South Asia Copes With Death, Destruction

Anjana Pasricha

India and Sri Lanka are coping with massive devastation in the wake of the killer tidal waves that swept their eastern and southern regions. The death toll is rising relentlessly - an estimated 10,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, and 5,000 people in India. A relief operation has begun in both countries, but tens of thousands of people are waiting for help.

Like thousands of others, this young boy in southern India wept as he scrambled to trace missing family members.

All along coastal villages in Sri Lanka and India, people are struggling to cope with the tragedy. Thousands have lost loved ones, others have seen their homes and belongings washed away Sunday after a massive earthquake near Indonesia set of a series of tidal waves across the Indian Ocean.

Along the devastated eastern coasts in both countries, people cremated or buried their dead. Mass graves were dug in many places.

Rescue teams on Monday continued the search for survivors as tens of thousands took shelter in relief camps, schools and temples.

A day after the giant waves hit, stunned victims shared their tales with reporters.

This young man in Tamil Nadu says he was struck with terror when he was tossed by the waves. He says he thought he had died when he was hit by the wall of water, and he has never seen anything like this.

In Sri Lanka and in India, soldiers and aid organizations have joined the relief effort - but authorities are overwhelmed by the huge need for food, shelter and medical care. Many villages and communities were still cut off on Monday.

Sri Lanka's military spokesman Daya Ratnayake says thousands of soldiers are helping.

"Now the process is giving food items and evacuating serious casualties into other areas because most of the coastal area hospitals are being jam-packed," he said.

Authorities in Sri Lanka - a small island nation - say they are ill equipped for the worst disaster in living memory, which has displaced up to one million people.

The Federation of Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies is among those agencies joining in the relief effort. Its representative in Colombo, Alasdair Gordon-Gibson, says medical assistance is urgently needed.

"There is a lot of injury with debris coming down with the huge tidal waves. So there are a lot of broken limbs, a lot of need for surgical equipment as well as medicine," he said.

In India, fishing communities in Tamil Nadu state have borne the brunt of the disaster. But on Monday, reports of massive devastation also came in from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The top police official in these islands, S.B. Deol, told a television station (New Delhi Television) there is no contact with several small islands.

"In those islands which are very flat and people cannot climb to higher areas the coastal areas have been washed away and I think quite a lot of people are dead," he said.

All along the coastal areas, people are gripped with fear that more deadly waves may hit the shores in the coming days due to aftershocks from Sunday's earthquake.


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