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Death Toll Nears 70,000 from Southern Asia Tsunami Disaster  - 2004-12-29


The death toll from southern Asia's catastrophic tsunami has soared to more than 68,000, as rescue crews look for survivors amid warnings that disease could claim as many lives as the natural disaster.

Tens of thousands of people are still not accounted for, and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the death toll could rise dramatically.

The World Health Organization is warning that a lack of sanitation and clean drinking water could spur an outbreak of diseases like cholera and typhoid, potentially doubling the present death toll.

This disaster was touched off Sunday, when a massive underwater earthquake off the northwestern coast of Indonesia triggered huge waves that pummeled coastal areas from Malaysia to the Horn of Africa. Deaths have been reported in a dozen Indian Ocean countries.

Indonesia's northern Sumatra island has been hardest-hit, with more than 36,000 deaths. Officials say large portions of the island remain underwater.

The island-nation of Sri Lanka has reported nearly 22,000 dead, while India has recorded about 10,000.

More than 16-hundred are dead in Thailand, with thousands more still missing. There also are reports of deaths in Burma, Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Maldive islands, as well as thousands of kilometers away in Tanzania and Somalia.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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