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Powell, U.S. team arrive in Thailand

Group to assess tsunami devastation

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Colin Powell
Disasters (General)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived Monday in Bangkok, Thailand, on the first stop of a tour to the tsunami-devastated regions of southern Asia.

Powell told reporters that the United States and other countries may have to increase their contributions at some point, but said that the most immediate challenge was getting supplies already in the aid pipeline to victims in the most remote areas.

In Thailand, Powell plans to meet with Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, the commander of the U.S. military task force assisting in the relief effort. He also will meet with Thai officials and inspect damage and relief efforts in the Phuket region.

Joining Powell is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother who helped oversee disaster relief following deadly hurricanes in his state.

Powell said the U.S. delegation hoped to visit the Indonesian province of Aceh, which was badly damaged by the powerful waves.

On Thursday, Powell, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi of Japan and John Howard of Australia and a delegation from the European Union are scheduled to attend a donor conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Full story)

Before returning to the United States on Friday, the U.S. delegation plans to stop in Sri Lanka, he said.

Others in the delegation include Mike Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency; Andrew Natsios, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Natsios said that a top priority of U.S. relief efforts is getting survivors involved in cleanup and other recovery work, in part to keep them busy and in part because cleaning up the debris is viewed as critical.

"The physical evidence of the mess is a reminder every hour of the day that everything is gone," Natsios said. He also said a high-profile U.S. delegation might help "restore a sense of hope that they are not being forgotten and not being lost."

The death toll from the December 26 tsunamis stood at nearly 155,000 on Monday. (Full story)

Bush told reporters before leaving Miami that the mission was to determine immediate and long-term relief and reconstruction needs, "and also to show that our country really cares."

"I know the president has deep concerns about what has happened," said Bush, whose state was battered by four major hurricanes over the summer. "And the fact that I'm his brother, symbolically, may give some people a sense that the president really does care, as he does."

He said the hurricane damage his state sustained "pales by comparison to what happened in these countries." Florida is expected to receive about $10 billion in disaster aid by the time reconstruction efforts are complete, the governor said.

Powell responded to the suggestions the Bush administration was slow to respond, or that its initial response was not generous enough.

"I don't think the American people should be getting the impression their president and their government was not hard at work on this from day one," Powell said during a session with reporters traveling with him from Washington.

He said all of the affected countries were pleased with the U.S. response, which he said grew in urgency and size as more details about the scope of the tsunami became clear.

Powell said the delegation will report to President Bush at the end of the trip, and if it is believed a greater U.S. contribution is necessary, "we will scale up as it is necessary to scale up."

The United States has committed $350 million in relief funds, the largest contribution behind Japan's $500 million. (Full story)

The United Nations says a total of $2 billion has been promised.

U.S. military aid flights have delivered about 215 tons of relief supplies to the battered region, said Capt. Rodger Welch, a Navy operations officer in Hawaii. And a contingent of 200 Marine combat engineers based in Okinawa, Japan, will join the American task force already dispatched to the region to help distribute that aid, Welch said.

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