Sympathy, aid offered to area hit by disaster

Nations, organizations arranging relief effort


LONDON - From President Bush to Pope John Paul II, the world's political and spiritual leaders urged support yesterday for victims of the giant waves in Asia as relief agencies and governments girded to offer technical help and aid. The United States said assistance was already on its way to some of the most-stricken areas.

The speed and scale of the disaster - with thousands dead - left some relief specialists struggling to keep pace with events. "The needs are enormous," said Louis Michel, a senior official of the European Union, which offered $4 million in emergency funds.

In Geneva, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said as many as 500,000 survivors could need help for the next six months. It appealed for some $6.5 million to finance relief efforts.

Usually, in major catastrophes, relief agencies seek to meet the basic needs of survivors for shelter, clean water, food and medicines and to provide longer-term aid to help stricken regions restore water supplies and rebuild themselves. But those efforts can founder because of poor communications and bad roads that prevent relief supplies from reaching affected areas.

Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, said he was "profoundly saddened to learn of the massive loss of life and destruction." He said the United Nations "stands ready to provide the assistance necessary to meet the needs created by these natural disasters."

Trent Duffy, deputy White House spokesman, said in a statement, "On behalf of the American people, the president expresses his sincere condolences for the terrible loss of life and suffering caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the region of the Bay of Bengal."

"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."

"Already relief is flowing to Sri Lanka and the Maldives," the statement continued.

In the region itself, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan urged a "swift and concerted" response from international donors and said Pakistan would send tents, medicines and water to Sri Lanka, one of the countries hit by the huge waves.

In India, where more than 2,400 people were reported killed, the government sent naval vessels and aircraft laden with food and medicine to its southern coastline and to Sri Lanka. India is no stranger to natural disaster, including an earthquake in 2000 that killed 20,000 people in Gujarat.

Offers of on-the-ground help and financial support came from Ireland, Britain, Kuwait and Turkey, among others.

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said, "For all the huge advances in the control of our lives through science and technology, an earthquake on this scale is truly humbling as well as profoundly tragic for everyone involved."

Queen Elizabeth II said she was "deeply saddened." The queen is the titular head of the Commonwealth, an assembly mainly of former British colonies of which India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Malaysia are members.

Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group, said in a statement posted on its Web site that it had staff on standby to fly to Indonesia and would send teams to India, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Burma.

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