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Albright inspects wave damage, announces aid

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Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conferred Wednesday with officials of this South Pacific island on relief efforts in the aftermath of the giant waves that obliterated villages and claimed thousands of lives.

She announced $650,000 in new U.S. aid, bringing the total to just over $1 million. That is enough to provide temporary shelter and help relocate up to 3,000 people, she said.Albright also got a bird's-eye glimpse of the 20-mile stretch of coastline hit hardest by the July 17 tsunami. The beaches appeared empty on sunny afternoon sky. "We could only imagine the horror of what took place," Albright said.

She met with Bill Skate, the prime minister, in a two-hour stopover at the airport here.

Asked by local reporters why she did not plan a more extensive look at the affected area, Albright said: "I wanted to make clear my own personal concern for what has happened. But I did not want to put any burden on the rescue effort. I didn't want to create another tidal wave."

The United States has already spent about $400,000 on relief, including three planeloads of food, medicines, tents, and other supplies, and a special disaster team that included dogs capable of detecting bodies under water.

Albright said the additional aid includes technical assistance to enhance the region's ability to track and predict earthquake-generated waves like the ones that struck earlier this month.

Skate welcomed her and said he hoped President Clinton would visit the island next year when he attends an Asian economic summit in New Zealand.

Albright praised Skate for helping frame a compromise to help bring peace to Bougainville, where years of conflicts with separatists have claimed thousands of lives. She pledged $450,000 in U.S. money to support United Nations peace efforts there.

Skate said that the giant waves had claimed more than 1,600 lives. Officials have said the death toll could rise to as high as 3,000.

Albright's jet plane took a course that flew directly over the damaged part of the coast in the northwest part of this nation, which occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, the second largest in the world.

Even though the plane flew right over Sissano Lagoon, where the most deaths occurred, not much was visible from 25,000 feet. Albright aides said the plane was asked not to fly lower because it might interfere with airborne rescue operations still under way.

She was greeted at the airport by dancers in native garb.