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Americans give generously to tsunami victims

While millions of Americans have never heard of Banda Aceh or the Maldives, they are nonetheless opening their hearts — and their wallets — to help victims of the Asian tsunami. NBC's Martin Savidge reports.

Across America it is a tidal wave of giving. From the moment the first horrific images emerged, Americans felt the need to do something — and they have.

Charity phone banks and Web sites have been run over by generosity. The Red Cross says it has never had so many calls. As of noon Thursday, it had raised almost $28 million.

Doctors Without Borders was getting $50,000 a day just before Christmas. Wednesday — in a single day — it received $3 million.

And in two days UNICEF has raised more than in all of 2003.

"The response to this emergency is absolutely unprecedented in our nearly 60-year history," says Charles Ryan, president of the U.S. fund for UNICEF.

Corporations are donating everything from Band-Aids to building supplies to cash — hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars at a time.

Even in hurricane-hit Florida, where many lost almost everything, they are still finding something to give.

"Their hearts have been touched and the calls have been coming in," says Ron Patterson of Christian Disaster Response.

But experts warn in the frenzy of good there are still scam artists. The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) grades organizations by how much money goes directly to victims.

"At a minimum 60 percent should go to program services, the better ones, 70 percent," says AIP president Daniel Borochoff.

With all of the government pledges of billions and corporate donations of millions, you might think the average donor doesn't count. In fact, close to 80 percent of all money donated to charity comes from individuals — plain people who give by themselves or of themselves.

Dr. Neil Buist of Portland, Ore. is heading to Thailand to help. At the airport, a stranger gave him $300 and a lot of Thai money before takeoff.

Some have said the tsunami half a world away was never felt here. They need only look around to see just how wrong they are.