Friday, December 31, 2004

Tsunamis kill thousands

The world's most powerful earthquake in more than 40 years struck deep under the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Sumatra, triggering massive tsunamis that obliterated villages and seaside resorts in more than 10 countries.Tourists, fishermen, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water that rolled across the Bay of Bengal, unleashed by the 9-magnitude quake

The death toll from Sunday's tsunamis has jumped to more than 118,000 after Indonesia reported nearly 80,000 people were killed in that country alone. Estimates of the death toll are continuing to rise in most areas. Sri Lanka reports more than 24,000 dead, and at least 10,000 were killed in India. In Thailand, more than 4,000 are feared dead and dozens of deaths are reported in Malaysia, Myanmar, Maldives, Somalia and Tanzania.

Many who did survive are struggling to stay alive, and the World Health Organization estimates that five million people are without basic needs. Emergency workers reported that in some parts of Aceh, Indonesia -- the region closest to the epicenter of the earthquake that spawned the killer tsunamis -- as many as one in every four citizens was dead.

Scenes of destruction were repeated across the region, as were the scenes of grief with residents and holidaymakers searching in vain for loved ones. The events began just before 7 a.m. (midnight GMT Saturday) when a massive earthquake -- at magnitude 9.0, the strongest in the world since 1964 -- struck just 160 kilometers (100 miles) off Aceh's coast.

Indonesian-based British conservationist Mike Griffiths flew over the area and said it was "like a nuclear blast has leveled the area." Between Meulaboh and Chalang, about 60 miles north, no villages are left, he said. Calong, a town of 13,000, has "vaporized," he said. "You couldn't even recognize there'd been a town there unless you'd flown over it before."

Dino Patti Djalal, spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said the Indonesian military's 30,000-strong force in the province was devastated. Saying an unprecedented catastrophe requires an unprecedented response, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed for the international community to come together to help aid the areas ravaged by the tsunami.

Annan announced that the World Bank had added $250 million to the $250 million already pledged by the international community for the humanitarian effort, but more is needed. The United Nations will send out an appeal for millions of dollars, and a donors conference is planned for January 11. Several European nations said they were increasing their donations in response to Annan's appeal, including Britain which increased its pledge from $30 million to $95 million. Canada has announced a debt moratorium for tsunami-affected countries, and other wealthy creditor nations are expected to follow suit.

A U.S. delegation headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of President George W. Bush, will travel to southern Asia on Sunday, a White House spokesman said. John Budd, a spokesman in Indonesia for the U.N.'s children's fund UNICEF, said infrastructure damage in Aceh had made distributing aid especially difficult.

"UNICEF has an office which could have easily started, but that office has been wrecked," he said.

"It needs to be almost a military campaign," he said. "There needs to be airports set up. ... What we're looking at is re-establishing a social infrastructure in that country."

On Thursday, an Indonesian official said the death toll there had nearly doubled, from 45,000 to 79,940. Meanwhile, a low-pressure weather system settled over Medan on Sumatra, where the Aceh relief effort is based, forcing officials to close the airport and ground planes carrying aid to the hard-hit province.

A tsunami warning from Indian authorities on Thursday sent thousands of panicked coastal residents fleeing for higher ground. But the warning appeared to be a false alarm, after officials said it was meant as advice to be careful, not orders to evacuate. On the Indian coast, survivors wondered what they would do now that their homes have been flattened.

In Sri Lanka, survivors told CNN they were afraid and had lost hope after losing everything they owned and seeing members of their families swept out to sea. WHO's David Nabarro said survivors were at risk of diarrhea, respiratory infections and insect-borne diseases that could result in "quite high rates of death," but he quickly added that the living are in more danger from other survivors than from the dead. (Full story)

Nabarro also said the mental health of the survivors is at risk. "Tremendous mental scarring" results from disasters like this one, he said.

Islands Engulfed
Sri Lanka increased its death toll on Thursday to 24,673. Also, 6,589 are reported missing and considered most likely dead, and 12,482 are injured. Officials have little information from the north and east -- the hardest hit areas and, like Indonesia's northern Sumatra, home to an armed insurgency, although one that was under the terms of a cease-fire at the time of the disaster.

Across Sri Lanka, some 1.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes and more than 888,000 no longer have homes. They crowded shelters and wandered aimlessly down streets, past signs wishing a "happy new year." In the coastal town of Matara, locals said some 30 to 40 Western tourists were surfing when the tsunami hit, and all are missing and presumed dead. There also were fears that plastic land mines could be uprooted by the floodwaters.

Just before the towering waves washed over Sri Lanka, they swamped the vacation shores of Thailand, home to 40 percent of the country's $10 billion tourism industry. Thai officials have confirmed more than 4,000 deaths, 1,000 of which are believed to have been in the low-lying coastal province of Phang Na.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday that casualties in his country could reach 7,000. Some of Thailand's smaller vacation islands were swallowed by the water, Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said.

As far away as Somalia on Africa's east coast, reports trickled in of fishermen swept out to sea and swimmers lost. Jan Egeland, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, said entire villages were swept away in Somalia, and Kenya television reporter Lillian Odera said "hundreds" were killed there.

In all, at least 11 countries, including the Maldives, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Tanzania, were affected by the monstrous waves.
Condolences to all the Non-Muslim and to all our Muslim Brothers and Sisters, Al-Fatihah. May Allah, the Almight and Most Merciful blessed their souls and placed them with all the Solehs'. Amin.

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