Tsunami relief effort is gaining momentum


A man wearing a surgical mask walks Sunday past a number of bodies pulled from the rubble in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The town, hit by a tsunami Dec. 26, was the hardest hit in Southeast Asia.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 12:38 a.m.
The international lifeline to save 5 million victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami gathered strength on land, sea and air on Sunday, as cargo-laden ships and planes converged on stricken coasts in Indonesia and other countries, and helicopters ferried food, water and medicines to desperate, isolated survivors.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and President Bush's brother and personal representative, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, left Sunday for Asia, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations will depart today to tour the hardest-hit regions and join a conference of Southeast Asian nations in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday to map a strategy for the relief effort.
Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, recounted progress in relief efforts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other nations.
He told of new clinics in remote areas, listed more pledges of new aid and, in contrast to the terrible news of recent days, spoke of reasons for optimism.
''The good news is coming in by the hour,'' Egeland said in New York, citing a donation of much-needed heavy forklifts as an example. ''I am more optimistic than yesterday, and much more than the day before, that we, the global community, will be able to face up to this enormous challenge.''
It was only the beginning of a relief campaign that has drawn pledges of $2 billion from 40 countries and will go on for months, if not years, and the suffering was still widespread. But after a week of horrific reports - with estimates of as many as 150,000 dead, 500,000 seriously injured, millions of homeless and hungry, and tens of thousands missing - there was a sense of progress and even rays of hope.
A fisherman, 24-year-old Tengku Sofyan, was found barely alive under his beached boat in Lampulo, in Aceh Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. He had been trapped for a week without food and water, could barely speak and was badly dehydrated.
Lamsar Sipahutar, the director of search efforts in Indonesia, said the government was ready to call off the search for missing people to concentrate on getting help to known survivors. Indonesia, closest to the epicenter of the undersea earthquake, has said 100,000 of its people were killed.
After days of red tape, washed out roads and bridges and other problems, substantial help was finally getting through, officials said. Four Indonesian navy frigates loaded with supplies arrived off Meulaboh, the devastated city on the west coast of Aceh Province, where at least 10,000 people were killed and many survivors have wandered for a week among the bodies and flattened homes.
Off Banda Aceh, the provincial capital on the northeast coast, a five-ship U.S. naval group led by the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was on station for a second day. Its fleet of helicopters flew 10 relief flights into Meulaboh, and other sorties into towns and villages in Aceh, moving tons of supplies from airport warehouses to survivors, U.S. military officials said.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of cargo planes from many nations, and U.S. Black Hawk transport helicopters and C-130 cargo planes, continued to land supplies at the Banda Aceh and Medan airports.
Michael Elmquist, coordinator of the U.N. relief operations in Indonesia, said major progress had been made, both in distributing supplies that had piled up at the regional airports and in evacuating many people who had been left homeless and cut off by the destruction of roads and communications.
In New York, Egeland, the U.N. relief coordinator, said there had been sharp increases in diarrhea and respiratory problems, but no reports of cholera.
The World Health Organization said 50 international medical aid groups had arrived in Aceh Province. And Indonesian officials said eight field hospitals had been set up in Banda Aceh, Meulaboh and other towns.
In Sri Lanka, government officials raised the death toll to 29,729, with 5,540 missing and more than 800,000 left homeless by the tsunami. Aid officials said there was plenty of food and clothing, even a surplus. But thousands of people were living in hundreds of small camps and other temporary shelters without adequate sanitation. A convoy of U.S. vessels led by the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard was expected to arrive in Sri Lanka early this week with 1,500 Marines, 20 helicopters, two C-130 planes and desalination equipment to provide clean water for thousands. In the wake of the tsunami, Sri Lankans had appeared to set aside, at least temporarily, the bitter civil strife that has left 60,000 dead over three decades. But Sri Lankan military officials charged over the weekend that rebel Tamil Tigers had set fire to a refugee camp, forcing 60 refugees to flee, after they had accepted aid from government troops. A spokesman for the rebels denied the allegations.
Help was also on the way to India's devastated Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal where thousands are believed to have perished in the tsunami. For many of the 350,000 islanders, there has been no outside help, although military planes have airdropped food in some areas. The first Indian navy supply ship since the tsunami arrived in the islands on Sunday, but shortages were not expected to end immediately because of a chaotic relief distribution system. Piles of supplies lay at the airport at Port Blair, the capital.
Victims on the Andaman and Nicobar islands were sending out pleas for help by radio. ''Please send food immediately to Chowra or people will starve,'' one radioed SOS declared, referring to one of the archipelago's hundreds of islands.

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