Tsunami Toll Tops 55,000

Dozens of planes carrying relief supplies are bound for the nations hit hardest by deadly tidal waves, as survivors in Sri Lanka bury their dead with bare hands, and displaced and hungry islanders in Indonesia loot stores to survive.

The death toll from a dozen nations from Southeast Asia to Africa more than doubled over the previous day to more than 55,000, but disease could kill just as many, warned the head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization, Dr. David Nabarro. And the staggering number of dead is climbing.

The international community has responded generously, but billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild the shattered countries, said U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland.

"The first wave of destruction has caused tens of thousands of deaths but the second wave of misery is really caused now by the water and sanitation systems," said Egeland.

Emergency workers who reached the northern tip of Sumatra island found that 10,000 people had been killed in a single town, Meulaboh, said national disaster director Purnomo Sidik.

Officials have found thousands more bodies in Indonesia; 27,000 deaths are confirmed there alone, and more than 21,700 died in Sri Lanka. The count is up to 4,400 in India.

The staggering number of dead from Sunday's earthquake and tsunamis could spike dramatically once rescuers reach more isolated areas. So far, more than 52-thousand people are confirmed dead across eleven countries. But there are still zones of death that soldiers and rescue workers have been unable to reach.

Sumatra's west coast is one. That area of Indonesia faced the epicenter of Sunday's quake, taking the brunt of both the quake and the killer waves.

Others are India's remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, just north of Sumatra. So far, only 90 people are confirmed dead in the archipelago of 30 inhabited islands, but a police official says eight-thousand people are missing.

A new danger emerged Tuesday: UNICEF said uprooted land mines in Sri Lanka threatened to kill or maim aid workers and survivors.

The Rome-based U.N. World Food Program said it has sent twelve truckloads to the country's southern and eastern coasts, carrying about 185 tons of food, including rice, lentils and sugar, spokeswoman Caroline Hurford said. The Geveva-based U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration said it also sent several truckloads of food, water and medicines.

The Sri Lanka Health Ministry dispatched 300 physicians to the disaster zone by helicopter.

A Red Cross plane with 105 tons of blankets, medicine and tarps for 50,000 people was en route to the island nation from Kenya, while the British aid agency Oxfam said a flight carrying 27 tons of aid — including water and sanitation equipment — would leave Wednesday for Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

About 175 tons of rice arrived in Banda Aceh, the devastated capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island, the region closest to Sunday's 9.0-magnitude quake — and six tons of medical supplies were to arrive by Thursday.

Help wasn't arriving fast enough for Indonesia's Sumatra island, where residents turned to looting to find food.

"There is no help, it is each person for themselves here," said district official Tengku Zulkarnain.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is adding $20 million to an initial $15 million contribution for Asian earthquake relief as Secretary of State Colin Powell bristled at a suggestion by Egeland that wealthy countries had been "stingy."

Japan pledged $30 million. Australia pledged $8 million. The 25-nation European Union promised to deliver $4 million.

Thousands of people were missing, and millions remained homeless from Sunday's massive quake-sparked waves.

In Sri Lanka, the waves had flung a train off its tracks, leaving many of its 1,000 passengers dead or missing, police said, as rescuers uncovered thousands of bodies, bringing the island nation's toll to 18,706.

Sunday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake under the Indian Ocean shot concussions of water onto coastlines from Indonesia to Somalia. At least a third of the dead were children, the U.N. children's agency estimated.

Scores of people also were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, the Maldives and Bangladesh. The waves traveled as far as Africa. Somalia reported 100 dead, and Tanzania officials said 10 had been killed. A handful of deaths also were reported in Seychelles, Bangladesh and Kenya.

In Sri Lanka's severely hit town of Galle, officials mounted a loudspeaker on a fire engine to advise residents to lay bodies on roads for collection. Elsewhere in Sri Lanka, residents took on burial efforts with forks or even bare hands to scrape a final resting place for victims.

Indonesia's Sumatra island was nearest the epicenter of Sunday's monstrous quake — the world's biggest in 40 years — and rescuers there battled to reach isolated coasts and dig into rubble of destroyed houses to seek survivors and retrieve the dead.

"We are working 24 hours to get out people out," said Red Cross worker Tamin Faisil in Banda Aceh on Sumatra.

Red Cross official Irman Rachmat, also in Banda Aceh, said people on the island were in despair.

"People are looting, but not because they are evil, but they are hungry," he said. "We don't have enough people to bury the dead. We are worried that all the corpses on the streets will lead to disease."

In once-thriving resorts of southern Thailand, volunteers dragged scores of corpses — including many foreign tourists — from beaches, inland pools and the debris of once-ritzy hotels. Near Phang Nga province's devastated Similan Beach and Spa Resort, where mostly German tourists were staying, a naked corpse hung suspended from a tree as if crucified.

In an eerie echo of 9/11, posters are going up with photos of loved ones, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen from Thailand. The message is always the same: "Call, please, if you've seen this person somewhere alive." Peterson says the hardest thing about reporting the story is talking to those still clinging to hope for their loved ones. They say through their tears they still believe there can be a miracle. Sadly, it's pretty clear for those people miracles in the days ahead will be few.

There were some, however.

News of an unclaimed, blond 2-year-old boy brought dozens of hopeful parents to a hospital in Thailand's resort island of Phuket. They all left disappointed — except for his Swedi
  • Christine Lagorio

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