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Monday, December 27, 2004

BBC > Shun Iraq poll, says 'Bin Laden'

An audio tape attributed to Osama Bin Laden has called on Iraqis to boycott elections scheduled for 30 January.
The recording also backs Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as the al-Qaeda network's leader in Iraq, Arabic TV station al-Jazeera reported.
Zarqawi's al-Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for many bombings and hostage murders in Iraq.
Earlier this month, another audio message attributed to Bin Laden called for attacks on Gulf oil supplies.




japantoday > asia Many reportedly killed, hurt in China  riot


Monday, December 27, 2004 at 07:22 JST
HONG KONG — As many as 1,000 villagers battled police in southern China in a riot that left several people dead and dozens wounded, newspapers said Sunday.
Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po and Apple Daily newspapers differed widely over the size of the mob and what led to the clash Saturday in Da Lang village in Guangdong province. Both said the riot started after security forces beat a resident to death.

Wen Wei Po said nearly 50,000 people faced off against hundreds of police officers and torched four police cars. About a dozen village security officers were hurt in the dispute that sparked the riot, the newspaper said.
The Apple Daily, meanwhile, put the crowd size at nearly 1,000. Police fired tear gas at the rioters, the newspaper said. It quoted a villager as saying that several locals were killed and 100 were injured.
Wen Wei Po said the incident began with a dispute over compensation for a traffic accident. The disagreement flared into a riot when local security forces beat to death a relative of the accident victim, the newspaper said.
Apple Daily said the security forces sparked the unrest by beating to death a 15-year-old boy for stealing a bicycle. It said police brought the riot under control in three hours and later arrested about a dozen people.
Police and government officials refused to confirm details of the incident. "The riot is over," said one government official in Dongguan, a city that includes Da Lang.
The official, who would not give his name, referred all inquiries to the Communist Party propaganda office in Dongguan, where phones rang unanswered Sunday.
Police in Da Lang and Dongguan also refused to comment. (Wire reports)




Malaysian Star > Fifty-three dead, 34 missing after tidal waves hit Malaysia

Fifty-three dead, 34 missing after tidal waves hit Malaysia

The Star Online > News > Latest
Monday, December 27, 2004

Fifty-three dead, 34 missing after tidal waves hit Malaysia

News Update by The Star Newsdesk

KUALA LUMPUR: At least 53 people were killed, scores injured and 34 reported missing in several parts of Malaysia when tidal waves of up to five metres high hit the coastal regions as a result an earthquake in Sumatra.

Officials have described it as the worst natural disaster in Malaysia’s history.

Penang was the worst hit, with 38 reported dead and 30 missing at press time.

In Kedah, 12 more were reported dead and three missing, in Perak two dead and one missing and Selangor one dead.

A Malaysian husband and wife were also reported killed while diving in the Emerald Cave off Thailand’s southern coast after a huge tsunami struck.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he felt sad about the lives that were lost in the disaster and extended his condolences to the bereaved families.

He has asked Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop to give financial help to the victims.

According to the Meteorological Services Department Seismology division, preliminary information showed the location of the earthquake's epicentre at Latitude 3.1° North and Longitude 95.5° East, some 680km from Kuala Lumpur and 590km from Penang.

The first of the tidal waves, which hit the coastal areas at different times, was reported at about noon, about three hours after the tremors were felt in Malaysia.

However, a Penang Meteorological Services spokesman said the waves could have hit Penang shores earlier, before 11am.

Waves reaching 3m was reported at Batu Maung and between 2.4m and 3m at Batu Ferringhi.

The spokesman said the waves could have gone above 4.6m, particularly at enclosed bay areas.

Unconfirmed reports from the public said the waves at Langkawi had hit as high as 8m.

The seawaters swept more than 150m inland, drowning boatmen, holidaymakers and other people in its path.

Boats were capsized or tossed up onto the roads, and houses and other property destroyed.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also the National Disaster Relief and Management committee chairman, has ordered the evacuation of residents in the coastal areas of Penang and Kedah due to concern that tidal waves might recur.

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting has directed Fire and Rescue Department officers to go all out to help in the rescue work and to be ready if the waves were to hit again.

Earlier, between 9am and 9.30am, tremors lasting about one and two minutes were reported in all states except Malacca, Johor and Pahang.

The tremors sent occupants of many high-rise buildings scurrying out in fear, while in other premises the people were told to leave.

There was no report of any injury.

