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04 January 2005

Officials Say U.S. Relief Operations in Thailand Well Under Way

Thai foreign minister lauds cooperative efforts

U.S. relief efforts for victims of the December 26, 2004, tsunami are well under way in Thailand, according to senior officials from both countries.

During a joint press conference in Bangkok January 4, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai reported that the following steps had already been taken to deal with immediate needs and to prevent future catastrophes of this sort:

-- U.S. aircraft have been deployed to detect survivors and the missing.  Included in the operation are forensic experts, medical doctors and rescue teams.

-- Steps are being taken to set up a regional center for relief efforts for other countries that have been affected by the tsunami.

-- Plans are under way to set up a monitoring and early warning system in cooperation with other countries in the region for the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

-- Cooperative efforts will be made to rehabilitate tsunami-damaged beaches, coral reefs and marine life.

The Thai foreign minister said his country appreciates U.S. efforts, noting that Powell was the first of his counterparts to call after the disaster struck to offer cooperation and assistance.

According to Powell, the United States will be making an assessment with the government of each of the tsunami-affected countries. "The aftermath of the tsunami is a tragedy for the entire world," the secretary said, "and the United States will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need."

Governor Jeb Bush, whose own home state of Florida suffered four successive hurricanes just a few months ago, noted "literally hundreds of thousands of Americans citizens of all walks of life have been moved by this tragedy and are providing financial support," but "… The international support needs to supplement what is being done by the countries, rather than the other way around."

National leaders from around the world will be in Jakarta January 6 to discuss further rehabilitation and relief efforts.

For additional information go to “U.S. Response to Tsunami and Earthquake in Asiaat:

Following is the State Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State

Office of the Spokesman

(Jakarta, Indonesia)

January 4, 2005





January 4, 2005

Government House

Bangkok, Thailand

MODERATOR:  The press conference will be jointly given by His Excellency the Foreign Minister of Thailand, The Honorable U.S. Secretary of State and The Honorable Governor of the State of Florida.  I would like to invite His Excellency, the Foreign Minister of Thailand to give his remarks.  Your Excellency.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  Mr. Secretary, Governor Bush.  Thank you Mr. Secretary, Governor Bush for traveling out to the region and thank you other senior officials to see for yourself the devastating effects of the earthquake and of the tsunami last week. 

Before I proceed, on behalf of the government of Thailand and the people of Thailand, I wish to thank you Mr. Secretary and through you the government and people of the United States, their condolences and assistance provided to Thailand since the devastating tsunami.  In particular we in Thailand appreciate greatly your outpouring of sympathy, especially from the President and the First Lady who visited the Royal Thai embassy in Washington, DC yesterday evening, our time, to sign the book of condolences in honor of Khun Pom Jensen [the son of Princess Ubolratana and grandson of King Bhumipol of Thailand] and others whose lives were cut short so tragically and for signing a proclamation calling for U.S. flags to be lowered to half staff in the coming week in honor of the tsunami victims.  These gestures are greatly appreciated by Thailand and other affected countries. 

Members of the press, I have to say that we really appreciate the assistance and cooperation of the United States.  Secretary Powell was the first counterpart of mine to have called me right after the incident in the morning of Monday and offer cooperation and assistance.  The U.S. operations started since last Monday providing transport planes and Orion P-3 to detect survivors and missing people.  The U.S. operation also includes special forensic experts, medical doctors and rescue teams.  I would like to again take note of our deep appreciation for the prompt and very effective assistance that the U.S. government has provided to Thailand. 

Secondly, we were approached in the evening of Monday from the United States to work with Thailand to set up a regional center for relief efforts for other countries that have been affected by the tsunami.  Our Prime Minister gave the green light in the evening of Monday, and on Tuesday the operation started right away.  There have been hundreds of personnel from the United States working in Thailand, not only for Thailand, not only for foreigners in Thailand and the Thai people, but also for victims in Indonesia, in Sri Lanka and in Maldives.  So, the U.S. action was very prompt indeed not only with Thailand but also in working with Thailand for other countries in the region since last Tuesday. 

