ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN - Desperate, homeless villagers on the tsunami-ravaged island of Sumatra mobbed American helicopters carrying aid Saturday as the U.S. military launched its largest operation in the region since the Vietnam War, ferrying food and other emergency relief to survivors across the disaster zone.
From dawn until sunset on New Year's Day, 12 Seahawk helicopters shuttled supplies and advance teams from offshore naval vessels while reconnaissance aircraft brought back stark images of wave-wrecked coastal landscapes and their hungry, traumatized inhabitants.
"They came from all directions, crawling under the craft, knocking on the pilot's door, pushing to get into the cabin," said Petty Officer First Class Brennan Zwack. "But when they saw we had no more food inside, they backed away, saying `Thank you, thank you.'" . . .
More than a dozen other ships were en route to southern Asian waters, with the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault vessel carrying Marines, headed for Sri Lanka, which along with Indonesia was the worst-hit area. The mission involves thousands of sailors and Marines, along with some 1,000 land-based troops.
Fueled by Internet donations from hundreds of thousands of individuals, the outpouring to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami is on track to surpass gifts for victims of previous natural disasters, and charities say contributions are even outpacing those of the first days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Americans are donating so much money — so fast — that relief agencies say the totals are rising dramatically hour to hour.