Earlier report

PETALING JAYA: At least 43 people were killed and more reported missing in several parts of Malaysia when tidal waves of up to six metres high hit northern Peninsular Malaysia following an earthquake in Sumatra on Sunday.

As at 9.30pm, Penang was the worst hit, with 33 reported dead and many more missing.

Nine more were reported dead in Kedah (eight in Kota Kuala Muda and one in Langkawi), one in Tanjung Piandang, Perak and one in Sabak Bernam, Selangor.

A Malaysian husband and wife were also reported killed while diving in the Emerald Cave off Thailand's southern coast when the tsunami struck.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has ordered the evacuation of residents in the coastal areas of Penang and Kedah due to concern that the tidal waves might recur.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Services Department said that high swells were expected to occur in the coastal areas of Perlis, Kedah and Penang in the next few days following the earthquake.

The New York Times > International > Europe > Pro-West Leader Appears to Win Ukraine Election

The New York Times > International > Europe > Pro-West Leader Appears to Win Ukraine Election: "The New York Times
December 27, 2004
Pro-West Leader Appears to Win Ukraine Election
By C. J. CHIVERS

KIEV, Ukraine, Monday, Dec. 27 - Viktor A. Yushchenko, the opposition leader, appeared headed for a resounding victory early Monday in a riveting presidential race marked by intrigue, charges of poisoning, fervent street demonstrations and widespread abuses of state power.

There were no independent reports of the egregious election violations that had discredited the previous round of voting. Mr. Yushchenko, addressing supporters at this headquarters, predicted an end at last to an extended and bitter election season.

'It has happened,' said Mr. Yushchenko, his face still disfigured from dioxin poisoning this fall for which he has blamed his adversaries in the government. 'Today we are turning a page of lies, censorship and violence.' Ahead, he said, lay a 'new epoch of a new great democracy.'

With 74 percent of the votes from the Sunday election counted, Mr. Yushchenko was leading Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich by 55 percent to 40 percent, according to the Central Election Commission. The early results placed him within the range predicted by surveys of voters exiting the polls, which gave the opposition a 15- to 20-point lead.

Displays of fireworks lighted up Independence Square, where tens of thousands of Mr. Yushchenko's supporters turned out once more, as they had for more than two weeks in late November and early December to protest the government fraud that discredited the last vote. The Orange Revolution, as Mr. Yushchenko's supporters have taken to calling their peaceful resistance, appeared to be nearing its end.

The election was the second head-to-head contest between Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovich, who once had been the handpicked successor to departing President"

MSNBC > China vows to prevent Taiwan independence at any cost

China vows to prevent Taiwan independence at any cost: "Country Profile
China vows to prevent Taiwan independence at any cost
BEIJING, Dec. 26 — China's military will crush any major moves towards independence by Taiwan, a Beijing government policy paper said on Monday, prompting the self-governing island to accuse Beijing of escalating tensions.

Country Profile
The defence paper was released as senior Chinese lawmakers discussed a draft anti-secession law that analysts say may legally bind China to take military action if the island it claims as a renegade province declares statehood.
''Should the Taiwan authorities go so far as to make a reckless attempt that constitutes a major incident of 'Taiwan independence', the Chinese people and armed forces will resolutely and thoroughly crush it at any cost,'' the paper said.
Taipei called on the world community ''to stop China before it is too late.''
Taiwan split from the mainland at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, but Beijing still sees the democratic island of 23 million as a part of Chinese territory and has pledged to bring it back into the fold, by force if necessary.
Moves by President Chen Shui-bian, who took office in 2000,
to foster a separate Taiwan identity have made China's communist leaders increasingly nervous.
Taiwan's top China policymaker said the anti-secession law marked Beijing's most serious attempt to pressurise Taipei and, if approved, would define China as the sole arbitrator and lawmaker for relations across the Taiwan Strait.
''To Taiwan, this is a unilateral change of the status quo, a very serious provocation and an absolutely unnecessary escalation of tension,'' Mainland Affairs Council Joseph Wu told reporters in Taipei. ''If China decides to enact the law, it may become an explosive point in cross-Strait relations.''
He added: ''This is an urgent call to the international community to stop China before it is too late.''

