"We will prevail over this destruction," Bush said from his Texas ranch in his first comments on the disaster Sunday that so far has killed more than 76,000.

Share story

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush announced today the United States, India, Australia and Japan have formed an international coalition to coordinate worldwide relief and reconstruction efforts for the Asian region ravaged by a deadly earthquake and tsunamis.

“We will prevail over this destruction,” Bush said from his Texas ranch in his first comments on the disaster Sunday that so far has killed more than 76,000.

Bush said the catastrophe had “brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension,” and he pledged a multifaceted response from the United States that goes far beyond the $35 million initially pledged.

In the short-term, the help will include damage assessment teams and U.S. military manpower, such as a Marine expeditionary force followed by long-term rebuilding assistance. He said he’d also examine a suggestion from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to consider putting a moratorium on the debt of hard-hit Somalia and Indonesia.

“We’ll look at all requests,” said Bush, who talked by phone this morning with leaders from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. “We’re still in the stage of immediate help. But slowly but surely, the size of the problem will become known, particularly when it comes to rebuilding infrastructure and community to help these affected parts of the world get back up on their feet.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations Lt. General James T. Conway said the Pentagon will divert several U.S. warships and helicopters to the region. Some of the ships will be used to provide fresh drinking water, and can produce up to 90,000 gallons a day, Conway said.

U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios asked Americans to contribute cash, which can be used immediately. Do not send old clothes, canned goods or medicines, he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, coordinating relief assistance, telephoned U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Ministers Nobutaka Machiura of Japan and Alexander Downer of Australia.

Meantime, the International Monetary Fund said it will work with governments affected by the disaster to provide reconstruction and financial assistance. But details have not been worked out, with governments more focused now on dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis, officials of the financial institution said.

The president called on Americans to donate cash to relief organizations to augment the response and said he expected several other nations to join the coalition started by the four countries.

“The United States will continue to stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims,” he said. “We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities. And together the world will cope with their loss.”

Bush said he talked to the leaders in the affected region and was working to target initial relief efforts to the things those leaders most need, pending damage assessments.

He expressed concern the Asian region wasn’t prepared with a warning system that foretold the massive tsunamis and threw his support behind creation of a worldwide system. “It makes sense for the world to come together to develop a warning system to help all nations,” he said.

The president also has asked Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Interior Secretary Gale Norton to investigate whether the United States is adequately prepared for tsunamis that might strike the U.S. coast. The U.S. Geological Survey at Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Commerce are the two agencies addressing that issue.

The president also pointedly dismissed a United Nation official’s suggestion that rich nations like the United States have been “stingy” in relief efforts. “I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed,” Bush said.

Natsios told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the $35 million aid package has drained his organization’s emergency relief fund, forcing it to ask Congress or the White House for more money.

“We just spent it,” Natsios said. “We’ll be talking to the (White House) budget office.”

The State Department said Tuesday that 12 Americans had died in the disaster — seven in Sri Lanka and five in Thailand. Hundreds of Americans remain missing.

Bush said U.S. officials were working hard to locate many more Americans who remain unaccounted for and to provide assistance to those who were injured or displaced in the region.

“Our prayers go out to those who have lost so much to this series of disasters,” he said.

The State Department, meanwhile, encouraged all American citizens traveling in any part of the countries hit by the earthquake to telephone family members.

If the travelers need help they should get in touch with U.S. diplomatic posts, the department said in a statement.