Tsunami Death Toll Hits 68,000

Tsunami toll hits 68,000 (Reuters)

Thousands of corpses are rotting in Indonesia’s tropical sun as rescuers scour isolated coasts across the Indian Ocean for survivors of Sunday’s giant waves that killed more than 68,000. Many who escaped death in what may have been the deadliest tsunami in more than 200 years now face a fight for survival against hunger and disease. The United Nations mobilised what it called the biggest relief operation in its history.

The ocean surge was triggered by a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake, the biggest in 40 years, off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, spreading in an arc of death across the Indian Ocean and striking from Indonesia to Sri Lanka, and beyond to Africa. U.S. scientists said the quake that set off the killer wall of water permanently moved tectonic plates beneath the Indian Ocean as much as 30 metres (98 ft), slightly shifting islands near Sumatra. It may also have made the Earth wobble on its axis.

Survivors told harrowing tales of the moment the tsunami, up to 10 metres (33 feet) high, struck towns and resorts, sucking holidaymakers off beaches into the ocean and smashing people and debris through buildings. UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said children could account for up to a third of the dead. Indonesia has suffered the biggest number of victims, with 32,502 known to be dead and a final toll of 40,000 expected.

Sadly, the final death toll will likely be far higher. These figures are staggering–easily eclipsing U.S. losses in Vietnam and all wars since combined.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.