NO DIRECT FLIGHTS
Wu said he saw no direct link between the release of the defence white paper and the Beijing parliament's discussion of the anti-secession law, but noted that China's military buildup in recent years has been explicit in intimidating Taiwan.
On Sunday, the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress, or parliament, praised the draft anti-secession law and unanimously suggested it be submitted to a full session of parliament early next year.
''The situation in the relations between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits is grim,'' the Chinese defence paper said.
''The Taiwan authorities under Chen Shui-bian have recklessly challenged the status quo that both sides of the Straits belong to one and the same China, and markedly escalated the 'Taiwan independence' activities designed to split China,'' it said.
Although the paper held out the prospect of talks with Taiwan if its leaders accept the ''one China'' principle, Taiwan's Wu said Beijing was not interested in dealing with Chen's government and there was little chance of establishing direct chartered flights to help the flourishing trade across the Taiwan Strait.
''The Chinese government seems to be waiting for another 3-
years before they want to establish any kind of contact with the Taiwan government,'' Wu said. Chen's second term ends in May 2008.
''If that is the case, I'll tell you that the cross-Strait situation down the road is going to be more and more difficult.''

U.S. NOT HELPING
Both China and Taiwan pointed their fingers at the United States, saying Washington should heed their causes. Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but is bound by law to help defend Taiwan.
The United States is the island's biggest arms supplier and China said it sent the wrong signals to independence seekers.
''The U.S. action does not serve a stable situation across the Taiwan Straits,'' the defence paper said.
Taiwan, on the other hand, said Washington and the international community should help bring China to heel.
''It is quite clear that the inaction of the international community to China's aggressive behaviour against Taiwan encourages China to continue and even escalate its rhetoric and belligerent actions,'' said Wu.
''I think it's time for the international community to step up and say no to China, to stop threatening Taiwan.''
The defence policy paper, Beijing's first since 2002, recapped in detail developments in China's military modernisation over the past two years, saying China posed a threat to no one.
It noted that Japan was adjusting its security policies. Since World War Two, China has been wary of any Japanese moves to expand the role of its military, which is constitutionally forbidden from waging war and limited to defensive activities.
China's defence budget was 211.7 billion yuan ($25.58 billion) this year, the paper said. That compared with 190.79 billion yuan in 2003 and 170.78 billion yuan in 2002.
The money was spent on increasing salaries and insurance schemes, supporting structural reform, developing talent, and for a ''moderate increase in equipment expenses,'' the paper said.

At-a-glance: Countries hit

BBC NEWS | In Depth | At-a-glance: Countries hit

BBC NEWS | In Depth | At-a-glance: Countries hit

INDONESIA

The epicentre of the earthquake was off the western island of Sumatra, striking at about 0100 GMT (0800 local time) on Sunday.

Dozens of buildings were destroyed in the initial quake before a huge wall of water, up to 10m high in places, hit the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra.

Officials said Aceh was the worst hit area, which lies closest to the epicentre.

Coastal towns and villages, and the resort island of Nias, were swamped.

Return to top

SRI LANKA

A wide stretch of the eastern coastline - from Jaffna in the north to the popular tourist beaches in the south - has been devastated.

Districts of Muttur and Trincomalee were reportedly inundated by waves as high as 6m.

More than a million people have been forced from their homes, officials say.

The port in the capital, Colombo, was shut by flash floods.

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INDIA

More than 2,000km (1,243 miles) of southern coast was swamped by tidal waves, including the states of Tamil Nadu - whose capital, Madras, was particularly badly hit - Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala, as well as the federally administered territory of Pondicherry.

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

A nuclear reactor in Tamil Nadu was shut down after sea water entered an estate housing scientists.

Heavy damage is also reported in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Jetties on the island's main port have collapsed and many people have been forced out of their homes.

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THAILAND

The western coast of southern Thailand has been badly affected, including Phuket and Phi Phi islands and the mainland resorts of Krabi and Phang Nga.

Reports say divers and sunbathers were swept out to sea from beaches near Phuket.

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MALDIVES

High waves and floods inundated the islands.

Large areas of the capital, Male, have been left under water and some low lying islands abandoned.

Some of the country's 200 islands cannot be contacted.

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MALAYSIA

People are reported to have been swept away from beaches near the northern island of Penang.

The mainland states of Kedah and Perak were also affected.

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SOMALIA

The northern Somali coastline, more than 6,000 km (3,728 miles) from the epicentre, was reported affected.

There are unconfirmed reports of fatalities in Kabaal in the north-east and in Elmaan, north of the capital, Mogadishu.

Waves also struck Kenya, after hitting Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles on the way.

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BURMA

The south-eastern coast is reported to have been struck by a huge wave.

