Military Says Quake Destroyed Three-Quarters of Sumatra's Western Coastline
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia From Indonesia to India, workers rushed to bury corpses to ward off disease Wednesday as cargo planes touched down with promised aid -- from lentils to water purifiers -- to help the region cope with its tsunami catastrophe. The death toll across Asia and Africa soared to nearly 68,000.
Meanwhile, authorities getting their first glimpse of the devastated west coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island -- nearest the epicenter of the massive quake and tsunami -- said the area had been virtually wiped out.
"The damage is truly devastating," said Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, the military commander of Sumatra's Aceh province, who toured the west coast by helicopter. "Seventy-five percent of the west coast is destroyed and some places it's 100 percent. These people are isolated and we will try and get them help."
The survey highlighted the dire need for the world's largest relief effort to speed up the deployment of aid to some of the 11 countries that were hardest hit by Sunday's massive, quake-driven walls of water -- probably the deadliest in history.
With tens of thousands of people still missing, the toll was sure to climb further.
"We have little hope, except for individual miracles," Jean-Marc Espalioux, chairman of the Accor hotel group, said of the search for thousands of tourists and locals missing from beach resorts of southern Thailand -- including 2,000 Scandinavians.
Millions were homeless in the disaster, dealing with hunger and the threat of disease, which the U.N. health agency said could double the toll.
Indonesia's official death toll stood at more than 36,000, but authorities said this did not include a full count from Sumatra's west coast, where more than 10,000 deaths were suspected.
In one of first visits to the battered region, news crews flew over town after town in western Sumatra which were covered in mud and sea water. Homes had their roofs ripped off or were flatted. There were few signs of life, except for a handful of villagers scavenging for food on the beach.
Trucks dumped more than 1,000 unidentified bloated bodies into open graves on Sumatra and the navy sent a flotilla of ships to remote parts of the island.
With the threat of disease on the rise and few ways to identify the dead, there was no choice but to get the bodies under ground, said military Col. Achmad Yani Basuki.
Meanwhile in a rare positive note, wildlife enthusiasts in Sri Lanka noted their surprise in seeing no evidence of large-scale deaths of animals -- indicating that animals may have sensed the wave coming and fled to higher ground.
"Maybe what we think is true, that animals have a sixth sense," said Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, whose Jetwing Eco Holidays runs a hotel in the Yala National Park.
In another instance, a London-based woman told Britain's Press Association that a group of youngsters at a Phuket beach were saved when an elephant trainer placed them on the animal's back and led them to safety before the giant wave crashed ashore.
But there were few reports of miraculous escapes in India, where the death toll rose to nearly 7,000. Not included in the toll are some 8,000 who are missing and feared dead on India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, east of the mainland.
Sri Lanka put its toll Wednesday at nearly 22,500. Thailand said it had more than 1,800 dead and a total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.
Aid groups struggled to head off the threat of cholera and malaria epidemics that could break out where water supplies are polluted with bodies and debris.
In Sri Lanka, four planes arrived in the capital bringing a surgical hospital from Finland, a water purification plant from Germany, doctors and medicine from Japan and aid workers from Britain, the Red Cross said.
Supplies that included 175 tons of rice and 100 doctors reached Sumatra's Banda Aceh. But with aid not arriving quickly enough, desperate people in towns across Sumatra stole whatever food they could find, officials said.
Widespread looting also was reported in Thailand's devastated resort islands of Phuket and Phi Phi, where European and Australian tourists left valuables behind in wrecked hotels when they fled -- or were swept away.
An international airlift was under way to ferry critical aid and medicine to Phuket and to take home shellshocked travelers. Jets from France and Australia were among the first to touch down at the island's airport. Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden planned similar flights.
Along India's southern coast, paramedics began vaccinating 65,000 tsunami survivors in Tamil Nadu state against cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery, said Gagandeep Singh Bedi, a top government administrator.
"We have accelerated disposing of bodies to minimize the risk of an epidemic. Also, we have started spraying bleaching powder on the beaches from where the bodies have been recovered," said Veera Shanmuga Moni, a top administrator of Tamil Nadu's Nagappattinam district.
The world's biggest reinsurer, Germany's Munich Re, estimated the damage to buildings and foundations in the affected regions would be at least euro10 billion (US$13.6 billion).
Donations for recovery efforts came in from all parts of the globe.
The governments of the United States, Australia and Japan pledged a combined US$100 million (euro73 million) while taxi drivers in Singapore put donation tins in their cars. In Thailand, volunteers used trucks with loudspeakers to solicit donations of food and clothing and there were long lines to donate blood at the Red Cross.
Hong Kong's kung fu king Jackie Chan pitched in US$64,000 (euro47,000) to UNICEF, and Asia's richest man -- Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing -- gave US$3.1 million (euro2.3 million) to relief efforts.
"The response has been overwhelming," said Avinash Singh Gill of India's embassy in Singapore, who was collecting for his country's mammoth recovery efforts.
Source: Associated Press