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Aftershocks Trigger Panic; UN Warns of Hitches in Aid Effort


New aftershocks from the magnitude 9 Asian earthquake sent tens of thousands of people fleeing inland in the hard hit countries of India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Thursday after authorities sounded warnings, false as it turned out, about another tsunami. At the same time, aid workers from around the world are racing to the region as the full impact from one of the most powerful earthquakes in a century continues to unfold.

By Thursday, Indonesia alone was counting at least 80,000 of its own citizens among the dead, making it by far the hardest hit of the dozen or so countries affected by the tsunami. In some areas, including the island of Sumatra, relief has not been able to get to those who need it because of the difficulty reaching some of the world's most remote locations.

"If you could imagine a ground zero situation where there is no fuel, there is no food, there is no telecommunication, there is no water or sanitation," said UNICEF'S John Bud in Jakarta.

And reporter Steven Sleay in western Indonesia says nearly five days after the tsunami wiped out communities, conditions are deteriorating in parts of Sumatra, close to the epicenter of Sunday's quake.

"Deteriorating shockingly, actually," he said. "There are now reports of diseases starting to break out in some of these places which have been affected because of the rotting corpses of people which cannot be buried quick enough. The Muslim tradition is to bury people 24 hours after death. This is not happening. But in Banda Aceh over the last three days, there have been mass burials."

With the death toll continuing to climb above 100,000, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says the world has now pledged half a billion dollars in response to what he calls an unprecedented global catastrophe.

"Not only are we going to be stretched in terms of manpower and human resources, but we are also going to be stretched financially and technically and we hope that the response will be sustained across the board.," he said.

The United States is among nations rushing aid to the region.

"We have already, for example 17 U.S. Navy ships steaming in that direction," said U.S. spokesman David Johnson. "We have 15 transport and reconnaissance aircraft already on the ground."

That, in addition to some $35 million in aid that Secretary of State Colin Powell expects will be increased to cover costs of reconstruction as the full dimensions of the catastrophe become clear.

"There are fellow human beings who are in need and I hope that people will see that the United States is willing to reach out to the Muslim world in this time of need," he said.

A U.S. official says the State Department is receiving an average of 400 calls an hour from Americans trying to locate family members who, almost a week after the quake, still have not been heard from.