds jostling for aid biscuits besieged people delivering them in the town, so some drivers dared not stop.

"Some cars come by and throw food like that. The fastest get the food, the strong one wins. The elderly and the injured don't get anything. We feel like dogs," said Usman, 43.

In flattened Meulaboh town, the force of the waves pushed water up to the foot of tree-clad mountains two kilometers (a mile) inland. Officials fear a third of its 120,000 residents have perished.

In Sri Lanka's worst-hit area Ampara, residents ran things themselves, going around with loudhailers, asking people to donate pots and pans, buckets of fresh water and sarongs.

"Frustration will be growing in the days and the weeks ahead," said U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland.

Well over a million people have been left homeless. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the injured -- an estimated 100,000 or more.

The United Nations prepared what could be its largest appeal for donations to cope with its biggest relief effort.

The United States said a pledge of $35 million was just a start, and sent an aircraft carrier group toward Sumatra and other ships including a helicopter carrier to the Bay of Bengal.

Financial costs, estimated at up to $14 billion, are tiny relative to the human suffering. By comparison, Hurricane Andrew killed 50 people in 1992 but, with much of the damage in the United States, cost around $30 billion.


The earthquake and the unprecedented tsunami it triggered kept nerves jangling in the region.

India issued tsunami alerts -- that were absent on Sunday -- prompting a panicked exodus from coastal areas, and thousands of Sri Lankans also fled far inland after hearing similar reports.

However, there were no signs of giant waves.

In the Thai resort turned graveyard of Khao Lak, the grim task of retrieving bodies was interrupted briefly when a tremor cleared the beach of people in a flash.

Dutch, German and Swiss forensic teams flew to Thailand to help identify now hard to recognize bodies by collecting dental evidence, DNA samples, fingerprints, photographs and X-rays.

Preserving bodies was an urgent need and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra promised to provide refrigerated containers.

Overnight aftershocks in Banda Aceh also sent people fleeing their homes.

"I was sleeping, but fled outside in panic. If I am going to die, I will die here. Just let it be," said Kaspian, 26.

In north Sri Lanka, survivors recovering corpses faced a new danger -- floating land mines from a long-running conflict.

Animals seem to have escaped the disaster, adding weight to notions they possess a "sixth sense" for disasters, experts said.

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.

Disease fears rise as tsunami’s toll tops 52,000

As count climbs, WHO expert says aftermath may be equally deadly

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - As the death toll from the epic tsunamis that slammed 11 countries soared beyond 52,000 people on Tuesday, a top World Health Organization health expert warned that diseases could double the natural disaster’s death count before the situation can be stabilized.

The number of dead continued to climb rapidly as authorities in Indonesia added 8,000 fatalities to the death toll there, bringing the total number killed to more than 27,000. India, Sri Lanka and Thailand also added to their death counts as they re-established contact with remote islands and isolated coastal areas and confirmed their worst fears.

The overall figure was expected to continue to climb as emergency workers make their way into inundated and still isolated villages and towns.

Medical supplies, food and water purification systems poured into the region, part of what the United Nations said would be the biggest relief effort the world has ever seen to aid the millions left homeless by the oceanic torrent that battered the countries after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake Sunday off Sumatra.

Disease fears rising
Bodies, many of them children, still filled beaches and choked hospital morgues, raising fears of disease.

Dr. David Nabarro, speaking at a news conference in Geneva, said that the aftermath could prove every bit as deadly as the initial onslaught of the tsunamis.
“There is certainly a chance that we could have as many dying from communicable diseases as from the tsunami,” he said.

He said local hospitals and health services were overwhelmed treating victims of the tsunami and thus less able to cope with people who may fall ill.

"The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities," Nabarro warned.

Robert Bazell, NBC's chief science correspondent, said the health risk for survivors is twofold.
"There is a shortage of clean water and an enormous amount of water left behind. That’s a recipe for disaster from diseases such as cholera and typhoid, which are spread by fecal material that gets into the water," he said. "Also, millions are homeless in a very wet situation; that’s a huge potential for the spread of respiratory diseases and other lesser-known diseases which can kill people, especially children."

