Workers broke ground Wednesday for four refugee camps on the devastated island of Sumatra, where an estimated 1 million are homeless from last week's deadly tsunami, and pledges of aid — led by a new donation from Australia — topped $3 billion.
On the eve of a summit to discuss how to distribute aid for victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami, Australia announced a package of $764 million in grants and loans, making it the No. 1 single donor. Earlier in the day, Germany increased its pledge to $674 million, surpassing commitments by Japan of $500 million and the United States of $350 million.
Secretary of State Colin Powell flew over the devastated coastlines in northern Sumatra, andreports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan.
"I've been in war and I've been through a number of hurricanes, tornados and other relief operations, but I've never seen anything like this," he said.
The toll of Americans presumed dead in the tsunami more than doubled as the U.S. government added 20 more people to the list of those known previously to have perished.
That brings to 36 the total number of Americans known to have died; nineteen of the additional victims reported Wednesday were in Thailand and the 20th in Sri Lanka, two of the hardest-hit countries, said a senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Across Europe Wednesday, politicians, workers and tourists observed a three-minute silent tribute for the victims across southern Asia. TV and radio stations interrupted programming and church bells rang.
The four new camps being built around Banda Aceh, the main city in northern Sumatra, are sorely needed, as the existing ones are overcrowded and lack proper facilities.
"The camps that are here have been improvised by the people themselves," said Michael Elmquist, who heads the U.N. relief effort in Aceh. "But these are definitely not according to our standards. The sanitation is totally insufficient."
Elmquist said the United Nations will provide tents and equipment for up to 500,000 people.
Along with Powell, the donor conference is expected to draw U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
More than $3 billion has been pledged from around the world to help the millions of survivors rebuild. There have been nearly 150,000 confirmed deaths from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that rattled the ocean floor and sent massive waves crashing across beachfront communities from southern Asia to Africa. The toll is expected to climb above 150,000.
In announcing the largest single pledge, the Australian prime minister said the $764 million will help Indonesia rebuild.
"This is a historic step in Indonesian-Australian relations in the wake of this terrible natural disaster," Howard said in Jakarta. The two countries have had strained ties in the past.
Half of the money will be in grants for short-term relief and the remainder in loans for long-term reconstruction.
It was not immediately clear if the new pledge was in addition to Australia's existing gift of $47 million to the relief operations.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his country's pledge of $674 million would be made available over a minimum of three and a maximum of five years. At least 60 Germans died in the disaster — the highest official death toll for foreigners to date.
"The whole German nation has solidarity with the people of the region and we are all proud ... of the German people's readiness to help," Schroeder said.
The aim of Thursday's meeting is to get donors to commit to specific aid and reconstruction projects, said Bo Asplund, U.N. representative in Indonesia.
Topping the list of demands is Indonesia, Asplund said, with some $450 million required under a U.N. appeal for the country that suffered at least 94,200 deaths.
Bringing together representatives of all the affected countries will allow aid officials to get commitments for relief for at least the next six months, Elmquist said. The countries also hope to prevent future disasters by creating a tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean.
Another issue will be possible debt relief to affected countries, many of which are developing nations that rely on international assistance. Britain's top treasury official has said the world's richest nations are likely to freeze debt repayments and may even forgive debts to countries hit by the tsunami.
Marine helicopters Wednesday buzzed into Medan, Indonesia, not to bring food in, but to take supplies away. Aid has flooded into Medan and the supplies were stacked in disorganized piles near a warehouse at the city's airport, an overwhelming amount beyond what was immediately needed in the area.
Desperate to get the supplies to hard-to-reach areas on Sumatra's west coast, CH-46 helicopters from the USS Bonhomme Richard launched an airlift Wednesday to bring the aid back to their ship.
Survivors expressed gratitude to the United States for the aid, saying it could help America's tattered image in the Muslim world.
"America is the police of the world. But at the same time, they are helping us," said Mohamed Bachid Madjid, standing on a bridge over the Aceh River, where two corpses floated amid the rubble. "And we are grateful."
With hospitals overcrowded, about a dozen people lay on stretchers on the sidewalk outside Fakina Hospital in Banda Aceh. Many of the hospital's rooms had no power. Walls were flecked with blood and doctors had run out of stands for intravenous fluid bags, hanging them from cords strung across the ceiling.
Hospital workers said many people had infected wounds, some of which were turning gangrenous, forcing surgeons to amputate limbs.
"It's heartbreaking," said Leslie Ansag of Everett, Wash., a Navy medic from the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which was off Sumatra to help the rescue effort.
Police and U.N. officials have expressed fears that