Food and water shortage plagues tsunami survivors
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Pilots dropped food to Indonesian villagers stranded among bloating corpses Thursday, while police in a devastated provincial capital stripped looters of their clothing and forced them to sit on the street as a warning to others. The death toll topped 119,000, and officials warned that 5 million people lack clean water, shelter, food, sanitation and medicine.
American planes delivered medical staff to Sri Lanka and body bags to Thailand, while a Thai air base used by B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War was becoming a hub for a U.S. military-led relief effort that will stretch along the Indian Ocean.
On Friday, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier battle group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln churned toward hard-hit Sumatra, expecting to reach there the following day and possibly meet up with naval ships from Singapore and Australia, officials said.
Sailors in Singapore scrambled to depart aboard the RSN Endurance, a 450-foot landing ship tank that’s carrying bulldozers, heavy-lifting equipment, food and medical supplies. In Australia, the HMAS Kanimbla was leaving Sydney transporting two helicopters, about 300 defense personnel and construction equipment to help clear debris and begin rebuilding Aceh province.
As a colossal international rescue effort struggled off the ground, relief efforts suffered a hitch when a false alarm of more killer waves sparked panic in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand and sent survivors and aid workers fleeing.
Indian women at a makeshift camp in a marriage hall said their children were going hungry. “For the past few days we were at least getting food,” said Selvi, 35, who uses one name. “Today, we didn’t even get that because aid workers fled the town after a fresh alert was issued this morning.”
The false alarm from the Indian government was just one of the new and sometimes unexpected threats facing survivors.
Sister Charity, a 32-year-old nun rescued by an Indian navy ship from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Wednesday, said confused and hungry crocodiles were on the loose.
“As we were returning (to the ship), two or three crocodiles started coming toward us. The navy officers had to fire their revolvers to ward off the crocodiles to protect us,” she told The Associated Press.
Death tolls across the region continued to grow today as Thailand announced a near doubling of its figure to more than 4,500. Officials said that number included 2,230 foreigners, a near tripling the number of confirmed foreign deaths in Thailand.
Indonesia led with fatal count with some 80,000. Sri Lanka reported 27,200 and India more than 7,300. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.
The U.S. death toll was officially raised Thursday from 12 to 14, with seven dead in Thailand and seven in Sri Lanka. Some 600 Americans who were listed as missing have been found, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, but several thousand had not been located four days after the disaster struck.
In Sri Lanka, Americans have been showing up at U.S. consular offices wearing bathing suits, with no money and no clothes, said Boucher.
In the remote Indian islands near the epicenter of Sunday’s magnitude-9.0 earthquake, entire villages were wiped out. With only 400 bodies found so far, the region’s administrator said 10,000 people were missing. Survivors who reached the archipelago’s main city, Port Blair, said they had not eaten for two days.
Around the Indian Rim and beyond, families endured their fifth day of ignorance as to the fate of friends and relatives who had taken a holiday-season vacation to the sunny beaches of Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, which bore the brunt of the tsunami. Thousands were still missing, including at least 2,500 Swedes, more than 1,000 Germans and 500 each from France and Denmark.
Military ships and planes rushed aid to Sumatra’s ravaged coast. Countless corpses strewn on the streets rotted under the tropical sun causing a nearly unbearable stench.
The World Health Organization said it needed $40 million to supply 3-5 million people with clean water, shelter, food, sanitation and health care.