News

Tsunami relief on way from FWay

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

World Vision is joining a massive international relief effort to help Southeast Asia and India after a devastating tsunami –– the worst in four decades –– hit the Bay of Bengal Monday, killing more than 24,000 people, flooding streets and leveling homes and businesses.

The Christian humanitarian aid organization, based in Federal Way, is sending food, emergency shelter, blankets, cooking utensils, mosquito nets and water purification supplies to the region's affected by the tsunami.

A decision on whether to send additional relief workers was expected to be made Tuesday, spokeswoman Sheryl Watkins said. World Vision currently has 2,000 staff workers in India and more in Sri Lanka, she said.

The magnitude 9 earthquake that caused the tsunami struck the northern Indonesian island of Sumatra early in the morning. The resulting tsunami struck land later that morning.

According to international news sources, the death toll was approaching 24,000 Monday afternoon and included people from nine countries. Thousands were still missing and millions were homeless or displaced.

Watkins said the most immediate needs in the tsunami-stricken areas are finding temporary shelter for the thousands of people who are now homeless, comforting those who have lost loved ones and helping reunite family members separated during the chaos. Providing food and clean drinking water also are top priorities.

In addition, a very practical and sad task must be undertaken soon: "The bodies are creating a problem," Watkins said. "If they're not disposed of, they'll create a health problem."

World Vision hasn't heard if any of its staff members were killed in the tsunami, though several staff members lost loved ones of their own, Watkins reported.

Watkins said the tsunami is one of the worst natural disasters World Vision has responded to in her 24 years with the organization. She said she couldn't remember when so many countries were affected by one incident.

Yvette Stevens, assistant energy relief coordinator and director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told a news conference Monday the tsunami presented particular challenges because it hit so many countries.

"Something like this spread across many countries is unprecedented," she told reporters.

While the future is grim for families in India and Southeast Asia, countries around the world responded within hours of hearing of the disaster.

"We have 5,000 to 10,000 staff members in Asia. That gives us a real advantage," Watkins said. "In India, we were able to start relief efforts in six hours."

U.S. embassies in the flood-stricken regions are working to contact families and to find U.S. citizens who are yet unaccounted for.

The Navy's Pacific Command dispatched P3 patrol aircraft to the area, and the U.S. Agency for International Development has also been involved, along with other departments of the U.S. government and many non-profit organizations.

Eight U.S. visitors were confirmed dead and hundreds of U.S. visitors were unaccounted for Monday afternoon. Tourists from Italy, Norway, Japan, Britain, Germany, Denmark, Australia, France, Sweden, Belgium and New Zealand were among those killed, according to news reports.

United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said the effects of the tsunami will be deeply felt because more people live in exposed areas than before.

While the tsunami itself caused thousands of deaths, Egeland warned of the aftermath, which will hit millions more through contaminated drinking water and the spread of disease. He estimated total costs of emergency response and recovery will be in the billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, several in the world community called for an early-warning response system to alert people to future tsunamis.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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