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Asia relief efforts hit snags

Poor coordination cited

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Rescue flights from throughout the world delivered supplies for millions of survivors around South Asia yesterday, but disorganization blocked the lifesaving food, water, and medicine from reaching many of those stricken and in need.

Cartons of food and water were stacked in an airplane hangar in the devastated Aceh region of northern Indonesia after military transports delivered tons of supplies to the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, which was mostly destroyed in the Sunday earthquake and tsunamis that hit minutes later.

Some officials said there was dismal coordination among the Indonesian military, civilians, and foreign governments. "We haven't gotten any help at all, nothing," said Yasin, 42, a displaced father who was camped out 5 miles from the airport. "I don't have anything left."

With concerns that disease could kill tens of thousands, the speed of the effort was crucial, especially the need to provide clean drinking water. In Sri Lanka, health authorities reported cases of measles and diarrhea, and people in many areas were prone to the threats of cholera, malaria, and dehydration.

Rescuers in Indonesia saw scenes of calamity and destruction in remote western Sumatra that pushed the toll from Sunday's catastrophe beyond 77,000 dead.

The Indonesian military finally reached the Sumatra town of Meulaboh, closest to the epicenter of the massive earthquake. Images of tragedy in Aceh Province were horrific: A weeping father with a limp child in his arms waded through water past shattered buildings. Houses were flattened in the mud, and battered survivors lay exhausted and hungry in tents. A bulldozer dug a mass grave the size of a swimming pool in which to pile corpses covered only by plastic sheets.

There were stories of hope and survival. A 13-year-old girl survived drifting at sea for two days off the Indian island of Car Nicobar, clinging to a door, a tree, and a sack. In Sri Lanka, Dayalan Sanders, a Sri Lankan-born US citizen, rescued the 28 orphans in his care by reacting quickly. Spotting the tsunami, he and his wife corralled the children onto a motorboat and outran the waves, seconds before their orphanage was crushed in a 30-foot wall of water.

In the 12 countries affected by the tragedy from East Africa to southern Asia, there was little chance of finding more survivors. Tens of thousands of people were missing. Health Ministry officials said 80 percent of western Sumatra was destroyed. More than 45,000 people have been killed on the island, and a UN official said the death toll there could reach 80,000.

Governments pledged more than $250 million in emergency aid for stricken areas, and international transport flights carried drinking water, tarpaulins, cooking sets, and medical supplies to the region.

In Washington, President Bush said the United States, India, Australia, and Japan had formed a coalition to coordinate international relief efforts. He pledged a multifaceted response, and the US military said it would divert several warships and helicopters to the region.

Sri Lanka yesterday listed more than 22,400 people dead, India close to 7,000 -- with 8,000 missing and feared dead, including many on the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Thailand put its toll at more than 1,800, but some officials said that number could double. More than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Burma, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Of 3,500 foreigners unaccounted for, mostly in Thailand, about 1,500 are Swedes, 1,000 Germans, 440 Norwegians, and 200 Finns. By yesterday, more than 1,200 bodies had been recovered at southern Thai beach resorts, but officials said the toll could be more than 3,000.

The supply effort in Indonesia was slow-moving at times. An estimated 250 tons of supplies were grounded by inefficiency and lack of transportation. Indonesian officials awaited the arrival of seven transport planes from Australia and two from Malaysia and Singapore.

As relief supplies entered Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of Aceh, residents obtained food and water, and stood in line for hours to get fuel. Uncollected corpses were scattered on the ground, and the city was mostly without electricity, clean water, and phone service.

A navy ship carrying supplies arrived at Meulaboh, a fishing town about 90 miles from the quake's epicenter in the Indian Ocean. But the ship could not dock in the town because the port was demolished, presidential spokesman Andi Mallarangeng said. The military was shuttling rescuers and material by boat from the ship to the shore.

Michael Elmquist, a UN official helping coordinate the international aid effort, said the death toll in Indonesia could reach 80,000, a much higher estimate than that offered by government officials.

The government had largely barred foreign relief and humanitarian workers from entering Aceh since the military launched a new offensive against separatist rebels in the oil-rich region last year. The rebels, the Free Aceh Movement, declared a cease-fire following the Sunday quake and the government responded by lifting restrictions on the entry of foreign journalists and aid workers.

Last night, a particularly strong earthquake rumbled across Banda Aceh, more noticeable than a number of aftershocks registered both Tuesday and yesterday. More than 200 people raced fearfully from the governor's mansion in Banda Aceh. The building has been housing about 150 refugees, 50 officials, 20 police officers, and a number of journalists.

In the Thai province of Phangnga, the hardest-hit area of the Southeast Asian country, army crews used front-end loaders to clear away rubble from pulverized holiday villas along the Andaman Sea. Rescue teams searched for bodies in collapsed hotels and houses in southern beach towns.

Thai authorities said that as many as 2,000 people probably died on the popular shoreline, most of them foreign tourists.

Thailand's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said that 473 foreigners from 36 countries were confirmed dead. But that number was expected to increase considerably, with as many as 200 foreign hotel guests feared dead at a Sofitel chain resort in the area.

In Sri Lanka, Tamil Tiger rebels, whose two-decade civil war for autonomy in the island's north and east is under a fragile cease-fire, said nearly 10,000 people had died -- nearly half of Sri Lanka's death toll -- in territory they control. Separated from the rest of the country by a mined border, they appealed for help yesterday as they dug mass graves for thousands of putrefying corpses.

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