Sea surges kill thousands in Asia

Thousands of people have been killed across south and east Asia in massive sea surges triggered by the strongest earthquake in the world for 40 years.

Villages have been swamped and homes destroyed after the 8.9-magnitude quake, the fifth strongest since 1900.

At least 1,000 died in Sri Lanka and a similar number were killed in India.

Casualty figures are rising and deaths have also been reported in Thailand and on Sumatra in Indonesia, thought to be near the tremor's epicentre.

Exact figures for casualties are hard to confirm but hundreds of people are also said to be missing in India's and Sri Lanka's coastal regions.

Sri Lanka: 1,000 dead
India: 1,000 dead
Thailand: 55 dead
Indonesia: 150 dead
Malaysia: 7 dead
Source: Government officials

Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga has declared a national disaster, and the military has been deployed to help rescue efforts for the 500,000 people thought affected on the island.

High sea waters have also struck tourist resorts on the coast of Thailand, reportedly killing scores of people.

The low-lying Indian Ocean islands of the Maldives have also been severely flooded but there is no word yet on casualties.

Communications down

Thousands have meanwhile been displaced from their homes by high tides in Indonesia.

The UK Foreign Office has set up an emergency helpline for those worried about relatives in the wake of the quake disaster - the number is 0207 008 0000
Panicked people reportedly fled their homes in the towns of Medan and Banda Aceh, the capitals of two of Sumatra's provinces.

Indonesia's geological position - along the Pacific "Ring of Fire" - makes it prone to earthquakes and volcanoes.

Electricity and telephone networks in the area have stopped working, making it difficult to confirm the extent of the damage, the BBC's Rachel Harvey in Jakarta reports.

Ground shaking

Indonesia's worst-hit region appears to be Aceh, a strife-torn province on Sumatra's northernmost tip, which has seen heavy clashes between government soldiers and separatist rebels.

Several houses in the towns of Banda Aceh and Lhokseumawe are said to have been damaged or washed away in flash floods.

A witness interviewed by a local radio station reported seeing nine bodies in Banda Aceh, where part of the town's largest hotel is said to have collapsed.

"The ground was shaking for a long time," another witness told the radio station.

In November, 29 people died when an earthquake struck Indonesia's eastern province of Papua.


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