The nations that ring the Indian Ocean awoke Monday trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the tsunami that swept through their region, but the full extent of the tragedy may take weeks to fully comprehend.
By Monday morning at least 14,000 had been reported dead, but many are still missing. Now the fear is that outbreaks of disease will claim even more lives. National disasters have been declared in Indonesia, Thailand parts of India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka after an earthquake measuring 9.0 erupted on Sunday morning centred near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Hours later a tsunami, a huge wave, was created in the Indian Ocean and swept at great speed across the ocean hitting and devastating seven countries.
The earthquake that spawned the killer wave was the most powerful in 40 years. The tsunamis washed away fishing villages and resorts throughout the region.
Indonesia says more than 4,100 people were killed when the powerful waves hit Sumatra. A spokesman for the Indonesian Centre for Emergency Preparedness said most of the casualties were in Aceh province, with about 1,400 dead around the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
Health workers and police in Aceh expect the toll to rise, as the full extent of the devastation is not yet known. Communications have been hampered by downed power and telephone lines.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 18,000 islands, lies on the collision point of three continental plates and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcano eruptions.
Other health workers are warning that without immediate help epidemics of water-borne diseases will break out throughout the region, putting many more thousands at risk.
In Sri Lanka alone more than 4,500 people have died. Thousands more have fled for higher ground, after the tsunami hit and devastated the island’s southern and eastern shores.
The Indian government has responded, sending warships and aircraft carrying medicine and food to the country’s southern region and to neighbouring Sri Lanka.
India’s official death toll stands at over 4,200 people, although reports from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states say hundreds are still unaccounted for. Great stretches of beach are said to be temporary morgues for the hundreds of corpses.
In Thailand, thousands of tourists were caught on the beach, unprepared. People, houses, boats and cars were all swept out to sea.
The tiny Maldives have declared a state of emergency after the tsunami from Sunday’s quake deluged the cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean. At least 32 people are thought to have died. The Maldives are a chain of islands that rise just a metre above sea level.