Driven to desperation by hunger, grief and the growing threat of disease, flood survivors swarmed around U.S. military helicopters Saturday as international aid began to reach remote regions devastated by last weekend's tsunamis.
Jostling crowds surrounded helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln as soon as they touched down in Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia.
Pledges of worldwide help topped $2-billion, but drenching rains and flash floods complicated efforts to deliver badly needed food, water and medical supplies to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the two hardest hit countries.
The confirmed death toll from earthquake-driven waves topped 123,000 and the U.N.'s disaster coordinator estimated it could reach 150,000. Health care workers braced for more deaths from infections and diseases related to contaminated water and poor sanitation.
"Most of the doctors and nurses who worked here were either victims themselves, or they are searching for their missing families," said Sahat Edison Sitorur, the head doctor of the military hospital at Banda Aceh, the devastated provincial capital. "What we've seen so far in terms of patients and casualties is just the tip of the iceberg."
"The carnage is of a scale that defies comprehension," President Bush said in a somber New Year's Day radio address. "As the people of this devastated region struggle to recover, we offer our love and compassion, and our assurance that America will be there to help."
Bush ordered U.S. flags lowered to half-staff from Monday until Friday as a sign of respect for the victims. Today, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, will lead a delegation to ravaged areas to help direct $350-million in promised U.S. aid.
Japan moved ahead of the United States as the largest single donor on Saturday by pledging $500-million, pushing the worldwide total to more than $2-billion. Bush directed Americans who want to make donations to a government-sponsored Web site, www.usafreedomcorps.gov.
The devastation in Banda Aceh was a sobering reminder of the magnitude of the rebuilding task. Parts of the city appeared to have been leveled by a powerful bomb, with bits and pieces of daily life _ shoes, mattresses, toys _ stuck together in piles of thick, black mud.
The quake and the tsunami it unleashed killed nearly 40,000 of the city's 400,000 residents. Boats landed where cars should be. Cars crashed down where living room couches once stood. And the smell of death hung in the air Saturday.
"Half the city has been completely washed out," said Sabine Rens, head of Doctors Without Borders' Indonesia chapter. "People are in need of everything _ they need food, they need shelter, they need medical care."
It's the same throughout the remote province, Rens said: "From village to village, from town to town, there's just nothing left. You sometimes see a mosque, although it is barely standing. And then everything else is flattened."
Working from dawn to dusk from the deck of an aircraft carrier cruising offshore, Navy crewmen shuttled supplies by helicopter to some of those villages.
In Sri Lanka, torrential rains of up to 10 inches triggered flooding Saturday in the eastern part of the island nation, blocking relief supplies for tens of thousands of refugees. Some makeshift refugee camps had to be evacuated.
The USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault vessel, was on its way to Sri Lanka loaded with a contingent of 1,500 U.S. Marines and a fleet of about 20 helicopters.
U.S. MILITARY GIVING AID
+ Three military assessment teams, in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, are working with host nations to assess the situation and rush supplies to critical areas.
+ The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Battle Group is operating off Sumatra, with helicopters ferrying supplies into the region and flying casualties out.
+ The USS Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group is heading to the area. The group is scheduled to move to Sri Lanka.
+ More military airlifters are scheduled to go to the region. Two to four C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets will help in the effort, as will six more C-130 Hercules transports. Twelve more helicopters _ six CH-53s and six CH-46s _ are moving to the area.
+ C-130s and helicopters already on the scene are ferrying relief supplies to the hardest-hit areas.
+ Ships from Diego Garcia and Guam will arrive soon with relief supplies including water and water-making capacity. The ships also carry trucks and construction equipment to reopen roads.
+ About 350 U.S. personnel are manning Joint Task Force 536 in Utapao, Thailand. P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft and C-130s are operating out of the base.
The following are among aid agencies accepting contributions for assistance that they or their affiliates will provide for those affected by the earthquake and tsunamis in Asia.
AMERICAN RED CROSS
International Response Fund
PO Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013
88 Hamilton Ave.
Stamford, CT 06902
151 Ellis St. NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
CHRISTIAN CHILDREN'S FUND
Child Alert Fund
PO Box 26484
Richmond, VA 23261-6484
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS
PO Box 1856
Merrifield, VA 22116-8056
INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF RED CROSS AND RED CRESCENT SOCIETIES
PO Box 372
CH-1211 Geneva 19
JEWISH FEDERATION OF PINELLAS COUNTY
13191 Starkey Road, Suite 8, Largo, FL 33773. 727-530-3223, www.jewishpinellas.org _ accepting donations.
THE PATEL FOUNDATION FOR GLOBAL UNDERSTANDING
Patel Foundation for Global Understanding/Tsunami Relief Fund
5600 Mariner St., Suite 200, Tampa, FL 33609.
Using credit card, call 813-471-4380 or e-mail infoglobal-understanding.org. The foundation will match every dollar donated over the next week.
SAVE THE CHILDREN
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
Salvation Army World Service Office
South Asia Relief Fund
615 Slaters Lane
Alexandria, VA, 22313
THE TAMPA JEWISH FEDERATION
Disaster Relief, 13009 Community Campus Drive, Tampa, FL 33625.
U.S. FUND FOR UNICEF
333 E 38th St.
New York, NY 10016
Asia Earthquake and Tsunami
19303 Fremont Ave. N
Seattle, WA 98133