Tsunami Fatalities Rise to 55,000

As rescuers scour the rubble for trapped survivors, many all over the world are just coming in terms with the massive loss of life.
( [email protected] ) Dec 29, 2004 05:56 AM EST

The number of people who have perished in the tsunami has reached at least 55,000. So far, there are many individuals left unaccounted. Amongst the ones missing and dead are thousands of tourists, many of whom were on Christmas vacation when the tsunami struck last weekend.

Purnomo Sidik, national disaster director at Indonesia's Social Affairs Ministry, reported to AP that 10,000 people have been killed in and around Meulaboh – a poor Sumatran town mostly made up of fishermen or palm oil plantation workers.

In India, police estimated that no less than 8,000 people are missing or dead. Recent television footages from overflights of Meulaboh and other parts of Sumatra's west coast showed thousands of homes underwater.

Refugees fleeing the coast described surviving on little more than coconuts before reaching Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on Sumatra's northern tip, which itself was largely flattened by the quake. “The sea was full of bodies,” said one refugee to , Sukardi Kasdi, who sailed a small boat to Banda Aceh to seek help for his family in Surang. He said to AP that his family has survived on noting more than a meager supply of coconuts. “I don't know how long everyone else will survive," he said.

As survivors are coming in terms with the magnitude of the devastation left in the wake of the tsunami, many analysts point out that a potential epidemic will break out due to the sheer numbers sheer number of dead. Aid workers and local volunteers are currently feverishly working to bury or cremate the dead. According to AP, Sri Lankan officials have issued statements asking civilians to place their dead on the side of the roads for easier pickup and burial.

Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization, issued a warning concerning the potential threat of disease. During a press conference at the U.N. office in Geneva, he stated, “The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities.”

In addition, there are growing reports that many of grief-stricken survivors have turned to burying their dead using kitchen utensils, or in many cases, with their bare-hands particularly in Sumatra island. Aid workers have so far been forced to bundle bodies in clothe and plastic in order to help contain the potential health hazards associated with burial procedures.

The Indonesia Health Ministry reported that an additional couple thousand bodies were recovered this Tuesday – raising the confirmed death rate to 27,000 in Sumatra Island alone. Sumatra Island was nearest to the epicenter of the quake, resulting in building collapses followed by giant tsunami waves that crashed on its shore. The figures released by the Indonesia government did not account for the report of an additional 10,000 more dead in other regions.

Sri Lanka has so far listed 18,700 people dead while India has listed a fatality of at least 4,400. Thailand has so far official reported 1,500 confirmed deaths with additional people left unaccounted for. According to AP reports, no less than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania, Seychelles and Kenya.

One of the worst incidents that occurred during the disaster involved the derailment of a Sri Lankan passenger train. The train was apparently packed with beachgoers when large waves slammed into its side, lifting the several-ton locomotive off the tracks. The train was later found in a marsh with its wheels torn loose and baggage scattered everywhere. At least 802 people were killed in this incident.

Nations outside of the disaster zone have so far expressed grave concern for the sheer number of tourists still missing after the earthquake. So far, Sweden has reported that about 800 Swedes are missing or dead. The United States has admitted to only 100 individuals missing or dead, hoping that in the following weeks missing individuals would be found alive. One of the hardest hit tourist locations was in Thailand, where foreign tourists were passing the holidays at the beachside resorts. This week, many survivors are returning to their respective homes – some of who are leaving behind family members and loved ones killed in the disaster.

For those living in disaster zones, the effects of the tsunami has more long term effects. Many from India to Indonesia have lost their livelihood and are now homeless. In Sumatra, there are reports of rampant looting as survivors forage for food. According to the Red Cross, most of the looters have no “evil-intentions” but loot out of desperation and starvation.

So far, the response from the international community has been positive. Countries ranging from the United States to China, Turkey to Kenya have pledged support. The United States has so far promised about 15 million dollars worth of aid supplies to combat the after-effects of the disaster. Nations all over the world have provided aid in the form of military and civilian aircraft, food, first-aid supplies, and trained medical personnel. Aide-relief organization such as the Red Cross are also on scene to provide assistance. Additional aid is expected to arrive in the following weeks to come.