Assessing the Relief Effort in South Asia Hit by Deadly Tsunamis
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KWAME HOLMAN: Around the Indian Ocean rim, the death toll from Sunday’s earthquake-spawned tsunami waves climbed higher and higher throughout the day. More of the massive destruction was revealed, and the new threat of disease loomed. In Indonesia, there were more dead than could be buried readily. Most died in the Aceh Province on the northern tip of Sumatra.
The number of dead in Indonesia now is estimated at more than 27,000. Next hardest hit was the island nation of Sri Lanka, where the death toll today reached 18,000. It grew to that sharply higher total when rescuers combed through debris and discovered thousands more bodies.
In India, corpses were spread out in rows on the ground, awaiting identification by loved ones. On this Indian beach, mourners built a memorial out of sand to remember the many fishermen lost at sea. Thousands were displaced with no homes left to go to. These refugees scrambled for emergency supplies tossed from a relief truck.
In Malaysia, the search continued for bodies swept away from the shores of the northern island of Penang. Even though Malaysia was close to the epicenter of the quake, much of its coastline was sheltered by Sumatra, which bore the brunt of the devastation. In Thailand, the once resort- dotted islands north of Phuket were more scenes of destruction today as rescue attempts still were under way. Many tourists continued to search for missing friends and family members.
On-lookers saw more bodies carried out of the water at this beach on Krabi Island. Thai troops who went through the remains of a hotel today brought out corpses wrapped in hotel sheets. In the Maldives, the government aid agencies distributed water, clothing and food to those left homeless by the massive tidal wave that swept over nearly all of the 200 islands that make up the country.
The Maldives ambassador to the United States described how some of his country literally was wiped away.
MOHAMED LATHEEF: We are an archipelagic nation consisting of small islands. The wave swept across the country without sparing any island. We live on about 200 islands of which 130 were substantially, considerably affected and 41 very seriously affected.
KWAME HOLMAN: The waves reached as far as the African continent. On the coast of Kenya, boats tossed in heavy surf, and there was property damage along the shore.
GWEN IFILL: Now, two reports from independent television news on the countries hardest hit by the tsunami. The first, from Dan Rivers in Indonesia.
DAN RIVERS: About 100 miles from the epicenter of this cataclysmic earthquake, we flew over a landscape of staggering destruction, mile after mile, consumed by the sea. Homes, villages, towns, ripped apart. But up close, there is grotesque horror. The city of Banda Aceh resembles an open-air mortuary. The cloying stench of death hangs over piles of corpses, the survivors hysterical.
This woman, like many, has lost her entire family. But there were also incredible escapes; these people scrambling to safety from the swirling waters. Banda Aceh was the capital of this troubled province. Now parts are in ruins. Tonight there are still dozens, maybe hundreds, of towns and villages which haven’t been heard from. If there are survivors in these outlying areas the conditions, three days on, must be horrific.
HARRY SMITH: This video shot by a British tourist catches the moment the beachside resort was engulfed by the waves. There is a crash of glass as the hotel windows give way and water floods in. From their balcony, the holiday makers realize that amidst the sun chairs and debris, there are people trapped and they may be drowned.
A short distance away, it’s the railway system that’s collapsed, this one of many places where the line was simply washed away. Before the wave struck, this railway line was carried on embankment parallel to this road. As you can see, the force of this water has demolished that embankment, pushed the railway line away and flipped the whole thing on its back. On another stretch of line, one train was thrown from the track by the impact of the waves; 1,000 passengers were on board, all are either dead or missing; 200 bodies have already been removed.
The town of Galle has suffered more than most on this tortured stretch of coastline. The wave crashed into the town, killing more than 1,000 people. There is not a low-lying building which wasn’t damaged. When we visited Galle today, a team of volunteers was still touring the town, collecting unidentified bodies pulled from the rubble.
The sea tore through the town’s bus station, where buses were tossed around like toys. The sea-front market has been flattened and dozens of businesses ruined, but the town can be thankful for one thing — the disaster happened on a Sunday morning, when many shops were closed. On a busy market day, the death toll could have been ten times higher.