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Sunday, December 26, 2004

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Thailand resorts hit by floods

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Thailand resorts hit by floods: "Thailand resorts hit by floods
Thailand resorts hit by floods
At least 257 people died and 1,000 were injured after the massive sea surges caused by an earthquake smashed into Thailand's western coast.

The worst hit areas were on beaches near Phuket, with reports of divers and sunbathers being swept out to sea.

Hotels were under water after 5m-10m (16 to 33 feet) waves hit the coast and there were reports of tourist bungalows being carried away by the water.

Tourists spoke of their disbelief at the scale and speed of the disaster.

"The beach is a disaster now with all of the local restaurants and beach chairs businesses totally destroyed," one reader in Phuket told the BBC News website.

One hotel worker in Phuket said the tide of water flooded the hotel lobby and pulled furniture onto the street.

"As I was standing there, a car actually floated into the lobby and overturned because the current was so strong," Boree Carlsson told Reuters news agency.

Thai officials said the toll was expected to rise because scores of people were still missing.

There were particular fears for divers, since the tidal wave hit when hundreds of tourists and instructors were in the water for a Boxing Day dive.

Woke up to see a wall of water, trees and cars coming towards us very quickly
Chris Anderson, Phuket
Up to 80 divers were reported to be trapped in the famous Emerald Cave, which divers can only reach by swimming underwater.

On the island of Koh Phi Phi, made famous as the location for the 2000 film "The Beach", officials spoke of widespread damage and islanders and tourists being airlifted to safety.

One report from the island said 200 bungalows had been swept out the sea.

Tourism is one of Thailand's most important industries, with hundreds of thousands of Western and Asian tourists drawn to its beaches each year.

In neighbouring Malaysia, at least 20 people were reported killed after the tidal waves hit. Most of the dead were in the holiday resort of Penang.

Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/4125847.stm

Published: 2004/12/26 12:05:26 GMT

The Malaysian Star > From The Associated Press > Asia Quakes' Tsunamis Kill Nearly 10,000

The Associated Press: "AP Top News at 1:54 p.m. EST

Asia Quakes' Tsunamis Kill Nearly 10,000
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - The world's most powerful earthquake in 40 years struck deep under the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Sumatra on Sunday, triggering tidal waves up to 20 feet high that obliterated villages and seaside resorts in six countries across southern Asia. Nearly 10,000 people were killed in the devastation, and the death toll was expected to rise. Tourists, fishermen, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water that rolled across the Bay of Bengal, unleashed by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake. The tsunami waves barreled nearly 3,000 miles across the ocean to Africa, where at least nine people were killed in Somalia, witnesses said. "

Fifty-three dead, 34 missing after tidal waves hit Malaysia

Fifty-three dead, 34 missing after tidal waves hit Malaysia

Fifty-three dead, 34 missing after tidal waves hit Malaysia

News Update by The Star Newsdesk

KUALA LUMPUR: At least 53 people were killed, scores injured and 34 reported missing in several parts of Malaysia when tidal waves of up to five metres high hit the coastal regions as a result an earthquake in Sumatra.

Officials have described it as the worst natural disaster in Malaysia’s history.

Penang was the worst hit, with 38 reported dead and 30 missing at press time.

In Kedah, 12 more were reported dead and three missing, in Perak two dead and one missing and Selangor one dead.

A Malaysian husband and wife were also reported killed while diving in the Emerald Cave off Thailand’s southern coast after a huge tsunami struck.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he felt sad about the lives that were lost in the disaster and extended his condolences to the bereaved families.

He has asked Second Finance Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop to give financial help to the victims.

According to the Meteorological Services Department Seismology division, preliminary information showed the location of the earthquake's epicentre at Latitude 3.1° North and Longitude 95.5° East, some 680km from Kuala Lumpur and 590km from Penang.

The first of the tidal waves, which hit the coastal areas at different times, was reported at about noon, about three hours after the tremors were felt in Malaysia.

However, a Penang Meteorological Services spokesman said the waves could have hit Penang shores earlier, before 11am.

Waves reaching 3m was reported at Batu Maung and between 2.4m and 3m at Batu Ferringhi.

The spokesman said the waves could have gone above 4.6m, particularly at enclosed bay areas.

Unconfirmed reports from the public said the waves at Langkawi had hit as high as 8m.

The seawaters swept more than 150m inland, drowning boatmen, holidaymakers and other people in its path.

