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U.S. Choppers Begin Relief Effort

By air, sea and even elephant, relief supplies from an outpouring of global aid are trickling into remote areas devastated by the tidal waves that swept across the Indian Ocean one week ago, killing an estimated 150,000 people.

Officials across the region said bottlenecks that have left boxes of supplies in warehouses with insufficient transport are easing.

The first naval supply ship arrived on the remote Indian island of Car Nicobar, signaling hope for thousands of stranded and stunned survivors.

In Thailand, elephants carried supplies and cleared wreckage.

A big boost for aid distribution in Indonesia came with the arrival Saturday of the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln — kicking off one of the biggest U.S. military disaster relief missions in history.

As the relief efforts drove deeper into the sprawling disaster zone, American pilots had some of the first glimpses of wrecked Sumatran coastal villages such as Kuede Teunom, where survivors in tattered clothing grabbed at bottles of water dropped from helicopters.

With roads blocked by gruesome debris -- and bridges washed out -- many of Indonesia's island villages had become islands themselves -- and choppers 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 has been pilloried for earlier this week calling rich countries "stingy" with humanitarian aid.

Reporters were given a look at the wiped-out village of Malacca, on the Indian island of Car Nicobar, where the only structure still standing was a statue of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. About 4,000 people are missing on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Indian territory off the coast of Malaysia.

Indonesian rescuers are preparing to abandon their search for the thousands still missing -- despite finding an Indonesian fisherman today who had been trapped under his boat for a week. Tengku Sofyan, 24, could barely speak and was badly dehydrated.

A U.S. delegation headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell is on its way to the tsunami zone that the United Nations predicts will take 10 years to rebuild. International donors, who have pledged about $2 billion, are beginning to assemble for a conference on rebuilding in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, on Thursday.

In New York, Egeland said more aid was getting to survivors, but there were still problems helping those in Indonesia.

"We are seeing that the assistance is becoming increasingly effective in all of the countries," he told reporters. "Overall I am more optimistic today than I was yesterday that we the global community will be able to face up to this enormous challenge."

Egeland said 1.8 million people in tsunami-hit countries would need food aid and that figure could rise. It would take about three days to get food to 700,000 people in Sri Lanka but much longer to reach the one million hungry people in Indonesia, he said.

He warned there were still difficulties in reaching survivors in Sumatra's Aceh province. "That is where we are behind really...90 percent of our problems are in those areas because they are more remote, because the damage was much bigger, because the roads are more damaged, because the air strips are fewer and they are more damaged."

In India, which suffered more than 9,000 deaths, officials insisted there was still hope for survivors. But the search was essentially over in Tamil Nadu state, the southern region which bore the brunt of the country's sea surge. Veera Shanmuga Moni, a top administrator of Tamil Nadu's Nagappattinam district, said about 600 people on the missing list would soon be declared dead.

Dozens of parents every day come to Sri Lanka's Navalady Beach, where huge waves seized their children a week ago. "They believe their kids are alive and the sea will return them one day," UNICEF chief Carol Bellamy said on Sunday.

The official tally of dead surpassed 123,000. But with tens of thousands still missing and presumed dead, U.N. officials said they expected the actual toll would exceed 150,000, although the exact tally will probably never be known. Five million people were homeless.

Health officials in the disaster zone said no medical crisis has yet emerged, although getting clean water and sanitation to hard-hit areas was urgent to prevent disease outbreaks.

In Thailand, officials borrowed six elephants for help in clearing away wrecked buildings and other debris from the ruined resort island of Phuket and Phang Nga province.

The animals arrived Sunday and began work immediately on the muddy, hilly terrain.

"The six were chosen because they are smart and can act on command," said Romthongsai Meephan, one of the elephant farm's owners.

The Thai government said 4,985 people died in the tsunami, including 2,230 foreigners.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited Phuket island on Sunday, hoping to prop up a tourism industry that is critical to the country's economy and pledging to set up a tsunami early warning system that scientists say could have saved many lives were it in place a week ago.

"Nice to meet you, enjoy your stay," Thaksin told tourists who had returned to battered Patong beach. "We'll try and make your stay happy."

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