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Aid Work Underway in Face of Great Challenges

With 65,000 confirmed dead in Asia in the worst earthquake and tsunamis on Sunday, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, and Thailand, the four hardest hit countries find themselves not well equipped to cope with such a tragedy, and aid agencies are struggling to get operations running as fast as possible Wednesday.

"We're needing to get accurate data so we can plan our response," said an official from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Sri Lanka office.

The official said the immediate priority was to assess the scale of the disaster which has steadily grown in terms of human and economic loss in the victim countries.

Though the exact extent of the relief needs is not clear and work is still going on to determine, the following is the preliminary data:

In Indonesia's Aceh, nearly 100,000 have their home destroyed and have to stay in shelters;

In India's Tamil Nadu, some 800,000 are homeless and are living in 200 camps set up inside schools, community centers and halls by international or local aid agencies;

Nearly half a million people in Sri Lanka may have been displaced and up to one million affected by the tsunamis though the figures of them are still unclear;

In Thailand, almost 29,000 people lost their homes;

Nearly half of India's over 9,000 deaths happened in the remote islands.

In Sri Lanka, the Red Cross's some two dozen branches with up to 100,000 volunteers have been mobilized and that foreign assistance has begun to arrive.

An Airbus 747 belonging to China Southern Cargo landed at Sri Lankan Bandaranaike international airport on this afternoon, bring the relief goods for people living in Tsunami-hit areas.

Also relief goods include blankets, tents, bed sheets and food involving canned chicken, beef and mutton from Europe are on their way to Sri Lanka, and 2,000 tents should be on the ground within three days.

Complementing up to 100,000 Sri Lankan volunteers are foreign medical teams, and Red Cross teams from Finland, Britain and Japan are providing logistics assistance, government officials said.

In India, where over 9,000 died, aid distribution was also under way. The Red Cross warehouses were emptied of pre-stocked bed sheets, clothes, cooking utensils and plastic sheeting used for emergency shelter, the organization said.

According to the Indian Red Cross, 4,000 families in Tamil Nadu have already been issued the relief goods, and a smaller number have received them in Andhra Pradesh, the two most severely hit states in India.

The rescue workers now face the difficulty of sending relief goods to the badly need, especially those in the remote islands which are not easy to reach under the present chaotic situation of disaster.

About 2,000 towels and bed sheets and 2,000 square meters of tarpaulin sheets had been airlifted to the region close to the quake epicenter off Indonesia. More supplies were to be flown in later Wednesday.

But as half of Asia's dead were on the western tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island where relief and rescue work are most difficult. There are not enough petrol, nor food, nor drinking water and nor transpiration means, said UN aid officials in Jakarta.

"We're going to have to build up the whole relief network from scratch," they said, but adding "We're gearing up."

An estimated 500,000 Indonesians have been directly affected by the disaster in a region where the health-care system has been virtually destroyed by long-running armed conflicts.

But a charter plane loaded with 32 tons of medical and sanitation materials is expected to arrive in the area soon.

In Thailand, relief operation organizations estimate 10,000 volunteers, police and troops are involved in the rescue effort and medical mission, but the remoteness of some islands are the great challenge for their work.

The local rescue workers have to be assisted by UN disaster management response workers to assess the exact extent of the rescue and medical needs.

"At the moment the first step is getting a clearer picture in these remote communities and be ready with goods and rescuers," a UN official said.

(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2004)

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Int'l Efforts Needed to Deal with Tsunami Fallout
Bodies Piled on Coasts After Tsunami Kills 22,700
China to Airlift Aid to Tsunami-struck Countries
UN Teams Head for Asian Nations Hit by Quakes, Tidal Waves
High Waves Triggered by Asian Earthquake Hit East Africa
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