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Relief Workers Strain To Cope

The effectiveness of the U.S. military's accelerating tsunami relief effort created an unexpected headache: hospitals overflowing with patients rescued by American troops.

Kristin Badey of the International Organization for Migration said the two functioning hospitals in downtown Banda Aceh were so overflowing with patients — many of them rescued by the U.S. military — that they had to turn away some patients sent there Monday night.

Outside one hospital, a dozen patients lay on stretchers because there was no room for them inside.

A 15-member team from the Spanish division of Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) was moving into a damaged hospital and setting up operations to take the overflow. Australian troops plan to set up a field hospital in the coming days.

Relief workers said they expect the death toll to soar by tens of thousands because surveys of the western coast of Sumatra, which was closest to the quake, show it was hit much harder than previously thought. Scores of villages were flattened, and in some areas few survivors have been seen.

The frailty of the aid chain was exposed when flights carrying vital supplies into Banda Aceh, the provincial capital of the devastated Aceh province on Sumatra, were suspended for most of the day after a cargo plane hit a herd of cattle and skidded to a halt, blocking the runway.

The airport had been swamped with round-the-clock traffic, with dozens of aircraft hauling in water, biscuits and medicine.

Rushing aid to anyone still alive has proved difficult, with roads and sea jetties washed away.

"We have a logistical nightmare," U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said in a broadcast interview.

"I would say that tens of thousands of people have received no relief," he said, adding that the outpouring of aid has "been just phenomenal."

In Sri Lanka, the country's only international airport was brimming with relief supplies, but there was not enough transport available to get it to victims.

In a startling tale of survival, an Indonesian man swept off the shore by last week's tsunami was found afloat on tree branches and debris, the second person to be found alive on the high seas days after the disaster, officials said Tuesday.

World leaders, meanwhile, headed to southern Asia to get a firsthand glimpse of the damage from the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that killed at least 139,580 people.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was in Thailand on Tuesday, said about 4,000-5,000 Americans remain unaccounted for in the disaster. At least 15 are confirmed dead.

Powell pledged America's full support.

Some of that support will be coming from corporations and individuals of all walks of life, as part of a national fund-raising campaign for donations big and small being led by former Presidents Bush and Clinton, announced Monday by President George W. Bush.

Many Americans, including celebrities and business leaders, have already donated. They include Leonardo Dicaprio, Sandra Bullock, computer mogul Michael Dell and his wife, and Cincinnati Reds majority owner Carl Lindner and his family.

About a dozen people were lying on stretchers Tuesday on the sidewalk outside the Fakina Hospital in Banda Aceh. Inside, many rooms have no power, blood is splattered on walls and intravenous fluid bags being used to rehydrate survivors dangle from cords strung across the ceiling.

Still, some patients said they were better off in the hospital than in their shattered villages.

"I thought this is the end, I'm going to die," said Away Ludin, a 60-year-old farmer who was airlifted out of a village on Sumatra and was at the hospital. "I was so shocked and surprised to see these white people coming into the village. I'm so glad they were there."

Despite the awesome power of the waves, some victims still managed to survive after more than a week with little or no food or shelter.

Tsunami survivor Rizal Sapura, 23, was plucked out of the ocean by a Malaysian cargo ship from the Indian Ocean on Monday evening, about 100 miles from the shores of Aceh province, said Adrian Arukiasamy, a spokesman for shipping company K-Line Maritime Malaysia Sdn. Bhd.

The crew of a container vessel that was returning to Malaysia from South Africa had spotted him clinging to the branches of a floating tree, Arukiasamy said.

"It was certainly a miraculous survival," he said.

Rizal, who subsisted mainly on rainwater, was weak and in shock, Arukiasamy said. He would be rushed for medical treatment when the ship arrived in Malaysia's western harbor early Wednesday.

Leaders from stricken nations and world donors, meanwhile, geared up to meet in Indonesia on Thursday to iron out problems in coordinating an unprecedented $2 billion global relief operation. They will also discuss an ambitious plan to set up an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system.

Asian leaders including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi — whose nation's $500 million pledge makes it the biggest single country contributor so far — are to attend the summit, along with Powell, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and top European Union officials.

Egeland reiterated concerns that the focus on tsunami aid would siphon off funds for other crisis areas around the world, such as Africa.

"Here is my criticism to the rich world: Could we wake up please to those 20 forgotten emergencies as we have woken up so generously to this enormous tsunami that has hit 5 million people and killed more than 150,000?" he said Monday.

"I appeal to the rich world — and the rich world, I identify as 30 to 40 nations — the rich world should be able to pick up the bill for feeding all the children in the world. It is one day's worth of military spending."

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