On this first day of a new year, we join the world in feeling enormous sadness over a great human tragedy. Last Sunday, an earthquake and violent tsunamis struck the nations that surround the Indian Ocean. The carnage is of a scale that defies comprehension, with over 100,000 deaths reported. I have signed a proclamation calling for our nation's flag to be flown at half-staff this coming week. As the people of this devastated region struggle to recover, we offer our love and compassion, and our assurance that America will be there to help.
Earlier this week, I spoke with the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia. I offered them the condolences of our nation and I praised their steadfast leadership. The task they face is difficult. Their relief resources are stretched nearly to the limit.
Communications, roads and medical facilities have been badly damaged; disease has become a very real threat.
Americans are a compassionate people and we are already hard at work helping those nations meet these challenges. The United States has pledged $350 million in relief assistance, with $15 million already in the hands of relief organizations in the affected countries. To help coordinate this massive relief effort, disaster response officials are on the ground and have established a support center in Thailand that is manned and operational; more than 20 patrol and cargo aircraft have been made available to assess the disaster and deliver relief supplies — many of those aircraft are already on the scene. We have dispatched the aircraft carrier, Abraham Lincoln, the Maritime pre-positioning squadron from Guam, and an amphibious ship carrying a Marine Expeditionary Unit — they will soon be in position to support relief efforts, to include the generation of clean water.
Tomorrow, I will send a delegation to the area to meet with regional leaders and international organizations to assess what additional aid can be provided by the United States. The delegation will be led by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Governor Jeb Bush, who has extensive experience in the state of Florida with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts following natural disasters. Secretary Powell has already spoken with many of his counterparts in the region, and with officials from the United Nations, and other governments that are helping with the response. Together, we are leading an international coalition to help with immediate humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and long-term construction efforts. India, Japan and Australia have already pledged to help us coordinate these relief efforts, and I'm confident many more nations will join this core group in short order.
Here at home, Americans are translating the blessings of our own country into generosity to others. From charitable organizations to private individuals to companies, our fellow citizens, on their own initiative, are raising millions of dollars for relief efforts. These
Americans, donor and fundraiser alike, represent the best of our country and offer an example to the world. Any American who desires to donate to these efforts can easily do so online, by accessing the USA FreedomCorps web site at www.usafreedomcorps.gov <outbind://1/www.usafreedomcorps.gov>.
In this season when we gather with loved ones and count our many blessings, we hold the victims of this terrible tragedy in our hearts and prayers. And let us be mindful that even in this modern age, our world still requires compassion, tolerance and generosity from each of us.
Laura and I send our condolences to all whose hearts are filled with grief this New Year's Day; and to our fellow Americans, we wish you peace and happiness in the coming year.
Thank you for listening.