The recent tsunami that devastated so many countries in Asia, and parts of Africa, was the result of an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean. The death toll from the wall of water has been staggering, more than 170,000 dead and perhaps as many still missing.
Without warning, the tsunami crashed ashore, a force so overwhelming that happy tourists enjoying the first swim of the day vanished beneath the waves. It killed indiscriminately. The total dead may never be known. For the families of the missing like Andrea Legar, the search for their loved ones continues. "I'm still hoping Tim is somewhere in a hospital and can't talk and is just unconscious or whatever, so that we're still hoping," she said.
But two months after the disaster, hope is beginning to give way to acceptance that the missing may never be found. For the survivors who must move on with their lives the emotional scars remain.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said, "I think its really important, we forget when we see the physical devastation and we see adults struggling to rebuild their homes and start their businesses, that there was a lot of emotional damage here, not visible to the eye."
Former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush just completed a tour of several countries devastated by the tsunami. Their trip was designed to reenergize donation efforts and highlight the enormous amount of rebuilding left to do. The United Nations estimates the cost to rebuild will top $11 billion. So far, $7 billion has been pledged by international donors.
Nowhere was the destruction more complete than in Indonesia's Aceh province. More than 120,000 died as entire towns and villages were wiped out by the tsunami and the powerful earthquake that triggered it. Now relief efforts are shifting to a new phase of recovery and reconstruction, a process that could take three to five years to complete. As an interim step, Indonesia is moving refugees from tent cities to hundreds of temporary barracks while reconstruction moves forward.
Rebuilding their livelihoods will take time.
Here, the ocean is a thing of beauty and a way of life. Today few boats are left in the water. The ocean that sustained these people for generations has now robbed them of their livelihood. Uli Schmidt, a U.N. fisheries advisor, says the fishermen are still traumatized. "Last week I was in Calang, which was really wiped out, and people are living in temporary accommodations on hills, some of them are afraid to come down from the hills," he said.
All along the battered coastline of the Indian Ocean the story is the same as the dead continue to wash ashore. International forensic teams in Thailand say it will take another six months to put names to the 4,000 bodies that remain unidentified. In many cases, identification may never be possible.
The Asian tsunami disaster has been particularly devastating for children who faced the most danger from the rushing waves. The United Nations Children's Fund estimates children accounted for one-third of the death toll. Many of those who survived lost parents, siblings and friends.
Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush said, "It's the children, the children. That's what affects me."
George Bush and Bill Clinton met countless orphans during their Asian tour, many sharing their horrific ordeal in graphic drawings of the tsunami.
Child welfare groups such as UNICEF continue to worry that the disaster's most vulnerable victims could fall prey to criminal gangs bent on selling them into slavery. To prevent that, databases have been set up to reunite children with relatives and friends.
Little Abilass in Sri Lanka is one of the lucky ones. But two months after the tsunami disaster, thousands more are left waiting and wondering if they'll ever see loved ones again.