Relief tasks swamp tsunami-hit nations

Nations hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami that has killed more than 28,500 people are now struggling to find and bury their dead and get supplies to survivors.

    Sri Lanka's coastal areas have been devastated

    Bodies still littered the streets in north Indonesia two

    days after the biggest earthquake in 40 years rocked the seabed

    off the coast, deep below the Indian Ocean, triggering waves up

    to 10 metres high that battered coasts across the


    The United Nations said hundreds of relief planes packed

    with emergency goods would arrive from about two dozen

    countries within the next 48 hours.

    The sheer scale of Sunday's disaster is still unclear amid

    the chaos with government officials in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and

    India warning many thousands listing as missing may be dead.

    Throughout the region rows of bodies covered in plastic

    sheets or mats were laid out on the ground.

    "I'm tired. I'm looking for my father. Please help me,"

    wailed Maimori, 22, at a market on the outskirts of the

    Indonesian town of Banda Aceh. Her father was a fishmonger who

    had not been heard from since going to work early on Sunday.

    Tourists were killed on beaches, fishing villages

    devastated, power and communications cut, and homes destroyed.

    Sri Lanka appears to have been the worst hit with about

    12,000 dead, with India suffering almost 10,000 deaths. 

    An Indonesian health official said 5700 had been killed, but Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Tuesday he thought the toll could rise to 25,000 and up

    to 100,000 people mihgt have been


    In Thailand, nearly 2000 people - including 700 foreigners - were reportedly dead.


    Dozens perished as far away as Somalia, 6000km

    from the epicentre.



    e cannot fathom the cost of these poor societies

    and the nameless fishermen and fishing villages ... that have

    just been wiped out. Hundreds of thousands of livelihoods have


    OCHA's Jan Egeland

    The finance minister of India said late on Monday that contact

    had only just been restored with one of the worst-hit islands,

    Car Nicobar, near the epicentre of the magnitude 9.0

    earthquake. The toll there was not known, but would be

    "very large".

    About 45,000 people live on the island, which suffered

    aftershocks throughout Monday.

    The UN said the disaster was unique in

    encompassing such a large area and so many countries.

    Death resonated far beyond even these bounds, with

    dozens of foreign tourists

    who had flocked to tropical

    beaches for the end-of-year holiday season also being killed.

    Norwegians, Britons, Italians, Swedes, 


    Danes, Swiss, Australians, 

    Singaporeans and New Zealanders

    were among the dead in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

    Clean water shortage

    "The cost of the devastation will be in the billions of

    dollars," said Jan Egeland, head of the UN Office for the

    Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

    Nearly 1000 people have been 
    killed in Thailand

    "However, we cannot fathom the cost of these poor societies

    and the nameless fishermen and fishing villages ... that have

    just been wiped out. Hundreds of thousands of livelihoods have


    Throughout the region, homeless people fearing another wave

    sheltered in public buildings, schools and on high ground.

    There was a shortage of clean water and provisions.

    Weather officials in India warned of more high waves over

    the next day or two, and urged people to stay away from the


    "Like a ripple, the tsunami will only die down gradually

    and so we expect more waves before they slowly subside," said

    S Sridharan, of the meteorological department's office in

    Madras, capital of Tamil Nadu state - one of the worst-hit


    Mass graves

    Those not searching for survivors hastened to bury the

    dead, often in mass graves.

    In Cuddalore, India, back-hoes were used to dig graves.



    Tsunami - Japanese for 'harbour wave' - is usually caused by earthquakes under or near the ocean.

    It is not a single wave, but a series of waves that can travel across the ocean at more than 800kph.

    As it enters the shallows of coastlines in its path, its velocity slows but its height increases.

    A tsunami that is just a few centimetres or metres high from trough to crest can rear up to heights of 50m as it hits the shore, striking with devastating force.

    "We must have dug some seven or eight pits and buried 25,

    30, 35 bodies in each of them," said grave digger Shekhar.


    lined up bodies next to each other in two rows and buried them.

    I've never buried so many in a single day in my life."

    Survivors face their greatest danger in coming days.

    "The biggest threat ... is from the spread of infection

    through contamination of drinking water and putrefying bodies

    left by receding waters," OCHA's Jamie McGoldrick said in


    The UN's Egeland said there could be epidemics of

    intestinal and lung infections unless health systems in the

    stricken countries get the help they need.

    "Bigger waves have been recorded, but no wave has affected

    so many people in this way, because we have had a population

    explosion since the last tsunami, and some of these areas are

    among the most populated in the world."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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