Bush: Nations form Asian relief coalition
CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush announced Wednesday the United States, India, Australia and Japan have formed an international coalition to coordinate worldwide relief and reconstruction efforts for the Asian region ravaged by a deadly earthquake and tsunamis.
"We will prevail over this destruction," Bush said from his Texas ranch in his first comments on the disaster Sunday that so far has killed more than 76,000.
Bush said the disaster had "brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension" and he pledged a multifaceted response from the United States that goes far beyond the $35 million initially pledged.
In the short-term, the help will including damage assessment teams and U.S. military manpower, including a Marine expeditionary force followed by long-term rebuilding assistance. He said he'd also examine a suggestion from Germany's president to consider putting a moratorium on the debt of hard-hit Somalia and Indonesia.
"We'll look at all requests," Bush said. "We're still in the stage of immediate help. But slowly but surely, the size of the problem will become known, particularly when it comes to rebuilding infrastructure and community to help these affected parts of the world get back up on their feet."
The president called on Americans to donate cash to relief organizations to augment the response and said he expected several other nations to join the coalition started by the four countries.
"The United States will continue to stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims," he said. "We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities. And together the world will cope with their loss."
Bush said he talked to the leaders in the affected region and was working to target initial relief efforts to the things those leaders most need, pending damage assessments.
He expressed concern the Asian region wasn't prepared with a warning system that foretold the massive tsunamis and threw his support behind creation of a worldwide system. "It makes sense for the world to come together to develop a warning system to help all nations," he said.
The president also pointedly dismissed a United Nation official's suggestion that rich nations like the United States have been "stingy" in relief efforts. "I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," Bush said.
U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the $35 million aid package has drained his organization's emergency relief fund, forcing it to ask Congress or the White House for more money.
"We just spent it," Natsios said. "We'll be talking to the (White House) budget office."
The State Department said Tuesday that 12 Americans had died in the disaster ¡ª seven in Sri Lanka and five in Thailand. Hundreds of Americans remain missing.
Bush said U.S. officials were working hard to locate many more Americans who remain unaccounted for and to provide assistance to those who were injured or displaced in the region.
"Our prayers go out to those who have lost so much to this series of disasters," he said.
The State Department, meanwhile, encouraged all American citizens traveling in any part of the countries hit by the earthquake to telephone family members to let them know they are doing.
If the travelers need help they should get in touch with U.S. diplomatic posts, the department said in a statement.