In addition to the enormous human toll, the disaster could be the costliest in history, said U.N. Undersecretary Jan Egeland, who is in charge of emergency relief coordination. Hundreds of thousands have lost everything, and millions are living with polluted drinking water and no health services, he said.

Geographic scope of crisis unparalleled
The geographic scope of the disaster was unparalleled. Relief organizations used to dealing with a centralized crisis had to distribute resources over 11 countries in two continents.

Helicopters in India rushed medicine to stricken areas, while warships in Thailand steamed to island resorts. In Sri Lanka, the Health Ministry dispatched 300 physicians to the disaster zone, dropping them off by helicopter.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said the United States was sending helicopters, and an airborne surgical hospital from Finland arrived. A German aircraft was en route with a water purification plant. “A great deal is coming in, and they are having a few problems at the moment coordinating it.”

UNICEF officials said that about 175 tons of rice arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, late Monday and six tons of medical supplies were expected to arrive by Thursday. But most basic supplies were scarce.

Meantime, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States “will do more” to help the victims and said in an interview on NBC's “Today” show that “clearly, the United States will be a major contributor to this international effort. And, yes, it will run into the billions of dollars.”

He also said he regretted a statement by Egeland, the U.N. official overseeing the relief effort, suggesting America was being "stingy".

Initially, the U.S. government pledged $15 million and dispatched disaster specialists to help the Asian nations devastated by the catastrophe.

As the relief effort gained momentum, emergency workers reaching areas isolated since the waves hit were seeing their worst nightmares realized.

10,000 killed in single town
Indonesian teams found that 10,000 people had been killed in a single town, Meulaboh, in Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra island, said Purnomo Sidik, national disaster director at the Social Affairs Ministry. Another 9,000 were confirmed dead so far in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and surrounding towns, he said.

In Sri Lanka, authorities said that approximately 1,000 people were killed or missing from a train that was flung off its tracks when the gigantic waves hit.

And in India, rescuers on Tuesday estimated that at least 7,000 people had been killed on the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, with one town losing two-thirds of its population to the rampaging waters.

Sri Lanka's government raised its death toll past 18,700 and feared the final death toll would reach 25,000.

"Dead bodies are washing ashore along the coast," said Social Welfare Minister Sumedha Jayasena, who is coordinating relief efforts. "Reports reaching us from the rescue workers indicate there are 25,000 feared dead, and we don't know what to do."

In Thailand, which had previously reported 1,516 dead, including more than 700 tourists, rescue workers recovered more than 300 bodies on Thailand’s remote Phi Phi Island, a tourist getaway made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film "The Beach."

Indonesia toll tops 27,000

In Indonesia, the country closest to Sunday's 9.0 magnitude quake that sent walls of water crashing into coastlines thousands of miles away, the count rose to 27,178.

"Thousands of victims cannot be reached in some isolated and remote areas," said Sidik, the national disaster director.

Indonesia’s Aceh province near the epicenter exemplified the challenge to aid workers. The government until Monday barred foreigners because of a long-running separatist conflict.

Communications lines were still down, and remote villages had yet to be reached.
“There is not anyone to bury the bodies,” said Steve Aswin, an emergency officer with UNICEF in Jakarta. “I heard that many bodies are still in the hospitals and many places. They should be buried in mass graves but there is no one to dig graves.”

India's Home Ministry said 4,371 died. But, the International Red Cross estimated around 6,000 deaths in the south Asian country.

Scores of people were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Maldives. Deaths were even reported in Africa — in Somalia, Tanzania and Seychelles, close to 3,000 miles away.

At least 12 Americans among dead
At least 12 Americans were among the dead, and U.S. embassies in the region were trying to track down hundreds more who were unaccounted for.
Desperate residents on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island — 100 miles from the quake’s epicenter — looted stores Tuesday. “There is no help, it is each person for themselves here,” district official Tengku Zulkarnain told el-Shinta radio station.

Elsewhere, Indonesian soldiers and volunteers combed through destroyed houses to try to find survivors — or bodies.

In Galle, Sri Lanka, officials used a loudspeaker fitted atop a fire engine to tell residents to place bodies on the road for collection.