Boats were capsized or tossed up onto the roads, and houses and other property destroyed.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who is also the National Disaster Relief and Management committee chairman, has ordered the evacuation of residents in the coastal areas of Penang and Kedah due to concern that tidal waves might recur.

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting has directed Fire and Rescue Department officers to go all out to help in the rescue work and to be ready if the waves were to hit again.

Earlier, between 9am and 9.30am, tremors lasting about one and two minutes were reported in all states except Malacca, Johor and Pahang.

The tremors sent occupants of many high-rise buildings scurrying out in fear, while in other premises the people were told to leave.

There was no report of any injury.

Earlier report

PETALING JAYA: At least 43 people were killed and more reported missing in several parts of Malaysia when tidal waves of up to six metres high hit northern Peninsular Malaysia following an earthquake in Sumatra on Sunday.

As at 9.30pm, Penang was the worst hit, with 33 reported dead and many more missing.

Nine more were reported dead in Kedah (eight in Kota Kuala Muda and one in Langkawi), one in Tanjung Piandang, Perak and one in Sabak Bernam, Selangor.

A Malaysian husband and wife were also reported killed while diving in the Emerald Cave off Thailand's southern coast when the tsunami struck.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has ordered the evacuation of residents in the coastal areas of Penang and Kedah due to concern that the tidal waves might recur.

Meanwhile, the Meteorological Services Department said that high swells were expected to occur in the coastal areas of Perlis, Kedah and Penang in the next few days following the earthquake.

MSNBC - 9,000 killed as tidal waves sweep Asia

MSNBC - 9,000 killed as tidal waves sweep Asia

9,000 killed as tidal waves sweep Asia
Magnitude 8.9 temblor triggers walls of water; villages, resorts erased
MSNBC News Services
Updated: 1:13 p.m. ET Dec. 26, 2004

JAKARTA, Indonesia - The world’s most powerful earthquake in 40 years struck deep under the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Sumatra on Sunday, triggering tidal waves up to 20 feet high that obliterated villages and seaside resorts in six countries across southern and southeast Asia. The death toll in an Asian earthquake and tsunami on Sunday jumped to nearly 9,500 according to officials and local media.

Figures tabulated by Reuters put the death toll at 9,438.

Tourists, fishermen, homes and cars were swept away by walls of water that rolled across the Bay of Bengal, unleashed by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake. The tsunami waves barreled nearly 3,000 miles across the ocean to Africa, where at least nine people were killed in Somalia.

In Sri Lanka, 1,000 miles west of the epicenter, more than 3,000 people were killed, the country’s top police official said. At least 2,200 died in Indonesia, and more than 2,300 along the southern coasts of India. At least 289 were confirmed dead in Thailand, 42 in Malaysia and 2 in Bangladesh.

But officials expected the death toll to continue to rise, with hundreds reported missing and all communications cut off to towns in the Indonesian island of Sumatra that were closest to the epicenter. Hundreds of bodies were found on various beaches along India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, and more were expected to be washed in by the sea, officials said.

‘All the planet is vibrating’
The rush of tsunami waves brought sudden disaster to people carrying out their daily activities on the ocean’s edge: Sunbathers on the beaches of the Thai resort of Phuket were washed away; a group of 32 Indians — including 15 children — were killed while taking a ritual Hindu bath to mark the full moon day; fishing boats, with their owners clinging to their sides, were picked up by the waves and tossed away.

“All the planet is vibrating” from the quake, said Enzo Boschi, the head of Italy’s National Geophysics Institute. Speaking on SKY TG24 TV, Boschi said the quake even disturbed the Earth’s rotation.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake at a magnitude of 8.9. Geophysicist Julie Martinez said it was the world’s fifth-largest since 1900 and the largest since a 9.2 temblor hit Prince William Sound Alaska in 1964.

The epicenter was located 155 miles south-southeast of Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on Sumatra, and six miles under the seabed of the Indian Ocean. There were at least a half-dozen powerful aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from almost 6 and 7.3.

Devastation on Sumatra
On Sumatra, the quake destroyed dozens of buildings — but as elsewhere, it was the wall of water that followed that caused the most deaths and devastation.

Tidal waves leveled towns in Aceh province on Sumatra’s northern tip. An Associated Press reporter saw bodies wedged in trees as the waters receded. More bodies littered the beaches.

Health ministry official Els Mangundap said 1,876 people had died across the region, including some 1,400 in the Aceh provincial capital, Banda Aceh. Communications to the town had been cut.

