BANDA ACEH, Indonesia -- Medical supplies, food aid and water purification systems today poured into regions devastated by epic tsunamis, part of what the United Nations said would be the biggest relief effort the world has ever seen. The catastrophe's death toll stood at 26,000, with millions more left homeless.
Rescuers struggled to reach remote locations where thousands more were likely killed by the deadliest tsunami in 120 years. Government officials warned the toll could climb by tens of thousands.
Bodies, many of them children, filled beaches and choked hospital morgues, raising fears of disease across an 11-nation arc of destruction.
In Indonesia, closest to Sunday's 9.0 magnitude quake that sent walls of water crashing into coastlines thousands of miles away, the official death toll stood at 5,800. But the country's vice president said the number could reach 25,000.
"Thousands of victims cannot be reached in some isolated and remote areas," said Purnomo Sidik, the national disaster director.
More than 15,000 people died in Sri Lanka, 4,400 in India and 1,000 in Thailand. The Red Cross said it was concerned that diseases such as malaria and cholera could add to the toll.
The disaster could be the costliest in history, with "many billions of dollars" of damage, said U.N. Undersecretary Jan Egeland, who is in charge of emergency relief coordination. Hundreds of thousands have lost everything, and millions are living with polluted drinking water and no health services, he said.
The geographic scope of the disaster was unparalleled. Relief organizations used to dealing with a centralized crisis had to distribute resources over 11 countries in two continents.
Helicopters in India rushed medicine to stricken areas, while warships in Thailand steamed to island resorts. In Sri Lanka, the Health Ministry dispatched 300 physicians to the disaster zone, dropping them off by helicopter.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said the United States was sending helicopters, and an airborne surgical hospital from Finland arrived in Sri Lanka. A German aircraft was en route with a water purification plant. "A great deal is coming in and they are having a few problems at the moment coordinating it."
UNICEF officials said that about 175 tons of rice arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, late Monday and six tons of medical supplies were expected to arrive by Thursday. But most basic supplies were scarce.
Scores of people were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Maldives. Deaths were even reported in Africa -- in Somalia, Tanzania and Seychelles, close to 3,000 miles away.
It was the deadliest known tsunami since the one caused by the 1883 volcanic eruption at Krakatoa -- located off Sumatra's southern tip -- which killed an estimated 36,000 people.
Momentum grew to create a tsunami warning system like the one that guards Pacific nations. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia would push for its creation.
The United States dispatched disaster teams and prepared a $15 million aid package. Japan pledged $30 million. Australia pledged $8 million.
Indonesia's Aceh province near the epicenter exemplified the challenge to aid workers. The government until Monday barred foreigners because of a long-running separatist conflict. Communications lines were still down and remote villages had yet to be reached.
"There is not anyone to bury the bodies," said Steve Aswin, an emergency officer with UNICEF in Jakarta. "I heard that many bodies are still in the hospitals and many places. They should be buried in mass graves but there is no one to dig graves."