Sri Lankan police waived the law calling for mandatory autopsies, allowing rotting corpses to be buried immediately. “We accept that the deaths were caused by drowning,” police spokesman Rienzie Perera said.

In Thailand’s once-thriving resorts, volunteers dragged scores of corpses — including at least 700 foreign tourists — from beaches and the remains of top-class hotels.A large proportion of southern Asia’s dead were children — as many as half the victims in Sri Lanka, according to officials there.

Lack of warnings questioned
Sunday’s quake of 9.0 magnitude sent 500-mph waves surging across the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal in the deadliest known tsunami since the one caused by the 1883 volcanic eruption at Krakatoa — located off Sumatra’s southern tip — which killed an estimated 36,000 people.Officials in Thailand and Indonesia conceded that immediate public warnings of gigantic waves could have saved lives. The only known warning issued by Thai authorities reached resort operators when it was too late. The waves hit Sri Lanka and India more than two hours after the quake.

But governments insisted they couldn’t have known the true danger because there is no international system in place to track tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, and they could not afford the sophisticated equipment to build one.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the head of the British Commonwealth bloc of Britain and its former colonies called for talks on creating a global early warning system for tsunamis.

The U.N.'s Egeland said the issue of creating a tsunami warning system would be taken up at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, from Jan. 18-22.
Tsunamis as large as Sunday’s happen only a few times a century. A tsunami is a series of traveling ocean waves generated by geological disturbances near the ocean floor. With nothing to stop them, the waves can race across the ocean like the crack of a bullwhip, gaining momentum over thousands of miles.

Scary Stuff

Fortunately, for mankind, it is indeed very rare for ameteorite or an asteroid to reach the earth. Noasteroid has fallen on the earth within recordedhistory. Most meteorites burn as they reach theearth's atmosphere. However, large meteorites havehit the earth's surface in the distant past. This isindicated by large craters, which have been found indifferent parts of the earth. Also, it is possiblethat an asteroid may have fallen on the earth inprehistoric times - the last one some 65 million yearsago during the Cretaceous period. Since evidence ofthe fall of meteorites and asteroids on earth exists,we must conclude that they have fallen also in theoceans and seas of the earth, particularly since fourfifths of our planet is covered by water. The fallof meteorites or asteroids in the earth's oceans hasthe potential of generating tsunamis of cataclysmicproportions. Scientists studying this possibilityhave concluded that the impact of moderately largeasteroid, 5-6 km in diameter, in the middle of thelarge ocean basin such as the Atlantic Ocean, wouldproduce a tsunami that would travel all the way to theAppalachian Mountains in the upper two-thirds of theUnited States. On both sides of the Atlantic, coastalcities would be washed out by such a tsunami. Anasteroid 5-6 kilometers in diameter impacting betweenthe Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast of NorthAmerica, would produce a tsunami which would wash outthe coastal cities on the West coasts of Canada, U.S.and Mexico and would cover most of the inhabitedcoastal areas of the Hawaiian islands. Conceivablytsunami waves can also be generated from very largenuclear explosions. However, no tsunami of anysignificance has ever resulted from the testing ofnuclear weapons in the past. Furthermore, suchtesting is presently prohibited by internationaltreaty.

Asia Struggles As Death Toll Hits 44,000

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Mourners in Sri Lanka used their bare hands to dig graves Tuesday while hungry islanders in Indonesia turned to looting in the aftermath of Asia's devastating tsunamis. Thousands more bodies were found in Indonesia, dramatically increasing the death toll across 11 nations to around 44,000.

