COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Massive waves triggered by earthquakes crashed into Sri Lankan villages along a wide stretch of coast on Sunday, killing at least 4,500 people and displacing a million of others, Sri Lankan officials and a pro-Tamil Tiger Web site said.
"It is a huge tragedy and it is unfolding all the time," said Lalith Weerathunga, secretary to the prime minister. "The death toll is going up all the time."
Police Chief Chandra Fernando said at least 3,000 people were dead in areas under government control.
Weerathunga said he didn't believe the final toll would reach 5,000, but added the government had no information on what has happened in coastal areas in the northeast controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels (search).
The pro-rebel www.nitharsanam.com Web site reported about 1,500 bodies were brought from various parts of Sri Lanka's northeast to a hospital in Mullaithivu district, 275 kilometers (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, the Web site said.
No independent confirmation of the report was available, but TamilNet — another pro-rebel Web site — said some guerrilla territory was badly hit. "Many parts ... are still inaccessible and it was difficult to provide damage estimates or death tolls there."
Sri Lanka deployed 20,000 soldiers to assist police in rescue efforts and to maintain law and order. A curfew was imposed on two towns to stop looting, military spokesman Brig. Daya Ratnayake said.
About 200 inmates of the southern Matara (search) prison escaped after flood waters entered the prison.
"I counted 24 bodies in a stretch of only six kilometers (3.7 miles)," said Gemunu Amarasinghe, an Associated Press photographer who went to one of the affected areas south of Colombo. "I saw bodies of children entangled in wire mesh," used to barricade seaside homes.
"There were rows and rows of women and men standing on the road and asking if anyone has seen their family members," said Amarasinghe. "I also saw people bringing in bodies from the sea beaches, and placing them on roads and covering them with sarongs."
Amarasinghe said he was told that some of the victims were sucked into the sea when they rushed to retrieve beached fish after the first waves hit and retreated.
Flash floods shut the port in the capital, Colombo, and displaced thousands of people.
Tidal waves also hit the neighboring archipelago nation of Maldives, where authorities closed the country's only airport.
Maldives government spokesman Ahmed Shaheed said waves as high as one meter (4 feet) hit the low-lying capital, Male, two-thirds of which was under water. He said there were unconfirmed reports of deaths on other islands.