Sea of Sorrow

The world suffers an epic tragedy as a tsunami spreads death across Asia. An on-the-scene look at how it happened--and whether the carnage could have been avoided

  • Share
  • Read Later

(7 of 8)

If stories like that broke the world's collective heart, so did the scraps of paper pinned up along the broken coastlines. There were photographs of the dead in India. Thailand had messages like "Try and contact us, Mum and Dad. Love, Louis and Theo" and a leaflet offering $10,000 for any information about a Swedish family--a mother, father and four children. As the full horror of the death toll in Aceh became apparent at the end of the week, it was clear that in countries other than Indonesia, the count could still rise. Five days after the tsunami, there were fears that hundreds or possibly thousands of corpses might still be undiscovered in Khao Lak, a Thai resort area that was devastated. Even the few heartwarming tales of survival--of children reunited with their parents after days spent apart--were overlaid with grief. Marko Karkkainen, a Swedish man hospitalized by injuries, discovered that his toddler son Hannes Bergstroem had survived the catastrophe. After a Thai villager had rescued the boy from the raging surf, an American couple found him wrapped in blankets on a hill. But the boy's mother remained among the missing. While there were plenty of stories of heroism and sacrifice, there were less comforting tales too. Within a few hours of the tsunami's hitting Thailand, there was widespread looting of wrecked hotels. In five-star hotels on the Indian coast, tourists were locked in rooms as panicked crowds surged through the streets and looters picked jewelry from the bodies in the rubble.

As if to mirror some of the more sordid elements of the tragedy's aftermath, the world outside indulged in an unseemly scrap about who was giving the most aid. After U.N. relief coordinator Egeland lambasted rich countries for skimping on their assistance to the region, the White House lashed back. "I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed," said President George W. Bush, speaking from his home in Crawford, Texas, three days after the earthquake. Why the delay? Because, White House aides say, the President does not like to "showboat" by speaking too soon after events like this. "He didn't want to go out there and just speak for speaking's sake," says an aide. Democrats made hay of Bush's delayed response and ridiculed the Administration's initial pledge, suggesting that some of the $18 billion earmarked for Iraq reconstruction be diverted to help tsunami victims. The White House said it was waiting for assessments of the damage, and Bush pointed out that the U.S. provided 40% of the world's total disaster-relief funds last year, but even Republicans sighed at the Bush team's contortions. "The attitude problem is huge," says a Bush adviser. "We will probably give a lot of money and get no credit." The U.S.'s increased contribution of $350 million still wasn't enough to make it the world's most generous donor. Japan earned that designation by pledging $500 million.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8