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03 January 2005

U.S. Role in Tsunami Relief Expands: An Overview

Military, aid agencies describe efforts for disaster victims so far

Washington -- As the Asian death toll from the Indian Ocean tsunami approached 150,000, President Bush has enlisted his two predecessors to solicit private U.S. contributions for relief.

The president said in January 3 remarks that former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush will be asking Americans make cash contributions to reliable charities that are already providing relief to tsunami victims. [Bush Enlists Former Presidents in Tsunami Relief Aid Effort]

The U.S. government has made an initial $350 million commitment for official relief and has deployed military units assets to help with recovery distribute aid.

While more U.S. military assets are expected to arrive to help generate clean water and provide further logistical help, the president said, disaster victims can expect even more help from private U.S. charities.

"We're showing the compassion of our nation in the swift response," Bush said. "But the greatest source of America's generosity is not our government; it's the good heart of the American people." [Private Citizens, Corporations Giving to Tsunami Relief]

President Bush, his father and Clinton visited the embassies of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to sign condolence books.

At a briefing shortly after the president's remarks officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Defense Department described how their agencies were working continuously to assess relief needs while getting supplies into the region and distributing them to the neediest disaster victims. [Assessment, Transport, Distribution Focus of U.S. Relief Effort]

They estimated that 3 million to 5 million people in 12 countries around the Indian Ocean were directly affected by the December 26 tsunami, many of them now homeless.

Following are some of their main points:

-- USAID has 135 personnel and the U.S. military has three teams in the region assessing the scope of the disaster.
-- The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group is in the region and supporting humanitarian relief operations with 19 helicopters.
-- An Expedition Strike Group led by the USS Bonhomme Richard with 24 helicopters will arrive in the region within several days.
-- The U.S. Air Force has sent 17 C-130 cargo planes to the region to ferry in relief supplies.
-- Air Force cargo planes have delivered 430,000 pounds of relief supplies to the region since December 26.
-- U.S. military helicopters are bringing in supplies to remote regions and helping bring out sick and injured survivors.
-- The U.S. military is sending seven freshwater producing ships to the region that can produce up to 630,000 gallons of fresh water daily.

Earlier in the day Secretary of State Colin Powell, aboard a flight from Washington en route to Bangkok, Thailand, told reporters that, with more than $2 billion in official relief aid pledged, the problem was not having too little money but was getting immediate relief supplies distributed. [Furthering Relief Efforts for Victims Is Aim of Powell Visit]

At the start of a four-country tour Powell rebutted criticism of the U.S. relief effort as insufficient, describing the breadth and depth of the immediate U.S. response.

"In a period of four days, five days, I think a great deal was accomplished," Powell said. "And the reason I emphasize this is I don't think the American people should be given the impression that their president and their government was not hard at work on this from day one."

With Powell in the in-flight briefing, USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios said surviving victims of the disaster were going into shock on seeing their families and neighborhoods destroyed.

"We've noticed when we see the people, large numbers of people in shock, the visits of very visible high-level people will restore a sense of hope that they are not being forgotten, they are not being lost," Natsios said.

Powell and Natsios are scheduled to visit Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

A U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) spokesman, Navy Captain Roger Welch, says the massive military assistance effort to foster recovery from the tsunami disaster will continue until all the host nations no longer need U.S. help. [Military Will support Tsunami-Stricken Nations as Long as Needed]

As of the January 3 PACOM briefing, there were 12,600 Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel in the affected region. Some 21 ships (including the Lincoln battle group) and 80 military aircraft (including more than six dozen helicopters) were supporting them.

Welch said 76,800 daily humanitarian rations have been delivered to Indonesia and another 32,000 units to the Maldives. He also said electricity is back on in some key Indonesian coastal areas, airport congestion is easing in the Sri Lankan airport in Colombo, and the relief operation in Thailand is "going great."

For additional information go to U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asia

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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