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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to tsunami relief efforts and defended the Bush administration's response to what he called one of the world's worst catastrophes ever.
Powell, who was departing about midday for a firsthand assessment of the situation in Asia, planned to meet with leaders in the region to see what more the United States can do.
This is "one of the most massive relief efforts ever mounted in response to one of the worst catastrophes the world has ever seen," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The secretary was quick to defend the administration's efforts against criticism from U.N. officials and members of Congress who said the United States was slow to respond with financial aid.
"The American response has been appropriate. It has been scaled up as the scale of the disaster became more widely known," Powell said.
"It's been seven days and in seven days, we have launched a carrier battle group. We have launched an amphibious battle group. We have contributed $350 million. We have assessment teams all over. We have energized the private sector. We have put together a core group that has assisted these nations. The nations involved are very pleased," he said.
In the first days after the massive earthquake and tsunami, the United States pledged $35 million, which critics called meager considering the vast wealth of the nation. President Bush decided Friday to increase that aid to $350 million.
"The carnage is of a scale that defies comprehension," the president said in his weekly radio address over the weekend.
During his trip to Asia, Powell said he will focus on assessing the needs of the countries hit by the tsunami. One of the biggest problems, he said, was delivering the aid to the most devastated areas. He also would look at what will be required for reconstruction efforts and that the U.S. contribution may go beyond the $350 million.
Powell was to visit Thailand, where many American tourists remain missing from ravaged beach resort areas, and Indonesia, site of the largest loss of life.
He also said he hoped to make a stop in Sri Lanka.
The president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was among the U.S. officials and experts accompanying Powell on the trip.
"The president has deep concern about what has happened and the fact that I am his brother symbolically underscores that deep concern," the governor said early Sunday as he left Miami for Washington.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)