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More than 80,000 killed in tsunamis

Officials reach hardest hit areas in Indonesia

Pyres of victims killed by tsunamis burn on a beach in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Wednesday.
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CNN's Atika Shubert visits with grief-stricken survivors in Aceh, Indonesia.

Why wasn't a tsunami warning system in place for the Indian Ocean?

Satinder Bindra talks to survivors in Matara, Sri Lanka.

The death toll in Thailand continues to rise.

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Special Report:  Waves of destruction

• Animation: How a tsunami forms
• Aid agencies: Who you can contact to help
• Map of region: Nations affected
Could officials have done more to warn about the giant waves that smashed into several countries?
Sri Lanka

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (CNN) -- U.N. relief workers have arrived in Indonesia's Aceh province to find devastation in the region closest to the epicenter of the earthquake that spawned Sunday's killer tsunamis.

With 80,000 already reported dead in southern Asia and East Africa -- more than 45,000 in Indonesia alone -- the emergency workers reported that in some parts of Aceh, as many as one in every four citizens was dead.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the total number of dead could easily grow beyond 100,000. (Full story)

Scenes of destruction -- homes and businesses flattened, buses tossed about like toys, piles of rubble filling the streets -- were repeated across the region, as were the scenes of grief -- residents and vacationers searching in vain for loved ones, or, at times, finding them in makeshift morgues.

Aceh province, nearly inaccessible in the best of times because of its remoteness and the presence for years of an armed insurgency, was all the more so after Sunday's disaster.

The events began just before 7 a.m. (midnight GMT Saturday) when a massive earthquake -- at 9.0, the strongest in the world since 1964 -- struck just 160 kilometers (100 miles) off Aceh's coast.

The tsunami swamped shores, villages, the jungle and Aceh's capital, Banda Aceh, which was was almost completely destroyed.

Boats slammed into bridges and bodies were left lying on the streets or still buried beneath rubble left behind when the water subsided, CNN's Mike Chinoy reported.

Dino Patti Djalal, spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said the Indonesian military's 30,000-person force in the province was devastated.

"The military and the police were hard hit. Hundreds were killed," he said. "One military helicopter survived."

Djalal said aid is now arriving in the devastated province, but Chinoy said the capital showed little signs of it.

And the aftershocks continued, dozens of them, four days after the initial event.

Two of those -- both since 7 a.m. (midnight GMT Tuesday) -- topped 6.0 magnitude and were centered in India's remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, part of the same chain as Sumatra. (Full story)

One, a 6.2 quake, was centered about 300 kilometers (200 miles) from Point Blair, on Andaman Island to the north, and Banda Aceh, to the south, just before midnight Wednesday.

Indian authorities have just begun to reach the area near the epicenter of the quakes. The impact of the aftershocks there was not yet known.

In Sri Lanka, survivors told CNN they were afraid and hopeless after losing everything they owned and seeing members of the families swept out to sea.

On the Indian coast, survivors wondered what they would do now that their homes have been flattened.

The relief effort was expected to be the largest ever, requiring millions of dollars just to stabilize the area and prevent the aftermath of the disaster from killing even more people -- as many as double the current toll, according to one World Health Organization (WHO) official. (Full story)

WHO's David Nabarro told CNN that survivors are at risk of diarrhea, respiratory infections and insect-borne diseases that could result in "quite high rates of death" but quickly added that the living are in more danger from other survivors than from the dead. (Full story)

"The fundamental need at the moment is to look after the well-being of living people and to make sure that they have what they need for life," he said.

"And the requirement to properly dispose of dead people through burial or some other method in a way that is appropriate for the local tradition is certainly there. But it's not urgent from the point of view of public health."

Nabarro also said the mental health of the survivors is at risk. "Tremendous mental scarring" results from disasters like this one, he said.

Yvette Stevens of U.N. Emergency Relief, said rebuilding would likely cost "billions" -- and completing the job "could take years."

Jan Egeland, the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, said $220 million had been pledged or donated so far, and about the same in "in-kind donations" such as supplies and personnel.

The death count continues to climb.

Sri Lankan authorities increased its death toll on Wednesday to 23,015 with more than 4,000 people still reported missing. The flooding also injured more than 8,200 people.

International aid convoys arrived Wednesday in Galle on the southwest corner of the island, bringing drinking water and other aid to residents.

Officials have little information from the north and east -- the hardest hit areas and, like Indonesia's northern Sumatra, home to an armed insurgency, although one that was under the terms of a cease-fire at the time of the disaster.

Across Sri Lanka, some 1.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes and more than 745,000 no longer have homes. They crowded shelters and wandered aimlessly down streets, past signs wishing a "happy new year."

In the coastal town of Matara, locals said some 30 to 40 Western tourists were surfing when the tsunami hit, and all are missing and presumed dead. Police are trying to stem looting, which broke out shortly after the disaster, as relief slowly trickles into the area.

Just before the towering waves washed over Sri Lanka, they swamped the vacation shores of Thailand, home to 40 percent of the country's $10 billion tourism industry.

Thai officials have confirmed 1,830 deaths, more than 1,000 of which are believed to have been in the low-lying coastal province of Phang Na.

Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday that casualties in his country from Sunday's tsunami could reach 3,000.

Shinawatra said 519 of the total were foreigners, and there are 4,265 people missing.

Some of Thailand's smaller vacation islands were swallowed by the water, Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said.

As far away as Somalia on Africa's east coast, reports trickled in of fishermen swept out to sea and swimmers lost. Egeland said entire villages were swept away in Somalia, and Kenya television reporter Lillian Odera said "hundreds" were killed there.

In all, at least 11 countries -- including the Maldives, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Tanzania -- were affected by the monstrous waves.

CNN correspondents Hugh Riminton in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Satinder Bindra in Matara, Sri Lanka; Atika Shubert and Mike Chinoy in Banda Aceh, Indonesia; Aneesh Raman and Matthew Chance near Phuket, Thailand; and Suhasini Haidar in Chennai, India; and journalist Iqbal Athas in Sri Lanka contributed to this report.

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