Hopes of finding more survivors in Indonesia's shattered Sumatra island faded yesterday, one week after killer tsunamis swept across southern Asia, as food, water and other relief supplies trickled into the disaster zone. The death toll stood at more than 127,000, and was still climbing.
Rescue teams focused on the epicenter of the devastation in Sumatra, where US military helicopters flew in biscuits, energy drinks and instant noodles to hungry, homeless villagers. Aid workers enlisted elephants in the effort. The animals were used in the ruined provincial capital of Banda Aceh and in southern Thailand to clear away debris.
Around the devastated Indian Ocean rim, US$2 billion in promised international aid began to reach survivors.
The American military was mounting its largest operation in southern Asian since the Vietnam War, delivering supplies from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln stationed off Sumatra and sending a flotilla of Marines and water purifying equipment to Sri Lanka.
In the wiped-out coastal village of Kuede Teunom, where 8,000 of the 18,000 population were killed in the disaster, haggard survivors caught bottles of drinking water tossed from a US Navy helicopter.
"The need is desperate. There is nothing left to speak of," said Lieutenant Commander Jeff Vorce.
Four Indonesian navy frigates loaded with supplies arrived off the coast of the fishing village of Meulaboh, one of Aceh's worst-hit spots.
In India's devastated Andaman and Nicobar Islands, some villagers said they had still not received any help from outside, despite government claims that aid was reaching all affected sites. Officials said most of the island's jetties had been destroyed, making it difficult for boats to dock.
UN officials said they expected the overall death tally to surpass 150,000, although the final total may never be known. Five million people were homeless.
In Sri Lanka, where almost 30,000 died, flood waters that had added to survivors' misery receded. About 2,000 people were evacuated from refugee camps near the island nation's devastated eastern coast on Saturday after days of steady rain triggered flash floods.
They returned to government-run centers, and there were no reports of casualties, police said. Hundreds of thousands were living in unsanitary camps, but those whose homes escaped serious damage were returning to them.
Health officials said no medical crisis has yet emerged, although getting clean water and sanitation to hard-hit areas was an urgent priority to prevent outbreaks of disease.
In Thailand, where the death toll approached 5,000, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited tsunami-ravaged Phuket island, hoping to prop up a tourism industry that is critical to the country's economy and pledging to set up a tsunami early-warning system.
Aid from around the world, meanwhile, has grown steadily as the global disaster unfolded in all its horror.
The funds could rise into the billions of dollars as governments dramatically increase their pledges and private donors respond massively to charity appeals by offering donations via credit card, cash or checks.
A series of donor conferences were to be held in the next few weeks, with the major one opening later this week in New York.
Japan on Saturday promised US$500 million to countries devastated by the waves, by far outpledging all other countries which are racing to help victims of one of the world's worst disasters.