Dozens of bloated bodies littered the streets of Indonesia's Banda Aceh city yesterday as soldiers and desperate relatives searched for survivors of an earthquake and tidal waves that killed at least 6,000 people.
On the outskirts of the city, some 500 bodies collected by emergency workers lay under plastic tents, rotting in the tropical heat, according to reporters at the scene.
Sunday's earthquake destroyed dozens of buildings in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh Province, before triggering tidal waves that turned the streets into rivers.
Some 3,000 people died in the city, which has been virtually cut off since the quake struck due to power cuts and downed telephone wires.
Communication was still cut off to several other parts of Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island. The island bore the brunt of the destruction from the 9.0-magnitude quake, which was centered just off its western coast.
The quake -- the world's most powerful in 40 years -- sent massive tidal waves slamming into coastlines across Asia. More than 13,800 people died in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Maldives, Somalia and Bangladesh.
On Sumatra, a million people were left homeless, the health ministry said.
Villagers in Sunadon district, near northern Aceh's Lhokseumawe city, picked through the debris of their ruined houses amid the smell of decomposing bodies.
One man, Rajali, said he had lost his wife and two children to flooding and couldn't find dry ground to bury them. Islamic tradition demands that the deceased be buried as soon as possible.
"What shall I do?" said the 55-year-old, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name. "I don't know where to bury my wife and children."
At least 4,491 people were killed on Sumatra island and on Nias, an isolated island that lies west of Sumatra, State Secretary Yusril Mahendra said in Jakarta.
"We have ordered 15,000 troops into the field to search for survivors," military spokesman Edy Sulistiadi said. "They are mostly retrieving corpses."
Refugees in Lhokseumawe, many of whom had spent the night sleeping outside on open ground, complained that little or no aid had reached them.
Dr. Tambah Taibsyah at the city's Cut Meutia hospital, which was treating some 100 seriously injured patients, said "we are now running out of medicines."
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was in Papua province visiting the victims of a recent earthquake there, declared three days of national mourning.
He was scheduled to visit Aceh, home to about 4.3 million people, later yesterday.
Separatist violence has torn Aceh for the past 26 years, and Jakarta has prevented foreign journalists and international aid agency representatives from visiting the region for more than a year. It appeared likely the restrictions on aid workers would be lifted to let in emergency supplies.
"The military will support the distribution of foreign aid in Aceh and allow foreign workers and journalists into the province as long as the government approves it," military Colonel Achmad Yani Basuki said.