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Tsunami Death Toll Reaches 125,000  - 2004-12-31

Relief officials are working feverishly to deliver food, water and medical supplies to parts of southern Asia hard-hit by Sunday's earthquake and tsunami. The largest relief effort in history is gearing up as the death toll from the disaster approaches 125,000. Regional leaders are planning to meet next week to coordinate efforts.

The death toll continues to mount and hope for thousands of missing people is fading, as relief agencies rush aid and workers to the region.

Some 12 countries around the Indian Ocean were affected by Sunday's magnitude nine quake and follow-on tsunamis.

The spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, in Indonesia, John Budd, says its first shipment of aid arrived in Indonesia Friday. It is being sent to the northern province of Aceh, which was hardest-hit by the earthquake and giant waves. He says assessment teams on the scene say the situation in Aceh is grim.

"There is a complete collapse of the infrastructure of that isolated part of Indonesia. And there is no fuel. There is no food. And there is very little transport," he said.

Officials say the death toll in Aceh has surpassed 80,000 and could go as high a 100,000. Hundreds of thousands more have lost their homes and livelihoods. Mr. Budd says the priority is food, water and emergency health care for survivors.

"The people of Aceh have not had any food since virtually soon after the tsunami struck," he said. " We have reports that in the hospital there people haven't had food for four days."

UNICEF's four-ton shipment includes emergency health kits that will supply 200,000 people.

Sri Lanka is also struggling - suffering the second highest number of deaths and with millions of people homeless. Illnesses are starting to appear.

United Nations relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, says disease like cholera, typhoid and malaria could kill as many people as the tsunami itself - without safe drinking water and sanitation.

As the aid does begin to flow, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has proposed Friday, a summit to coordinate the efforts.

President Yudhoyono says Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and Malaysia also support the summit, which is to be held next Thursday in Jakarta.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that donors have pledged more than half a billion dollars, the largest amount of relief aid ever.

"We've had very good response. Governments have donated and they have indicated that they will do more," he said.

The U.S. government says Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit the region beginning Sunday. In addition, the United States, Australia, India and Singapore have sent naval ships to the region carrying relief supplies, engineers and construction equipment.