Emergency workers found that 10,000 people had been killed in a single town, Meulaboh, in Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra island, the hardest hit region in Indonesia, said Purnomo Sidik, national disaster director at the Social Affairs Ministry.
Another 9,000 were confirmed dead so far in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, and surrounding towns, he said. Along Aceh's hard-hit western coastline, villages were swamped up to the roofs, still unexplored by soldiers combing the area for survivors and dead. Refugees fleeing the area described surviving for days on little more than coconuts before reaching Banda Aceh.
"The sea was full of bodies," said Sukardi Kasdi, who reached the capital from his town of Surang.
With aid not arriving quick enough, desperate residents in Meulaboh and other towns in Aceh — a region that was unique in that it was struck both by Sunday's massive quake and the killer waves that followed — began to loot.
"It is every person for themselves here," district official Tengku Zulkarnain told el-Shinta radio station from the area.
In Sri Lanka, the toll also mounted significantly. Around 1,000 people were dead or missing from a train that was flung off its tracks when the gigantic waves hit. Rescuers pulled 204 bodies from the train's eight carriages — reduced to twisted metal — and cremated or buried them Tuesday next to the railroad track that runs along the coast.
"Is this the fate that we had planned for? My darling, you were the only hope for me," cried one man for his dead girlfriend — his university sweetheart — as Buddhist monks held prayer nearby.
More than 18,700 people died in Sri Lanka, more than 4,400 in India and more than 1,500 in Thailand, with numbers expected to rise. Scores were also killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives. The giant waves raced nearly 3,000 miles to east Africa, causing deaths in Somalia, Tanzania and Seychelles.
And the toll was expected to continue to mount. A police official said 8,000 people were missing and possibly dead in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located just north of Sumatra. So far, only 90 people were confirmed dead in the archipelago of 30 inhabited islands. The Indonesian vice president estimated that up to 25,000 could be dead on Aceh's western coastlines, bringing the country's potential toll up to 50,000.
Europeans desperately sought relatives missing from holidays in Southeast Asia — particularly Thailand, where bodies littered the once crowded beach resorts. Near the devastated Similan Beach and Spa Resort, where mostly German tourists were staying, a naked corpse hung suspended from a tree Tuesday as if crucified.
A blond two-year-old Swedish boy, Hannes Bergstroem, found sitting alone on a road in Thailand was reunited with his uncle, who saw the boy's picture on a Web site.
"This is a miracle, the biggest thing that could happen," said the uncle, who identified himself as Jim, after flying from his home country to Thailand to reach Hannes at the hospital were the boy was being treated. The boy's mother and grandmother were missing, while his father and grandfather were reportedly at another hospital.
The vacationing former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was evacuated by Sri Lankan military helicopter from the hotel he was trapped by flooding in the south of the country. In Thailand, Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova, who appeared on the cover of 2003 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, was injured and her photographer boyfriend Simon Atlee was missing, Atlee's agent said.
So far, more than 80 Westerners have been confirmed dead across the region — including 11 Americans. But a British consulate official in Thailand warned that hundreds more foreign tourists were likely killed in the country's resorts.
Sunday's massive quake of 9.0 magnitude off the Indonesian island of Sumatra sent 500-mph waves surging across the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal in the deadliest known tsunami since the one that devastated the Portuguese capital of Lisbon in 1755 and killed an estimated 60,000 people.
Amid the devastation, however, were some miraculous stories of survival. In Malaysia, a 20-day-old baby was found alive on a floating mattress. She and her family were later reunited. A Hong Kong couple vacationing in Thailand clung to a mattress for six hours.

In Sri Lanka, more than 300 people crammed into the Infant Jesus Church at Orrs Hill, located on high ground from their ravaged fishing villages. Families and childres slept on pews and the cement floor.
"We had never seen the sea looking like that. It was like as if a calm sea had suddenly become a raging monster," said one woman, Haalima, recalling the giant wave that swept away her 5-year-old grandson, Adil.
Adil was making sandcastles with his younger sister, Reeze, while Haalima sat in her home Sunday morning. Haalima said the girl ran to her complaining that waves had crushed their castles, then came screams and water entered the home. "When we looked, there was no shore anymore and no Adil," she said.
Death was so widespread in Sri Lanka that the government waived rules requiring an autopsy before burial. In Muslim villages in the east of the otherwise Buddhist-dominated island, some survivors, lacking shovels, used giant iron forks used for communal cooking and their hands to scrape out graves for several dozen victims, half of them children.
"The toll is going up and I will not be surprised it reaches 20,000 to 25,000," said Nimal Hettiarchchi, director of Sri Lanka's National Disaster Management Center.
Relief workers warned that survivors could face outbreaks of disease, including malaria and cholera. "Our biggest fear at the moment is the shortage of drinking water," said Janaka Gunewardene, a director at Sri Lanka's disaster management center, adding that waterways and well across Sri Lanka's northern, eastern and southern coasts were contaminated, said.
A new danger emerged Tuesday: the floods uprooted land mines in Sri Lanka — a nation torn by a decades-old war with Tamil separatists in the north. The mines now threatened aid workers and survivors, UNICEF said.
The first international deliveries of food were being delivered to ravaged areas, as humanitarian agencies — accustomed to disasters in one or two countries at time — tried to organize to help on an unprecedented geographic scale, across 11 nations.
The disaster could be history's costliest, with "many billions of dollars" of damage, said U.N. Undersecretary Jan Egeland, who is in charge of emergency relief coordination.
A dozen trucks loaded with more than 160 tons of rice, lentils and sugar sent by the U.N. World Food Progam, left Tuesday from Colombo for Sri Lanka's southern and eastern coasts, and a second shipment was planned for overnight.
UNICEF officials said about 175 tons of rice arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and six tons of medical supplies were to arrive by Thursday. Helicopters in India rushed medicine to stricken areas. In Sri Lanka, the Health Ministry dispatched 300 physicians to the disaster zone by helicopter.

