BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – After the devastation wreaked by the seas, a deluge from the skies deepened the misery for tsunami-stricken areas Saturday, triggering flash floods in Sri Lanka (search) that sent evacuees fleeing and increased the threat of deadly disease as survivors shivered in relief centers. The death toll (search) was likely to hit 150,000.
As the body count continued to rise, the world's aid efforts went into high gear in ways big and small: Elephant convoys in Thailand, a US$500 million aid pledge from Japan that brought the world total past $1 billion, and the launch of one of the biggest relief missions in U.S. military history.
Two American Seahawk helicopters sent from the USS Abraham Lincoln (search) touched down in Banda Aceh, a provincial capital on Sumatra island, bringing relief supplies including temporary shelters for the devastated northwest coast. A flotilla of cargo planes carrying Marines and water purifying equipment was meanwhile headed to Sri Lanka.
After Friday's $350 million pledge from U.S. President George W. Bush, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced Saturday that his country would contribute up to $500 million to relief efforts.
But the numbers were an abstraction for survivors whose hearts were broken once again by water.
At one refugee camp on the grounds of the airport of Banda Aceh (search), hundreds of people spent a wet night under plastic sheets. Mothers nursed babies while others tried to light a fire with damp matches.
"With no help we will die," Indra Syaputra said. "We came here because we heard that we could get food but it was nonsense. All I got was some packets of noodles."
The rains pummeling the corpse-littered provincial capital were creating the conditions for cholera and other waterborne diseases to spread. Boxes of aid at Banda Aceh's airport soaked up water, making it difficult for workers loading cartons of water, crackers and noodles onto delivery vehicles.
More amazing stories of survival emerged Saturday.
The Indonesian Red Cross reportedly dug out a survivor buried since the tsunami struck in the ruins of a house in Banda Aceh. The rescuers heard Ichsan Azmil's cries for help. After he was pulled out he asked for water and was taken to a local hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises.
On India's remote Andaman and Nicobar islands, a woman who fled the killer waves gave birth in the forest that became her sanctuary. She named her son "Tsunami."
Even art became part of the folklore of resilience.
In the historic port town of Galle, Sri Lanka, several Buddha statues of cement and plaster were found unscathed amid collapsed brick walls in the center of the devastated city.
To many residents, it was a divine sign.
"The people are not living according to religious virtues," said Sumana, a Buddhist monk in an orange robe who sheltered from the sun under a black umbrella.
In Sri Lanka, flash floods in the east forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people already displaced by a tsunami that killed nearly 29,000 people.
Several roads leading to the eastern town of Ampara — one of the worst hit by the tsunami — were flooded, preventing trucks carrying relief goods from arriving, said Neville Wijesinghe, a senior police officer. Bureaucratic delays, fuel shortages, impassable roads and long distances were also blocking supplies.
The confirmed death toll exceeded 123,000 and 5 million people were homeless and a U.N. official said Friday the number of dead was likely to reach 150,000. The hunt for loved ones dragged on with tens of thousands still missing.
In Indonesia, the nation hit hardest, the official death toll stood at more than 80,000, but officials said it could reach 100,000. "We mourn, we cry and our hearts weep to witness thousands of victims sprawled everywhere," said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on Sumatra to survey the damage.
Aftershocks rattled the region, sending panicked Sumatrans into the streets.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the Hong Kong Observatory said a 6.5 quake jolted the island at 1:25 p.m, centered 155 miles southwest of Banda Aceh. Smaller quakes hit West Java and southern Sumatra earlier.
Seismologists said strong temblors between magnitude 5.2 and 6.1 also struck the Andaman and Nicobar islands, where the exact number of tsunami casualties was not known but feared to be in the thousands.
Hunger and disease were the biggest threats in the archipelago, which the Indian government has been keeping off-limits to foreign aid agencies.
"There is starvation. People haven't had food or water for at least five days. There are carcasses. There will be an epidemic," said Andaman's member of Parliament, Manoranjan Bhakta.
Island officials say at least 3,754 people were missing amid crumbled homes, downed trees and mounds of dead animals. V. V. Bhat, chief secretary of the islands, said the missing could not be presumed dead because they could have survived in coconut groves that dot the islands.
In the Thai resort of Phuket, five elephants, normally used to haul logs in forests, were being sent to pull heavy debris in areas that are too hilly or muddy for vehicles.
Thailand's official count was 4,812, with over half of them foreigners. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has warned the figure is likely to reach 8,000.
Many people have blamed the high death count in Thailand on bureaucratic bungling and poor communication systems. Thaksin's said the government will investigate why tsunami warnings largely failed to reach officials and tourist resorts.
Western health officials headed to devastated areas across Sri Lanka after officials warned about possible disease outbreaks among the 1 million people seeking shelter in camps.
"Our biggest battle and fear now is to prevent an epidemic from breaking out," said Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. "Clean water and sanitation is our main concern."