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Aid Continues to Flow Into Asia As Death Toll Passes 76,000

Other officials warned more than 5 million others desperately needed immediate aid. As of mid-morning Eastern Time, Indonesia had raised its confirmed death toll to more than 45,000, Sri Lanka reported 22,000 deaths, and nearly 7,000 in India make up the bulk of the current 76,700 casualties from Sunday’s devastation.

But the Red Cross warned Wednesday that the numbers were likely to rise when reports come in from the Indian islands closer to the epicenter of the earthquake.

“I would not be at all surprised that we will be on 100,000 when we know what has happened on the Andaman and Nicobar islands,” Peter Rees, a senior official from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said.

In Crawford, Texas, President Bush offered his sympathies to those suffering in Asia and pledged to help affected nations rebuild.

“These past few days have brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension. The United States will continue [to] stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims,” President Bush said in his first public comments since Sunday’s disaster.

But the president added the $35 million the United States has pledged to relief effort was “just the beginning” of the American contribution.

“We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities. And together the world will cope with their loss. We will prevail over this destruction,” Mr. Bush said.

Meanwhile on the ground, military and government officials in Indonesia reported more widespread destruction as they moved deeper into the region of Western Sumatra closest to the epicenter of the temblor.

“The damage is truly devastating,” the Associated Press quoted Indonesian Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarya as saying. “Seventy-five percent of the west coast is destroyed and some places it’s 100 percent. These people are isolated and we will try and get them help.”

The archipelago’s death toll from a quake and tsunami has reached 45,268, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, but United Nations and aid officials said the final total could top 80,000.

“Many people have illnesses such as respiratory problems, diarrhea, skin irritations and cuts. There are still maybe thousands of bodies out there. We are reaching the peak of the threat,” Edward Sy, an Indonesian Red Cross senior field officer, told Reuters.

“If the government doesn’t immediately take action, worse diseases could spread,” Sy said, adding in another two days cholera could begin to emerge in the hardest hit areas.

The island nation of Sri Lanka, some 1,000 miles from the epicenter of the quake, continued to struggle with the sheer number of those killed along its eastern shore. As of Wednesday, the government confirmed 22,493 killed when a wall of water tore into the communities and resorts along the coast.

But also Wednesday, the first reports of measles and diarrhea began to filter out of the devastated Sri Lankan villages. Coupled with the growing fear of disease, local residents in Sri Lanka’s second largest city also reported running out of supplies.

“Even those people who were not affected can’t get food. Nothing is available,” Father Raja Perera, of one of Galle’s Catholic churches, told the AP.

The international community continued to dispatch aid shipments to the region for immediate assistance, but leaders are also weighing how to help with the monumental long-term efforts to rebuild the region.

German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, who warned the death toll from his country would likely exceed 100, said he would call on creditor nations to forgive debt payments from those countries devastated.

“It is clear that this a catastrophe of global proportions and can only be solved with close cooperation of the international community coordinated by the United Nations,” Schroeder said.

President Bush also stressed the need for an international response, telling reporters he had dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell to create a coordinated regional response.

“[Powell has] spoken with his counterparts in Japan, India, Australia as well as other nations, who are helping with the response in order to begin building an international coalition for immediate humanitarian relief and long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts,” Mr. Bush said. “Based on these discussions, we’ve established a regional core group with India, Japan and Australia to help coordinate relief efforts.”

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