BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – The United States upped its tsunami relief aid tenfold Friday as ships and planes converged on devastated shores. Bottlenecks of supplies built up, fears of epidemics grew, and in an echo of the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, people at a Thai resort scoured a bulletin board of 4,000 photos in search of the dead and missing.
Six days after the earthquake and tsunamis that ravaged 3,000 miles of African and Asian coastline, the confirmed death toll passed 121,000, and 5 million people were homeless. Officials said remote Indian islanders were facing starvation.
In an even more grave assessment, U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said the number of dead was approaching 150,000. “The vast majority of those are in Indonesia,” he said Friday, adding that the compelte death toll would probably never be known.
President Bush, his administration stung by criticism that its aid pledges were small and slow to materialize, raised the U.S. pledge from $35 million to $350 million. “Our contributions will continue to be revised as the full effects of this terrible tragedy become clearer,” he said. France has promised $57 million, Britain $95 million and Sweden $75.5 million.
Emphasizing the U.S. role in the emergency, Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed relief efforts at a U.N. meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday, before leaving for a weekend visit to the region to assess what more is needed.
An American military cargo jet brought blankets, medicine and the first of 80,000 body bags to Banda Aceh, the devastated Indonesian city near the quake epicenter. Nine U.S military C-130 transports took off Friday from Utapao, the Thai base used by U.S. B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War, to rush supplies to the stricken resorts of southern Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, said Maj. Larry Redmon in Bangkok.
Other C-130s were sent by Australia and New Zealand, and the Indonesian government said two flights from 18 countries had reached Sumatra by Friday. But bureaucratic delays, impassable roads and long distances were blocking much of the blankets, bottled water, plastic sheeting and medicines from reaching the survivors.
Convoys distributed sugar, rice and lentils in Sri Lanka; India dispatched a ship converted into a 50-bed hospital.
In the Andaman islands, a remote southern Indian archipelago, officials and volunteers struggled to deliver tons of rations, clothes, bedding, oil and other items, hampered by lack of transportation.
“There is starvation. People haven’t had food or water for at least five days. There are carcasses. There will be an epidemic,” said member of Parliament Manoranjan Bhakta.
At popular Phuket resort in Thailand, people pored over photos of the dead and missing. “At this point, we hope against hope that they are still alive somewhere,” said Canadian tourist Dan Kwan, hunting fmissing parents. He said it was possible they were unconscious or unable to speak.
Forensic teams in Thailand packed bodies in dry ice as the government announced its death toll had doubled to more than 4,500 people, almost half of them vacationing foreigners.
In Sri Lanka, where more than 4,000 people were unaccounted for, TV channels devoted 10 minutes of every hour to reading the names and details of the missing.
“Our biggest battle and fear now is to prevent an epidemic from breaking out,” said Indonesian Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. “Clean water and sanitation is our main concern.”
Ade Bachtiar, a volunteer nurse from Jakarta, arrived in Banda Aceh on Wednesday to help at a clinic set up in an abandoned souvenir shop.
“Yesterday, we could only stay open for about two hours due to the lack of electricity,” he said. Nevertheless, he added, they treated 60 to 80 people, mainly closing and cleaning wounds.
“Medicine is running out, especially antiseptics,” he said.
Talk to us
- You can tell us about news and ask us about our journalism by emailing email@example.com or by calling 425-339-3428.
- If you have an opinion you wish to share for publication, send a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to The Daily Herald, Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.
- More contact information is here.