Today we had a very good discussion, which I would like to summarize in two or three major points.  One is that we went through the overview of our cooperation and assistance and we are very pleased to hear that it has been proceeding well.  Secondly, we are thinking about the next stage.  I proposed to Secretary Powell and Governor Bush that we would like to set up the early warning system and monitoring system.  Prime Minister Taksin has also reiterated this policy, and Thailand is willing to invest ourselves, but we would like to have expertise, technical assistance from the United States and we will be happy also to work with other countries that have the technology and other countries in the region to install the early warning system and monitoring system in the Indian Ocean, in the South China Sea.  We are now considering whether we can expand the scope of the disaster preparedness center that has been in Thailand for the region but has not taken the responsibility concerning the earthquake and tsunami, whether we can expand that with the assistance from the United States. 

Secondly, we are discussing about the possibility of the technical assistance from the United States in the area of rehabilitation of natural resources, for example the coral reefs, the marine life, configuration of beaches.  So that is the next stage that we will working together.

We agreed that U.S. operations will continue and Thailand in practice has been working with the United States very well to have Thailand as the regional center for humanitarian relief in this part of the world.  And we are going to meet again in Jakarta, and we would like to make sure that the meeting in Jakarta will achieve both objectives.  One is the consolidation of the relief efforts and secondly to work together for the setting up of the early warning system and monitoring system.  And Governor Bush has also offered us to send experts to work with us on the early warning system, to provide confidence back to foreign tourists and Thai tourists into the area.  Florida has a lot of experience in dealing with natural disasters so we will be working closely.  We are very appreciative of Governor Bush in coming here and talking to us including Director of USAID, several people responsible for disaster relief from the United States. 

So we appreciate your presence here. And after this they will be going to Phuket to see with their own eyes and get briefed by our people in Phuket.  We are committed to be working closely with the United States and we are thankful for the kind gesture.  I have said to Secretary Powell that he has won the hearts of us in Asia, and we will continue working closely with them.  Secretary. 

SECRETARY POWELL:  Thank you very much Mr. Minister.  Governor Bush and members of my delegation are very pleased to be here to extend to you, to the other members of your government, and to the Thai people once again our condolences and to let you know that we are in solidarity with you as you deal with this crisis.  I want to send my regards out to the families of those have lost loved ones as a result of the tsunami.  And again express our sympathies to the royal family on the death of His Majesty the King's grandson, Khun Pom.  Let me also express how grateful we are for the assistance that the Thai government has given to American victims of the tsunami.

The aftermath of the tsunami is a tragedy for the entire world, and the United States will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need, and I think we have demonstrated in recent days our willingness to provide support, not only financial support, but the military support that our Pacific command is now providing, the presence of C-130 aircraft with helicopters from our ships at sea, with the Orion P3 planes that are performing reconnaissance missions and with the command post that has been set up.  I want to especially thank the government of Thailand for allowing us to use the air base at Utapao as a central hub for support not only to our Thai friends but to other nations in the region; and it really will be playing a very important role in the days and weeks ahead.

Governor Bush and I have had excellent meetings with the Prime Minister and with the Foreign Minister.  And our discussions will enable the United States to determine how it can best support Thailand's work to address this disaster.  We were already working closely, and we will examine some of the areas that we discussed this morning that the Minister has touched on, such as an early warning system and such as environmental expertise that we have that might be of assistance to the Thai government and other governments in the region to make sure that any environmental damage that has been caused can be repaired or at least mitigated. 

So Mr. Minister, I just want to again assure you of the support of the American people and especially of the United States government.  I should take note of all of the private contributions that are now being raised in the United States to assist in the effort.  And President Bush's announcement yesterday that former President Bush and former President Clinton will be leading this effort is further indication of the solidarity that we will show toward our Thai friends and to our other friends in the region who are in need.  I would now ask Governor Bush to say a word. 

GOVERNOR BUSH:  Thank you Secretary Powell.  Mr. Foreign Minister, I join Secretary Powell in offering our deepest sympathies and the sympathies of President Bush and the First Lady of the United States to the Thai people, and especially to the Royal family who have suffered so greatly from the tsunami disaster. 

My home state of Florida suffered four hurricanes a few months ago and so we share this experience because we know it will take a huge financial and human toll on the people of Thailand and in the region.

