CRAWFORD, Texas – As the number of deaths continues to rise, the United States has formed a coalition with India, Australia and Japan to coordinate worldwide relief and reconstruction efforts for those hit by tsunamis (search) following a major earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Sunday.
So far the United States has provided $35 million in aid, a number expected to rise, President Bush (search) said Wednesday from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Japan has contributed $30 million, Australia $27 million. Other nations that have contributed relief are the United Kingdom with $29 million, Germany with $27 million, France with $20 million, Saudi Arabia with $10 million and China with $2.6 million.
In his first public remarks since disaster struck, Bush said prayers go out to the people who have lost so much. The grief and loss, which has struck all corners of the world, seemed beyond comprehension.
"The United States will continue to stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims. We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities. And together the world will cope with their loss. We will prevail over this destruction," Bush said, adding that he is confident other nations will follow.
In a moment of bipartisanship, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search), D-Calif., reaffirmed Bush's commitment.
"Our nation is devastated by the enormity of this tragedy. All Americans have been touched by the dignity and strength of survivors who lost so much and are now focused on helping others in their community. We stand ready to work quickly to provide the appropriate assistance," Pelosi said in a statement.
India, which is working with the coalition to coordinate relief, is one of the countries hardest struck by a series of tsunamis that hit eleven nations on Sunday after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake rumbled under the western sea off Indonesia's island of Sumatra. As many as 77,000 people are estimated dead by the tsunamis that were triggered by the quake and several powerful aftershocks, and the International Red Cross said the number could surpass 100,000.
According to the State Department, so far 12 Americans have died in the disaster — seven in Sri Lanka and five in Thailand. Hundreds of Americans remain missing.
So far, the United States has sent damage assessment teams and U.S. military manpower, such as a Marine expeditionary force followed by long-term rebuilding assistance. The Pentagon is diverting several U.S. warships and helicopters to the region, said Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations Lt. General James T. Conway. The ships are bringing in fresh drinking water. They are capable of producing up to 90,000 gallons a day.
Bush said he would also examine a suggestion from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on whether debt relief for Somalia and Indonesia would help hasten relief and reconstruction for the nation.
He added that the aid pouring in to the nations is only the beginning of U.S. assistance.
"We're still in the stage of immediate help. But slowly, but surely, the size of the problem will become known, particularly when it comes to rebuilding infrastructure and community to help these affected parts of the world get back up on their feet," Bush said after phone conversations with leaders from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, coordinating relief assistance, also spoke with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Ministers Nobutaka Machiura of Japan and Alexander Downer of Australia.
Across the board, the International Monetary Fund is organizing with governments of nations struck by disaster to organize reconstruction and financial assistance. Aid for those efforts will begin after the immediate humanitarian crisis has been dealt with, said officials with the agency.
Right now, cash is the best donation, said U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios.
Natsios said old clothes, canned goods or medicines would not be helpful at this point since getting the goods on the ground will slow down distribution channels for other types of relief.
Natsios told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the $35 million aid package has drained his organization's emergency relief fund, forcing it to ask Congress or the White House for more money.
"We just spent it," Natsios said. "We'll be talking to the [White House] budget office."
Bush also called on Americans to donate cash to augment the government response. But officials have warned Americans not to be taken in by phony organizations that are trying to capitalize on the tragedy. Americans desiring to help with the relief effort can check FOXNews.com for a list of legitimate agencies that are involved in the relief efforts.
Some Asian stars have already reportedly taken the lead in contributing personal funds. Action star Jackie Chan contributed $50,000 to UNICEF and has urged others to follow.
Bush expressed concern that a better warning system should be in place worldwide to warn about tsunamis. A warning system in the Indian Ocean, where tsunamis are rare, could have saved thousands of lives, some experts have said.
"It makes sense for the world to come together to develop a warning system to help all nations," he said.
Bush asked Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Interior Secretary Gale Norton to investigate whether the United States is adequately prepared for tsunamis that might strike the U.S. coast. The U.S. Geological Survey at Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Commerce are the two agencies addressing that issue.
Asked about a U.N. official who accused Western nations of being "stingy" with humanitarian aid, Bush responded that the United States is a very generous, kind-hearted nation, and the response that is emerging from the government as well as individuals is indicative of its nature.
"I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed. Take, for example, in the year 2004, our government provided $2.4 billion in food, in cash, in humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. That's $2.4 billion. That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year," he said.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and Kelly Wright and The Associated Press contributed to this report.