Sri Lanka Counts 12,000 Deaths

The death toll from massive tidal waves that struck Sri Lanka's coastline leapt to more than 12,000 on Monday as thousands of soldiers and families kept up the search for bodies.

Military spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake said Monday that 10,029 bodies had been recovered from areas of the island nation under government control, raising the official tally by more than 5,000 from the previous day.

An additional 2,000 bodies were recovered in Tamil rebel-controlled territory, bringing Sri Lanka's overall toll to 12,029.

"The toll is increasing," Ratnayake said. "We are finding more bodies."

At Karapitiya hospital in the southern town of Galle (search) — one of the worst affected areas — bodies were still coming in on Monday evening.

A tractor carried about 15 corpses of mostly women and children, some of them wrapped in white plastic sheets. A large crowd had gathered at the hospital trying to learn if their missing family members were there.

At least 72 foreign tourists were among the dead across Sri Lanka, said Udaya Nanayakkara, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (search).

Ralf Succo of Munich, Germany, said he was about to leave his hotel room in Galle when a wave crashed into it.

"I was on a wrong direction going out of the hotel when a wall collapsed on me," said Succo. "The hotel staff rescued me and gave me medical help."

He said other tourists managed to find the stairs and go up to escape the deluge.

Succo and eight other tourists from Norway, France and Germany were flown to Colombo on Monday aboard a Sri Lankan air force plane that had earlier carried food to Galle.

The government said among the 72 foreign tourists who died, only 17 had been identified so far. Minister of Power and Energy Susil Premajayantha told reporters the dead foreigners included nine Japanese, four Germans and four Indians.

One million people in Sri Lanka were displaced in massive flooding unleashed by Sunday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake under the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia. It was the world's largest quake in 40 years. More than 20,000 people have been reported killed throughout Asia.

Ten helicopters and 25,000 soldiers rushed Monday to Sri Lanka's coastal areas to deliver aid and crack down on looting. Helicopters dropped rescue teams and medicine to areas not accessible by land, while soldiers worked to maintain order and assist authorities.

"It is a national disaster and the army is responding," Ratnayake said. "They are helping the local authorities in whatever way they can."

Sporadic, small-scale looting was reported, first in the towns of Galle and Matara, and then spreading to new areas — with looters duping residents into leaving their homes by saying new tidal waves were advancing, Ratnayake said.

"We have advised residents through radio not to act on such rumors and we are taking actions against the looters," said Ratnayake.

About 200 inmates took advantage of the chaos and escaped from a Matara prison when guards panicked as water entered the building, the police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official Web site of the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam (search) said at least 2,000 people have died in Mullaittivu. The area is about 170 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo.

About 170 children at an orphanage and a Catholic priest were feared dead after tidal waves pounded it in Mullaithivu, a pro-rebel Web site reported.

The tidal waves have badly affected naval bases in the east and south, Navy Spokesman Commodore Jayantha Perera told the state-run Daily News.

He said a naval ship anchored at Galle port in the south was toppled by the tidal waves.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga (search) and the Tamil Tiger guerrillas have sought international help to provide relief to those affected.