A fleet of helicopters from the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln shuttled supplies to some of the 110,000 homeless Indonesians along the western Sumatra coastline Monday. The flights have become the most effective way to deliver aid in a region cut off from the regional capital of Banda Aceh.
Residents have rushed the flights, desperate for the supplies.
“We don’t have enough food, clothes or medicine. Thousands are dead around here. Whole villages are gone,” Edan, a 25-year-old, said as he pleaded for more aid.
The widespread devastation has continued to badly hamper the massive relief effort in Indonesia and elsewhere.
“The emergency teams are arriving to be blocked by a wall of devastation. Everything is destroyed,” Aly-Khan Rajani, CARE Canada’s program manager for Southeast Asia, told Reuters.
The flights are part of a massive $2 billion aid effort that includes funds for immediate relief and plans for long-term rebuilding of major swaths of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.
The top U.N. humanitarian official said the aid effort was unprecedented in scope and level of support.
“We are seeing that the assistance is becoming increasingly effective in all of the countries,” he told reporters. “Overall I am more optimistic today than I was yesterday that we the global community will be able to face up to this enormous challenge.”
Some, including The New York Times editorial board, had labeled the American contribution to the aid effort “miserly,” but Secretary of State Colin Powell defended the administration’s response Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“The American response has been appropriate. It has been scaled up as the scale of the disaster became more widely known,” Powell said. The secretary and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush left Monday to tour the region and discuss the aid efforts with local authorities.
In an effort to bolster American financial aid to the region, White House officials unveiled a plan to have former Presidents Bush and Clinton lead a national fundraising effort.
“This will be a nationwide, charitable fund-raising effort to encourage private donations,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday.
As international relief efforts increased, officials in the worst affected areas raised the death toll to more than 144,000, with nearly two-thirds of the deaths occurring in Indonesia, nearly 30,000 killed in Sri Lanka, another 15,000 killed in India and nearly 5,000 dead in Thailand.