Cuddalore, India The buzz of grim conversation in the darkened morgue was broken by a man's shriek as the small body was lowered on a bed. "My son, my king!" wailed Venkatesh, hugging the limp shrouded bundle.
Thousands of miles away in Indonesia, farmer Yusya Yusman aimlessly searched the beaches for his two children lost in Sunday's tsunami. "My life is over," he said emotionlessly.
In country after country, children have emerged as the biggest victims of Sunday's quake-born tidal waves: Thousands and thousands drowned, battered and washed away by huge walls of water that have decimated an entire generation of Asians.
"The power of this earthquake, and its huge geographical reach, are just staggering," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. Hundreds of thousands of children who managed to survive in the affected coastal communities now "may be in serious jeopardy," she added.
The U.N. organization estimates at least one-third of the tens of thousands who died were children, and the proportion could be up to half, said UNICEF spokesman Alfred Ironside in New York. He said communities were suffering a double loss: dead children and orphaned boys and girls. "Our major concern is that the kids who survived the tsunami now survive the aftermath. Because children are the most vulnerable to disease and lack of proper nutrition and water."
Children make up at least half of the population in Asia. Many of them work alongside poverty-stricken parents in the fishing or related industries in coastal areas, so they were in harm's way when the tidal waves came. Many children from the more affluent families also would have been on the beaches for a stroll or for Sunday picnics.
In Sri Lanka, which suffered the biggest loss of life in the tsunami, crowds had come to the beaches to watch the sea after word spread that it was producing large waves.
Thousands of children joined their elders to see the spectacle. The waves brought in fish. The old and the young collected them. Many waited for more fun.
Then the 15 feet-to-20 feet tidal waves hit the tropical island of 19 million people.
"They got caught and could not run to safety. This is the reason why we have so many child victims," said Rienzie Perera, a police spokesman who said reports from affected police stations indicated children made up about half the victims in Sri Lanka.