Tsunami death toll reaches 9,500

A tsunami of extraordinary violence caused by an underwater quake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale -- the most powerful quake in the last 40 years -- struck a large swath of Southeast Asia Sunday, possibly killing as many as 9,500 people.

The quake, which was centered near the Indonesian island of Sumatra, caused gigantic tidal waves reported by several eyewitnesses to measure as high as 40 feet (12 meters), causing massive destruction along its route. The waters swept away people, cars, homes and anything that stood in the way of the surging tides.


Among the killed were hundreds, of not thousands, of foreign tourists -- mostly Europeans escaping the bleak December cold -- who were vacationing in popular seaside resorts. Phuket in Thailand, a tourist favorite at this time of year, reported a number of deaths.

The number of killed, which currently stands between 3,000 and 10,000 -- should be looked at with caution. Given the scale of the disaster and the difficulty in establishing a comprehensive death toll, precise figures are hard to come by and the numbers are sure to fluctuate in the days to come as authorities across Asia come to grips with the disaster.


As can be expected, communications systems -- telephones, Web access and even cell phones -- have been affected by the flooding which touched parts of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives.

First reports speak of as many as 3,200 killed in Sri Lanka, 2,200 in Indonesia and 2,000 in India, according to official government sources. Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh and the Maldives are also reporting casualties.

This is the worst disaster since the strongest ever recorded quake devastated parts of Chile on May 22, 1960. Recording of earthquakes began in 1899. Sunday's quake would make it the fifth strongest ever.

Several countries have already offered assistance. The European Union has offered an initial 3 million euros. Sri Lanka, one of the worst affected by the tsunami, has declared a state of emergency and neighboring India has agreed to send assistance, reports India Daily.

Despite the Boxing Day holiday, Britain was quick to react, promising that help would be on the way. And the United Nations reacted by activating disaster relief teams who will fly out to the worst affected areas to help coordinate relief where it will be most needed.

The great danger now comes from the possibility of epidemics breaking out if the dead, both people and animals, are not promptly buried.


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