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Remote Areas Get Taste Of Relief

A massive American military relief operation picked up steam Monday, with U.S. helicopters dropping off cartons of food aid in Sumatra and warships with 2,200 Marines arriving in the Malacca Straits to ferry supplies to the tsunami-battered Indonesian island.

As the death toll around the Indian Ocean rim approached 140,000, a delegation led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush began a trip that will include stops in Thailand, Indonesia and possibly Sri Lanka. The White House also said former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush will lead a fund-raising effort for victims.

U.S. Navy helicopters rescued dozens of weakened survivors along Sumatra's devastated west coast, carrying them to a hospital in Banda Aceh.

Searchers all but gave up hope of finding more survivors from the Dec. 26 killer earthquake and tsunami, with authorities saying that thousands listed as missing were presumed dead. The world turned its full attention to getting food and water to the living.

Confirmed deaths from the disaster reached 139,253 after hardest-hit Indonesia increased its death toll to 94,081, and Sri Lanka and Thailand both raised their tolls by lesser amounts. Aid agencies have said the death toll was expected to hit 150,000. Sri Lanka, India and Thailand said they were prepared to give up on the more than 15,000 people still unaccounted for.

In Thailand, forensic experts were exhuming 300 tsunami victims after learning their bodies apparently were mislabeled in the rush to bury the dead before they decomposed in the tropical heat, officials said Monday.

Tales of survival also emerged as four Indonesian fishermen were found alive Saturday in the Andaman Sea, Indian coast guard officials said Monday. Another fisherman was found alive beneath his wrecked, beached boat on Sumatra.

A tuna ship rescued an Indonesian woman who drifted for five days in the Indian Ocean, clinging to an uprooted palm tree after being swept out to sea from her home on Sumatra island, an official said Monday.

Late Sunday, an Indonesian fisherman was found trapped under his boat and severely dehydrated, officials said. The 24-year-old man, identified as Tengku Sofyan, was rushed to a hospital in Banda Aceh, where doctors gave him intravenous fluids. He could barely speak and had cuts on his body, doctors said.

Unless there is another miracle, the Indonesian government says that Sofyan will probably be the last survivor found on Sumatra, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.

The tsunami struck the region without any advance notice after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and Indonesia announced plans Monday to work with its Asian neighbors to establish a warning system for coastal communities before potentially deadly waves hit.

Aid workers were trying to help millions of people displaced and devastated by losses of family and friends put their towns and villages back together.

On Monday, the USS Bonhomme Richard and two other warships carrying a Marine expeditionary unit, dozens of helicopters and tons of supplies steamed into the Indian Ocean to join relief operations off the northwest coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island.

Later this week, the group was to begin operations off Sri Lanka.

The ships are part of one of the largest U.S. military missions in Asia since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group are operating off northern Sumatra, the hardest-hit area, and U.S. airlift operations are being flown out of Utapao, a Thailand base used to launch bombing runs during that war.

A U.S. cargo plane brought the first two military helicopters and support troops Monday to Sri Lanka from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.

The Pentagon also has decided to send the USNS Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship based at San Diego, to join the relief effort, two officials said Monday on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. helicopters carried about 60 survivors — including two pregnant women and some so weak they could neither walk nor talk — to the Banda Aceh hospital after the American military got permission from Jakarta to pick up those in bad shape. Many had had little food or water for eight days, and they suffered from ailments including pneumonia, broken bones, infected wounds, tetanus and trauma.

Several also were brought to the USS Abraham Lincoln on stretchers.

"I'd much rather be doing this than fighting a war," said helicopter pilot Lt. Cmdr. William Whitsitt of Great Falls, Mont.

Also on Sumatra, U.S. helicopters dropped off cartons of food aid donated by Singapore schools. Flying missions along a 120-mile stretch of Sumatra coastline, the extent of the damage from the earthquake and tsunami became eerily obvious.

At Karim Rajia, two helicopters dropped off 1,800 pounds of soup and biscuits in cartons stenciled: "Our deepest condolences to the brothers and sisters in Aceh. May god be with them. Love from the teachers and students of Singapore."

With roads blocked by gruesome debris - and bridges washed out - many of Indonesia's island villages had become islands themselves - and U.S. choppers that arrived on Saturday have become just as valuable as the medicine and food they're carrying, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowen.

The military helicopters "are worth their weight in gold for us," said U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, who was pilloried for his comments last week calling rich countries "stingy" in their response to the disaster.

International donors, meeting in Indonesia, have so far pledged about $2 billion, according to the United Nations. But the needs of disaster victims remain enormous, and relief efforts have been hampered by the destruction of roads, ports and airfields.

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