Tsunami: 50 Brits are dead

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Key points

• No of British citizens dead in Thailand alone now 43, and expected to rise.

• 84 tourists still to be indentified.

• UK Government has pledged 15 million in aid.

Key quote

"At this moment we just don’t know how many Britons may have been caught there and we are braced for reports of more deaths as the situation becomes clear." - TOM CARTER, BRITISH EMERGENCY CONSULATE, PHUKET.

Story in full FIFTY Britons have now been confirmed dead in the Asian tsunami disaster as the official death toll today exceeded 69,000.

The number of British dead in Thailand alone reached 43, with the death toll expected to rise further in the next few days.

Three Britons have died in the Maldives and four in Sri Lanka.

News of the soaring death toll came as the UK Government pledged 15 million in aid. Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn said the money was "the first phase" of the UK’s commitment to helping the afflicted countries.

But amid the horror were remarkable stories of survival.

Twenty-day-old baby Suppiah Tulasi was found alive floating on a mattress in her parents’ damaged restaurant in northern Malaysia.

Suppiah was sleeping in a room at the restaurant when the huge waves struck in the holiday resort of Penang. The swirling waters swept her parents out of the building.

Luckily, her parents later managed to claw their way back to the badly-damaged building.

"Thank God the mattress was floating in about five-foot deep water and my baby was crying," said the baby’s father, Suppiah.

International aid teams were today arriving in areas devastated by Sunday’s earthquake in the Indian Ocean which sent massive tidal waves crashing onto the coasts of a dozen countries. Grief-stricken survivors had begun digging mass graves to bury their dead.

Thai authorities today said a total of 473 foreigners were confirmed killed when the tsunamis surged through the nation’s busy southern tourist resorts.

The British death toll earlier today was put at 17, but shortly afterwards Thai authorities put the figure at 43. Other foreigners killed included 54 Swedes, 49 Germans and 20 Americans. The list included 84 corpses identified as tourists, but with no nationality.

Thousands of tourists remain missing throughout the southern resort areas around Phuket and other nearby islands. Thailand’s official death toll - including its own nationals and foreign tourists - stood at 1574, but a police officer said that more than 1500 bodies had been found in one tourist district alone and the total death toll there could reach 3000.

Among the dead in Phuket was the 14-year-old granddaughter of film legend Lord Attenborough, His daughter Jane and her mother-in-law are missing.

Tom Carter, of the British emergency consulate in Phuket, said: "At this moment we just don’t know how many Britons may have been caught there and we are braced for reports of more deaths as the situation becomes clear."

The official death toll was today put at 69,242 with the number of dead in Indonesia alone exceeding 32,000. Sri Lanka and India saw fatalities reach 22,493 and 12,419 respectively.

Asked if he thought the Government should donate more money because of the extent of the damage to the region, Mr Benn said: "It is very hard to estimate what the final cost of this terrible catastrophe will be.

"We are in the emergency relief phase and what people need now is water, they need shelter, they need cooking materials, medical supplies, and that’s what we’re working on, as part of a huge international effort, to deliver to people on the ground.

"The most important thing is to get the help as quickly as possible, that means working through agencies who’ve got people on the ground, financing their appeals," he said.

An airlift containing water is heading out from Manchester to the Maldives later today on an empty plane which is being used by First Choice to pick up stranded tourists on its return.

Mr Benn said they were also looking at an airlift of medical supplies with the World Health Organisation and were buying up tarpaulins, cooking sets and sleeping mats to send to the thousands of people made homeless in the region.

Meanwhile, rescuers were hoping for more "miracles" of survival as they combed the beaches and islands of southern Thailand for missing tourists and locals swept away by the waves.

However, in Sri Lanka, it is expected more bodies of Britons will be found as the country’s death toll rises sharply by the hour.

A spokeswoman for the British consulate in the capital Colombo confirmed four British deaths, adding "we are expecting that figure to rise as our teams reach the worst-hit areas".

Tourists are being moved to Colombo from the devastated coast and housed in shelters, with most expected to be able to leave by early next week.

Millions were left homeless by Sunday’s disaster. Red Cross teams specialising in water and sanitation were today landing in Sri Lanka and Indonesia hoping to restore drinking water and sanitation to the devastated areas and prevent the spread of diseases such as cholera and malaria.

An international fleet of naval ships and military and chartered aircraft was today heading for tsunami-hit countries, delivering hundreds of tonnes of plastic sheeting for body disposal, tents, sanitation kits and food.

The Pentagon said it ordered 12 vessels, including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, helicopter carrier USS Bonhomme Richard and a submarine, to the region. Markku Niskala, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said: "This is the largest catastrophe we have seen in decades. We haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg yet.

"We face a huge challenge due to the vast area affected."

And there were warnings the death toll could double from the spread of disease. Dr David Nabarro, head of crisis operations for the World Health Organisation, said: "The initial terror associated with the tsunamis may be dwarfed by the longer term suffering of the affected communities."

A statement by the Home Ministry in New Delhi said the confirmed death toll in India today stood at 4491.