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Sri Lanka: Aid slow to get through


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Satinder Bindra talks to survivors in Matara, Sri Lanka.

ITN's John Irvine was on vacation in Sri Lanka when the tsunamis hit
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Delivering aid to Sri Lanka's tsunami-struck disaster areas is being hampered by poor transport, aid officials have told CNN.

"Aid is trickling through, not flowing through," the chief executive of World Vision Australia, Tim Costello, said from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Thursday.

"There is a strong sense that it is not going quickly enough. The traffic is just horrendous," he said.

"We need helicopters to get through to the worst affected areas."

Sri Lanka was the second-hardest hit nation by Sunday's tsunamis, with an official death toll so far of more than 23,000 deaths and another 4,000 people still reported missing.

Another 1.5 million people have been forced to leave their homes and more than 745,000 no longer have homes at all. Costello said the situation now in Sri Lanka was "fragile".

"So many lives are hanging in the balance. The government is in shock too."

Red Cross Asia representative Alistair Gordon-Gibson told CNN getting access to exposed areas was very difficult and that there were large parts of the country that aid had not yet reached.

"Some roads are open but some places are still under water," he said.

The biggest fear now in Sri Lanka is an epidemic outbreak of diseases in these remote areas, from a lack of clean water.

Some of the more inaccessible areas include parts of the north and east coast of Sri Lanka controlled by the Tamil Tigers separatist group.

The Tigers rebel leader made a rare personal appeal Wednesday to international aid donors and the United Nations to help ethnic Tamils hit by the tsunamis.

"I solicit the support and magnanimous assistance of the international community and the U.N. agencies to help our people in distress," commander Velupillai Prabhakaran said in a highly unusual personal statement posted on the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site. (Full story)

Gordon-Gibson said he was optimistic the Sri Lankan government would spread the relief fairly between Tamil and non-Tamil regions despite ongoing tensions.

The Tamil Tigers have been battling since 1983 for a separate state in Sri Lanka, a conflict which has claimed around 65,000 lives. A cease-fire has been in place since February 2002.


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