NEW DELHI – As the United States (search) and other nations pour in food, money and manpower to tsunami-buffeted Asian nations, India is taking its traditional stance: Thanks, but no thanks.
"If and when we need their help, we will inform them," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday, noting that U.S. President George W. Bush had called with the offer.
India, one of the founders of the Nonaligned Movement, typically proclaims it is capable of handling its own problems, politely telling allies and rivals alike to butt out.
"Several countries have offered assistance to us," Singh told reporters. "The president of the United States spoke to me; several other countries' statesmen have also spoken to me. I have told them that, as of now, we feel we have adequate resources to meet the challenge."
Other Asian nations, including neighboring Sri Lanka (search), Thailand and worst-hit Indonesia, however, are opening arms to foreign troops and international relief agencies.
Sunday's 9.0 magnitude temblor set off a multitude of tsunamis which crashed into 11 Asian and African nations. Nearly 115,000 people have been killed, including 7,368 along the southern shores of India, in what will surely become one of history's worst natural disasters.
The World Bank pledged US$250 million (euro184 million) for the victims in South and Southeast Asia, bringing the total amount of promised international relief money to close to half a billion dollars, U.N. officials said Thursday.
"It's just beyond our comprehension to think about how many lives have been lost," Bush said from his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Thursday.
In Sri Lanka, the island nation off the southern tip of India, Western health officials, including a 30-person team comprised of U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy personnel, headed to devastated areas on Thursday after officials warned about possible disease outbreaks among the 1 million people seeking shelter in crowded refugee centers.
"Our biggest battle and fear now is to prevent an epidemic from breaking out," said Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. "Clean water and sanitation is our main concern."
Sunday's towering tsunami killed at least 24,743 people in Sri Lanka, according to official tolls, and at least 4,000 are still missing.
In Galle, where more than 4,000 people were killed, a German team arrived Thursday to set up water plants; a team from Finland also came to help set up mobile clinics.
A U.S. Air Force plane arrived in the capital of Colombo, bringing 26 medical specialists from the Army, Marines and Air Force, who form part of the Pacific Fleet Command.
"Our job is called disaster relief assessment and we'll do that in concert with the Embassy, to try to get a handle on the magnitude of the problem," said Col. Thomas Collins.
Even as India declined foreign aid -- excluding U.N. agencies and nongovernment organizations already working in the region -- thousands went hungry in southern Tamil Nadu state as relief workers fled following a false warning that fresh tsunamis were imminent.
In the southern town of Nagappattinam, vehicles transporting supplies turned around after New Delhi relied on bad information and caused a panic along the southern coast. Hundreds of thousands of local residents already hit hard on Sunday took no chances and by late afternoon, more than half of the town's 110,000 population had fled.
For those who stayed behind in the relief camps, there was no food.
David Kennedy, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, said Bush spoke to Singh on Wednesday to discuss the establishment of a group in which the United States, Japan, Australia and India would coordinate relief assistance to affected countries.
Singh said Thursday he welcomed the statement, but did not commit to the proposal. "If more countries want to join, that can also be considered."
India may be pressured to accept outside help. It only took several days to let in foreign search and rescue teams after the January 2001 earthquake in western India, a 7.9 magnitude temblor that killed 13,000 people and caused an estimated US$4.5 billion in damage.
In Thailand, an air base used by U.S. B52 bombers during the Vietnam War is becoming a hub for a U.S. military-led relief effort that will stretch along the Indian Ocean.
U.S. planes have already delivered 1,400 body bags to southern islands in the Southeast Asian nation, where Interior Minister Bhokin Balakula said more than 3,500 bodies have been found. Rescue and forensic teams from Australia, Japan, Germany, Israel and other nations fanned out across Thailand in an effort to find survivors and identify rapidly decomposing corpses.
"We have to have hope that we'll find somebody," said Ulf Langemeier, head of a German team that combed a wrecked resort with three sniffer dogs under huge flood lamps early Thursday.
The USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier strike group, which was in Hong Kong, has been diverted to the Gulf of Thailand for the humanitarian relief operations. Five ships from the group may be deployed off Sumatra, the worst hit-area, joint chiefs of staff Lt. Gen. James T. Conway told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.
Nine P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft, including some based in Okinawa, Japan, have also been deployed in support of search and rescue operations in the area, he said.
Lt. Col. Scott Elder in Thailand said there likely would be up to 1,000 U.S. military personnel arriving in the next week.
In Indonesia, where nearly 80,000 people have been declared dead, pilots struggled to drop food into cliff-rimmed villages along the ravaged coast of Sumatra, where towns strewn with bloating corpses remained isolated for a fifth day.
Government institutions have ceased to function and basic supplies such as fuel have almost run out, forcing even ambulances to ration gasoline, generating lines outside gas stations almost a kilometer (1/2 mile) long.
"Everything here has collapsed," said Brig. Gen. Achmad Hiayat, surgeon general of Indonesia's Armed Forces. "Even the government has collapsed. The hospitals, medical services are in disarray."