Tsunami Death Toll Climbs Past 80,000

12/29/2004 at 08:00 AM EST

Tsunami Death Toll Climbs Past 80,000
str/AP Photo
The death toll from the tsunami that struck 12 Southeast Asian countries on Sunday climbed past the 80,000 mark on Wednesday, as the World Health Organization in Geneva warned of cholera, typhoid and other diseases spreading as decomposed bodies washed back on to shore, while world leaders are dispensing aid.

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President Bush is on vacation, but Tuesday his administration more than doubled its financial pledge to help those nations suffering from the disaster, reports The Washington Post. The paper says the Pentagon has dispatched an aircraft carrier and other military assets to the region. In TV interviews, Secretary of State Colin Powell has fended off criticism that America was being "stingy" with its help, after initially contributing $15 million. "The United States is not stingy," he told CNN. The total is now up to $35 million.

The relief effort is international, with the governments of the U.S., Australia and Japan pledging a combined $100 million – while taxi drivers in Singapore put donation tins in their cars and volunteers in Thailand text-messaged acquaintances to give blood to the Red Cross, reports the Associated Press, which also notes that celebrities were not immune from the devastation.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was on vacation in Sri Lanka's pristine south – one of the areas most devastated – but survived and was evacuated by helicopter Tuesday, along with six others.

Petra Nemcova, 25, a 2003 Sports Illustrated covergirl, was carried away with her boyfriend, fashion photographer Simon Atlee, 33, when waves hit them while vacationing in the southern Thailand resort of Phuket. She clung to a tree for eight hours as the water swirled around her, and is now recovering in a Thai hospital from broken bones, possibly including a broken pelvis, and unspecified internal injuries. Atlee is still reported missing.

Also in Phuket, Gandhi director Richard Attenborough's granddaughter, Lucy, 14, perished and his daughter, Jane, and her mother-in-law are missing. Another granddaughter, Alice, 17, was being treated in a hospital.

Designer Nate Berkus, familiar to those who watch The Oprah Winfrey Show, was carried away with a friend by a tsunami after it ripped off the roof of their hut in Sri Lanka. They briefly clung to a telephone poll, but a second wave ripped them away. Berkus climbed to safety – but his friend disappeared into the raging sea.

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