Asia rushes to bury bodies; death toll at 67,000 - East Valley Tribune: News

Asia rushes to bury bodies; death toll at 67,000

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Posted: Wednesday, December 29, 2004 5:33 am | Updated: 6:12 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Workers from Indonesia to India 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 soared to 67,000.

Disease could double death toll

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Hindus gather in Scottsdale to pray for victims

Chances faded of finding more survivors of Sunday's massive, quake-driven walls of water - probably the deadliest in history. With tens of thousands of people still missing, the toll in nearly a dozen affected countries was sure to climb further.

"We have little hope, except for individual miracles," Chairman Jean-Marc Espalioux 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, contending with hunger and the threat of disease, which the U.N. health agency said could double the toll.

In the Indonesian island of Sumatra, nearest the Indian Ocean epicenter of Sunday's calamitous 9.0-magnitude quake that triggered the tsunamis, bulldozers prepared to dig graves for thousands of corpses lining the streets and lawns of provincial capital Banda Aceh.

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.

"We will start digging the mass graves today," he said.

Indonesia's Health Ministry said thousands more bodies were found, raising to about 32,500 the number of confirmed deaths on Sumatra island, the territory closest to the quake that sent tsunami waves rolling across the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka on Wednesday listed more than 21,700 people dead, India about 7,000 - with thousands more missing. Thailand put its toll at more than 1,650. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.

Wildlife enthusiasts in Sri Lanka noted their surprise in seeing no evidence of large-scale deaths of animals, suggesting they had safely made it to high 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.

Aid groups struggled to mount what they described as the largest relief operation the world has seen, and 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 by - the torrents.

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 $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 $100 million while taxi drivers in Singapore put donation tins in their cars and volunteers in Thailand text-messaged aquaintances to give blood to the Red Cross.

In Thailand, rescuers combed the beaches and islands Wednesday for missing tourists and locals swept away by earthquake-powered tidal waves.

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