This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
BAN NAM KHEM, Thailand (AP) -- School children waving American flags welcomed former presidents Bush and Clinton to their dusty fishing village devastated by the Dec. 26 tsunami, as the two toured the region Saturday.
George H.W. Bush and Clinton stood in intense tropical heat as children who lost family members in the tsunami presented them with drawings, one showing a giant wave and a rescue helicopter and the other of floodwaters sweeping away people, cars and boats. The former presidents later visited a memorial wall honoring foreign tourists who died, and they then dined with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The two former presidents were asked by current President George W. Bush to lead the U.S. effort to provide private aid to hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims. They also plan to visit Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
"I don't think there's ever been a tragedy that affected the heartbeat of the American people as much as this tsunami has done," the senior Bush said in the shattered village of Ban Nam Khem. "I don't think you can put a limit on it. It's so devastating. They're still finding wreckage, still actually some bodies being recovered."
After arriving on the Thai resort island of Phuket on Saturday, the two men made their way by U.S. military helicopter and then motorcade to Ban Nam Khem.
A crowd of several hundred villagers greeted them from behind barriers, and a group of Thai school children in red caps and white shirts waved paper American flags.
One banner in the crowd read: "Bill, let's talk please."
The former political adversaries said their old differences were irrelevant to the task at hand.
"On issues about which there can be no debate, there should be no problems," Clinton said as Bush stood nearby.
Clinton said an estimated one-third of American households have contributed to tsunami relief.
"When it comes to helping people, politics is aside," Bush said. "I've enjoyed working with President Clinton. We were political adversaries. The current president and he don't always see eye to eye on issues. But that is not what's important here."
A military commander told the two former leaders that 2,000 people -- about a third of those killed by the tsunami in Thailand -- died in the village and surrounding area, which is about 400 miles southwest of Bangkok. Many of those killed in Thailand were foreign tourists staying in the resort area of Khao Lak.
Clinton praised Thailand's response to the calamity and said he and Bush hoped they could learn more about how to help.
At a news conference with the Thai prime minister, Clinton said governments and private individuals had committed $7 billion to tsunami relief in Asia, and another $4 billion was needed for a reconstruction process that could take two years.
Thaksin said Thais were "very touched and grateful" for American support.
Back in Phuket, Bush and Clinton visited a white wooden wall bearing the flags of several dozen nations that lost citizens in the tsunami and observed a moment's silence after two Thai military servicemen in white uniforms laid a wreath. The wall is next to a victim identification center where Kenyon Worldwide Disaster Management, a U.S.-based company, is helping to repatriate bodies. At least 1,000 bodies remain at the site.
The official tsunami death toll ranges from 169,070 to 178,118. The number of missing is believed to be as high as 128,426, with most presumed dead.
Clinton attributed the global outpouring of support to the "staggering" scale of the disaster, and he also praised the news media for focusing attention on the tragedy.
"The international media has done the best job covering this story that I have ever seen, describing the loss, describing the nature of the problem, describing what's being done about it," he said. "We don't want to let it go too far from the headlines so that people forget about it."
Elsewhere, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government had received new information "concerning possible terrorist planning for attacks against foreigners involved in relief efforts in Aceh or other areas of northern Sumatra" in Indonesia. The government revised its travel advice for Indonesia, warning Australians could endanger themselves by visiting northern Sumatra island.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)