Relatives went through lines of bodies wrapped in blankets and sheets, searching for dead loved ones. Aceh province has long been the center of a violent insurgency against the government.

The worst known death toll so far was in Sri Lanka, where a million people were displaced from wrecked villages. Some 20,000 soldiers were deployed in relief and rescue and to help police maintain law and order. Police chief, Chandra Fernando said at least 3,000 people were dead in areas under government control.

An AP photographer saw two dozen bodies along a four-mile stretch of beach, some of children entangled in the wire mesh used to barricade seaside homes. Other bodies were brought up from the beach, wrapped in sarongs and laid on the road, while rows of men and women lined the roads asking if anyone had seen their relatives.

‘A huge tragedy’
“It is a huge tragedy,” said Lalith Weerathunga, secretary to the Sri Lankan prime minister. “The death toll is going up all the time.” He said the government did not know what was happening in areas of the northeast controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.

The pro-rebel Web site www.nitharsanam.com reported about 1,500 bodies were brought from various parts of Sri Lanka’s northeast to a hospital in Mullaithivu district, 170 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo.

About 170 children at an orphanage were feared dead after tidal waves pounded it in Mullaithivu, the Web site said.

No independent confirmation of the report was available, but TamilNet — another pro-rebel Web site — said some guerrilla territory was badly hit. “Many parts ... are still inaccessible and it was difficult to provide damage estimates or death tolls there,” it said.

In India, beaches were turned into virtual open-air mortuaries, with bodies of people caught in the tidal wave being washed ashore.

“I was shocked to see innumerable fishing boats flying on the shoulder of the waves, going back and forth into the sea, as if made of paper,” said P. Ramanamurthy, 40, who lives in Kakinada, a town in Andra Pradesh state.

Resorts not spared
The huge waves struck around breakfast time on the beaches of Thailand’s beach resorts — probably Asia’s most popular holiday destination at this time of year, particularly for Europeans fleeing the winter cold — wiping out bungalows, boats and cars, sweeping away sunbathers and snorkelers, witnesses said.

“Initially we just heard a bang, a really loud bang,” Gerrard Donnelly of Britain, a guest at Phuket island’s Holiday Inn, told Britain’s Sky News. “We initially thought it was a terrorist attack, then the wave came and we just kept running upstairs to get on as high ground as we could.”

“People that were snorkeling were dragged along the coral and washed up on the beach, and people that were sunbathing got washed into the sea,” said Simon Clark, 29, a photographer from London vacationing on Ngai island.

On Phuket, Somboon Wangnaitham, deputy director of the Wachira Hospital, said one of the worst hit areas was the populous Patong beach, where at least 32 people died and 500 were injured.

Another survivor on Phuket was Natalia Moyano, 22, of Sydney, Australia, who was being treated for torn ligaments.

“The water kept rising. It was very slow at first, then all of a sudden, it went right up,” Moyano said. “At first I didn’t think there was any danger, but when I realized the water kept rising so quickly, I tried to jump over a fence, but it broke.”

'Foreigners missing in the sea'
On Phi Phi island — where the Leonardo DiCaprio film “The Beach” was shot — 200 bungalows at two resorts were swept out to sea.

“I am afraid that there will be a high figure of foreigners missing in the sea, and also my staff,” said Chan Marongtaechar, owner of the PP Princess Resort and PP Charlie Beach Resort.

Some 200 seriously injured people, most of them foreigners, were evacuated by helicopter from the island after dark, said Maj. Gen. Winai Nilasri of the Border Patrol Police. He said the island, which was crammed with tourist facilities, was without electricity.

There was no tsunami threat for western North America or Hawaii, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Warning system studied
Scientists said the catastrophic death toll across the region might have been reduced if India and Sri Lanka had been part of an international warning system designed to advise coastal communities that a potentially killer wave was approaching. The system relies on a network of earthquake seismic sensors and tidal gauges attached to buoys in the oceans.

Indonesia, a country of 17,000 islands, is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the margins of tectonic plates that make up the so-called Ring of Fire around the Pacific Ocean basin.

The Indonesian quake struck just three days after an 8.1 quake struck the ocean floor between Australia and Antarctica, causing buildings to shake hundreds of miles away but no serious damage or injury.

Quakes reaching a magnitude 8 are very rare. A quake registering magnitude 8 rocked Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Sept. 25, 2003, injuring nearly 600 people. An 8.4 magnitude tremor that stuck off the coast of Peru on June 23, 2001, killed 74.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6754820/