As Toll Mounts, Fears Grow for Israelis Missing in SE Asia

Four in serious condition; Israel sends medical relief teams to Thailand, Sri Lanka after earthquakes, tsunamis kill over 24,000.

As the death toll in the Southeast Asian earthquake and tsunami catastrophe passed the 24,000 mark, fears grew Monday for the fate of some 100 Israelis still missing and unaccounted for.

The Foreign Ministry said Monday night that 29 Israelis had been injured in South Asia, four of them seriously. The four were in Thailand: two on Phi Phi Island and two on Phuket. Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman, David Saranga, told Israel Radio that the four will be flown to Bangkok on Tuesday for further treatment and it will then be decided whether they were well enough to fly home to Israel.

Channel 2 news reported Monday evening that the Foreign Ministry was checking reports that six Israeli had been swept out to sea by the tsunamis.

Ministry figures updated Monday showed that around 100 Israelis traveling in Southeast Asia have not been located since the devastating earthquake and tsunamis struck. (Click here for the Foreign Ministry Web site)

Over 500 Israelis have, however, been found. Foreign Ministry representatives on Monday began contacting the families of Israelis who have been safely located in the region.

Between seven and 14 Israelis were injured in Thailand's Phuket Island by the earthquake and subsequent massive tidal waves, the Foreign Ministry said. Of the Israelis known to be injured, seven - Esther Paz, Yaron Weiss, Shabtai Majer, Esther Ilam, Moshe Ilam, Sarah Goren and Aharon Levy - were admitted to hospitals in Phuket. Some were discharged Sunday night, while others were transferred to hospitals in Bangkok.

According to local reports, all 107 Israelis that were in the Andaman Islands at the time of the disaster have been located and are unharmed, although the Foreign Ministry on Monday evening only confirmed that about 60 have been located and would fly to Bangkok ahead of returning home. Saranga said that the Israeli delegation there did not yet know of any injured Israelis on the islands. Some 30,000 people are still missing on the Andaman Islands.

Israeli medical teams were dispatched to Sri Lanka and Thailan on Monday.

Some 80 Israelis have been located in Sri Lanka, three of whom sustained moderate-to-light injuries, Saranga said.

The Interior Ministry has instructed its Thailand representation not to charge any fees for issuing travel papers for Israelis caught up in the disaster seeking to return home.

The population registry stated that "Israelis who return to Israel without documents and prove they were at the disaster site, will be issued new passports free of charge."

The registry further stated "Family members from Israel seeking to travel to relatives in South Asia, will receive travel papers - passports or immigrants' transit documents - immediately, with no waiting.

From paradise to horrorIdyllic palm-fringed beaches across southern Asia were transformed into scenes of death and devastation by the waves unleashed from the world's biggest earthquake in 40 years that struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra early Sunday.

Soldiers searched for bodies in treetops, families wept over the dead laid on beaches and rescuers scoured coral isles for missing tourists Monday as Asia counted the cost of the catastrophe.

International aid agencies rushed staff, equipment and money to the region, warning that bodies rotting in the water were already beginning to threaten the water supply for survivors.

The wall of water up to 10 meters tall flattened houses, hurled fishing boats onto coastal roads, sent cars spinning through swirling waters into hotel lobbies and sucked sunbathers, babies and fishermen off beaches and out to sea.

Worst affected were Sri Lanka where over 12,000 were killed, India where officials reported as many as 5,600 could be dead, Indonesia with 4,991 drowned and the southern tourist isles of Thailand where at least 866 were feared to have lost their lives. Many of the dead were foreign tourists.

"This is a massive humanitarian disaster and the communications are so bad we still don't know the full scale of it. Unless we get aid quickly to the people many more could die," said Phil Esmond, head of Oxfam in Sri Lanka.

The Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was seeking 7.5 million Swiss francs ($6.5 million) for emergency aid funding.

"We are not well equipped to deal with a disaster of this magnitude because we have never known a disaster like this," Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who declared a national disaster and appealed for donor aid, said from the United Kingdom, where she was on a visit.

The natural disaster hit as far off as Africa, with Somalia saying that hundreds of people have been killed with entire villages along the coastline wiped out.