WASHINGTON (Talon News) — President George W. Bush tapped two of his predecessors to spearhead the United States aid effort for victims of last week’s tsunamis. The president enlisted his father, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton to lead private fundraising efforts to supplement the contribution of the federal government, which now stands at $350 million for humanitarian relief.

Eight days ago, the most powerful earthquake in 40 years shook the island of Sumatra causing violent tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The giant waves left an arc of destruction from Thailand to the Horn of Africa, devastating the region. More than 140,000 lives are estimated to be lost, including 90,000 in Indonesia alone. As many as 5 million people are thought to be homeless, or without food or shelter. Thousands more are missing, and millions are vulnerable to disease.

Bush ordered U.S. flags to fly at half-staff to honor the victims of this disaster. In comments Monday at the White House, Bush specifically mentioned the tens of thousands of children who were lost in the disaster.

The United States government is in close contact with the governments of the affected countries, and America is playing a leading role in the relief and recovery efforts. In addition to funds, the U.S. has committed military assets and is working with the United Nations and governments around the world to coordinate the comprehensive international response. American military assets in the region are now aiding recovery efforts. Patrol and cargo aircraft have been surveying damage and delivering supplies for several days. Air Force C-130s are flying aid missions 24 hours a day.

The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group is in place near Indonesia and is transporting relief supplies by helicopter. Other naval and Marine assets will arrive shortly to generate clean water and provide further logistical help.

A delegation headed by Secretary of State Powell and Governor Bush of Florida has already been dispatched to the Indian Ocean region. There they will meet with fellow leaders and international organizations to assess relief efforts in place, as well as the needs that remain. Secretary Powell and Governor Bush will report their findings directly to the President so that he can ensure that the federal government provides the most effective assistance possible.

Bush said that while massive government aid will make a difference for survivors and demonstrate America’s compassion in the swift response, the greatest source of its generosity is the good heart of the American people. In the weeks since the tsunamis struck, private citizens have contributed millions of dollars for disaster relief and reconstruction. Organizations like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, the Salvation Army, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, CARE, UNICEF, and America Cares responded rapidly after the tsunamis hit. They have reported an outpouring of generosity from around the world.

The president said that he hoped to draw even greater amounts of private donations by asking the former presidents to lead a nationwide charitable fundraising effort. He praised both men for agreeing to serve the country once again.

In the coming days, former Presidents Clinton and Bush will ask Americans to donate directly to reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims. Many of these organizations have dispatched experts to the disaster area, and they have an in-depth understanding of the resources required to meet the needs on the ground. Bush said that in this situation, cash donations are most useful, and he has asked the former presidents to solicit contributions both large and small.

Bush pointed out some of the innovative ways Americans are helping people in need. A coffee roaster in California is handing out bags of coffee for a $10 donation to the Red Cross. In Virginia Beach, the owner of a tax assistance firm is making a donation for every tax return he prepares. Worshipers at a Buddhist temple in Houston collected thousands of dollars in cash to send to their sister temple in Sri Lanka.

Some people are selling personal items on the Internet and donating the cash to the charities. Many corporations are matching contributions by their employees. And several have shown exceptional generosity by donating large amounts of cash and products to the relief efforts.

Presidents Clinton and Bush will be speaking about the countless ways individuals and businesses can support this urgent cause. Bush asked every American to contribute as they are able. He directed citizens to get more information about how to make a donation by visiting the USA Freedom Corps website at www.usafreedomcorps.gov.

Following the announcement, the trio visited the embassies of the countries affected to pay respects on behalf of the United States.

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