Approval Ratings Down

A Gallup survey conducted for CNN and USA Today puts Bush's approval rating at 49% — close to his preelection numbers. That's 10 to 20 points lower than every elected sitting president at this stage since just after World War II, according to Gallup, which has been tabulating such data since Harry S. Truman won a full term in 1948.

Bush's Gallup rating echoed a survey published last week by ABC News and the Washington Post, which put his approval rating at 48%. That poll also found that 56% of Americans believed the Iraq war was not worth fighting. Time magazine also put Bush's overall approval at 49%.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tsunamis claim many children

UNICEF estimates at least a third of dead were children

The buzz of grim conversation in the darkened morgue was broken by a man's shriek as the small body was lowered on a bed. "My son, my king!" wailed Venkatesh, hugging the limp shrouded bundle.
Thousands of miles away in Indonesia, farmer Yusya Yusman aimlessly searched the beaches for his two children lost in Sunday's tsunami. "My life is over," he said emotionlessly.
In country after country, children have emerged as the biggest victims of Sunday's quake-born tidal waves -- thousands and thousands drowned, battered and washed away by huge walls of water that have decimated an entire generation of Asians.
"The power of this earthquake, and its huge geographical reach, are just staggering," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. Hundreds of thousands of children who managed to survive in the affected coastal communities now "may be in serious jeopardy," she added.
The U.N. organization estimates at least one-third of the tens of thousands who died were children, and the proportion could be up to half, said UNICEF spokesman Alfred Ironside in New York.
He said communities are suffering a double loss: dead children and orphaned boys and girls. "Our major concern is that the kids who survived the tsunami now survive the aftermath. Because children are the most vulnerable to disease and lack of proper nutrition and water."
Children make up at least half of the population in Asia. Many of them work alongside poverty-stricken parents in the fishing or related industries in coastal areas, so they were in harm's way when the tidal waves came. Many children from the more affluent families would also have been on the beaches for a stroll or for Sunday picnics.
In Sri Lanka, which suffered the biggest loss of life in the tsunami, crowds had come to the beaches to watch the sea after word spread that it was producing larger-than-normal waves.
Thousands of children joined their elders to see the spectacle. The waves brought in fish. The old and the young collected them. Many waited for more fun.
Then the 15 feet-to-20 feet tidal waves hit the tropical island of 19 million people.
"They got caught and could not run to safety. This is the reason why we have so many child victims," said Rienzie Perera, a police spokesman who said reports from affected police stations indicated children made up about half the victims in Sri Lanka.
On Monday, parents wept over the bodies of their children in streets and hospitals across the island, even as some dead children still dangled unclaimed from barbed wire fences.
The scenes of unimagined grief and mourning were repeated across Asia.
"Where are my children?" wept 41-year-old Absah, as she searched for her 11 missing children in Banda Aceh, the Indonesian city closest to Sunday's epicenter. "Where are they? Why did this happen to me? I've lost everything."
On the day disaster struck, Malaysian Rosita Wan recalled watching in horror as her 5-year-old son was gulped by the sea while he swam near the shore at Penang.
"I could only watch helplessly while I heard my son screaming for help. Then he was underwater and I never saw him again," said a sobbing Rosita, 30.
About half of the nearly 400 people who perished in Cuddalore in India's Tamil Nadu state were children, leaving the town stunned.
Under Hindu tradition, children are buried instead of being cremated like adults. For the grim task in Cuddalore, two pits, together about half the size of a basketball court, were dug near a river at the edge of this coconut palm-fringed town.
After one couple laid the body of their daughter in the deep pit, a bulldozer shoveled in sand and the little girl disappeared from view. They then stepped aside for others to bury their children, denied any chance for a service or private mourning.
Most of the children, ages 5-12, were buried as they were found -- in their Sunday clothes -- without the luxury of a shroud.
Local officials wanted to quickly finish the burial, and the cremation of adult victims, so they could turn their attention to helping those left alive.
"There will be a time for crying, but that will come later. Now the priority is to shelter those who survived," said fisherman Akilan, 28, who lost two nephews when waves struck their house. Akilan uses only one name.
Bodies of young and old lay unclaimed at the town morgue, awaiting identification by relatives. Doctors called them in one by one over a public address system, while vans with wailing sirens brought in newly discovered bodies.
Many emerged from the morgue shaking their heads in silence after failing to identify any of the bodies as that of their loved ones.
Venkatesh, who uses only one name, found his 11-year-old son Suman as his body was lowered on to a gurney.
The 37-year-old man had been in Dubai, where he went three months ago as a construction worker. When his wife called from Cuddalore to tell him their boy was missing, Venkatesh flew home immediately and went straight to the morgue.
There, he found his wife and daughter minutes before Suman's body was brought in.
"I never thought I would only see my son's body," cried Venkatesh, refusing even a sip of water.
Within moments, an identification tag was tied to the boy's hand and his body taken inside.
As one of his relatives pulled him away, Venkatesh kept asking: "How can I go, leaving behind my son?"

