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World Tsunami Relief Drive Kicks In

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups loaded with supplies headed for tsunami-ravaged coasts Friday and a military cargo jet brought aid to Indonesia, as a huge world relief drive to shelter, treat and feed millions of survivors kicked in. The death toll passed 121,000 and was still climbing.

But with help streaming in, overstreched authorities were dealing with logistical nightmare of getting it to the needy. Tons of supplies were backlogged in Indonesia, with thousands of boxes filled with drinking water, crackers, blankets and other basic necessities piled high in an airplane hangar nearly 300 miles from Banda Aceh, the wrecked main city in the disaster zone.

Indonesia, the hardest hit nation, said its toll — now at 80,000 — could reach 100,000, and officials began to acknowledge that the number of dead may never be known with precision, because the towering waves that smashed into Sumatra island swept entire villages with their inhabitants out to sea.

The Bush administration, which so far has promised $35 million in aid, broadened its response to the disaster with plans for Secretary of State Colin Powell to visit the region and assess what more the United States needs to do.

"All Americans are shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of life," President Bush said in a statement Thursday. "To coordinate this massive relief effort, first-hand assessments are needed by individuals on the ground."

On India's Andoman and Nicobar islands, survivors were desperate for food and water, with still little aid reaching them six days after the disaster. Foreigners are banned from the archipelago because of its large air force post, and India has not given permission for international aid groups to deliver help.

"There is nothing to eat there. There is no water. In a couple of days, people will start dying of hunger," said Anup Ghatak, a utilities contractor from Campbell Bay island, as he was being evacuated to Port Blair, capital of the archipelago.

Rescue workers in the archipelago believe thousands of uncounted bodies remain in the debris of crumbled homes, downed trees and mounds of dead animals on several islands. India has officially reported 7,763 dead in the tsunami disaster — most from the southern provinces of the mainland. The number does not include a complete count from the archipelago, where officials estimate as many as 10,000 people could be buried under mud and debris.

Forensic teams in Thailand packed bodies in dry ice as the government announced its death toll had doubled to more than 4,500 people, almost half of them foreigners who had been vacationing on the country's renowed white-sand beaches.

Sunday's 9.0 magnitude quake struck just off the coast of Sumatra, near the Indian archipelago, sending walls of water racing across the Indian Ocean and wiping out coasts in 11 nations.

After Indonesia, Sri Lanka was the next hardest hit, with about 28,500 deaths. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday that nations had donated $500 million toward the relief effort, but more help was needed. Militaries from around the world geared up to help.

Nine U.S military C-130 transport craft took off Friday from Utapao, the one-time home of B-52 bombers striking targets in Indochina, to rush mostly medical supplies to the stricken resorts of southern Thailand and to more distant airfields in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, said Maj. Larry J. Redmon in Bangkok. One of the cargo jets arrived in Indonesia with blankets, medicine and the first of 80,000 body bags.

Two Navy groups of a dozen vessels — led by the aircraft carriers USS Bonhomme Richard and USS Abraham Lincoln — are headed for the coasts of Indonesia and Sri Lanka with supplies and — importantly — more than 40 helicopters to help ferry food and medicines into ravaged seaside communities.

New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Pakistan and scores of other nations also had planes in the air, rushing aid to victims. In Sumatra, pilots dropped food to villagers stranded among bloating corpses.

"Over the past few days it has registered deeply in the consciousness and conscience of the world as we seek to grasp the speed, the force and magnitude with which it happened. But we must also remain committed for the longer term," Annan said.

The United States, India, Australia, Japan and the United Nations have formed an international coalition to coordinate worldwide relief and reconstruction efforts. The Indian navy, which has already deployed 32 ships and 29 aircraft for tsunami relief and rescue work, was sending two more ships Friday to Indonesia.

Asian leaders on Friday were trying to put together a meeting next week in Jakarta that would group Asian countries with international donors and organizations.

Meanwhile, families around the Indian Ocean rim and beyond spent their sixth day of desperation trying to track down missing loved ones, including vacationers on the sunny beaches of Thailand, India and Sri Lanka. Tens of thousands were still missing, including at least 3,500 Swedes, more than 1,000 Germans and 500 each from France and Denmark.

In Sri Lanka, where more than 4,000 people were unaccounted for, television channels were devoting 10 minutes every hour to read the names and details of the missing. Often photos of the missing were shown with appeals that they should contact their families or police.

On Phuket, people scoured photos pinned to notice boards of the dead and missing. Canadian tourist Dan Kwan was still hunting for his missing parents and refused to give up hope.

"At this point we hope against hope that they are still alive somewhere," he said, adding that it was possible they were unconscious or unable to speak.

The search for loved ones on Sumatra was even less coordinated. One man was looking for his grandmother by checking corpse after corpse scattered over a road near her ruined home.


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