Indonesia – The confirmed deaths in a mammoth Asian quake and tsunami soared above 58,000 on Wednesday as worst-hit Indonesia readied bulldozers to dig mass graves for corpses in a rush to ward off disease, which the U.N. health agency said could double the toll.
Aid groups struggled to mount what they described as the largest relief operation the world has ever seen, and to head off the threat of cholera and malaria epidemics that could break out where water supplies are polluted with bodies and debris.
Dr. David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization, warned that disease could take as many lives as Sunday’s devastation.
‘The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities,’ he told reporters at the U.N. agency’s offices in Geneva.
Tens of thousands of people were still missing across a dozen countries from Indonesia to Sri Lanka to Somalia, and estimates of the dead ranged up beyond 76,000. The millions of people whose homes were swept away or wrecked by raging walls of water Sunday struggled to find shelter.
‘My mother, no word! My sisters, brothers, aunt, uncle, grandmother, no word!’ yelled a woman at a makeshift morgue in Lhokseumawe, Indonesia. ‘Where are they?’
Indonesia’s Health Ministry said thousands more bodies were found, raising to 30,000 the number of confirmed deaths on Sumatra island, the territory closest to the quake that sent tsunami waves rolling across the Indian Ocean.
With the threat of disease looming and little way of identifying the thousands of bodies lining the city’s streets and the lawns of government offices, the army had no choice but to get the corpses under ground, he said.
Sri Lanka listed more than 21,700 people dead, India close to 4,500 -with 8,000 missing and feared dead.
Thailand put its toll at more than 1,500. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.
Indonesia’s count did not include a report of 10,000 more dead around one coastal city.