The American people want to offer a helping hand.  Secretary Powell has mentioned the financial support through the military and through the government, but I can assure you, as we are speaking here today, literally hundreds of thousands of Americans citizens of all walks of life have been moved by this tragedy and are providing financial support, motivated by the announcement yesterday that the President made that both President, former President Bush --  "41" as we call him in our family -- and President Clinton have agreed to serve as a catalyst for additional financial support. 

I received an e-mail this morning when I woke up from a regular e-mailer that writes me regularly saying his granddaughter had, outside of a church, thanks to the help of her mom, baked cookies and raised $138 yesterday in support of the relief effort.  And my guess is that as we are here today literally thousands of other acts of kindness like that are taking place in our country because we have been moved by the tragedy.  And my hope is that after the relief efforts, which you all have handled so well, subside that the long-term recovery efforts will go well and that the United States, both the citizens of the United States as well as our government, will be with you shoulder to shoulder to provide support.  Thank you for hosting us. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We will now take questions from members of the press.  Because of the time constraints, we will have time for about 4 questions.  The first question will be from the Thai press and before you ask your question, please state your name and affiliation.  Also indicate the person to whom you are addressing the question to.

QUESTION (in Thai, voice of translator):  The question is directed at the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Regarding the assistance that the United States will provide to Thailand in terms of technical assistance and warning system, what form would they actually take?

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  In Thailand, we have set up a special task force on this issue of early warning system and monitoring system headed by the former D.G. of the Department of Meteorology and he is now the vice minister, so we have set up this task force comprised of experts from Thailand, so we would like to see if the United States can provide us with experts to be working together.  Like the Prime Minster said, we are committed to even finance it ourselves, but if there are other issues that the United States can also contribute in terms of the technology, we would continue to have our discussion with Secretary Powell and all the people involved.  So basically, the type of assistance that we are requesting from the United States is more of the capacity building for our people, for law enforcers, for those who have be involved in all the tourist areas, and also for the technical and technological assistance.

QUESTION:  Arshad Mohammed of Reuters.  Secretary Powell, you had a briefing this morning with the Commander of the U.S. Military Joint Task Force here.  One, does the U.S. military have significant additional assets beyond the Abraham Lincoln and the Bonhomie Richard that it can contribute that would help deal with the retail distribution problems or is the military pretty much at capacity of what it can offer given the commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world?  And secondly, do you have any estimate of what it's costing the U.S. government in Pentagon funds to keep these assets here and help?  I imagine it's millions or tens of millions of dollars to keep an aircraft carrier doing this kind of work a week.  Do you have any estimate on that?

SECRETARY POWELL:  On the first question, in addition to the Abraham Lincoln and the Bonhomie Richard groups there are other ships that may be coming into the region as well as the maritime pre-positioning squadron.  I will have to leave it to the military commander to make a judgment as to what other assets he may require and pass that request back to Pacific Command and to the Pentagon to see whether those needs can be met.  Right now, I believe that the resources being made available to the commander on the scene, General Blackman, are adequate to the mission, but I will let him make that assessment and call back for additional forces.  The kinds of assets he needs -- helicopters, supply ships, ships that can provide fresh water supplies --those things are available to him. 

With respect to how much it is costing the Pentagon, I can't answer that question.  I think the Pentagon would have difficulty right now because these are significant operating costs.  To fly the helicopters off the ships -- at a time we were not anticipating this kind of a mission -- is an added cost, and it will come out of Pentagon funds, and these funds may have to be replenished in due course as a result of supplemental action on the part the Congress.  So in addition to just the raw commitment of funds -- the 350 million -- there is larger commitment of money to be added to that from Pentagon accounts.  Not larger than 350, I just don't know what the number is, but certainly the U.S. contribution is a lot more than the pledged $350 million.

