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US Assessing Effect of Asian Earthquake


The State Department has put U.S. diplomatic posts in South and Southeast Asia on alert in case another major relief effort is needed following the severe earthquake late Monday off Sumatra. President Bush has been briefed on the situation.

The Bush administration was stung by what it said was unfair criticism that it was slow to respond to the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck the region in late December.

Reports of another massive earthquake off the Indonesian coast have spurred an urgent round of consultations in Washington, and orders to U.S. diplomatic posts in the area to contact host governments and local relief organizations on what new assistance needs might be.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the response to the late Monday earthquake began with a conference call involving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's staff, and assistant secretaries of state for South and East Asia and Africa and consular affairs.

He said that was followed by urgent messages to U.S. embassies and consulates in those areas, calling on them to contact host governments and local relief groups on potential damage, casualties and aid requirements.

"We're applying what we've learned from the previous earthquake so that we can be prepared to be responsive quickly and in a meaningful way. So where we are right now is having alerted all our posts, been in contact with all our posts, putting ourselves in battle mode to be in a position where we can know what's going on and act appropriately if and when it is necessary," he said.

Mr. Ereli said the U.S. consul-general in Medan in northern Sumatra, the U.S. post closest to the reported epicenter, said the latest quake had been felt in the city but that local damage had apparently not been severe.

A White House spokeswoman said President Bush was briefed on the earthquake on Air Force One as he returned to Washington after spending Easter weekend at his ranch in Texas.

Officials here said there were similar urgent consultations immediately after the December 26 earthquake and tsunami, even though the administration had been widely faulted for not acting quickly.

The United States ended up committing $950 million in relief aid for the disaster, more than any other country, and private Americans contributed hundreds of millions of dollars more.

President Bush sent his father, the former president, and former President Bill Clinton, to tour the hardest-hit areas, and they are still involved in fund-raising for tsunami victims.

The State Department says U.S. officials in south and southeast Asia are assessing the effect of today's earthquake off the coast of Indonesia.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said he had no reports of casualties from the quake area. He said a U.S. official on Indonesia's Sumatra island reported seeing no significant quake damage.

Mr. Ereli says U.S. diplomats in the region have been asked to contact their host governments so "the United States can get information about any casualties, and be in a position to respond."

Some human rights groups criticized the United States for what they considered a slow response to the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Asia in December.

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