UK aid appeal after Asian disasters

British people were asked today to give what they could to help those left destitute by the devastating earthquakes and typhoons that have struck south-east Asia.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) will broadcast high profile radio and television appeals to help those affected by Typhoon Ketsana which hit the Philippines and parts of Vietnam and those left coping in the wake of huge earthquakes which struck western Sumatra.

In Indonesia the government has confirmed the death toll at 715 and more than 3,000 people are reported missing.

There are fears that the the number of those killed could rise to 1,300 as the full extent of the damage in rural areas becomes clear where whole villages have been flattened by landslides.

The United Nations said in a report that more than 1.1 million people live in the 10 quake-hit districts, 10,000 houses have collapsed, 19 public facilities were badly damaged, 50 schools destroyed and more than 80 mosques severely damaged.

Only the day before Wednesday's earthquake in Indonesia a tsunami in the South Pacific, sparked by a different quake, killed at least 170 people and left many thousands more homeless.

One of those killed was today revealed as two-year-old Alfie Cunliffe, the son of a British couple who was swept out to sea and lost when the wave struck.

DEC chief executive Brendan Gormley said: "The sheer number of natural disasters to hit the region in the last week is staggering and they have ripped apart the lives of millions of people in the affected areas.

"DEC member agencies are already responding despite the appalling conditions on the ground but we urgently need the public's help to fund their work.

"We recognise that these are difficult and uncertain times for many people in the UK too, but we have no doubt that there will still be a strong desire to help."

Further aid workers and emergency supplies have been leaving from Britain in recent days to help attempts to free the trapped and find the dead in Indonesia.

Oxfam yesterday sent extra staff with water treatment units and plastic sheeting for shelters from its warehouse in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

Oxfam aid worker Ian Bray, who is in Sumatra, said: "Our partners have been working day and night to get emergency aid to those who need it.

"The needs are great and we will be bolstering our aid response in the coming days to assist families caught up in this grave disaster. The support of the British public is vital to help us help the people of Sumatra."

A team from the British Red Cross left London's Heathrow airport yesterday in order to co-ordinate the charity's distribution of aid in the devestated region.

Jamie Richardson, who is leading the group, said: "The Red Cross is an international organisation and each country has its own national society but in a situation like this we will rally round and support them during this time of crisis.

"This can only happen with donations from the public. It doesn't matter how much or how little it is, it all comes together in the same pot. The relief effort is going to cost millions of pounds."

A 16-strong team from the search and rescue charity Rapid UK was the first official search crew from Britain to arrive in the crisis-hit country on Friday night.

Another plane-load of search and rescue personnel, organised by the Department of International Development, touched down just after 8pm last night to join in the effort.

Sixty-five UK firefighters with more kit for the relief effort were grounded at Gatwick Airport on Friday when a government-chartered aircraft developed a fault.

The hold-up frustrated British officials, who acknowledged that time was running out for people trapped in collapsed buildings.

But the military offered to help and an RAF C17 aircraft flew the search and rescue experts and 17 tonnes of aid from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to Padang on the island of Sumatra.

The British survivors of the South Pacific tsunami yesterday spoke of their desperate scrambles to safety.

Anna and Christopher Griffiths, originally from Pembrokeshire but currently living in Auckland, New Zealand, were staying in Samoa to celebrate their 30th birthdays.

They recalled scrambling up a hill to flee with "two lines of white water absolutely powering" at them.

Mrs Griffiths said: "I can't sleep, I haven't slept, because I can still hear that roar. I can constantly hear it."

Tom Gogola, 22, from East Allington, near Kingsbridge, Devon, was surfing in the water off Samoa when the tsunami came racing into land, his father said.

Instead of heading for the shore, he decided to paddle towards the giant waves and get into a boat.

He was later reunited back on shore with his partner, Rachel Cant, but they lost all their possessions.

His father Steve, from Plymouth, Devon, said: "I thought, it's typical of Tom to be surfing. He said it was unreal."

The two-year-old son of a British couple swept out to sea is missing and feared to be among the victims of the tsunami.

The two earthquakes are not the only natural disasters to have blighted the region in the past week.

Floods crushed homes in Cambodia and Vietnam and submerged much of the Philippine capital Manila, where more than 330 people died.

Donation lines for the DEC appeal and the online giving website will open Sunday ahead of the main broadcast appeals, they can be made by ringing 0370 60 60 900 or at http://www.dec.org.uk

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