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CATASTROPHE IN SOUTHERN ASIA

Bush Enlists Predecessors in Aid Drive

President's father and Clinton will raise funds from private sector for tsunami victims. U.S. military relief effort encounters obstacles.

January 04, 2005|Edwin Chen and Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Monday called on every American who could to contribute to organizations aiding victims of the southern Asian earthquake and tsunami, and he named his father and former President Clinton to lead a nationwide fundraising drive.

"I've asked the former presidents to solicit contributions both large and small," Bush said in a brief announcement at the White House, where flags were flying at half-staff in memory of the estimated 150,000 people killed in the Dec. 26 disaster.

"We are here to ask our fellow citizens to join in a broad humanitarian relief effort," Bush said, as his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and Clinton stood behind him. He added: "I ask every American to contribute as they are able to do so."

The fundraising drive will appeal to corporations and foundations as well as individuals.

Relief workers continued to work their way toward the most remote villages, and a United Nations official said fatalities could grow "exponentially" in Sumatra, the Indonesian island where most of the victims are reported to have died. Indonesian officials Monday increased the official death toll in their country to more than 94,000.

"What will be the final toll, we will never know, but we may be talking tens of thousands of further deaths in this area," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said. He said disease would add to the deaths.

Relief supplies have reached hubs such as Bangkok, the Thai capital; the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo; and Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and are flowing into the most severely hit areas, said James Kunder, an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development. With as many as 5 million people across southern Asia believed to be without homes or food, the growing relief efforts encountered new challenges.

U.S. military personnel flying missions from warships and small airports such as that in Banda Aceh in Sumatra said deliveries of water and food to parts of the island were hampered by a lack of accurate maps: The quake and tsunami had rearranged the topography of the west coast, altering landmarks.

"The pilots basically are flying down the coast looking for clusters of people, because they have nothing else to go on," Marine Lt. Col. Andrew Wilcox said.

In some parts of Indonesia's Aceh province, supplies were dropped from the air because washed-out roads and bridges made land access impossible, Kunder said.

U.S. military helicopter pilots also were picking up small groups of survivors if they had room after delivering supplies, ferrying them to hospitals and aid centers in Banda Aceh.

In a trip showcasing U.S. concern, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, arrived in Thailand to begin assessing the relief efforts. They added Sri Lanka to an itinerary that already included stops in Phuket, Thailand, and Banda Aceh. They also will attend an international donors conference in Jakarta on Thursday.

In Bangkok, Powell downplayed reports that up to 5,000 Americans may still be missing, saying that a large number of them were probably travelers who simply had not been in touch with loved ones.

"My own judgment is this number will go down as people surface," Powell said. As of Monday, 15 Americans had been confirmed dead.

To assist the international relief effort, the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard and two other warships arrived in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, joining the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and its battle group. The Navy has deployed eight warships and 35 helicopters to bring a variety of items, including instant noodles and body bags.

"You'll be seeing more and more equipment and vehicles coming in over the next few days," said Wilcox, who was working out of an Indonesian air base in the Sumatran city of Medan. In addition to the 6,500 personnel on the Lincoln, there are 7,000 on the other ships. Most of the U.S. forces are arriving from Japan.

The burgeoning relief is requiring tremendous coordination between the Indonesians and the military forces of the U.S. and other countries providing assistance.

"You have 11 countries operating here," said Air Force Capt. Duane Gray, who also was working at the Medan air base. "You don't know who is bringing what, so it is kind of rough.... We don't always know what people need. One day we'll bring in water and they'll say they need food."

Officials in Banda Aceh reported seeing signs that the situation was beginning to stabilize.

"In the beginning, they were saying: 'Water, water, water. That's the most important.' Now they have gotten themselves more organized with the distribution of water, and they are telling us, 'Rice is the most important,' " said John Packer, a U.S. Agency for International Development worker in Medan.

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