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Tsunami Toll Jumps To 44,000

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Survivors in Sri Lanka buried their dead with bare hands Tuesday while displaced and hungry islanders in Indonesia looted stores following explosive earthquake-spawned tidal waves that the United Nations said may be history's costliest natural disaster. The death toll rose dramatically to 44,000, and officials expected it to rise further.

A dozen nations in a band of destruction from Southeast Asia to Africa tallied corpses at tropical beaches, devastated villages and choked hospital morgues — with 10,000 dead found in a single Indonesian town. The overall toll Tuesday doubled over the previous day.

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

CBS News Correspondent Susan Roberts reports that in Indonesia many streets are already filled with rotting corpses and rescue workers say that without clean water, an malaria and cholera could break out.

Aid agencies mounted what U.N. officials said would be the world's biggest relief effort. "This is unprecedented," said Yvette Stevens, a U.N. emergency relief coordinator.

But 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.

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.

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, drowning thousands. At least a third of the dead were children, the U.N. children's agency estimated.

At least 19,000 were killed in Indonesia, more than 4,000 in India and more than 1,500 in Thailand. Indonesia's vice president estimated his country had as many as 25,000 victims, bringing the potential toll up to 50,000.

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.

Desperate foreigners sought kin missing from holidays in Southeast Asia, where 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 Swedish uncle.

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.

The tidal waves and flooding have uprooted land mines in the war-torn country, threatening to kill or maim aid workers and survivors attempting to return to what's left of their homes.

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, if any.

However, amid the devastation were some miraculous stories of survival.

In Malaysia, a 20-day-old baby was found alive on a floating mattress. She and her family were later reunited.

A Hong Kong couple vacationing in Thailand clung to a mattress for six hours.

The disaster could be history's costliest, with "many billions of dollars" of damage, said U.N. Undersecretary Jan Egeland, who is in charge of emergency relief coordination. Millions face a hazardous future because of polluted drinking water and a lack of health services, he said.

Egeland said he expected hundreds of relief airplanes from two dozen countries.

On Monday, Egeland criticized the foreign contributions. "We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries," he said. "And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really ... "

"I wish that comment hadn't been made," said Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday. "The United States has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world."

When asked about the level of U.S. aid by CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, Powell said, "It's a start" and added, "I think a lot more aid is going to be needed."

The United States prepared Tuesday to add $20 million to an initial $15 million contribution. Japan pledged $30 million. Australia pledged $8 million. The 25-nation European Union promised to deliver $4 million.