Town after town was covered with mud and sea water, with homes flattened or torn apart an Associated Press reporter who flew over the area in a helicopter said. The only signs of life were a handful of villagers scavenging for food on the beach.
The international Red Cross warned that the toll from Sunday's tsunami-earthquake catastrophe could eventually surpass 100,000.
Cargo planes bearing everything from lentils to water purifiers touched down across the region Wednesday to help survivors facing the threat of epidemic. But
Western Sumatra suffered a double blow in Sunday's disaster, shattered both by the most powerful earthquake in 40 years, and the waves it spawned. The devastated fishing town of Meulaboh was awash with thousands of bodies, bringing Indonesia's toll to 45,268, with 1,240 reported missing, according to the Health Ministry's official count.
That toll was likely to rise — one official on Tuesday estimated that as many as 10,000 people were dead in Meulaboh alone.
The race was on to try to prevent an outbreak of diseases and curb food shortages among millions of homeless, which the U.N. health agency said could kill as many as the waves and quake. While Sri Lanka said it was getting its first reports of measles and diarrhea, paramedics in southern India began vaccinating 65,000 survivors against cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery.
In Sri Lanka's second largest city, the hard-hit southern resort of Galle, refugees from ravaged homes crowded into churches, Buddhist temples and mosques, and food supplies were short.
"Even those people who were not affected can't get food. Nothing is available," said Father Raja Perera, of St. Mary's Roman Catholic church.
The roads in the devastated areas in the south of Sri Lanka need to be opened, the head of the Red Cross mission there tells CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.
"It's very difficult for aid agencies and the government's support to get down to the affected areas quickly enough," says Alasdair Gordon-Gibson. "Some people are being buried and I hear exhumed so identification can proceed."
Sri Lanka on Wednesday listed more than 22,400 people dead, India close to 7,000 — with 8,000 missing and feared dead. Thailand put its toll at more than 1,600. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.
President Bush said the United States, India, Australia and Japan have formed an international coalition to coordinate worldwide relief and reconstruction efforts.
In his first comments on the disaster, the president pledged a multifaceted U.S. response that goes far beyond the $35 million initially pledged, including U.S. military manpower and damage surveillance teams in the short term and long-term rebuilding assistance. He also called on Americans toto augment the response.
"This has been a terrible disaster. It is beyond our comprehension," the president said.
Thea United Nation official's suggestion that rich nations like the United States have been "stingy" in relief efforts. "I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," Mr. Bush said.
In Sri Lanka, reports of measles and diarrhea were beginning to reach health authorities, causing concern of an epidemic, said Thilak Ranaviraj, the government's top official handling relief efforts. "The most important thing is the quality of water," he said.
Four relief planes arrived in the capital, Colombo, 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.
Meanwhile, trucks fanned out to deliver bandages, antibiotics, tents, blankets and other supplies to the country's hardest hit areas, the southern and eastern coast. A dozen trucks left the U.N. World Food Program depot in Colombo on Tuesday. The military said a fleet of 64 trucks packed with rice, sugar, tents and other essentials entered Tamil areas Wednesday
But officials in the east said at least four WFP trucks bound for Tamil areas in the north were forcefully diverted by Sinhalese mobs and low-ranking government officials to predominantly Sinhalese areas. Selvi Sachchithanandam, a WFP spokeswoman, declined to comment on the report.
Sri Lanka has been torn for years by a conflict with separatist Tamil rebels who control parts of the north, demanding independence from the mostly-Sinhalese nation.
At Banda Aceh, the wrecked capital of Indonesia's Aceh province, bulldozers dug mass graves for thousands of corpses lining the streets and lawns as authorities hurried to get the dead in the ground.
Supplies — including 175 tons of rice and 100 doctors — reached Banda Aceh earlier, 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.
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.
In Thailand, Thai rescue workers helped by teams sent from Sweden, Germany and Taiwan rescuers combed the beaches and islands Wednesday for missing tourists and locals swept away by earthquake-powered tidal waves. Bodies were still washing up on several beaches three days after the waves struck. One thousand Germans and 2,000 Scandinavians are unaccounted for.