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 survived in the affected coastal communities now "may be in serious jeopardy," she added.
The UN 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 are 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 the population in Asia. Many 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.
"Where are my children?" said 41-year-old Absah, weeping as she searched for her 11 missing children in Banda Aceh, the Indonesian city closest to Sunday's epicenter. "Where are they? Why did this happen to me? I've lost everything."
About half of the nearly 400 who perished in Cuddalore in India's Tamil Nadu state were children. Under Hindu tradition, children are buried instead of being cremated like adults. For the grim task in Cuddalore, two pits, together about half the size of a basketball court, were dug near a river at the edge of this coconut palm-fringed town.
After one couple laid the body of their daughter in the deep pit, a bulldozer shoveled in sand and the little girl disappeared from view. They then stepped aside for others to bury their children, denied any chance for a service or private mourning.
Most of the children, ages 5 to 12, were buried as they were found -- in their Sunday clothes -- without the luxury of a shroud.