Rising Death Toll Hits 44,000 in Tsunami Aftermath

Thousands more bodies were found in Indonesia in the aftermath of Asia's devastating tsunami, dramatically increasing the death toll across 11 nations to around 44,000. Meanwhile the first international deliveries of food are being delivered to ravaged areas, as humanitarian agencies—accustomed to disasters in one or two countries at time—tried to organize to help on an unprecedented geographic scale, across 11 nations.

According to the Associated Press, more than 18,700 people died in Sri Lanka, more than 4,000 in India and more than 1,500 in Thailand following Sunday's devastating earthquake and tsunami. Scores were also killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives.

And the numbers are expected to rise.

News agencies say Sunday's tsunami—triggered by the massive 9.0 magnitude quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra—is the deadliest of its kind since the one that devastated the Portuguese capital of Lisbon in 1755 and killed an estimated 60,000 people.

The 500-mph waves that surged across the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal raced nearly 3,000 miles to east Africa, causing deaths in Somalia, Tanzania and Seychelles.

With aid not arriving quick enough, desperate residents began to loot in Meulaboh and other towns in Aceh—the Indonesian province that was reportedly hit the worst.

"People are looting, but not because they are evil, but they are hungry," said Red Cross official Irman Rachmat in Banda Aceh, where houses and the city's shopping mall were leveled by the quake.

Meanwhile, relief workers warned that survivors could face outbreaks of disease, including malaria and cholera. "Our biggest fear at the moment is the shortage of drinking water," said Janaka Gunewardene, a director at Sri Lanka's disaster management center, adding that waterways and well across Sri Lanka's northern, eastern and southern coasts were contaminated.

On Tuesday, a dozen trucks loaded with more than 160 tons of rice, lentils and sugar sent by the U.N. World Food Program left from Colombo for Sri Lanka's southern and eastern coasts, and a second shipment was planned for overnight.

UNICEF officials told AP that about 175 tons of rice arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and six tons of medical supplies were to arrive by Thursday. Helicopters in India rushed medicine to stricken areas. In Sri Lanka, the Health Ministry dispatched 300 physicians to the disaster zone by helicopter.

International humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) announced yesterday that its Indonesia office was deploying an emergency assistance team to aid in recovery efforts in Aceh, Indonesia. The Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan office may also assist with the sending of an assessment team to Sri Lanka.

The agency is now further considering deploying rapid response support and airlifts of emergency shelter and hygiene materials and is issuing a U.S.-wide appeal for funds to help meet emergency needs of survivors of the disaster.

"We join with the international community in responding to this devastating situation," said CWS Emergency Response Program Director Rick Augsburger. "Initial assessments indicate that full recovery from this disaster will require significant resources. Further support and assistance from Church World Service will be forthcoming," he added.

World Vision also reports that its offices in countries across the region are mobilizing to provide help to those affected, and members of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International in south and south east Asia are working hard to respond to the needs of survivors.

U.N. Undersecretary Jan Egeland, who is in charge of emergency relief coordination, told AP the disaster could be history's costliest, with "many billions of dollars" of damage.