Wading into a lagoon pungent with the smell of death, rescue workers used nets Wednesday to fish out arms, legs and other remains of villagers who were crushed in seconds by a barreling tsunami.
With about 6,000 of the 8,000 to 10,000 people who lived in the area still missing, any human evidence was critical to compiling a more accurate list of victims. Prime Minister Bill Skate said he held out little hope of finding survivors among those still unaccounted for.In some places Wednesday, burials again gave way to on-the-spot gasoline-fueled cremations, as rescue workers found that rotting corpses fell apart in the tropical heat when they tried to move them. Recovery workers also had to contend with crocodiles, dogs and pigs intent on making a meal out of the human flesh.
And on a hill just behind the disaster zone, a makeshift village of refugees was springing up, hut by hut. About 200 survivors remained there, scared to return to the rav-aged coast.
In Australia, the Salvation Army on Wednesday launched an appeal for clothing for the survivors. But they called only for adult clothes. The furious waves - three separate ones that struck the coast in a matter of minutes - took a particularly high toll on children.
The official death toll was more than 1,200, but West Sepik provincial governor John Tekwi predicted that at least 3,000 people died when the earthquake-generated waves, one of which was at least 23 feet high, crashed down on the idyllic villages along 18 miles of Papua New Guinea's north coast Friday.
Estimates of the number of survivors ranged from 2,500 to 3,500. Some had to undergo amputations because bacteria-filled coral sand had infected wounds, causing gangrene.
After several days of disarray in relief operations, Skate named Police Commissioner Peter Agilo on Tuesday to oversee the effort at local airstrips. In recent days, dozens of light and medium aircraft, helicopters and military planes have been forced to jostle for runway space.