Image: Tsunami victims.
Manish Swarup  /  AP
Tsunami victims are seen at a relief camp in Port Blair, on India's southeastern Car Nicobar island, on Thursday.
NBC News and news services
updated 12/30/2004 6:23:14 PM ET 2004-12-30T23:23:14

Aid workers trickling into Asia’s isolated tsunami-hit areas faced devastation on Thursday, with towns and villages destroyed, countless people hunting water and food -- and some of them growing ill or angry.

The official death toll across 11 countries soared past 84,000 after Indonesia confirmed 7,000 more dead on Thursday. The Red Cross predicted the final number could exceed 100,000.

Relief organizations, already bracing for a major operation, said needs were even greater than at first thought.

This is already one of the biggest humanitarian exercises in history, with 60 nations having pledged over $220 million in cash and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of emergency supplies.

“We are doing very little at the moment,” U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland acknowledged in New York, as aid workers reached many stricken areas, but were still thin on the ground in a region with up to 5 million people in need.

“It will take maybe 48 to 72 hours more to be able to respond to the tens of thousands of people who would like to have assistance today -- or yesterday, rather,” he said. “I believe the frustration will be growing in the days and the weeks ahead.”

Some have not eaten since Sunday when the tsunami hit and now face a fight for their lives against infections and diseases, such as elephantiasis, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, malaria, meningitis and hemorrhage fever.

New warning
Fears of more damage surged early Thursday, when authorities in southern India warned residents in coastal areas to evacuate low-lying areas, saying there could be fresh tsunamis.

"We have issued an alert. There could be a wave attack in the next one hour," said Veera Shanmuga Mani, the top administrator in Nagappattinam, a coastal town in southern Tamil Nadu state where most of the deaths from the weekend tsunamis occurred.

Paramedics in southern India began vaccinating thousands of survivors against cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery, and authorities sprayed bleaching powder on beaches where bodies have been recovered. In Sri Lanka, reports of waterborne disease such as diarrhea caused fears of an epidemic.

Hope dwindling
President Bush announced the United States, India, Australia and Japan have formed an international coalition to coordinate relief and reconstruction of the 3,000 miles of Indian Ocean rim walloped by Sunday's earthquake and the tsunami it unleashed.

"We're facing a disaster of unprecedented proportion in nature," said Simon Missiri, a top Red Cross official. "We're talking about a staggering death toll."

Slideshow: Tsunami hits Asia

On hundreds of Web sites , the messages were brief but poignant: "Missing: Christina Blomee in Khao Lak," or simply, "Where are you?" All conveyed the aching desperation of people the world over whose friends and family went off in search of holiday-season sun and sand and haven't been heard from for four days.

But even as hope for the missing dwindled, survivors continued to turn up. In Sri Lanka, where more than 22,000 died, a lone fisherman named Sini Mohammed Sarfudeen was rescued by an air force helicopter crew after clinging to his wave-tossed boat for three days.

Indian air force planes evacuated thousands of survivors from the remote island of Car Nicobar. Some of them had walked for days from their destroyed villages to reach a devastated but functioning airfield, where they were shuttled out 80 to 90 at a time.

Journalists were not allowed to leave the base to verify reports that some 8,000 people were dead there, but at the base alone, 67 officers and their families were missing and feared dead.

India's death toll rose to nearly 7,000, while Indonesia's stood at 45,268, but authorities said this did not include a full count from Sumatra's west coast, where more than 10,000 deaths were suspected in one town alone.

UNICEF said Thursday that the death toll in Indonesia could rise to as high as 80,000 with nearly a million children in need of assistance. The international children's agency estimated that 60 percent of Banda Aceh, the main town of Sumatra's Aceh province, was destroyed.

"It's going to be 75,000 to 80,000 no question," said John Budd, a UNICEF spokesman in Jakarta who got the information from government sources in Aceh.

‘Devastating’ damage on Sumatra
In Sumatra, the Florida-sized Indonesian island close to the epicenter of the quake, the view from the air was of whole villages ripped apart, covered in mud and seawater. In one of the few signs of life, a handful of desperate people scavenged a beach for food. On the streets of Banda Aceh, the main town of Sumatra's Aceh province, the military managed to drop supplies from vehicles and fights broke out over packs of instant noodles.

“The damage is truly devastating,” said Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya, military commander for Aceh province. “Seventy-five percent of the west coast is destroyed, and some places it’s 100 percent. These people are isolated, and we will try and get them help.”

Climbing toll
Thailand said it had 1,975 dead and a total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday that he feared his nation's death toll will soar to nearly 7,000 dead.

With tens of thousands of people still missing across the entire region, Peter Ress, Red Cross operations support chief, said the death toll could top 100,000. More than 500,000 were reported injured.

"We have little hope, except for individual miracles," Jean-Marc Espalioux, chairman of the Accor hotel group, said of the search for thousands of tourists and locals missing from beach resorts of southern Thailand -- including 2,000 Scandinavians.

Although the toll was expected to soar, a total of 473 foreigners of 36 nationalities were confirmed killed, according to the Interior Ministry’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. It said the victims included were 54 from Sweden, 49 from Germany, 43 from Britain and 20 Americans — eight more than the total reported by the U.S. government on Tuesday.

NBC's chief science correspondent Robert Bazell, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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