A tsunami triggered by a massive undersea earthquake off the coast of Indonesia smashed into coastal areas of the Indian Ocean ring nations on Sunday, destroying villages, flooding cities and killing more than 12,000 people.
The 8.9-magnitude quake, the most powerful one in four decades, struck just before 8:00 AM local time off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, about 1,620 kilometers northwest of Jakarta, according to the US Geological Survey. It was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.
The death toll is increasing as bodies continue to be washed ashore, while thousands were reported missing. Tens of thousands fled the coasts for higher ground, fearing aftershocks and further flood surges.
In Sri Lanka, one of the hardest-hit countries, the death toll climbed to 4,500 and about 1 million people were displaced. The Sri Lankan government declared a national disaster.
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was on a private visit to Britain, will cut short her visit and to return to Sri Lanka. She has called for international assistance in dealing with the country's worst-ever humanitarian crisis.
In Indonesia, the health ministry said at least 4,185 people were killed and hundreds more were missing.
Ministry officials said at least 3,000 of those killed, either from flooding or quake damage, were in the provincial capital Banda Aceh. About 100 were killed in neighboring north Sumatra Province and on the island of Nias, to the west of Sumatra and close to the epicenter of quake.
Some 50,000 people had fled their homes and taken refuge in government offices or other buildings on higher ground while hundreds were still unaccounted for.
In India, officials put the death toll to 2,300 in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherr as waves swept away boats, homes and vehicles.
The death toll to is expected to rise as reports of missing fishermen were pouring in from dozens of villages along the state's 1,000-kilometer-long coastline. Some 700 fishermen were reported missing in Prakasam district alone
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha said 1,500 deaths have been recorded in her state.
Around 50 kilometers from Chennai, Tamil Nadu's capital, seawater seeped into the nuclear power plant at Kalpakkam, forcing it to shut down. A special Indian Army unit was mobilized to deal with the situation and the Crisis Management Group said the plant was "fully safe."
This was one of the worst tragedies to hit India since the January 2001 when an earthquake in Gujarat killed nearly 25,000.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh assured the states hit by the disaster that they would receive relief and rehabilitation assistance, and appealed to the people to remain calm.
In Thailand, government officials reported that 257 people have been confirmed dead and more than 5,447 injured. Many more remain missing in the country's southern resort islands, including an unknown number of holidaymakers from abroad.
Rear Admiral Pheerasan Watcharamoon, deputy commander of the 2nd Navy Division, said that the Navy had sent ships to pick up tourists and local residents from Phi Phi and several other islands in the vicinity. Nearly 4,000 people were stranded on Phi Phi.