The government will probably have to evacuate the survivors of a ferocious tsunami because of the rising threat of disease from thousands of rotting corpses, a senior official said Thursday.

Relief workers have been laboring nonstop since late last week to round up bodies strewn about several villages along 18 miles of the northern coast of Papua New Guinea.The corpses have turned up on streets, in trees - just about everywhere. Many bodies were cast high into the mangroves, impenetrable, tangled masses of low-lying trees that surround and form islands in the Sissano Lagoon.

"Many people are caught there. We can't reach them," said John Tekwie, the governor of West Sepik province.

Officially, the government says more than 1,200 people have been confirmed dead, most of them children. At least 30 bodies were found washed up on a beach in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya, about 25 miles west of the disaster zone, police said today.

About 6,000 villagers were missing, and the death count was sure to rise, probably dramatically.

"I think the government will have to just abandon the area completely and allow the bodies to decay, allow the bodies to just rot off," Andrew Kumbakor, the local member of Parliament and also vice finance minister, said.

After letting nature take its course, he said, engineers could enter the area and determine if water supplies will ever be safe enough to allow resettlement.

Prime Minister Bill Skate first raised the possibility of an evacuation on Tuesday.

Only 2,500 to 3,500 people have been found alive out of a total population in this part of West Sepik province estimated at 8,000 to 10,000 before the disaster.

Makeshift villages already are springing up on higher ground around Sissano Lagoon, the area that bore the brunt of the force of the three tsunami waves, at least one of which was 23 feet high. The waves - triggered by a magnitude-7 undersea earthquake - arrived within minutes, making it impossible to warn coastal villages.

The carnage has fueled concerns about outbreaks of cholera, malaria, dysentery and other diseases in the villages that were wiped off the map by the tsunami Friday night. Such diseases can be fatal to those already in a weak state.