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Asian Disaster Toll Rises Above 20,000

27 December 2004 -- The death toll from the tsunami that hit vast areas of southern Asia on yesterday has risen to more than 20,000.

Sri Lanka is reporting the most deaths. It says more than 12,000 people died when the tsunami crashed into many beachside communities.

The powerful undersea earthquake -- which sent waves across the Indian Ocean -- occurred off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. Indonesian authorities say the death toll there is almost 5,000.

India, Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh, the Maldives Islands, and even Somalia on the East African coast are reporting deaths.

Thousands more people are still missing, including a number of foreign tourists who were at Asian beach resorts.

Indian Interior Minister Shivraj Patil said officials are doing all they can to help the victims, and he listed priorities.

"At this stage, I think they need some transport arrangements: helicopters, aircraft, and the ships, which have been given. Then some tents [are] required, some blankets are required, food grain is required, they would be given. Later on we will find out about how the financial assistance will be given to them."

A number of governments have pledged aid. The International Red Cross has appealed for $6.5 million in emergency assistance, while the United Nations says its relief system faces an "unprecedented" challenge.