Asia quake death toll tops 23,000

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Weeping residents combed through debris and stunned tourists wandered through litter-strewn streets on Monday, a day after tsunamis swept across the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Somalia, killing at least 23,000 people.
The giant waves -- caused by the most powerful earthquake on Earth in 40 years -- also left thousands injured and missing as well as hundreds of thousands homeless in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The magnitude 9.0 quake struck about 7 a.m. Sunday (7 p.m. ET Saturday) and was centered about 100 miles (160 km) off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island at a depth of about 6.2 miles (10 km).
It was the strongest earthquake on Earth since 1964 and tied a 1952 quake in Kamchatka, Russia as the fourth strongest since such measurements began in 1899.
But Asian officials conceded Monday that they failed to issue public warnings that could have saved many lives. (Full story)
In Sri Lanka, where tidal waves swept ashore two-and-a-half hours after the initial earthquake struck Indonesia's Sumatra islands, The Associated Press said residents expressed disbelief that there was no warning.
Residents and tourists woke Monday to shocking scenes: streets filled with rubble, cars shoved into store windows, piers and beach huts completely gone.
More than 12,000 people have been reported dead in Sri Lanka. Most of them were in the eastern district of Batticaloa, authorities said. Thousands were missing, an estimated 1 million were displaced and an estimated 250,000 were homeless.
The Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency, and, along with the government of the Maldives, requested international assistance, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.
Some 20,000 Sri Lankan soldiers and naval personnel have launched relief and rescue efforts. India sent six warships carrying supplies, along with helicopters. Priorities included identifying the hardest-hit areas, airdropping supplies and shepherding stranded people to safer areas.
Italy, France and Pakistan also sent help to Sri Lanka.
The country has been in the throes of a civil war, and land mines uprooted by the tidal waves were hampering relief efforts. But Jeffrey Lunstead, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, said he was told the Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeast and government forces were cooperating in the aftermath of the disaster.
"That's a good sign," he told CNN.
India and Pakistan also sent equipment to the Maldives, according to the country's high commissioner, Hassan Sobir. He told CNN that communication had been re-established with the northernmost of the widely scattered islands south of India -- most rising barely 5 feet above sea level -- but the southern islands remained "out of reach."
"The entire Maldives, I think, for a moment disappeared from the planet Earth," he said. "Some islands may have completely disappeared, we don't know yet. But all the islands have been affected."
India also was reeling from the aftermath of the quake and tsunamis. Press Trust of India, the government news agency, said at least 6,200 Indians were killed and more bodies were being recovered.
Along India's southeastern coast, several villages were swept away, and thousands of fishermen who were at sea when the waves thundered ashore have not returned.
Grieving relatives Monday buried or cremated their dead. Along the coast, brick foundations were all that remained of village homes.
In Tamil Nadu state, 2,500 people have been confirmed dead, and officials said 3,000 died on the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, where dozens of aftershocks were centered.
Efforts to provide survivors with food and shelter were hampered by the overwhelming magnitude of the damage.
Thai authorities said at least 866 people were dead and hundreds missing along the country's west coast -- home to 40 percent of Thailand's $10 billion tourist industry.
