The death toll in Southern Asia's massive tsunami is nearing 80,000 -- but a senior U.S. official says it could be much higher.
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, told a news conference today (Wednesday) that agency officials in the region say many people are still missing and parts of affected nations are inaccessible. Mr. Natsios says he expects a higher death toll in the 12 nations affected by the tsunami.
He also repeated warnings that diseases like cholera and typhoid could claim many more lives.
Indonesia has been hardest-hit so far, recording more than 45,000 deaths. Mr. Natsios says rescue crews are still unable to reach huge areas of the country's Sumatra island.
He says he expects more deaths on Sumatra because the island was pounded by both the tsunami and the massive 9.0 magnitude underwater earthquake that triggered the disaster.
Earlier today, the International Red Cross said the number of dead could top 100,000 because little is known about the fate of India's outlying Nicobar and Andaman islands.
India has reported about 10,000 dead so far. The island-nation of Sri Lanka has reported nearly 22,000 fatalities.
More than 1,600 have died in Thailand. Deaths also have been reported in Burma, Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Maldives, Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, and Seychelles.
Thousands of Western tourists are still missing in South and Southeast Asia nearly four days after Sunday's devastating tsunami.
The U.S. State Department says it is looking for 2,000 to 3,000 Americans in the region who remain unaccounted for.
Speaking to reporters today (Wednesday), spokesman Richard Boucher says people should not assume the worst but urged Americans in the region to, in his words, call your mother.
European nations also are searching for missing tourists. Italy says 600 of its citizens remain unaccounted for, while Germany and Sweden are looking for about 1,000 nationals each.
Western death tolls so far have been relatively light given the size of the disaster. The United States confirms 12 dead, while Britain puts its death toll at 20. Italy reports 14 deaths; Germany, 26.