Asia grapples with deadly effects of quake, tsunami

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Dept. urged Americans to avoid all non-emergency travel to the Asian countries hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami on Sunday.

The death toll climbed to more than 40,000 people, according to the International Red Cross, mostly in south and southeast Asia, with coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and the Maldives hardest hit.

The 9.0-magnitude quake, the most powerful in 40 years, was centered about 100 miles off the coast of Indonesias Sumatra island deep beneath the Indian Ocean.

The State Dept. confirmed that 12 Americans were among the dead. It said embassy officials were trying to locate hundreds of other U.S. citizens who have not been heard from since the disaster.

The list of countries reporting dead or injured nationals, the majority of them tourists, appears to grow by the hour. Among the missing, injured or confirmed dead were nationals of Australia, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia and Sweden, according to local media reports and foreign officials.

In Thailand, one of the worst hit areas was Phuket, where massive waves and walls of water crashed into coastal towns and beach resorts lining the Andaman coast along the western portion of the island. The airport remains open and operational.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, beachfront hotels and resorts lining the Andaman coast of Phuket incurred severe damage and destruction. On Krabi, the Krabi Resort was severely damaged, the tourism authority said. On Phi Phi island, where the film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed, the tourism authority said there was total destruction.

French hotelier Accor said it had 350 guests and as many as 250 employees at its Sofitel Magic Lagoon Khao Lak hotel in Phuket when the tsunami struck, causing severe damage. Accor said there were no reported victims at two other resorts it manages on Phuket, the Novotel Phuket and Panwa Beach Resort.

Singapores Banyan Tree Group, which operates high-end properties in Phuket and the Maldives, reported relatively minor damage to its resorts. Banyan Tree said three of its five resorts at the Laguna Phuket development were affected, with one resort, the Dusit Laguna, reporting one missing guest.

The company said the Banyan Tree Maldives Vabbinfaru and Angsana Maldives Ihuru both suffered minor damage but are operational, while its Deer Park Hotel in Sri Lanka was unaffected. However, the opening of Banyans Swanee Hotel on Sri Lankas Beruwela beach, which was under construction, has been postponed until late 2005.

Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces reported it will close the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa in the Maldives for two months of repairs. Taj said its Fishermans Cove in Chennai, its three Taj hotels in Sri Lanka and its Coral Reef resort in the Maldives are functioning normally.

Club Med said one employee at its resort in Phuket was killed by the tidal wave, which also hit Club Med resorts in Kani and Faru in the Maldives.

Kerzner International reported no significant damage to its properties in the Maldives, where it manages and owns a 20% interest in the 100-room One&Only Kanuhura and is the manager and developer of the 130-room One&Only Reethi Rah, which is scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2005. Kerzner said the properties sustained some flooding, adding that both properties were covered by insurance.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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