Tourists described the shock of being on a paradise island one moment and swimming in a living hell the next.
John Irvine of Britain's ITN television was enjoying the beach Sunday morning and ran into his bungalow to get a camera. When he returned, he saw "this wall of water heading our way, and my wife screamed to me."
"She grabbed our daughter, and I looked frantically for my 5-year-old son," Irvine told CNN. "He was looking out to sea. He was mesmerized, hypnotized by the wall of water."
Irvine said he grabbed the boy and "ran as hard as I could."
"And then I could hear the rush behind me," he said. "I looked and I could see the wall of water coming towards us. ... The wave caught up with us ... and it washed us, I guess, another 50 yards into a mangrove swamp. We were very lucky not to be hit by all the debris that there was. I mean, it was carrying small boats with it, carrying logs, masonry. It was a terrifying experience."
The Thai government set up a tourist relief center and domestic relief centers.
Indonesia may have been the worst hit of all. Information from Aceh province -- closest to the epicenter, which was about 100 miles off the coast -- has been slow in coming because communications were cut off and because of a rebel insurgency based in the area.
On Monday evening, Vice President Muhammad Yusuf Kalla returned from a trip to the province's capital, Banda Aceh, and said the devastation there was much worse than anticipated and that the death toll could reach 5,000 to 10,000 in the capital alone.
At least 4,350 people are currently reported dead in Indonesia, officials said.
The government was arranging food, water and medicine for the shattered region and was staging relief efforts from Medan on the west coast. But the lack of communications in Banda Aceh was problematic.
Reports returned with the vice president that the city's infrastructure was wiped out and that military and police equipment was destroyed. The chief of police in Banda Aceh said that 400 of his officers were killed a police dormitory.
In the Maldives, 46 people are dead and more than 70 missing, according to Hassan Sobir, the Maldives High Commissioner.
Among the dead across the region are at least 16 non-nationals, including six Britons, six Americans and four Italians, officials from those countries said. Of the Americans, five were killed in Sri Lanka and one in Thailand, U.S. officials said.
As far away as Somalia on Africa's east coast, there were reports of swimmers and fishermen swept out to sea.
No warning
The tsunamis struck with no warning to those in coastal areas -- particularly Indonesia, so close to the source -- as no warning system exists for the Indian Ocean, said Eddie Bernard, director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine and Environmental Labs in Seattle.
Such tsunamis are much more common around the Pacific Rim than in the Indian Ocean.
"The damage is just phenomenal," said Jan Egelund, U.N. emergency relief coordinator. "I think we are seeing now one of the worst natural disasters ever."
There was disagreement over whether the threat was over.
Waverly Person of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) said the tsunamis are "long over" and residents and visitors should not worry about further tsunamis.
Bernard, however, said the aftershocks are strong enough to produce more tsunamis.
The quake represented the energy released from a very large rupture in the earth's crust more than 600 miles (1,000 km) long, the NEIC said.
It was the strongest earthquake to hit anywhere on Earth since March 1964, when a 9.2 quake struck near Alaska's Prince William Sound. The strongest recorded earthquake registered 9.5 on May 22, 1960, in Chile.
Sunday's quake hit a year after the 6.6-magnitude quake in Bam, Iran, which killed more than 30,000 people, injured another 30,000 and destroyed 85 percent of the buildings in the southeastern Iran city.