COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Rescuers scoured the sea for
missing tourists in Asia Monday and fears of disease grew as
emergency services struggled with rotting bodies from a
devastating tsunami that killed more than 22,000 people.
The disaster spared no one. Western tourists were killed
sunbathing on beaches, poor villagers drowned in homes by the
sea and fishermen died in flimsy boats. The 21-year-old
grandson of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej was killed on a
"We have a long way to go in collecting bodies," said
Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who expected the
839 death toll in his country to go much higher.
The bodies of tsunami victims are piled in the central square of Banda Aceh, capital city of Indonesia's Aceh province Monday, Dec. 27, 2004. The death toll in a tidal wave triggered by an earthquake that slammed into coasts of several south and southeast Asian countries topped 22,000 Monday. (AP Photo / Xinhua News, Enwaer)
Sri Lanka was hardest hit by the tsunami -- a wall of water
triggered by the world's biggest earthquake in 40 years with a
magnitude of 9.0 that erupted off the northern Indonesian
coast. Colombo officials said their latest death toll had
nearly doubled to 10,029 and 200 foreign tourists were feared
"It smells so bad ... The human bodies are mixed in with
dead animals like dogs, fish, cats and goats," said Marine
Colonel Buyung Lelana, head of an evacuation team in
Indonesia's Aceh province on the island of Sumatra.
Families around the world anxiously sought news of loved
ones on Christmas holidays whose dreams of sunshine in the east
were turned into scenes of disaster. Calls from worried
relatives swamped hotlines set up by ministries and tour firms.
With at least seven Asian nations and one in East Africa
counting the terrible human and economic cost of the tragedy on
Monday, Western nations pledged aid and geologists asked why
early warning systems that could have saved thousands of lives
were not in place.
Struggling with destroyed communications, power outages and
swamped and debris-strewn roads, emergency workers were shocked
by the sheer scale of the catastrophe.
"We are used to dealing with disasters in one country. But
I think something like this spread across many countries and
islands is unprecedented. We have not had this before," Yvette
Stevens, a U.N. emergency relief official, said in Geneva.
BODIES IN TREES, MAKESHIFT MORGUES
Other areas worst affected by Sunday's tsunami were
southern India, where more than 6,600 were listed dead,
northern Indonesia with nearly 5,000 drowned and Thailand's
devastated southern tourist isles and beaches.
Deaths were also reported in Bangladesh, Malaysia, the
Maldives, Myanmar and distant Somalia where 14 people were
killed by swollen seas.
The earthquake triggered a tsunami of up to 33 feet high,
sometimes traveling as fast as an airliner, flattening houses,
hurling fishing boats onto roads, sending cars spinning through
swirling waters into hotel lobbies and sucking sunbathers,
babies and fishermen out to sea.
Hundreds of thousands were left homeless.
Smaller tremors followed Sunday's earthquake, the world's
biggest since 1964 and the fourth-largest since 1900.
Indonesian rescue workers pulled hundreds of bodies from
treetops, rivers and wrecked homes in Aceh province Monday,
desperate to clean up before disease could spread from rotting
bodies polluting water supplies.
Volunteers laid children's bodies in rows under sarongs at
makeshift morgues. Others were stacked in white fish crates.
"I am hoping there are still enough coffins available,"
said Mustofa, mayor of Aceh's Bireuen regency. One senior
official said the toll in Aceh province could rise to up to
10,000. Deaths were previously put at 3,000.
In Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh near the quake's epicenter,
troops were unloading piles of bodies from military trucks on
Monday after the tsunami swept several miles inland.
In the center of the sprawling city, dozens of bodies were
scattered on streets, while masses of debris -- a mix of mud,
ruined trucks and cars, mangled motorcycles and wood from
shattered houses -- had yet to be cleared.
Throughout the region, relatives hunted through piles of
dead stacked up in hospital corridors and prayed for the safe
return of thousands still missing. Some pinned up photographs
to try to track down the missing.
DEATH CAME FROM THE SEA
"Death came from the sea," Satya Kumari, a construction
worker living on the outskirts of the former French enclave of
Pondicherry, India, told Reuters. "The waves just kept chasing
us. It swept away all our huts. What did we do to deserve
Some of the dead were foreign tourists. Among those killed
in Sri Lanka were at least nine Japanese who had been watching
elephants in a park when the tsunami swept over them.
"The scale of the tragedy is massive. 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," President Chandrika Kumaratunga told the
Hundreds of thousands in Sri Lanka left homeless and
fearing another wave sheltered in temples and schools. The
southern port of Galle, famed for its historic fort, had been
Weeping relatives scrambled over hundreds of bodies piled
in a hospital in nearby Karapitiya, shirts or handkerchiefs
clutched over their noses against the stench of decaying flesh.
"We are struggling to cope. Bodies are still coming in,"
said Dr H.G. Jayaratne of Karapitiya Teaching Hospital.
Hundreds of corpses lay bloated and disfigured throughout
the lobby and corridors of the hospital.
Thailand evacuated injured survivors from its southern
beaches Monday. Some hospitals in Phuket began releasing
unofficial, hand-written lists of the dead and injured in their
care. Many foreigners were labeled "nationality unknown."
On Phuket's Patong beach, hotels and restaurants were
wrecked and speed boats were rammed into buildings.
Many foreign tourists, some evacuated in their bathing
costumes, were left destitute, all their possessions and
passports lost to the waves.
Among the missing in India were 200 Hindu pilgrims who went
for a ritual sea bath. Hundreds scattered petals on the water
and sacrificed chickens to pray for their loved ones' return.
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd