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63,000 dead

From MSNBC, 8:29 p.m. ET Dec. 28, 2004:

Stricken Indian Ocean nations worked swiftly on Wednesday to bury thousands of bodies as experts warned disease could kill as many people as the 63,000 already dead from the violent crush of Sunday’s tsunamis.

While governments and rescuers tried to cope with the aftermath of possibly the deadliest tsunamis in more than 200 years, the United Nations mobilized what it called the biggest relief operation in its history. A top World Health Organization health expert warned that diseases could double the natural disaster’s death count before the situation can be stabilized.

Will has been discussing the U.S.’s apparent lack of action, so I found this part of the article interesting:

Meantime, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States “will do more” to help the victims. “Clearly, the United States will be a major contributor to this international effort,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show. “And, yes, it will run into the billions of dollars.”

He also said he regretted a statement by Egeland, the U.N. official overseeing the relief effort, suggesting America was being “stingy” by only making an initial pledge of $15 million in aid.

That of course makes it sound like we were embarrassed into helping. That’s really the kind of image we need right now…

I am still having a hard time comprehending all the deaths.

The end of the article discusses how tsunamis work, and our lack of early warning systems.

Officials in Thailand and Indonesia conceded that immediate public warnings of gigantic waves could have saved lives. The only known warning issued by Thai authorities reached resort operators when it was too late. The waves hit Sri Lanka and India more than two hours after the quake.

But governments insisted they couldn’t have known the true danger because there is no international system in place to track tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, and they could not afford the sophisticated equipment to build one.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and the head of the British Commonwealth bloc of Britain and its former colonies called for talks on creating a global early warning system for tsunamis.

The U.N.’s Egeland said the issue of creating a tsunami warning system would be taken up Jan. 18-22 at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan.

I hope they’re able to come up with something quickly, even if “Tsunamis as large as Sunday’s happen only a few times a century.” We need to learn from this.