Published January 14, 2015
Hundreds of Americans remain missing two days after devastating tsunamis struck Asia, but the State Department says a large number have been located and are safe. The State Department said Tuesday that 12 Americans had died, seven in Sri Lanka (search) and five in Thailand.
Bush administration officials sought to allay concerns about the missing, saying it might simply be a matter of not getting in touch with U.S. authorities in Asia.
Still, the State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters, "I would not presume to tell you that the casualty figure we have today is final. We just don't know."
Like many Sri Lankans who live abroad, Dr. Anton Ambrose (search) and his wife, Beulah, traveled to their homeland during the holiday season for rest and relaxation.
This year's trip was to be special because they were also visiting their 33-year-old daughter, Orlantha, who had taken a two-year leave from her job in Los Angeles to teach music to underprivileged kids in her father's hometown.
But the vacation took a terrible turn Sunday when a tsunami rushed through the coastal areas of Sri Lanka, killing Beulah and Orlantha Ambrose. It wasn't known whether Anton Ambrose suffered any injuries.
As rescue and relief workers in Southeast Asia count the bodies in one of the world's deadliest disasters, friends of the Ambrose family prayed for the wife and daughter of a respected and beloved doctor.
"A lot of people have lost loved ones in this disaster," family friend Naj Nagendran, 57, of Thousand Oaks said Monday. "It's difficult to accept someone is gone."
The Ambrose family was vacationing at a wildlife preserve when the tsunami struck, relatives and family friends said. Their bodies were recovered and had been brought to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. "Yes, both are dead," said Piyanka Weeresingha, who identified himself as a relative of the Ambrose family at Colombo's Hilton Hotel.
From their hometown of Upper Arlington, Ohio, a Columbus suburb, Muttaiya Sundaralingam and his wife, Indirani, left several weeks ago to vacation in Sri Lanka with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.
The younger couple and their children weren't injured because they were visiting Colombo, on the western coast of the island nation, when the giant waves hit the eastern coast, said Ranjan Manoranjan, president of central Ohio's Sri Lankan Tamil Association (search).
A respected scientist and scholar who retired from Ohio State in 2001, Muttaiya Sundaralingam, 73, was known for his work in determining the structure of nucleic acids and proteins, an area called X-ray crystallography.
Indirani Sundaralingam, 63, was "a great mom, wife and grandmother," said her son, Mohan Sundaralingam, of Upper Arlington.
A Chicago woman was also among the dead. The body of Tamara Mendis, 55, was recovered in western Sri Lanka, where she had been traveling by train with her daughter when a 30-foot wave crashed over the tracks. Mendis' daughter survived but could not pull her mother to safety, family members said.
Some American survivors narrowed escaped the deadly waves.
Dipak Jain, dean at Northwestern University's business school, saw the wall of water barreling toward his hotel on the island of Phuket. The massive wave hit a large lagoon just in front of the building, missing it.
"When the wave started pouring into the lagoon, it reminded me of Niagara Falls," Jain said Monday by telephone from outside Bangkok. He was visiting Thailand to teach at one of Northwestern's partner schools.
"We are very fortunate," Jain said. "When you see things like that, you get a very different perspective on life; you see how short life can be."
Other families anxiously awaited word on missing relatives.
The family of Ben Abels has been searching for the 33-year-old real estate agent after water inundated his vacation bungalow in Thailand on the island of Phi Phi.
A friend of Abels escaped the house with a severed hand and a crushed leg and was recovering at a hospital. But information on Abels has been scarce.
"We know the island. We know the resort he was staying at. We know the bungalow number, and yet there seems to be no way to get any information from the island," said Abels' father, Bob Abels.
The family hopes he is at a hospital and doesn't have identification or has been unable to contact them.
"For all we know, he could be helping other people on the beach right now," Bob Abels said. "He would do that if he could, and we hope he's able to do that."