WASHINGTON — President Bush enlisted his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and his father on Monday to tap "the good heart of the American people" for corporate and private aid to tsunami victims as U.S. warplanes and naval vessels spearheaded the largest global relief effort in the nation's history.
Reaching into remote parts of Indonesia's devastated island of Sumatra, U.S. helicopter pilots operating from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier offshore rescued 60 survivors, some clinging desperately for life, while other flights ferried in food, water and medicine.
A second group of ships with two dozen helicopters and 2,100 Marines was expected to arrive in the waters near Sumatra as early as today, U.S. officials told reporters here, in an effort to get badly needed supplies and medical assistance to victims cut off from relief by the damage to bridges and roads.
Aided by around-the-clock flights of massive long-range Air Force cargo jets, the military forces hoped to respond to the key problem facing aid providers: logistics, namely delivering and distributing some $2.1 billion in promised global aid in remote areas, many of which are inaccessible by road.
"There is no shortage of money at the moment," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters shortly after arriving in Thailand with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as part of an aid assessment mission to the region.
"A lot of aid is now pouring in," said Powell, "but I think the real challenge will be the distribution of aid out of ports and off the airfields."
At the State Department, officials said U.S. military aircraft had ferried 430,000 pounds of emergency medicine, food and shelter to regional airports, but it would take days to deliver the supplies to some of the more remote portions of Sumatra.
"We've reached many of the isolated areas of Aceh. In the next couple days we'll reach many, many more," said James Kunder, deputy assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. "I'm hoping that within a matter of days we'll be able to tell you that we've reached every isolated area."
With the American flag flying over the White House at half staff in remembrance of the estimated 150,000 people killed in the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami, Bush charged George H.W. Bush and Clinton with reaching out for private donations to leverage the $350 million in humanitarian and relief aid the administration has already pledged.
"The devastation in the region defies comprehension," Bush told reporters at the White House.
"We mourn especially the tens of thousands of children who are lost," he said. "We hold in our prayers all the people whose fate is still unknown."
Standing in the Roosevelt Room, his father to his right and Clinton to his left, Bush urged all Americans to give generously in response to the disaster.
"Cash contributions are most useful," Bush said, pausing before television cameras to give the Web site for the USA Freedom Corps — www.usafreedomcorps.gov — the government coordinating agency for volunteer efforts and private donations.
"As men and women across the devastated region begin to rebuild, we offer our sustained compassion and our generosity," Bush pledged, "and our assurance that America will be there to help."
Joined by his wife, Laura, and the former presidents, Bush visited the embassies of four tsunami-ravaged countries — Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand — and signed condolence books.
Bush was criticized last week for taking three days to interrupt his holiday vacation at his Texas ranch to personally address the human consequences of the most violent earthquake in four decades. On Friday, though, Bush increased the U.S. aid pledge tenfold — to $350 million — and over the weekend he dispatched his brother, the Florida governor, and Powell to the region to ensure that he was getting a firsthand assessment of the damage and needs.
Powell and Jeb Bush, who has had extensive experience overseeing relief efforts in the wake of a series of hurricanes in Florida, were scheduled to go to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta today before visiting flood-ravaged Aceh province Wednesday.
"We pray for victims and families of this epic disaster," Bush wrote in a book of condolence messages at the Sri Lankan Embassy, where Laura Bush brought a bouquet of pale yellow roses. "The American government and American people are dedicated to helping you recover."
At United Nations headquarters in New York, Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, praised the effort to rally more private U.S. donations. Private giving will probably match the pledges of nations and organizations, he told a news conference.
Egeland, who had suggested after the tsunami that rich nations were "stingy" in giving to poor ones, said he still wishes the generosity would extend to a score of other forgotten international emergencies.
U.N. officials also worry about the broken promises of past disasters.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he doubted governments and other international donors would fully deliver on pledges of more than $2 billion for tsunami victims.
"It is quite likely that by the end of the day we will not receive all of it," he said.
Annan cited the earthquake in Bam, Iran, that killed about 30,000 people in December 2003. Iranian officials complain that only a tiny fraction of the more than $1 billion promised has been sent.
Some countries were already pleading for additional attention.
At least 50,000 people in Somalia urgently need food, water, shelter and medical care a week after deadly tsunamis slammed African shores, officials told the Associated Press on Monday.
Some 24 countries, including the United States, have pledged to send relief supplies to Somalia, but nothing has arrived on the ground, said Somali presidential spokesman Yusuf Mohamed Ismail. He said survivors urgently need help after losing their homes and livelihoods.
"We are very happy that relief supplies have arrived in Asia, which was hit the hardest by the tragedy," Yusuf told the Associated Press. "But Somalia — which has been ravaged from a 13-year civil war, drought and political neglect — also needs emergency help to deal with the latest calamity."
Contributing: David Ho