Rescuers piled up bodies yesterday along the tropical coasts of southern Asia in the aftermath of the biggest quake in four decades, which struck off Indonesia and dispatched tidal waves that killed more than 23,000 people, more than half of them in Sri Lanka.
The 6m-high waves smashed into seaside towns and resorts, sweeping away boats, homes, fishermen and holidaymakers, including a grandson of Thailand's king and scores of foreigners on Christmas vacations. The torrents pulled a 6-month-old Australian baby from her father's arms in the Thai island resort of Phuket.
The death toll increased steadily as authorities sorted out the far-flung disaster caused by Sunday's 9.0-magnitude earthquake under the Indian Ocean. Offers of aid poured in from around the globe, as troops in the region struggled to deliver urgently needed aid to afflicted areas.
The waves sped away from the epicenter at over 800kph before crashing into the region's shorelines without warning, sweeping people out to sea. Thousands were missing and millions left homeless.
In Sri Lanka, the death toll reached 12,029, according to military officials and Web sites reporting from Tamil areas outside the government's control.
Indonesia and India also each reported thousands dead, and Thailand said hundreds were dead there. Deaths also were reported in Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Bangladesh and even in Somalia, 4,800km away in Africa.
Sri Lanka and Indonesia had at least a million people each driven from their homes along their coastlines, and officials feared the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera.
Signs of carnage were everywhere yesterday. Dozens of bodies still clad in swimming trunks lined beaches in Thailand. Villagers in Indonesia picked through destroyed homes amid the smell of rotting corpses, lacking any dry ground to bury the dead.
"What shall I do? I don't know where to bury my wife and children," said Rajali, 55, of Indonesia's Aceh province. He goes by a single name.
Helicopters in India rushed medicine to stricken areas, while warships in Thailand steamed to island resorts to rescue survivors.
About 200 people were evacuated from devastated Phi Phi island, one of Thailand's most popular destinations for Westerners. Jimmy Gorman, 30, of Manchester, England said he saw 15 bodies on the island, including up to five children and a pregnant woman.
"Disaster. Flattened everything," Gorman said. "There's nothing left of it."
Troops in Sri Lanka dealt with a prison break of 200 inmates and looters who duped residents into leaving homes by saying more tidal waves were approaching.
"When the residents are gone, they go on a looting spree," said Brigadier Daya Ratnayake, a military spokesman.
The earthquake hit Sunday off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The US Geological Survey said the quake's magnitude was 9.0 -- the strongest since a 9.2 magnitude temblor in Alaska in 1964, and the fourth-largest in a century.
Sunday's quake unleashed tsunamis that pummeled southern Thailand an hour later. In two-and-a-half hours, the torrents traveled some 1,600km to slam into India and Sri Lanka. They eventually struck Somalia.
An international network warns of the potentially killer waves along Pacific Rim nations in North America, Asia and South America -- but no such system exists for the Indian Ocean.