News

Asians Coping with Aftermath of Earthquake, Tsunamis

Tim Johnston

The day after disaster struck in Asia, the full scale of the colossal tragedy in the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean is starting to become clear. More than 15,000 people are now known to have died from Sunday's earthquake and the giant tsunamis it spawned. As rescuers penetrate into the more remote coastal areas, the death toll is rising, and more tales of horror are emerging.

The catalogue of disaster emerging from Asia seems never ending. Whole families have drowned or were battered to death in the maelstrom unleashed by the huge waves that swept across countries from Sri Lanka to Thailand.

In India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, even in Somalia on the east coast of the African continent, the waves barreled ashore, killing and destroying almost everything in their path.

A Malaysian man, who resides in Penang, hard hit by the tidal waves, described the fear victims experienced.

"I have never seen anything like it before. Even if you're a good swimmer, you cannot survive," he said.

In many areas, including Indonesia's Sumatra Island, which was closest to 9.0 quake epicenter, communications are down and disaster experts say the numbers of dead could continue to rise for days or even weeks.

Indonesian television showed 12 or 13 little children lying in a row on the floor in the town of Lhokseumawe in northern Sumatra, tucked under a sarong - all of them dead.

In Thailand, where tourist beach resorts bore the brunt of the huge waves, 58 bodies, half naked, or dressed only in swimming gear, lined the floors of the hospital in Patong, on Phuket Island.

Thai government spokesman, Jakrapob Penkiar, says fortitude is needed in the days ahead.

"So the only thing you do when you hit rock bottom is to get up. And that's what Thailand will be doing. And we hope to turn this crisis into opportunity," he said.

As people here in southern Asia emerge from their shock, relief officials are working to get supplies to the region.

In Indonesia, the Red Cross has started to distribute emergency items, but even they are suffering shortages, according to spokeswoman Hesti.

"We have done evacuation, search and rescue, first aid & distributed some relief items, such as tarpaulin, mattresses, blankets, medicines and family kits. And for the moment the need that we have assessed are body bags, medicines, tarpaulins and tents. We only have very limited information from the field," she said.

The survivors, many of whom lost everything, now face a new threat: disease.

"The next challenge is to make sure people have clean water, which will be the huge epidemic of waterborne diseases if we can't now get clean water to them," said Tim Costello, the head of the Australia office of the charity World Vision.

The water supplies are polluted, food is scarce, and in much of Asia, it is the rainy season, further increasing their misery.

Rescuers are now wearing masks to provide some protection from the smells of decay that hang over the disaster. The scars of Sunday's quake remain long after the water has drained away.

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