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SLUG: 2-321469 Disaster Sitrep (L-O)
TITLE=DISASTER SITREP (L-O)
HEADLINE: Somber New Year as Tsunami Death Toll Surpasses 125,000
INTRO: In Southern Asia, candlelight vigils and fundraisers replaced New Year's fireworks and celebrations in memory of the victims of last Sunday's earthquake and tsunamis. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok that pledges of aid surpassed one-billion dollars as the death toll climbed above 125-thousand.
TEXT: /// SOUND OF VIGIL MUSIC, FADE UNDER ///
In the hard-hit nations of Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, people marked the New Year with candles and prayer, as exhausted workers continued to retrieve bodies buried by Sunday's disaster.
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the northern province of Aceh, where the death toll has surpassed 80-thousand.
/// YUDHOYONO ACT IN INDONESIAN, FADE ///
President Yudhoyono says Indonesians mourn and cry. And in a reference to the bodies that have yet to be buried, he says their hearts weep seeing the thousands of those left rigid in the streets.
Aid began arriving at the airport of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, but Kendar Subroto, with the U.N. children's fund in Indonesia, says relief agencies are struggling to deliver it to isolated areas.
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"Transportation is fairly poor and fuel is so scarce so the aid could not be transferred to the people who need this assistance most."
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A flotilla of naval ships from various nations began flying relief supplies to remote areas and engineers were working to re-open destroyed roads. But the UNICEF regional representative in Bangkok, Shantha Bloemen, says efforts are being hindered by the sheer size of the task.
/// BLOEMEN ACT ///
"There has got to be a coordinated structure in terms of supply delivery, and also making sure that when the supplies reach the ground that there's an effective distribution mechanism, which is an enormous challenge."
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She notes that the task of coordinating aid deliveries would normally fall to local officials, but says that three-fourths of Banda Aceh has been destroyed and the local administration has practically disappeared.
Pledges of aid from governments and international institutions, meanwhile, surpassed one-billion dollars. But United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that massive logistical support would be needed to avoid bottlenecks.
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"This is the time to show that human kind can unite to help protect us all. It is now crucial that the whole international community works together."
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Mr. Annan met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss how to get aid more quickly to the survivors. Mr. Powell, who is to visit the region beginning Sunday, says the U.S. government would increase its initial contribution 10-fold.
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"President Bush has decided and we announced from the Crawford White House a little while ago that the United States contribution would now go up to 350-million dollars."
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The pledges of aid, however, were of little comfort to the millions of homeless, who were soaked by heavy rains in parts of Indonesia and Sri Lanka. (SIGNED)
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