The death toll from massive tidal waves that struck Sri Lanka's coastline leapt to more than 10,000 yesterday as thousands of soldiers searched for bodies a day after the disaster. Authorities also said they were dealing with a new problem -- looting.
Military spokesman Brigadier Daya Ratnayake said yesterday that 5,017 bodies had been recovered from areas of the island nation under government control, raising the official tally by more than 500 from the previous day. An additional 1,500 bodies have been recovered in Tamil rebel-controlled territory, bringing Sri Lanka's overall toll to more than 10,000.
"The toll is increasing," Ratnayake said. "We are finding more bodies."
Among the dead were 40 foreign tourists, including some from Japan, said A. Kalaiselvam, director general of Sri Lanka Tourist Board.
The Japanese Embassy in Sri Lanka told Japan's Foreign Ministry that 15 of the bodies found appear to be Japanese, that country's news agency Kyodo reported from Tokyo.
One million people in Sri Lanka were displaced in massive flooding unleashed by Sunday's 9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia, the world's largest in 40 years. More than 13,800 have been reported killed throughout Asia.
Ten helicopters and 25,000 soldiers rushed yesterday to Sri Lanka's coastal areas to deliver aid and crack down on looting. Helicopters dropped rescue teams and medicine to areas not accessible by land, while soldiers worked to maintain order and help with the rescue efforts.
"It is a national disaster and the army is responding," Ratnayake said. "They are helping the local authorities wherever they can."
Sporadic, small-scale looting was reported, first in the towns of Galle and Matara, and then spreading to new areas -- with looters duping residents into leaving their homes by saying new tidal waves are advancing, Ratnayake said.
"The looters are moving in an organized manner. They announce at a given area that residents should flee because new waves are coming," Ratnayake said. "When the residents are gone, they go on a looting spree. We have advised residents through radio not to act on such rumors and we are taking action against the looters," Ratnayake said.
About 200 inmates took advantage of the chaos and escaped from a Matara prison when guards panicked as water entered the building, the police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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, 275km northeast of the capital, Colombo.
About 170 children at an orphanage and a Catholic priest were feared dead after tidal waves pounded it in Mullaithivu, the Web site said.
TamilNet -- another pro-rebel Web site -- said as many as 2,000 people were feared killed in the Tamil regions.
The tidal waves have badly affected naval bases in the east and south, Navy Spokesman Commodore Jayantha Perera told the state-run Daily News.
He said a naval ship anchored at the Galle port in the south was topped by the tidal waves. It was not immediately known what type of ship it was.
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the Tamil Tiger guerrillas have sought international help to provide relief to those affected.