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Tsunami death toll soars to 120,000


The death toll in the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster soared above 120,000 on Thursday as millions scrambled for food and fresh water and thousands more fled in panic to high ground on rumours of new waves.

Aid agencies warned many more, from Indonesia to Sri Lanka, could die in epidemics if shattered communications and transport hampered what may prove history's biggest relief operation. Rescue workers pressed on into isolated villages shattered by a disaster that could yet eclipse a cyclone that struck Bangladesh in 1991, killing 138,000 people.

Indonesia has borne the brunt of Sunday's catastrophe, with a health ministry official putting the country's toll at 79,940 with entire coastal villages disappearing under the wall of water.

In Sri Lanka 24,743 were confirmed killed by the tidal waves, while 4,916 people were still missing, the president's office said. Thousands more were likely to be declared dead, with the death toll set to cross 29,000 "in the next few days," President Chandrika Kumaratunga said.

The death toll in India hit 11,330 with many thousands still missing, officials said. In southern Thailand nearly 2,400 people, among them more than 700 foreign tourists, were killed, the interior ministry said.

The ministry listed 6,130 people missing, most of whom Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said were feared dead. In Myanmar at least 90 people were killed, according to the UN, but the real toll was expected to be far higher.

At least 75 people were killed and another 42 were confirmed missing in the tourist paradise of the Maldives, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said. Sixty-six people were dead in Malaysia, most of them in Penang, police said.

Fatalities also occurred on the east coast of Africa where 132 people were declared dead in Somalia, 10 in Tanzania and one in Kenya. The US Geological Survey said the earthquake west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra measured 9.0 on the Richter scale - making it the largest quake world wide in four decades.