BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (BP)–Indonesian Foreign Minister Noer Hassan Wirajuda, greeting Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in Jakarta, said their visit to the tsunami-stricken country “reflects the magnitude that the United States government has attached to the monstrous calamity and its consequences.”
Wirajuda, speaking at a Jan. 4 news conference with Powell and Bush, said the U.S. officials’ firsthand look at the destruction caused by a Dec. 26 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis will be a key factor “in boosting solidarity and alleviating the sufferings of the victims and survivors, and consolidating efforts at addressing post-catastrophic consequences in the Indonesian provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh.”
The Indonesian death toll accounts for roughly 100,000 of the 150,000 people killed by the walls of water that crashed onto the shores of 12 nations in southern Asia.
Powell, speaking on Jan. 5 after surveying the hard-hit Aceh province of Indonesia, said, “With respect to what I’ve seen in the course of my career, I’ve been in war and I’ve been through a number of hurricanes, tornadoes and other relief operations, but I have never seen anything like this.
“Flying over [the province] and seeing how the wave came ashore, pushing everything in its path, cars, ships, freighters overturned, all the way up to the foothills, and then starting up the foothills until finally the waves came to a stop — I cannot begin to imagine the horror that went through the families and all of the people who heard this noise coming and then had their lives snuffed out by this wave.
“The power of the wave to destroy bridges, to destroy factories, to destroy homes, to destroy crops, to destroy everything in its path is amazing,” Powell continued. “And to consider that we only did a brief tour around [the community of Banda Aceh], but to know that you will see the same thing if you flew 100 miles along the coastline going south, or if you went to the east side and flew along the coastline you would see the … same thing. And the damage was caused not just by the wave but also by the earthquake that caused the tsunami in the first place.”
Bush, at the same Jan. 5 news conference, said, “… our hearts go out to the people, the families that have lost loved ones, to this beautiful area, to our friends from Indonesia. Our hearts are with you and we will be with you in the long haul. The American people and our government will continue to provide relief, but we will be part of the recovery efforts as well. And it is with a heavy heart that we’re here, but we’re friends, forever.”
Alwi Abdurrahman Shihab, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for people’s welfare, responded by expressing “thanks for the generosity of the United States. The United States indeed demonstrates that a friend in need is a friend indeed.”
The previous day in Phuket, Thailand, another stop during the Jan. 2-7 visit by Powell and Bush to southern Asia, Bush had recounted, “We’ve had tragedies in our own country and people have come to our aid. In Florida this last summer, we had four hurricanes hit us over a six-week period, but nothing compares to the devastation that we’ve been briefed on here [in Thailand] these last two days…,
“[O]n behalf of the president and first lady of the United States, and on behalf of the people of our country, we will be shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of this region and the people of this region to provide support not only for the relief and for the recovery, but on a long-term basis,” the Florida governor and brother of President Bush said.
Powell responded to a reporter’s inquiry whether the U.S. response to the tsunamis will “help to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the Islamic world,” in addressing the news conference held after arriving in Indonesia later in the day Jan. 4.
Powell acknowledged that a number of tsunami-devastated regions are in Muslim nations, but noted, “… we’d be doing [relief and long-term recovery work] regardless of religion. But, I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action, where we care about the dignity of every individual and the worth of every individual, and our need to respond to the needs of every individual of whatever faith. America is not an anti-Islam, anti-Muslim nation. America is a diverse society where we respect all religions.”
Powell told reporters during his news conferences that $40 million of the $350 million committed thus far by the U.S. government for tsunami relief “has already been allocated out and is in the process of being spent.” He noted that the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and the amphibious group Bonhomme Richard and other ships are providing helicopter and fixed-wing support for the widespread efforts to distribute food and relief supplies.
Bush reiterated to reporters that “the American people, from the littlest child that will be in school wanting to raise money for supplies for their counterparts in Aceh, to the president of the United States, will be there in support of the rebuilding and reconstruction efforts.”
Of an estimated 4,000 Americans who remain unaccounted for, Powell said U.S. officials are trying to locate or account for them. The missing Americans “are identified to us as a result of calls that have come in from their family members. And so, we hope that their number will be reduced in the days ahead as we call back to families and say, ‘Have you heard from your loved one yet?’ So, we’ll being running that number down, but I don’t how many of them actually might be victims. Right now, the victim count still remains at 15, where it has been for the last several days. This is just going to take a lot of effort, painstaking effort.” On Jan. 5, the State Department raised the number of American dead, or missing and presumed dead, to 36, according to a Fox News report.
Compiled by Art Toalston