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Indonesian Mega Quake Sends Deadly Tidal Waves across Southeast Asian Beach Resorts

The 8.9 magnitude earthquake off Indonesia Sunday - one of the strongest in a century - sent deadly tidal waves across some of Southeast Asia's famous beaches during the height of holiday tourism. Thai officials report 120 people were killed and some 400 injured, while officials in neighboring Malaysia say at least seven are reported dead in their coastal resorts.

Casualty reports continued to trickle in during the Sunday after the series of tidal waves, called tsunami's, struck Thailand's western coast early Sunday morning.

Many of the victims were foreign tourists who had fled the cold winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Witnesses say some beachgoers were swept out to sea by the waves.

A nurse at the main hospital in the famous southern Thai resort of Phuket, says all the town's half-dozen health facilities are full.

"Now we have more than 100 patients in the hospital right now. All the hospitals in Phuket have many patients," said the nurse.

A receptionist at the Sea Front Hotel on Phuket's Patong beach, Mrs. Su, says the first wave struck around breakfast time, catching many early beachgoers by surprise.

"At the beach, we have a big wave that comes into the shops, about 10 or 15 meters. Today Patong [beach] is closed," she said.

Shops and restaurants along the beaches were flooded and many were damaged. Some residents and visitors fled to higher ground, fearing more waves from the quake's aftershocks.

Boats that ferry divers and beachcombers to the coral reefs and lush beaches of the Similan Islands in the Indian Ocean were also hard hit. Some boats were reported missing while others capsized.

The owner of the Andaman Divers operation, Mrs. Tim, says all boating excursions have been suspended.

"Today we cancelled the boat," she said. "National park police tell the boats they cannot go to Similans because Similans have a problem."

An official with the Tourism Police says high seas were preventing rescue teams from reaching the string of islands.

"Now the rescue teams can't go to the islands. And we have many islands that have the problem," added the official.

The region was enjoying its best tourist season in several years after being hard hit by the 9/11 terrorist attacks three years ago in the United States, the SARS epidemic, and an outbreak of bird flu last year. Nevertheless, most operators were hopeful that the industry would not suffer a lengthy setback.