Charities pay tribute to the 'remarkable and humbling' UK response to their cause

From a £1 million pledge by premiership football clubs to a café owner in Wigan donating all profits made from hot drinks, Britain was last night leading an "unprecedented" response to the appeal for donations for the victims of the South Asian tsunami.

As the enormity of the humanitarian crisis began to sink in, big businesses joined sporting organisations in pledging six-figure sums to help the relief effort.

At the BT Tower in London, phonelines were jamming as people sought to make donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee, the umbrella group for British charities raising funds to buy much needed medical equipment and clothes. At some points, there were 900 calls to the line every hour and around 600,000 pledges had been made by last night.

"This is the biggest response ever to an emergency appeal. It is both remarkable and humbling," said Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the DEC, which is receiving money for Oxfam, Christian Aid, The Red Cross, ActionAid and others.

Volunteers manning the phonelines said most were donating above £50. Malcolm Jones, 39, said: "It's very hard work but it's also quite rewarding. It restores your faith in human nature."

Individual acts of generosity were made along with big business donations, including £1 million pledged by Vodafone, and £500,000 by both BT and Tescos.

Dwight Yorke, who plays for Birmingham City, urged fellow footballers to donate a week's wages as the 20 premier league football clubs donated £50,000 each to the appeal.

In Wigan, Lancashire, Dave Abbott, a 17-stone rugby player who runs The Upper Crust café, said he was planning to send all profits from the coffee that he sells on New Year's Eve to the relief effort.

Mr Abbott, 38, who is a father of two, said: "When you see fathers carrying their dead babies, our problems seem irrelevant. I just broke down crying while watching the news last night. The only way I know I can do something to help is by giving money. I would encourage others to help too."

England's cricketers joined footballers by giving £20,000, while their fans - the Barmy Army - who were watching England draw the Second Test match in South Africa were hoping to raise a further £20,000 at a party after the match.

With readily available equipment in desperately short supply, outdoor equipment chain Blacks Leisure Group said they were donating £50,000 worth of tents, ground sheets and sleeping bags for the displaced.

All money donated to The Independent's relief appeal also goes to the DEC, and last night Britannia Building Society had pledged £2,500, and the Chelsea Building Society £1,000.

Foreign charities were reporting a similar surge of support. In France, the volume of e-mail offers of money and support to the NGO Fondation de France were so great that they caused the website to crash, and Medecins sans Frontieres reported receiving €800,000 (£500,000) in donations.

In Germany, big businesses including the car firm Daimler Chrysler and Deutsche Telekom pledged to plug a reported shortfall in donations.

And in Atlanta, a man walked into the offices of CARE USA and handed the receptionist a cheque for $10,000 (£5,500).

As the death toll continues to soar, aid organisations will today be counting on the public's continuing generosity.

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