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. Indian armed forces deploy to help victims of massive tsunami
NEW DELHI (AFP) Dec 26, 2004
India's armed forces were deployed along the country's southeastern coast Monday to provide help to the homeless and seek out survivors from hundreds of fishermen at sea when a massive tsunami hit.

A federal crisis management group drew up an emergency plant late Sunday to airlift food, medical services and provide transport for the worst hit areas of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry and to evacuate the far-flung Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

More than 2,600 were reported dead in India.

The Indian navy sent frigates loaded with food and medical supplies to Sri Lanka where the tsunami caused extensive damage and killed thousands. The country was also sending the navy and airlifting 20 tons of food supplies to the wave-hit Maldives.

Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash said ships were sent to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where the fate of tens of thousands of people was unknown because communications were snapped after the waves hit.

Three airforce cargo planes loaded with emergency supplies left late Sunday for the islands adjacent to Indonesia.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for donations to a relief fund to be used for rebuilding homes and businesses in villages where few have insurance.

Singh himself directed the military to launch relief measures on a war-footing in the 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.

International aid was also pledged to South Asian countries from China, Pakistan, the United States and the European Union.

India was working to replace makeshift rescue and relief efforts with a coordinated response after a series of giant waves followed a massive earthquake on the Indonesian island of Sumatra early Sunday.

Demands for help came pouring into hospitals and police, overwhelming resources across the south. India has been frequently hit by natural disasters including a devastating earthquake in Gujarat in 2000 that killed 20,000 people.

Relief efforts often falter however on a lack of equipment, solid communications and roads to reach far-flung villages.

In the east coast state of Orissa, villagers were stranded for weeks with little food and no shelter after a cyclone in 1999 washed away the few roads in the interior of the state.

On Sunday, the armed forces sent helicopters and small coastal boats to search for villagers and fishermen caught at sea when the waves hit in Tamil Nadu, according to local press reports.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said a task force had been set up in the ministry to monitor the relief work being undertaken by the armed forces.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters relief measures were put 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.

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