|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] A Moment to Pause
Dec 28, 1:00 AM EST
Climbing Asian Death Toll Passes 23,000
By LELY T DJUHARI
Associated Press Writer
LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia (AP) -- Rescue workers battled to reach isolated
coastal towns Tuesday on the island of Sumatra nearest the epicenter of
the monstrous earthquake that sent tidal waves surging through the
region, killing more than 23,000. Indonesian officials said they feared
the death toll would climb by several thousand in their country alone.
So far, Indonesia has confirmed 4,991 deaths, with most of them in Aceh
province on the northern tip of Sumatra. The quake epicenter was more
than 6 miles under the Indian Ocean seabed less than 100 miles from the
Sumatra coast. Most of the coastal region south of the provincial
capital of Banda Aceh had not been visited by government officials or
rescue teams nearly two days after the disaster.
Late Monday, Indonesian Vice President Yusuf Kalla told the state news
agency he believed the toll in his country could climb to 25,000.
"We don't have confirmed data, but I think between 21,000 and 25,000
people (have died), he said, according to the Antara state news agency.
Purnomo Sidik, national disaster director at the Social Affairs
Ministry, said Kalla's prediction was in line with his ministry's
"Thousands of victims cannot be reached in some isolated and remote
areas that cannot be contacted due to lack of communication," he told
The Associated Press.
In the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, where rescue efforts were
already well under way, the streets were filled with overturned cars and
the rotting corpses of adults and children. Shopping malls and office
buildings lay in rubble, and thousands of homeless families huddled
together in mosques and schools. The minaret of the city's 125-year-old
mosque leaned precariously. At least 3,000 people died in the city of
The fear of a far higher death toll came as bodies washed up on tropical
beaches and piled up in hospitals Monday, raising fears of disease
across the 10-nation arc of destruction left by a monster earthquake and
walls of water. Thousands were missing and millions homeless.
Toll Could Reach 10,000
England is among the
countries rushing help
to Asian nations
devastated by this
earthquake and tidal
Destruction in Asia
When Terra Firma Isn't
Climbing Asian Death
Toll Passes 23,000
Asia Counts the
Survivors of Asian
Disaster Bring Out Dead
Economies of Asian
Nations Should Survive
Humanitarian agencies began what the United Nations said would become
the biggest relief effort the world has ever seen.
The disaster could be the costliest in history as well, with "many
billions of dollars" of damage, said U.N. Undersecretary Jan Egeland,
who is in charge of emergency relief coordination. Hundreds of thousands
have lost everything, and millions face a hazardous future because of
polluted drinking water, a lack of sanitation and no health services, he
More than 12,500 people died in Sri Lanka, nearly 5,000 in Indonesia,
and 4,400 in India. The International Red Cross, which reported 23,700
deaths, said it was concerned that diseases like malaria and cholera
could add to the toll.
Dazed tourists evacuated the popular island resorts of southern
Thailand, where the Thai-American grandson of revered King Bhumibol
Adulyadej was listed as one of more than 900 people dead. Scores more
died in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives. The waves raced
2,800 miles across the Indian Ocean to Africa, killing hundreds of
people in Somalia and three in the Seychelles.
Eight Americans were among the dead, and U.S. embassies in the region
were trying to track down hundreds more who were unaccounted for.
Sunday's massive 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.
A large proportion of southern Asia's dead were children - as many as
half the victims in Sri Lanka, according to officials there. A bulldozer
dug a mass grave in southern India for 150 young boys and girls, as
their weeping parents looked on.
"Where are my children?" said 41-year-old Absah, as she searched for her
11 youngsters in Banda Aceh, the Indonesian city closest to Sunday's
epicenter. "Where are they? Why did this happen to me? I've lost
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
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 said he would investigate what
role his country could play in setting up an Indian Ocean warning
system. 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.
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.
For most people around the shores across the region, the only warning
Sunday of the disaster came when shallow coastal waters disappeared,
sucked away by the approaching tsunami, before returning as a massive
wall of water. The waves wiped out villages, lifted cars and boats,
yanked children from the arms of parents and swept away beachgoers,
scuba divers and fishermen.
In a scene repeated across the region Monday, relatives wandered
hallways lined with bodies, searching for loved ones at the hospital in
Sri Lanka's southern town of Galle - one of the worst-affected areas of
the hardest-hit nation. People lifted blankets and soaked clothes to
look at faces in a stunned hush, broken only occasionally by wails of
A tractor brought in about 15 corpses of mostly women and children, some
wrapped in white plastic sheets, while a Buddhist temple across the
street tried to help people find their missing.
"The toll is increasing," said Brig. Daya Ratnayake, a military
spokesman. "We are finding more bodies."
Indonesia and Sri Lanka had at least a million people each driven from
their homes. Helicopters in India rushed medicine to stricken areas,
while warships in Thailand steamed to island resorts to rescue
In Thailand, the government offered free flights for thousands of
Western tourists desperate to leave the southern resorts ravaged by the
tsunami. Chaos erupted at Phuket airport as hundreds of tourists, many
bandaged and brought to the airport in ambulances, tried to board planes
Bodies were pulled from roadsides, orchards and beaches at Khao Lak
resort, where the Swedish tour operator Fritidsresor said 600 Swedes had
not been accounted for.
Jimmy Gorman, 30, of Manchester, England, said he saw 15 bodies,
including up to five children and a pregnant woman, on Phi Phi island,
one of Thailand's most popular destinations for Westerners,
"Disaster. Flattened everything," Gorman said. "There's nothing left of
The United States dispatched disaster teams and prepared a $15 million
aid package to the Asian countries, and the 25-nation European Union
promised to quickly deliver $4 million. Japan, China and Russia were
sending teams of experts.
Egeland said he expected hundreds of relief airplanes from two dozen
countries within the next 48 hours.
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