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Powell: U.S. 'will do everything we can' to help

By wire services
Published December 28, 2004


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WASHINGTON - The United States dispatched disaster specialists and pledged an initial $15-million Monday to Asian countries struck by a massive earthquake and tsunamis.

"This is indeed an international tragedy and we are going to do everything we can," Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

From his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush directed letters of condolence to the leaders of the seven countries wracked by the disaster.

"This is a terrible tragedy," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. "There is a significant loss of life. And our thoughts and prayers are with all those who are suffering."

Powell made condolence telephone calls and offered American assistance to the foreign ministers of Thailand, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Powell singled out Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose grandson, Bhumi Jensen, 21, was killed by the tsunami during a personal watercraft excursion in southern Thailand.

American ambassadors released $100,000 each to India, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and Powell said $4-million would be given to the Red Cross.

"This is not just a one-time thing," Powell said. "Some 20,000-plus lives have been lost in a few moments, but the lingering effects will be there for years - the damage that was caused. The rebuilding of schools and other facilities will take time."

U.S. government specialists in disaster relief were sent to Thailand and Indonesia, and others will be spread out through the region. Supplies of shelter, food and water cans kept in reserve in the Philippines and in Dubai will be distributed, according to Ed Fox, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Millions of people who were displaced will need shelter, food and clothing, Fox added. The $15-million U.S. contribution was an initial one, he said, issued while surveys were conducted.

Immediate health threats include wounds from stepping on nails and broken glass; dehydration and heat stroke from exposure in hot muggy weather; the possibility of electrocution from downed wires; and diarrhea and respiratory diseases caused by various bacteria and viruses that can spread rapidly because of poor sanitation and a lack of clean water.

A spokesman at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii said Monday that in addition to three Navy P-3 Orion surveillance planes sent to Thailand, the military also is loading five or six Air Force C-130 cargo planes with tents, clothing, food and other humanitarian goods for delivery to Thailand.

Analysts don't anticipate economic problems

WASHINGTON - The earthquake and tsunamis that hit Asian countries will deal a fresh blow to the tourism industry there but aren't expected to produce crippling economic problems in the region or in the United States, economists said.

Private economists were scrambling Monday to assess the economic toll. For now, they foresee a limited economic impact - largely affecting tourism - because the disaster hit coastal towns and not big manufacturing centers, analysts said.

"The impact on the United States is expected to be minimal mostly because the areas that have been affected by this are primarily rural areas and nondeveloped areas and not big industrial areas. So we don't expect any major production facilities to be affected," said Rakesh Shankar, an economist who focuses on Asian economic issues at

In that regard, this disaster is different from the 1995 earthquake that struck the major industrial center of Kobe, Japan, and destroyed much of its port, analysts noted.

"The strongest negative impact will be for countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka. Both of them rely on tourism," Shankar said. "Tourism is really the industry that is going to get hit hardest by this. Even so, we don't expect the impact to last longer than a year at the most." He said millions of dollars in the tourism business probably would be lost.

Shankar and other economists believe the economies of the affected countries will weather the disaster and won't be thrown into a recession or a serious economic downturn. But they may log somewhat slower economic growth, analysts said.

Many Europeans cancel Asian vacation plans

LONDON - Tour operators throughout Europe on Monday canceled trips to Asian vacation destinations.

Many European governments advised their citizens against traveling to the Maldives, an archipelago popular with tourists, as well as tsunami-struck parts of Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India.

The Association of British Travel Agents said no tourists would be leaving for the Maldives for now after Foreign Office advice against travel to that country.

The association, whose members sell 85 percent of Britain's package holidays, said most agencies were offering full refunds for trips to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and the Phuket resort in southern Thailand with departures scheduled up to and including Dec. 31.

ABTA spokeswoman Frances Tuke said the situation in the Maldives was more positive than first thought. "Quite a few resorts are not affected badly, and some people are staying," she said.

Tuke said ABTA members were canceling trips to Sri Lanka until Dec. 31 and added that people with holidays booked until the first or second week of January would likely have to make other plans.

But she said large parts of Thailand were unaffected, so travelers could still go there, though they wouldn't be able to visit Phuket for the time being.

Germany's three main tourism operators - TUI, Thomas Cook and Rewe - scrapped flights to the Indian Ocean region through the end of the month. Some 8,000 Germans are vacationing there.

Nordic and Baltic countries issued travel advisories urging citizens to avoid affected areas.

The Norwegian Travel Forum said package tours from Norway to Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Maldives through Jan. 9 would be canceled, with full refunds.

A plane carrying 175 Bulgarians arrived in Phuket shortly after the disaster struck but none wanted to turn back, the Foreign Ministry's press office said. No other flights to southern Asia are scheduled before January, the Transport Ministry said.

In Turkey, some vacationers booked to travel to Asia for the religious Eid holidays in January were canceling trips to unaffected areas, such as Bali, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.

[Last modified December 28, 2004, 18:27:44]

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