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. India dispatches aid and medicine after killer tsunamis, offers help
NEW DELHI (AFP) Dec 26, 2004
New Delhi dispatched warships and aircraft carrying medicine and food to India's southern coasts and to neighbouring Sri Lanka Sunday after devastating tidal waves killed thousands of people, officials said.

India, where at least 1,100 people were killed, also offered assistance to other nations hit by tsunamis triggered by a giant earthquake off Indonesia.

Five Indian warships steamed across the Palk Straits towards Sri Lanka, defence officials told AFP.

Three airforce cargo planes loaded with emergency supplies flew to India's stricken Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal, they said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself directed the military to launch relief measures on a war-footing in four coastal Indian states flooded by tsunamis.

"I have also instructed the defence minister and the home minister to take (the) necessary action and our paramilitary and our armed forces are already in operation," he said.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters relief measures had begun on a "war-footing".

"Ships and helicopters and aircraft are being pushed in service to distribute food, medicines and blankets," he said, adding that the navy was on full alert.

"We have started the rescue operations," Defence Minister Pranab Mukehrjee announced in New Delhi.

"The relief and rescue operations are simultaneously going on and the Coast Guard has been alerted for any back-up that we may need," Mukherjee said.

The defence minister said he was deploying naval ships, heavy-lift helicopters and aircraft to speed up operation in the disaster zones where thousands of people have been affected.

"Our primary task is to ensure that the people are out of danger and those stranded should be rescued and all efforts are being made to provide relief to them," the minister told reporters.

Cabinet secretary, B.K. Chaturvedi, heading a national crisis management group, said civilian machinery was also being put in place to help the needy.

"We are having discussions on how to prioritise relief operations but the damage is extensive and we cannot give any numbers so early.

"But we have taken four-five initiatives like food packets and medicines are being sent and generators are being provided with the help of the airforce and the civil aviation ministry is deploying additional flights to help the stranded people," Chaturvedi said.

Singh extended help to Sri Lanka, where the death toll passed 2,134, and offered assistance to other affected countries. Deaths were also reported in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Maldives.

"I have addressed letters to the heads of governments or heads of states of these countries conveying to them our deepest sympathies and also offering whatever assistance we can in meeting this tragedy," he said.

Disaster struck just after dawn as the earthquake measuring 8.9 on the open-ended Richter scale hit Indonesia sending tsunamis crashing westwards, sweeping men, women and children out to sea.

The tidal waves killed some 800 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 55 million people, while 200 others died in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state. The Andamans reported 14 dead.

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