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    US Pledges Initial $15 Million in Tsunami Disaster Aid

    The United States has pledged an initial 15 million dollars in aid to countries affected by the earthquake and tsunami disasters in the Indian Ocean region. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the U.S. commitment to help will be long-term. 

    The Bush administration is mounting a wide-ranging response to the earthquake and tsunami disasters, pledging an immediate 15 million dollars in relief assistance, sending in military resources and dispatching disaster assessment teams to the area to determine what U.S. aid should follow.

    At a news conference, here, Secretary of State Colin Powell called the events of Sunday an "international tragedy" and said the United States will do all it can to assist the affected countries.

    The United States is putting up an initial 15 million dollars in disaster aid including an immediate four million dollar pledge to the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, though Mr. Powell made clear that the American response will be long-term:

    "Some 20-plus thousand lives have been lost in a few moments, but the lingering effects will be there for years," Mr. Powell says. "The damage that was caused, the rebuilding of schools and other facilities will take time, so you need a quick infusion to stabilize the situation, take care of those who have been injured, get immediate relief supplies in, and then begin planning for the longer haul."

    Mr. Powell said the U.S. military's Pacific Command has dispatched P-3 "Orion" patrol planes to the Indian Ocean region to assist local governments in search and rescue efforts and that the Navy is examining what else can be done.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development is sending 21 disaster assessment experts to the affected countries, some of whom have already arrived. Officials say immediate U.S. material aid will include emergency shelter, food, and water systems that has been stockpiled in the Philippines and Dubai.

    Mr. Powell said he had telephoned his foreign minister counterparts in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Malaysia to reiterate U.S. aid offers. He said President Bush is following the situation closely from his home in Crawford, Texas and has sent letters of condolence to heads of state in the region.

    The Secretary of State said eight Americans had been confirmed killed by the earthquake and tidal waves and that hundreds of U.S. citizens were unaccounted for, though not necessarily casualties.

    The State Department set up a special information hotline for Americans seeking information on friends and loved ones in the stricken region. Officials here are advising private Americans wishing to help disaster victims to make cash contributions to international relief agencies.

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