BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Cargo planes touched down with promised aid Wednesday, bearing everything from lentils to water purifiers to help survivors facing the threat of epidemic after this week's quake-tsunami catastrophe. The death toll across 12 nations has risen to more than 76,700.
The international Red Cross warned that the toll could eventually surpass 100,000. The race was on to try to prevent an outbreak of diseases and to curb food shortages among millions of homeless - which the U.N. health agency said could kill as many as the waves and quake.
Sri Lanka said it was getting its first reports of measles and diarrhea. Paramedics in southern India began vaccinating 65,000 survivors against cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery, and authorities sprayed bleaching powder on beaches where bodies have been recovered.
"Even those people who (didn't lose homes) can't get food. Nothing is available," said Father Raja Perera, of St. Mary's Roman Catholic church in Sri Lanka's second largest city, the hard-hit southern resort of Galle, where refugees from ravaged homes crowded into churches, Buddhist temples and mosques.
Town after town along the Sumatran coast was covered with mud and sea water, with homes flattened or torn apart, an Associated Press reporter saw on a helicopter overflight with the military commander of the island's Aceh province. The only signs of life were a handful of villagers scavenging for food on the beach.
Western Sumatra suffered a double blow in Sunday's disaster, shattered both by the most powerful earthquake in 40 years and perhaps the deadliest tsunami in recorded history, which wreaked destruction across a dozen nations.
"The damage is truly devastating," Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya said. "Seventy-five percent of the west coast is destroyed and some places it's 100 percent. These people are isolated and we will try and get them help."
The first military teams reached the devastated fishing town of Meulaboh on Sumatra's coast, finding some 3,700 bodies - bringing Indonesia's toll to more than 36,200. That toll was likely to rise as more bodies are found. One official on Tuesday estimated that as many as 10,000 people were dead in Meulaboh alone.
From East Africa to southern Asia, chances faded of finding more survivors of Sunday's massive, quake-driven walls of water. Tens of thousands of people were still missing. German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder said 1,000 Germans were unaccounted for.
"We have to fear that a number of Germans clearly in the three-digit numbers will be among the dead," Schroeder told reporters. Currently, 26 Germans have been confirmed dead.
"We have little hope, except for individual miracles," Chairman Jean-Marc Espalioux of the Accor hotel group said of the search for thousands of tourists and locals missing from beach resorts of southern Thailand - including more than 2,000 Scandinavians.
Sri Lanka on Wednesday listed more than 22,400 people dead, India close to 7,000 - with 8,000 missing and feared dead. Thailand put its toll at more than 1,600. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.
Millions were homeless in the disaster, contending with hunger and the threat of disease, which the U.N. health agency said could double the toll. Along India's southern coast, paramedics began vaccinating 65,000 tsunami survivors in Tamil Nadu state against cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery, said Gagandeep Singh Bedi, a top government administrator.
"We have accelerated disposing of bodies to minimize the risk of an epidemic. Also, we have started spraying bleaching powder on the beaches from where the bodies have been recovered," said Veera Shanmuga Moni, a top administrator of Tamil Nadu's Nagappattinam district.
At Banda Aceh, the wrecked capital of Indonesia's Aceh province, bulldozers dug mass graves for thousands of corpses lining the streets and lawns as authorities hurried to get the dead in the ground.
Wildlife enthusiasts in Sri Lanka noted their surprise in seeing no evidence of large-scale deaths of animals, suggesting they had safely made it to high ground.
"Maybe what we think is true, that animals have a sixth sense," said Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, whose Jetwing Eco Holidays runs a hotel in the Yala National Park.
Aid groups struggled to mount what they described as the largest relief operation the world has seen, and to head off the threat of cholera and malaria epidemics that could break out where water supplies are polluted with bodies and debris.
In Sri Lanka, four planes arrived in the capital bringing a surgical hospital from Finland, a water purification plant from Germany, doctors and medicine from Japan and aid workers from Britain, the Red Cross said.
Supplies that included 175 tons of rice and 100 doctors reached Sumatra's Banda Aceh. But with aid not arriving quickly enough, desperate people in towns across Sumatra stole whatever food they could find, officials said.
Widespread looting also was reported in Thailand's devastated resort islands of Phuket and Phi Phi, where European and Australian tourists left valuables behind in wrecked hotels when they fled - or were swept away by - the torrents.
An international airlift was under way to ferry critical aid and medicine to Phuket and to take home shellshocked travelers. Jets from France and Australia were among the first to touch down at the island's airport. Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden planned similar flights.
The world's biggest reinsurer, Germany's Munich Re, estimated the damage to buildings and foundations in the affected regions would be at least $13.6 billion.
Donations for recovery efforts came in from all parts of the globe.
The governments of the United States, Australia and Japan pledged a combined $100 million while taxi drivers in Singapore put donation tins in their cars and volunteers in Thailand text-messaged aquaintances to give blood to the Red Cross.
In Thailand, rescuers combed the beaches and islands Wednesday for missing tourists and locals swept away by earthquake-powered tidal waves.
Some 30 rescue workers from Sweden, Germany and Taiwan were helping the Thais comb the worst-hit areas as bodies were still washing up on several beaches three days after the waves struck.
Although the toll was expected to soar, a total of 473 foreigners of 36 nationalities were confirmed killed, the Interior Ministry's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said. Victims included 54 from Sweden, 43 from Britain and 20 Americans.
They were among thousands of Western and Asian holiday-makers packing hotels and bungalows during the height of the tourist season when killer waves struck Sunday.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said "we fear than many of (the missing Swedes) will not be found." Some 1,500 Swedes are missing, 200 Finns, 200 Danes and hundreds of Norwegians, according to reports from Scandinavian capitals.