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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 20:33 GMT
Sea surges kill thousands in Asia
Madras devastation
Marina beach in Madras. Beaches were packed when waves hit
More than 10,000 people have been killed across southern Asia in massive sea surges triggered by the strongest earthquake in the world for 40 years.

The 8.9 magnitude quake struck under the sea near Aceh in north Indonesia, generating a wall of water that sped across thousands of kilometres of sea.

More than 4,100 died in Indonesia, 3,500 in Sri Lanka and 2,000 in India.

Casualty figures are rising over a wide area, including resorts in Sri Lanka and Thailand packed with holidaymakers.

DISASTER TOLL
Sri Lanka: 3,538 dead
Indonesia: 4,185 dead
India: 2,000 dead
Thailand: 257 dead
Malaysia: 28 dead
Maldives: 10 dead
Bangladesh: 2 dead
Source: Government officials

Exact numbers of people killed, injured or missing in the countries hit, are impossible to confirm.

Hundreds are still thought to be missing from coastal regions and, in Sri Lanka alone, officials say more than a million people have been forced from their homes.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared a national disaster and the military has been deployed to help rescue efforts.

Hundreds of fishermen are missing off India's southern coast, and there are reports of scores of bodies being washed up on beaches.

Night has now fallen across the region.

In Indonesia, communications remain difficult, particularly to the strife-torn region of Aceh where the main quake was followed by nine aftershocks. Reports speak of bodies being recovered from trees.

EARTHQUAKE EXPLAINED
Click below to see how the disaster unfolded

A national disaster has also been announced in the low-lying Maldives islands, more than 2,500km (1,500 miles) from the quake's epicentre, after they were hit by severe flooding.

The Indian-owned Andaman and Nicobar islands, much nearer the epicentre, were also badly hit.

Casualty reports could not be officially confirmed, but a police chief told Reuters 300 people had died and another 700 were feared dead.

Waves forced out from the earthquake are even reported to have reached Somalia, on the east coast of Africa.

And as far away as the Seychelles, nine people were reported missing as a two-metre surge struck.

Resort 'wiped out'

International aid agencies have called for a rapid response to the emergency to avert further deaths.

The European Union immediately pledged 3m euros (2.1m) to disaster relief efforts.

Devastation in Phuket, Thailand
The Thai resort of Phuket feels the force of the surge

Messages of condolences have poured in from around the world.

US President George W Bush offered aid to affected nations and expressed sorrow for the "terrible loss of life and suffering".

Harrowing reports of people caught in the devastation and dramatic tales of escape are emerging from the region.

Jayanti Lakshmi, 70, had gone shopping with her daughter-in-law in Cuddalore, southern India. Ms Lakshmi returned to find her son and twin grandsons dead in their hut.

"I wish I had died instead of the others, my daughter-in-law would have a life. I can't bear to watch her pain," she said.

All of us fear the final death toll, and in particular are worried that many tourists who went out on boat trips this morning have not returned
Charles Dickson,
Phuket, Thailand

In Thailand, hundreds of holiday bungalows are reported to have been destroyed on the popular Phi Phi island.

Resort owner Chan Marongtaechar told AP: "I am afraid there will be a high figure of foreigners missing in the sea, and also my staff."

Indonesia's location - along the Pacific geological "Ring of Fire" - makes it prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Sunday's tremor - the fifth strongest since 1900 - had a particularly widespread effect because it seems to have taken place just below the surface of the ocean, analysts say.

Bruce Presgrave of the US Geological service told the Reuters news agency: "These big earthquakes, when they occur in shallow water... basically slosh the ocean floor... and it's as if you're rocking water in the bathtub and that wave can travel throughout the ocean."

Experts say tsunamis generated by earthquakes can travel at up to 500km/h.

IMPACT OF THE EARTHQUAKE




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