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Powell Pledges Long-Term Aid

Confirmed Death Toll From Tsunami Rises to 147,000

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2005; Page A14

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan. 7 -- The Bush administration is committed to long-term assistance in the tsunami disaster zone and is prepared to boost its $350 million contribution if more help is needed, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said here Friday on the last stop of a tour of battered countries.

Only about $50 million of the U.S. pledge has been spent, Powell said. "There is still a line of credit out there for us to use," he told reporters after visiting the island nation of Sri Lanka, where more than 30,000 people died.

The known death toll in the region surged again Friday, reaching 147,000 after Indonesian authorities reported the discovery of more than 7,000 bodies, mostly in the town of Meulaboh, the Associated Press reported. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan viewed the ravaged western coast of Sumatra island by helicopter. "I have never seen such utter destruction, mile after mile," he told reporters afterward. "You wonder, where are the people?"

Donor countries and international organizations have promised more than $4 billion to help people recover from the Dec. 26 tsunami, which struck 12 countries in the Indian Ocean region.

Private donations continue to mount as well. A telethon in Saudi Arabia raised $67.4 million in 11 hours, the Associated Press reported. People began filing into a stadium and television studio Thursday in the capital, Riyadh, to place cash and even gold jewelry into glass boxes in the 12-hour telethon, which stretched into the early hours of Friday morning. State television broadcast it live.

A woman in black robes carrying a child took off her gold bracelets and dropped them into a donation box. A primary school student, who refused to give his name, gave his daily allowance of $1.30. King Fahd donated $5.3 million, and Crown Prince Abdullah donated $1.3 million.

The telethon followed criticism that oil-rich Persian Gulf states had not responded adequately to the crisis, which severely damaged fellow Muslim nation Indonesia.

On Wednesday, the Saudi government tripled its tsunami relief pledge to $30 million. The United Arab Emirates has pledged $20 million, while Kuwait and Qatar have each donated $10 million.

Syria, a country without oil riches, sent a plane loaded with 40 tons of food, medicine, drinking water and blankets to Indonesia on Thursday.

In London, finance ministers of the Group of Seven industrial nations announced Friday that debt repayments by countries hit by the tsunami should be suspended. At a meeting Wednesday, the G-7 governments will ask the Paris Club, an international group of creditor governments, to embrace the idea.

Powell this week has visited the badly damaged tourist area on Phuket island in Thailand and the isolated Aceh region in Indonesia, a nation where more than 100,000 people lost their lives. He also attended an emergency summit in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

On Friday, he took a 90-mile flight on a Sri Lankan air force helicopter to the southern coastal city of Galle, where more than 4,000 people were killed. During an eight-minute tour of a relief distribution center, he was approached by a volunteer who handed him a sheet of paper with a lengthy poem about the tsunami, written in longhand in red ink. Powell paused to read the poem for half a minute. "I will show this to President Bush," he said, before putting it in his pocket.

Then Powell went on a high-speed, 10-minute motorcade tour along the coastal road in Galle to see the massive destruction along the water. Many concrete buildings along both sides of the road were damaged or destroyed, boats had been tossed like toys and the scent of rotting debris was heavy.

In Sri Lanka, the United States is distributing $4 million in relief supplies and has committed $10 million for jobs programs to get people back to work through reconstruction projects, Powell said. He announced that the United States would also provide $10 million toward temporary housing for people who are now largely living under plastic sheeting.

The Sri Lankan government said nearly 640,000 people had been displaced and more than 110,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

U.S. Marines have begun arriving in Sri Lanka, and Powell said their numbers would grow in coming days as engineering teams and medical personnel come ashore. He said he did not know how long they would stay, but Marines who will be rebuilding roads said they had been told their mission would last 90 days.

After his trip to Galle, Powell returned to Colombo to meet with President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Powell then flew to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where this weekend he is scheduled to meet with officials and witness the signing of a peace accord between the Sudanese government and southern rebels.

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