Muertos por tsunami en Asia ascienden a 116 mil

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (CNN) — The death toll from Sunday’s tsunamis has jumped to more than 116,000 after Indonesia reported nearly 80,000 people were killed in that country alone.
U.N. relief workers arrived in Indonesia’s Aceh province Thursday to find devastation in the region closest to the epicenter of the earthquake that spawned the killer tsunamis.
Emergency workers reported that in some parts of Aceh, as many as one in every four citizens was dead.
Scenes of destruction — homes and businesses flattened, buses tossed about like toys, piles of rubble filling the streets — were repeated across the region, as were the scenes of grief — residents and vacationers searching in vain for loved ones, or, at times, finding them in makeshift morgues.
Aceh province, nearly inaccessible in the best of times because of its remoteness and the presence for years of an armed insurgency, was even more cut off after Sunday’s disaster.
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.
The tsunami swamped shores, villages, the jungle and Aceh’s capital, Banda Aceh, which was nearly destroyed.
Boats slammed into bridges, and bodies were left lying on the streets or still buried beneath rubble left behind when the water subsided.
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.
«The military and the police were hard hit. Hundreds were killed,» he said. «One military helicopter survived.»
The United Nations is preparing an appeal for millions of dollars for the six-month relief effort in southern Asia.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday a final decision had not been made on the amount of the appeal, which will go out January 6, five days ahead of a donors’ conference.
«This is an unprecedented global catastrophe that requires an unprecedented global response,» the secretary-general said.
Annan said that $500 million had been raised for the effort so far — $250 million from international donors and $250 million from the World Bank.
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.»
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.
And the aftershocks continued, dozens of them, four days after the initial event.
Two of those — both since 7 a.m. (midnight GMT Tuesday) — topped magnitude 6.0 and were centered in India’s remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, part of the same chain as Sumatra. (Full story)
One, measuring 6.2, was centered about 300 km (200 miles) from Point Blair, on Andaman Island to the north, and Banda Aceh, to the south, just before midnight Wednesday.
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, as people returned to coastal areas after officials said the warning was meant as advice to be careful, not orders to evacuate. (Full story)
Indian authorities have just begun to reach the area near the epicenter of the quakes. The impact of the aftershocks there was not yet known.
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 hopeless after losing everything they owned and seeing members of the families swept out to sea.
The relief effort was expected to be the largest ever, requiring millions of dollars just to stabilize the area and prevent the aftermath of the disaster from killing thousands more people, according to one World Health Organization (WHO) official. (Full story)
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.
Yvette Stevens of U.N. Emergency Relief said rebuilding would likely cost «billions» — and completing the job «could take years.»
On Thursday, Indonesian official said the death toll there had nearly doubled, from 45,000 to 79,940. (Full story)
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.
International aid convoys arrived Wednesday in Galle on the southwest corner of the island, bringing drinking water and other aid to residents.
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.
Police are trying to stem looting, which broke out shortly after the disaster, as relief slowly trickles into the area. There also were fears that plastic land mines could be uprooted by the floodwaters. (Full story)
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 1,830 deaths, more than 1,000 of which are believed to have been in the low-lying coastal province of Phang Na. (Full story)
Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday that casualties in his country from Sunday’s tsunami could reach 3,000.
Shinawatra said 519 of the total were foreigners, and there are 4,265 people missing.
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.
CNN correspondents Hugh Riminton in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Satinder Bindra in Matara, Sri Lanka; Atika Shubert and Mike Chinoy in Banda Aceh, Indonesia; Aneesh Raman and Matthew Chance near Phuket, Thailand; Suhasini Haidar in Chennai, India; and journalist Iqbal Athas in Sri Lanka contributed to this report.

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