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U.S. Troops Step Up Relief Effort

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

To get a firsthand look at the devastation, a U.S. delegation including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday begins a trip that includes stops in Thailand, Indonesia and perhaps Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, searchers all but gave up hope of finding more survivors from last week's killer earthquake and tsunami, with authorities saying Monday that thousands listed as missing were presumed dead. The world turned its full attention to getting food and water to the living.

Even so, a trickle of survivors are being discovered. Four Indonesians were found alive on a boat that drifted north to a remote Indian Ocean island after a tsunami devastated their homeland, a military spokesman said Monday.

The independent Indian television station Aaj Tak reported that the four men could barely speak and would only say "Indonesia" when asked their names.

The station said the men were in a motorboat when the 9-magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sumatra on the morning of Dec. 26, setting off powerful tsunamis.

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 almost ready to give up on more than 15,000 still unaccounted for.

The killer waves struck the region without any advance notice, and Indonesia announced plans Monday to work with its Asian neighbors to establish a system to warn coastal communities before potentially deadly waves hit.

Aid workers, meanwhile, were trying to help the millions of people displaced and devastated by the loss 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 in relief operations off the hard-hit northwest coast of Sumatra.

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

"We've been racing across the ocean," said Rear Adm. Chris Ames, commander of the strike force.

Ames acknowledged that the situation in Sri Lanka remains unclear, and that the mission for the Marines is still developing. He said the Marines' primary responsibilities would include ferrying food and medical supplies to villages in need. He also stressed that having "boots on the ground" would bring badly needed manpower for constructing temporary shelters, clearing roads and operating water purification equipment.

"We know a lot more today than we did yesterday," he said. "But we're not waiting for a perfect picture. There's so much to be done."

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 base in Thailand used to stage bombing missions in the Vietnam era.

Also on Indonesia's Sumatra island, 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 Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami became eerily obvious.

At one point, the choppers flew low over what appeared to be a fishing flotilla off the coast in glassy seas. Some boats were clearly damaged, while others appeared to have emerged from the disaster unscathed. But there was no sign of life at all.

At Karim Rajia, two helicopters dropped off 1,800 pounds of soup and biscuits there 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."

Several people were taken off on stretchers on the USS Abraham Lincoln after the U.S. military got permission from Jakarta on Sunday to pick up survivors in bad shape.

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

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 was pilloried for his comments last week calling rich countries "stingy" in their response to the disaster.

In New York, 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.

International donors, meeting this week in Indonesia, have so far pledged about $2 billion. 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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