U.S. Responding to Tsunami Catastrophe
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 2004 The United States will respond to the unprecedented international catastrophe caused by the tsunamis that engulfed nations on the Indian Ocean.
More than 20,000 people are feared dead, according to news reports, and millions are without shelter.
President Bush said in a statement issued by the White House that the United States "stands ready to offer all appropriate assistance to those nations most affected including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, and Indonesia, as well as the other countries impacted."
Relief already is flowing to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, an island nation between India and Africa.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. embassies in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India and Indonesia have provided a total of $400,000 in immediate assistance. The United States also will provide $4 million toward a $6.6 million Red Cross appeal for assistance from the world community.
Powell said eight Americans are dead in the tsunamis, caused by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. Tsunamis hit Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the coast of Africa. Flood waters poured into low-lying coastal areas, drowning thousands and destroying homes and businesses.
The U.S. Pacific Command already has begun to respond. Navy P-3 Orion aircraft are flying missions over the affected areas to help in assessing the damage, especially in remote areas. "The Pacific fleet is examining what else they might be able to do to help in this situation," Powell said during a news conference at the State Department.
Defense Department officials said U.S. Pacific Command will establish a joint task force for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the region. The command is expected to deploy forces to forward operating bases in the sea region to provide authorized humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
A 21-member U.S. Agency for International Development disaster relief team is heading to the area, and the agency can draw upon assets pre-positioned in the region. Ed Fox, assistant administration of USAID, said food, shelter, water and other supplies are ready to be delivered. The main problem right now is to clear debris scattered by the floods, he said.
Powell said the effects of the disaster will be felt in the region for years, and that a quick infusion of money is needed to stabilize the situation and prevent further deaths from water-borne diseases in the near term.