Sunday, January 02, 2005

South Asia tsunami, devastation and deadly diseases!

After the devastation wreaked by the seas, a deluge from
the skies deepened the misery for tsunami-stricken
areas, triggering flash floods in Sri Lanka that sent
evacuees fleeing and increasing the threat of deadly

Foreign military forces began one of their biggest
relief missions ever with the death toll likely to hit
150,000. A magnitude-5.9 aftershock shook Sumatra early
Sunday as the world's aid efforts shifted into high gear
in ways big and small: elephant convoys working in
Thailand, global assistance reaching US$2 billion with a
fresh pledge of US$500 million from Tokyo, and
aid-bearing American helicopters touching down in
Indonesia to the joy of tsunami survivors.

The confirmed death toll from the quake and tsunamis
that hit a week ago Sunday passed 123,000, and the
United Nations has said the estimated number was
approaching 150,000. Thailand said it expects its death
toll to reach 8,000. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
decided to visit Indonesia, the hardest hit nation,
where the official death toll stood at more than 80,000,
but officials said it could reach 100,000. Annan will
attend a conference Thursday in Jakarta on organizing

«We mourn, we cry and our hearts weep to witness
thousands of victims sprawled everywhere,» said
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, touring
the damage on Sumatra island, which bore the brunt of
both the quake and the waves. Hungry Indonesians
welcomed a dozen American Seahawk helicopters sent from
the USS Abraham Lincoln as they landed in Banda Aceh and
other parts of Sumatra island's devastated northwest
coast, bringing relief supplies including temporary
shelters. Also, a flotilla of cargo planes carrying U.S.
Marines and water purifying equipment headed to Sri

A day after U.S. President George W. Bush upped the U.S.
pledge to US$350 million, Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi announced Saturday that his country
would contribute up to US$500 million to relief efforts.
«The carnage is of a scale that defies comprehension,»
Bush said in his weekly radio address, announcing a
proclamation calling for U.S. flags to be flown at
half-staff this week in honor of the dead. Secretary of
State Colin Powell was also heading for the region.

But the dollar (euro) figures were an abstraction for
survivors whose hearts were broken once again by water.
At one refugee camp on the grounds of the airport of
Banda Aceh, hundreds of people spent a wet night
shivering under plastic sheets. Mothers nursed babies
while others tried to light a fire with damp matches.
«With no help we will die,» said Indra Syaputra. «We
came here because we heard that we could get food, but
it was nonsense. All I got was some packets of noodles.»
The rains pummeling the corpse-littered city were
creating the conditions for cholera and other waterborne
diseases to spread. Boxes of aid at Banda Aceh's airport
soaked up water, making it difficult for workers loading
cartons of water, crackers and noodles onto delivery

More amazing stories of survival emerged. The Indonesian
Red Cross in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province,
reportedly dug out a survivor from the ruins of a house
where he had been buried since the tsunami struck. The
rescuers heard Ichsan Azmil's cries for help. After he
was pulled out Friday, he asked for water and was taken
to a hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises. On
India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, a woman who
fled the killer waves gave birth Monday in the forest
that became her sanctuary. She named her son «Tsunami.»
Even art became part of the folklore of resilience.

In the historic port town of Galle, Sri Lanka, several
Buddha statues of cement and plaster were found
unscathed amid collapsed brick walls in the center of
the devastated city. To many residents, it was a divine
sign. «The people are not living according to religious
virtues,» said Sumana, a Buddhist monk in an orange robe
who sheltered himself from the sun under a black
umbrella. In eastern Sri Lanka, flash floods forced the
evacuation of about 2,000 people already displaced by a
tsunami that killed nearly 29,000 people on the tropical

Several roads leading to Ampara _ one of the hardest hit
towns _ were flooded, preventing relief trucks from
arriving, said Neville Wijesinghe, a senior police
officer. Bureaucratic delays, fuel shortages, impassable
roads and long distances also blocked supplies. In
addition to the deaths, 5 million people were homeless.
The hunt for loved ones dragged on with tens of
thousands still missing. Among the missing were some
3,500 Swedes and 1,000 Germans, and hundreds of others
from Scandinavia, Italy and Belgium. Aftershocks rattled
the region, sending panicked Sumatrans into the streets.

Geologists said a 6.5 quake rattled Sumatra at around
lunchtime Saturday, centered 250 kilometers (155 miles)
southwest of Banda Aceh. Smaller quakes hit West Java
and southern Sumatra earlier. There were not reports of
casualties from those tremors or the latest one early
Sunday, which was centered north of Sumatra.
Seismologists said strong tremors of up to magnitude 6.1
also struck the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where the
exact number of tsunami casualties was not known but
feared to be in the thousands. Hunger and disease were
the biggest threats in the archipelago, which the Indian
government has largely been keeping off-limits to
foreign aid agencies. «There is starvation. People
haven't had food or water for at least five days.

There are carcasses. There will be an epidemic,» said
Andaman's member of Parliament, Manoranjan Bhakta.
Island officials say at least 3,754 people were missing
amid crumbled homes, downed trees and mounds of dead
animals. V.V. Bhat, chief secretary of the islands, said
the missing could not be presumed dead because they
could have survived in coconut groves that dot the
islands. In the Thai resort of Phuket, five elephants,
normally used to haul logs in forests, were being sent
to pull heavy debris in areas that are too hilly or
muddy for vehicles. Thailand's official death count was
4,812, with over half of them foreigners. Prime Minister
Thaksin Shinawatra has warned the figure is likely to
reach 8,000. Many people have blamed the high number of
casualties on bureaucratic bungling and poor
communication systems. Thaksin said the government will
investigate why tsunami warnings largely failed to reach
officials and tourist resorts.

Western health officials headed to devastated areas
across Sri Lanka after officials warned about possible
disease outbreaks among the 1 million people seeking
shelter in camps. «Our biggest battle and fear now is to
prevent an epidemic from breaking out,» said Health
Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. «Clean water and
sanitation is our main concern.»

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