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Help on way for tsunami victims

A street in Phuket, Thailand, is covered in debris and water after the sea surge.
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Thousands have drowned and thousands are missing after a tsunami strikes India.

Eyewitnesses describe the devastation of the tsunami that hit across southern Asia.

Tsunamis scour coastlines around Asia.

The relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has pledged an initial offering of about $15 million for relief efforts in southern Asia, devastated by massive tsunamis spit up from the ocean floor by the strongest earthquake in the world since 1964.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters Monday that the federal government sent $400,000 to embassies in the region and would likely have negotiated the release of an additional $4 million to the International Red Cross by the end of the day.

And USAID spokesman Ed Fox said the remaining money would be made available as quickly as possible. Powell said it was a "quick infusion to stabilize, get supplies in and plan for the long haul."

The U.S. Pacific Command has also sent three Navy P-3 Orion surveillance planes from Kadena Air Base, Japan, to Utaphao, Thailand, to help survey the area.

The European Union pledged an initial $4 million to the relief efforts on south Asia.

Other countries were also quick to send help -- Italy, France and Pakistan sent medicine and rescue help, as did India, although that country's east coast took a hit as hard as the other countries affected.

Jeffrey Lunstead, the U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said his country had made an "initial contribution of $100,000."

"We're now looking to see what needs there are that we can meet," he said. "We're also talking to the Defense Department to see what possible assistance it could provide here."

Lunstead said recovery from the disaster in Sri Lanka would be "extraordinarily difficult."

"I don't know what the figures will be in the end, but it's at least three times the number that the United States lost on September 11, in a country less than one-tenth the size of the United States and with much less resources to devote to reconstruction," he said.

International Red Cross and Red Crescentexternal link officials were also assessing the situation and making determinations of what aid was needed and where. Spokesman Mostafa Mohaghegh said an international team was deployed Monday to make the initial assessments and begin providing services.

"Family linking, tracing, providing shelter, food, first aid -- these are the services we've started," he told CNN.

Mohaghegh said it was important to quickly get a realistic number of victims and a solid assessment of their needs.

"The disaster is very, very big, the scale is very large," he said. "We are at the beginning of the disaster, and it will take some days to get a full understanding."

The London-based charity group Christian Aidexternal link said it was sending $250,000 to help in Sri Lanka and India and was using local partner groups in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to deliver food and water.

The group said it was "extremely concerned" by the situation in Myanmar -- ruled by a military government that is often secretive and closed to outsiders -- which shares the Isthmus of Kra with Thailand and separates the northern part of Thailand from the Bay of Bengal.

"The possibility that (Myanmar) has been badly affected by this disaster is at the forefront of our fears at the moment," the spokeswoman said.

The United Nations group UNICEFexternal link is accepting donations for international aid and has sent a team of experts to assess the damage, victims' needs and mobilization efforts.

In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard said his government had pledged $7.8 million to the relief efforts as "an initial contribution."

"Australia will and should give more than that," he said, adding that half the money would go to the International Red Cross, $2.3 million direction to Indonesia and the remaining $1.7 million to other Australian aid groups working on the efforts.

Australia was also providing C130 transport planes, he said.

Other countries sending help:

Spanish authorities said they would send an initial $1.3 million to Sri Lanka and foot the bill to charter jets to carry aid and personnel to the island nation. The first plane was expected to leave within 24 hours, the foreign ministry said, carrying aid from the central government as well as regional governments and non-governmental agencies. The foreign ministry said Spain is willing to send more aid to other regions, but would wait to hear what was needed rather than send items that might not be.

Two planes with emergency workers on board left Russia Sunday night for the region on the Russian President Vladimir Putin's instructions, a Russian official in charge of emergency preparations told reporters. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said his ministry was preparing a plan to evacuate Russians there.

Turkish Airlines said it was sending a jet to the Maldives to pick up Turkish nationals stranded there.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier left Paris Monday for Colombo, Sri Lanka, and after that Thailand. He is aboard a plane carrying five tons of humanitarian aid, including medical supplies, tents, clothes and water purification equipment. France also sent close to 100 medical personnel and Foreign Ministry staffers, the ministry said.

CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman and Correspondents Alphonso Van Marsh and Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.

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