With tsunami media coverage thankfully still going at full tilt, the media may find itself circling back to what mattered most after the waves retreated.
First, it was coming to grips with the sheer level of destruction and the hard-to-truly-comprehend number of dead. Then it was on to the brittle task of recovery, at once tenuous, tedious and nearly impossible.
But as time goes on, more journalists may need to return to the numbers. The official tsunami toll is past 146,000 at this writing, but it's easy to believe that number is wildly conservative, given what The Australian witnessed in Bandeh Aceh.
Amid mud that stinks of sulphur, debris stretching as far as the eye can see and ruined concrete shells of what once were large homes, stands Darma, a Medan businessman.
At his feet is the drowned family rooster. Across the way, 50m from what was a lawn, is his brother; his corpse floating bloated and black in a lagoon. "Everyone is gone," he said. "Everyone."
Moreover, the Indonesian health ministry has all but guaranteed that thousands more are dead and as-yet unaccounted for all over Sumatra.
But there may be other reasons in play for why accurate numbers are hard to come by, all the more reason for the media to be watchful about who is spouting figures and why. Thai officials could be playing a numbers game to spin the damage in Phuket and keep the tourists flocking to the island, reports The Age in Melbourne. http://www.theage.com.au/news/Asia-tsunami/Body-count-not-kept-low-says-Thailand/2005/01/06/1104832236841.html.
Tragically, merely surviving the tsunami will not be enough if fears of cholera and dysentery are realized. The United Nations appears to be preparing for the inevitable. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/index.cfm?c_id=2&ObjectID=9005729.