Death Toll From Tsunami Exceeds 135,000

Death Toll From Tsunami Exceeds 135,000
Sally Nelson with her partner Stu Breisch.
Till Budde

12/30/2004 02:10PM

The death toll from last week's earthquake-tsunami disaster had surpassed 135,000 by Friday morning. Officials added that more than 100,000 could die in Indonesia alone.

Relief efforts got underway in the areas hit by the massive waves on Dec. 26, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday he was "satisfied" with the $500 million in aid pledged by world governments. His comments came after a U.N. relief official called the U.S. "stingy" with its foreign aid.

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Despite the massive numbers, experts say thousands more lives may still be lost in the aftermath due to disease.

Below, PEOPLE hears tales from some who lived – and some who lost:

Sally Nelson, 59, a San Diego psychologist, was on a diving trip off Thailand's Khao Lak Emerald Beach Resort & Spa with her partner Stu Breisch, 55, a Salt Lake City ER physician, and his daughter Shonti, 18. They returned to the resort to search for his other two children who had stayed behind.

Sally: Nearly all the buildings were collapsed. Not one live being except a dog. Eerie silence. The rest of the day we spent going to temples where the dead were. At first I stood outside with my shirt over my face because of the stench. Among the corpses, we recognized the hotel restaurant manager. And we spoke to one of the maids. She said in broken English, "I'm sorry, (Jai, 16, and Kali, 15) were sleeping when the wave came." "Did anyone get out?" I asked her. "No."

While looking for the kids in the rubble of their bungalow, we saw Kali's bathing suit top under a concrete block. We gave up around midnight. We went to a nature resort, where the owner had invited people to sleep in the lobby. I held Stu as he cried that night.

By the third day, they heard Jai was in a Bangkok hospital – but no word of Kali.

Stu: Shonti and I have been going through temples and hospitals looking for Kali. I've never seen anything like it – thousands of bloated bodies rotting away. The stench is awful. But local people are very generous to us, giving us rides. And I spoke to Jai; he told me he and Kali were inside the bungalow, standing next to the window, when he looked through the blinds and saw the water coming. In the next instant the glass and walls blew apart and they were swept away. Jai never saw his sister and said he had to go where the water took him.

My only hope for Kali is that she's unconscious somewhere with a head wound. I still hope she's alive. I've got to find my daughter. I don't know what to do. When do you give up?

Selvi 50, a fisherman's wife and mother of four (who goes by just one name), was gutting fish on the beach near her small village near Chennai, India,

During school holidays, my youngest son, Jothi, who's 9, comes to the beach with me. He is very special. I had him late in life, and he's very loving. By about 9 a.m. on Sunday morning we got ready to leave. Suddenly a huge wave smashed into our backs. It was like a slap from a giant. I was holding Jothi's hand tightly, but the impact tore us apart and we were lifted into the air.

I rolled over and over inside the wave. There were broken bottles, bits of trees – all sorts of debris rolling with me. The next thing I knew I was lying on the beach. I was looking for my son, crying and staggering. Finally I found his body close to the water's edge. His head was buried in the sand. I knew it was him because of his striped blue and white T-shirt and his gray trousers. I crouched by his side and wept.

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