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Struggle To Reach Tsunami Victims

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Workers from Indonesia to India rushed to bury corpses to ward off disease Wednesday as cargo planes touched down with promised aid — from lentils to water purifiers — to help the region cope with its tsunami catastrophe. The death toll soared to more than 77,000.

The international Red Cross said it feared the number killed by waves could top 100,000.

Nearly a dozen nations on two continents are in need of emergency supplies — and

reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.

President Bush said the United States, India, Australia and Japan have formed an international coalition to coordinate worldwide relief and reconstruction efforts.

In his first comments on the disaster, the president pledged a multifaceted U.S. response that goes far beyond the $35 million initially pledged, including U.S. military manpower and damage surveillance teams in the short term and long-term rebuilding assistance. He also called on Americans to donate cash to relief organizations to augment the response.

"This has been a terrible disaster. It is beyond our comprehension," the president said. "Our prayers go out to those who have lost so much to this series of disasters."

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," Mr. Bush said.

In Sri Lanka, four planes arrived in the capital bringing a surgical hospital from Finland, a water purification plant from Germany, doctors and medicine from Japan and aid workers from Britain, the Red Cross said.

But the roads in the devastated areas in the south of the island nation need to be opened, the head of the Red Cross mission there tells CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith.

"We have two teams in today and many more supplies coming in over the next four days, five days and longer," says Alasdair Gordon-Gibson. "It's very difficult for aid agencies and the government's support to get down to the affected areas quickly enough. ... Some people are being buried and I hear exhumed so identification can proceed."

Millions were homeless in the disaster, contending with hunger and the threat of disease, which the U.N. health agency said could double the toll.

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, nearest the Indian Ocean epicenter of Sunday's calamitous 9.0-magnitude quake that triggered the tsunamis, bulldozers prepared to dig mass graves for thousands of corpses lining the streets and lawns of provincial capital Banda Aceh.

With the threat of disease on the rise and few ways to identify the dead, there was no choice but to get the bodies under ground, said military Col. Achmad Yani Basuk.

Indonesia's Health Ministry said thousands more bodies were found, raising to more than 45,000 the number of confirmed deaths on Sumatra island.

Three quarters of the western coastline is destroyed, and some towns were totally wiped out. "These people are isolated and we will try and get them help," said Maj. Gen. Endang Suwarna, who toured the coast by helicopter Wednesday.

An Associated Press Television News crew flew over town after town on the coast Wednesday, and saw villages covered in mud and sea water. Most homes had their roofs ripped off or were flatted. There were few signs of life, except for a handful of villagers scavenging for food on the beach.

Sri Lanka on Wednesday listed more than 22,400 people dead, India close to 7,000 — with 8,000 missing and feared dead. Thailand put its toll at more than 1,800. A total of more than 300 were killed in Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Somalia, Tanzania and Kenya.

Supplies that included 175 tons of rice and 100 doctors reached Sumatra's Banda Aceh. But with aid not arriving quickly enough, desperate people in towns across the island stole whatever food they could find, officials said.

Widespread looting also was reported in Thailand's devastated resort islands of Phuket and Phi Phi, where European and Australian tourists left valuables behind in wrecked hotels when they fled — or were swept away by — the torrents.

An international airlift was under way to ferry critical aid and medicine to Phuket and to take home shellshocked travelers. Jets from France and Australia were among the first to touch down at the island's airport. Greece, Italy, Germany and Sweden planned similar flights.

Along India's southern coast, paramedics began vaccinating 65,000 tsunami survivors in Tamil Nadu state, an official said.

"We have accelerated disposing of bodies to minimize the risk of an epidemic. Also, we have started spraying bleaching powder on the beaches from where the bodies have been recovered," said Veera Shanmuga Moni, a top administrator of Tamil Nadu's Nagappattinam district.

The world's biggest reinsurer, Germany's Munich Re, estimated the damage to buildings and foundations in the affected regions would be at least $13.6 billion.

In Thailand, rescuers combed the beaches and islands Wednesday for missing tourists and locals swept away by earthquake-powered tidal waves.

Although the toll was expected to soar, a total of 473 foreigners of 36 nationalities were confirmed killed, the Interior Ministry's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said. Victims included 54 from Sweden, 49 from Germany, 43 from Britain and 20 Americans.

They were among thousands of Western and Asian holiday-makers packing hotels and bungalows during the height of the tourist season when killer waves struck Sunday.

German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder said 1,000 Germans were unaccounted for. "We have to fear that a number of Germans clearly in the three-digit numbers will be among the dead," Schroeder told reporters.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds said "we fear than many of (the missing Swedes) will not be found." Some 1,500 Swedes are missing, 200 Finns, 200 Danes and hundreds of Norwegians, according to reports from Scandinavian capitals.

At least a dozen Americans were killed in the violent waves, and several celebrities were injured — including Czech supermodel Petra Nemcova and action star Jet Li.