MANILA, December 29, 2004
(OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT) I call on our people to offer their prayers for the victims of the massive catastrophe that has struck our Asian brethren.

As we continue to reach out to help in whatever way we can, we should also remember that this tragedy could also happen in our own shores, ours being the longest shoreline in the world.

We pray that it will never happen to our country, but we must be prepared.

We must modernize our forecasting systems and linking these up with international warning networks.

We must know the geophysical hazards around us and strengthen the capacity of our local government units and communities for mitigating loss of lives and property.

‘Biggest disaster ever’ Manila Times December 29, 2004

Death toll in quake, tsunamis passes 55,000

The death toll from the massive earthquake and tsunamis that devastated much of Asia’s coastline passed 55,000 Tuesday, with officials warning the figure was likely to rise steeply.

UN officials called it the “biggest natural disaster ever.”

In Sri Lanka 18,706 were killed but the government said the toll may reach 20,000.

The death toll in India was placed at 11,499, including 7,000 confirmed or presumed killed in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands.

In Indonesia 7,072 people are reported dead but the government fears the toll may hit 25,000.

In Thailand there are 1,516 deaths, with 1,400 missing. Hundreds of foreigners are also feared dead and hundreds are missing.

Deaths were reported as far away as Somalia in Africa.

At least 56 people were killed in Myanmar and the toll was expected to rise substantially.

At least 52 people including two British holidaymakers were killed while another 68 were missing in the tourist paradise of Maldives, officials said.

In Malaysia 60 people, including many elderly and children, were killed, officials said.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake registered west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra measured 9.0 on the Richter scale—making it the largest quake worldwide in four decades. The CNN said it could be the worst disaster in recorded history.

Rotting corpses of quake victims piled up Tuesday in Indonesia’s Aceh province, and the possibility of disease outbreaks threatened to claim more lives. There were postapocalyptic scenes in the main city of Banda Aceh, where the stench of death hung over the rubble of demolished houses as survivors from Sunday’s earthquake and tsunamis struggled to dig graves in tropical heat.

Along the region’s isolated western shoreline there was only eerie silence pierced by an SOS call from what remained of the main town, where police said time was running out for survivors as looting broke out and starvation loomed.

With medicines, water, body bags, electricity and communications still scarce, the threat of disease epidemics was growing while foreign aid agencies struggled to get relief to the area.

Aceh has been under military lockdown for the past 18 months during a government drive to crush a long-running separatist rebellion. A ban on foreign aid agencies and the media was only lifted Monday. While many survivors remained in Banda Aceh to search for their relatives, others tried to escape, crowding the city’s airport and queuing under military guard for carefully rationed vehicle fuel.

Mass funerals were under way in Sri Lanka Tuesday as volunteers pulled decomposed corpses from washed-out trains, cars and smashed buildings. Burials were carried out along the southern coastal areas, with the first in the town of Matara, as mortuaries had no refrigeration to preserve the bodies rapidly piling up.

Relief workers came across carriages from a train that was washed away by giant waves that ripped up some 130 km of railway track and washed away three key bridges, officials said.

The train was traveling from the capital Colombo to the southern town of Galle, a distance of 112 km when it was swept off the rails Sunday in the tsunamis that lashed Sri Lanka’s coastline.

Indian and foreign tourists mobbed the lone airport in the Andaman Islands to catch flights leaving the vacation paradise.

The seawater rose suddenly again early Tuesday in the Andamans after aftershocks from the Indonesia earthquake, sparking fears of more seismic waves. Tourists such as Britain’s Lucy Henderson were frantic to leave. “We were here on our first marriage anniversary to see the emerald-green ocean. But on that day, it began to swell and turn black and we decided to run,” she said.

“And oh God we never ran like that before . . . it is a miracle we are alive.”

On the southern Indian mainland, bodies were rapidly heaped into mass graves as worries grew about outbreaks of disease from piles of decomposing corpses. Hospital staff and visitors wore masks where bodies were being collected.

Vultures and crows gathered where bodies lay in the open.

In Nagapattinam corpses were washed up by the sea and found wedged among collapsed shacks or floating in large lakes left behind by the invading sea. There was a stench of death up to a kilometer away from the beaches where rescue workers toiled to retrieve the dead from the sea and beaches.

“There are very serious health concerns. There’s an acute shortage of drinking water and medicine,” said a Salvation Army worker, John Raman, in Nagapattinam, the worst-hit coastal district in Tamil Nadu. “Human and animal bodies need to be cleared immediately. Chances of an epidemic are high.”

Survivors were traumatized by losses of family members. One woman in Nagapattinam whose children died could only hold up four fingers, whispering “daughters” when asked what happened Sunday. Tens of thousands spent the night huddling in emergency relief camps as the government stepped up relief efforts and the Indian Red Cross appealed for food, clothes and tarpaulins. Coastal residents were warned to stay away from beaches after meteorologists warned of aftershocks that could trigger further “big waves.”

People from the coastal areas of many parts of Kerala moved away from their homes overnight, fearful the tsunami might strike again. The Press Trust of India said high waves lashed parts of Kerala but there was no damage. Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulydej, who lost a grandson in the seismic-wave disaster, has donated 30 million baht ($769,000) to help victims, a palace official said Tuesday.

The official said the donation was made to a foundation, which will buy daily basic needs including food for survivors. It has already donated 4,000 bags of items. Jakrapob Penkair, the spokesman for the government, said it would accept donations such as clothes, money, drinking water, food, coffins and medicine from the public. But it would not make an appeal for aid from international organizations.

“We are not yet calling for assistance from international organizations or any country, because we think we can cope with it,” he said. -- AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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