QUESTION:  Peter Mackler, Agence France Presse.  Secretary Powell, Governor Bush, both of you and President Bush have talked about the need for long-term recovery.  What sort of mechanism might you envision to facilitate this recovery over years?  Do you think of some sort of Marshall Plan, some sort of reconstruction authority?  How could in be facilitated?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I don't know that it requires something approaching the Marshall Plan.  Each country has a different set of needs, and what we're going to do is assess those needs.  As the Foreign Minster just said, the financial need of Thailand is not as great as financial needs, say, in Indonesia or Sri Lanka.  They have a capacity issue.  They will need assistance with environmental issues.  They will need reconstruction assistance.  We talked earlier about whether or not our reconnaissance planes could help them in analyzing the mangrove area beyond the beach line.  There may be many bodies located in these mangrove areas.  Is there any way we can help with that?  Forensic support.  Reconstruction support.  That's the kind of support Thailand will need and not direct financial assistance.  Other nations may have a greater need for direct financial assistance. 

So what we'll do is make an assessment and with the government of each of those countries decide how best to satisfy their needs.  So I think we have to see this really as a regional problem, but the solution will be country-by-country depending on the needs of the individual country.  Jeb, do you want to add anything?

GOVERNOR BUSH:  I just would reiterate what you're saying that whether it's disaster relief or disaster recovery it should be totally driven by the needs of the impacted area or the country.  It should not be top down.  It should be from the country's needs, and the determination from that, then the strategies are developed.  The international support needs to supplement what is being done by the countries, rather than the other way around.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  I just would like to add on this particular point that the United States has been working with us very closely and responded to very specific needs on the issue of forensic experts, forensic pathologists, they sent a team to us immediately.  For the transport to help transport the injured people, they have sent a plane to help us immediately.   So I fully agree that it has to be country specific.  There may be a master plan that we'll be discussing in Jakarta on the 6th, but I think the plan for the rehabilitation and relief in each country has to be catered to the needs of each particular country.

QUESTION:  Barbara Slavin of USA Today.  I have a question about the many victims who apparently have not been found.  Mr. Minister, if you can give an estimate of the number missing now and perhaps a breakdown on how many of them foreign and how many of them are Thai.  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  That is the figure that, I have to admit, I haven't got the latest updated figure this morning, but it's in the vicinity of two to three thousand at this point.  There may be some double counting that we found.  Some of the missing people on the list turned out to be those who had been treated in the hospital.  Some of them were those who already left the country because several European countries sent many planes to take their nationals back.  And we have provided in the first three days special clearing procedures -- customs, immigration, travel documents -- for them.  So we are going through that.  We have asked immigration of each country to cross check the names and figures with our immigration to make sure who actually have been in the country because there have been some cases, as well, that the people have been reported to be in the country but, in fact, they went to another country, not in Thailand.  So the numbers of the missing people may be a little bit lower than earlier estimated. 

In terms of the foreign and Thai nationals, in Khao Lak area it is roughly half and half. But as you know that we are reaching the 8th day, so with the decomposition of bodies it is very, very difficult to distinguish even a blond European and an Asian.  So that is why we need a lot of DNA analysis, so from this stage onward our mode of operation is really DNA analysis and comparison with the medical records of the victims.  So that is why we have asked the families of the victims to stay put in their countries and collect as much information and data as possible so that we can match it.  And once we can match the DNA reference, they can come to the country and identify the bodies.

SECRETARY POWELL:  I just might to add we still are counting 15 Americans as having been lost, confirmed, here and elsewhere in the region.  There are several thousand Americans that we are still trying to, let me say, "track down" and make sure we know there whereabouts.  In the first days of this crisis, there was a lot of movement of people.  Some people went home.  Some people just started calling in to ask about loved ones, not knowing whether their loved ones where here or not.  I also got an e-mail this morning saying, "I have a friend who is in Thailand.  Can you find that American."  Without knowing whether the person was in danger or not, but that goes into our call center, and we then have to work that number off.  And we'll be spending a great deal of time over the next several day in working this number off to get a better handle on who actually is unaccounted for or really we know where they are but we just haven't been able to put it into our database yet.  That will take some time to work down that number.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) from Bloomberg News.  This is question to Khun Surakiart as well as to you, Mr. Powell.  I just wanted to find out what is the cost of an early warning system?  We have heard that India is going to spend about $25 million building one such system, which will take two and a half years.  Are we all going to coordinate and build one system? Or will it be every country building one system each?  What is it going to be?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  That is an issue where Secretary Powell and Governor Bush can respond, but that's beyond me.  I don't have enough knowledge, but we will be working closely with the task force that has been set up.  I have been told that to set up that warning system in Thailand costs will not be more than 20 million U.S. dollars.  We are willing to invest.  But I think to have a most effective early warning system and monitoring system, we have to do it also regionally -- in the Indian Ocean, for all countries bordering the Indian Ocean, and also in the South China Sea, because it can take place anywhere.  The cost of that is something that I don't have the information at the moment.

