Tsunami aid: America reaches out

U.S. relief groups report an overwhelming response from donors moved by the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami, with more than $200 million raised as of Tuesday. One charity said online pledges were coming in at the rate of $100,000 an hour.

Donors contributing to what one official called a "tidal wave of generosity" ranged from actress Sandra Bullock, who gave $1 million, to 3-year-old Antonio Cabrera, who joined his brothers in dropping off cash-filled sandwich bags at the American Red Cross office in Denver.

Firm statistics for such relief campaigns are elusive. But charity officials said they expected donations to continue streaming in for weeks to come, putting the tsunami in the company of the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s and Central America’s Hurricane Mitch of 1998 as the foreign disasters prompting the largest contributions from U.S. citizens.

The private donations are in addition to the $350 million pledged thus far by the U.S. government. Two ex-presidents renowned for their fund-raising prowess – Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush – have been recruited to spur more private giving.

The number one recipient, by far, has been the American Red Cross; its pledged tsunami donations as of Tuesday totaled $92 million.

"Something about this disaster has really touched a chord," said Suzanne McCormick, who heads the Red Cross chapter in southern Maine. "In terms of international relief, we have never seen anything on this scale."

Other major recipients included the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders USA, with donations of about $20 million apiece; and World Vision, Oxfam America, Catholic Relief Services and Save the Children, each reporting gifts of roughly $15 million from U.S. sources.

Dozens of other agencies also were collecting funds for tsunami relief. A New Jersey council of mosques raised $250,000, the Akron, Pa.-based Mennonite Central Committee $2.5 million.

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services has committed $25 million for relief efforts; spokeswoman Caroline Brennan said her colleagues were confident of raising that sum without dipping into reserves.

"We usually receive $40,000 a month through our Web site, and now we’ve been receiving $100,000 an hour," she said. "It’s overwhelming. We’re enormously grateful."