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Tsunamis don't block exports to U.S. shores

The movement of goods from tsunami-ravaged Asian countries to the United States _ everything from furniture to clothing _ have continued to flow because big manufacturing centers for the most part were not damaged.

Major ports also are operating normally.

But some economists said a breakout of disease in the region could further strain economies in the Asian countries and possibly begin to affect exports.

Eight days after the Dec. 26 disaster, private economists, U.S. companies, government officials and others were struggling Monday to assess its economic effect.

The disaster is expected to have little effect on the U.S. economy. But tourism in the region, especially Thailand and Sri Lanka, is expected to be hard hit, economists said.

Many companies in the United States rely on factories in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Thailand and other countries in the region to make clothing, home textiles and wood furniture.

However, the tsunamis did not hit big manufacturing centers. "We have not seen any disruption whatsoever to manufacturers in those countries," said Rick Darling, president of Li & Fung USA, a Hong Kong firm that finds manufacturing plants for U.S. companies.

Kohl's; Bed, Bath & Beyond; and American Eagle Outfitters are among its clients, Darling said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said ports in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are operating normally. In India, some shipments have been rerouted away from the port of Chennai, which suffered damage, to Bombay, Darling said.

Dan Hess, founder and chief executive officer of Merchant Forecast, a research firm covering the retail sector, said he was not aware of any major disruptions of raw materials from Asia to U.S. companies.

The effect of the disaster on the U.S. economy "should be fairly limited," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Banc of America Capital Management.

The spread of disease is a primary risk at this point, Reaser said. "Countries' economies could see more prolonged damage and a drain on their resources to care for the ill."

Indonesia and perhaps other countries in the region could see depressed economic activity in the January-to-March quarter, Reaser said. But she added that economic activity might get a lift from efforts to rebuild roads, bridges, hotels and homes.

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