SECRETARY POWELL:  I couldn't give you a number estimate either, but I think there is now a great deal of enthusiasm about seeing whether or not a system can be developed on a regional basis.  There are two aspects to the system.  One aspect is to have a communications network so that you can get the word out.  That could apply to typhoon warnings, and to some extent that's in place now.  With a typhoon warning, usually you have a couple of days, with a tsunami it's a couple of hours.  So how can you build on existing systems of broadcasting information and connect it with a new sensor system that would go in to detect this kind of seismic change, which is going to produce a tsunami.  And how to use existing broadcast systems or augment existing broadcast systems in a way that the word gets out immediately in an actionable manner, so people can know that something is headed their way, a tsunami, and clear away from beachfront areas or areas that might be at risk.  But this is a matter than I'm very pleased so say that the United States will be working on with the countries in the region, and I know that Thailand is very committed to doing something about making sure such a system is brought into being.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  I have the latest figure from Phuket that my head of staff just gave me.  The total death toll is 5,187 and roughly 2,463 are foreigners, 2,362 are Thais, and about 362 which cannot yet be identified.  There are 3,810 missing.  I also would like to take this opportunity express on behalf of the Thai government and the Thai people condolences to you and the American people for the loss of your own nationals in Thailand and in other affected countries.

QUESTION:  Foreign Minister, I wanted to ask you how soon could an early warning system be in place?  Do you think that this is essential for restoring the confidence of tourists to come back to Thailand's beach resorts?  I also want to ask you in terms of counting the Thai dead, there are many systems in place -- embassies and foreign governments tracking their own citizens and keeping lists -- do you have such a vigorous system in place to check and count the number of Thai dead, and do you feel sure that the numbers you are giving are accurate or might the figure of Thai dead actually be higher?  Is there really such a strict counting system going on for Thais?  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  First of all, we would like to see the system in place as soon as possible.  Absolutely, that is the most important issue to bring back confidence of tourists, not only to Thailand but to this region.  I exchanged experiences with Governor Bush this morning, as well as what other measures -- sort of medium term -- for us to bring back confidence.  So I think the early warning system and the training of our people, both law enforcers and the local people rehearsing them, about incidents. Secretary Powell mentioned to me that in certain areas in the United States you have the test, breaking in news on the television from time to time.  So that is something that we would have to get in place in Thailand. 

On the issue of counting, we have a very strict counting.  Of course, the total number of those who died is quite accurate.  But numbers of those who died -- whether they are foreign nationals or Thais -- that may not be 100 percent accurate for obvious reasons that I just mentioned to you.  So we have to wait for the final DNA analysis and comparison to be able to tell exactly who are the Thais or who are foreigners, especially Asian tourists, which is quite difficult to distinguish from Thai tourists.

SECRETARY POWELL:  I think we have to keep in mind how difficult it is to get an accurate count in a situation such as this where you really haven't gotten to all of the places that were affected yet.  And you don't have a good count of how many might have been in an area in the first place.  In my first phone call with the Foreign Minister last Sunday night, my time, Monday morning your time, at that time your estimate was that only a few hundred people had been lost, which was an entirely different scale from that which emerged over the next 48 hours when the extent of the damage was more obvious.

FOREIGN MINISTER SURAKIART:  I was there on Tuesday when we talked there about 300, over 300.  I was there on Tuesday.  In one afternoon, on Tuesday, there were 400 bodies washed ashore, and we realized that the situation in Khao Lak was much worse than in Phuket.  So we have to adjust our operation day by day, but we have very strict accounting.  We have the center and one-stop service in Phuket, in Phang Nga, in Krabi, and we quoted this all the time.  And we have one-stop service comprised of public health, Interpol, immigration, and foreign ministry, and we have officials from over 40 embassies working in Phuket at the moment.

MODERATOR:  Thank you we would like to conclude the press conference now.  Thank you.

(end transcript)

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

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