Sixteen Americans are known to have been killed by the south Asian earthquake and tsunami, and with thousands more unaccounted for, the number is expected to rise, State Department officials said Monday.
The State Department has received more than 20,000 inquiries through its embassies and call centers in the United States, Adam Ereli, a spokesman for the department, told reporters. While 15,000 of these inquiries have been answered, about 5,000 remain to be dealt with, he said.
Ereli urged people with information about missing loved ones to contact the government.
“Please call the call center” so names can be taken off the rolls for those who have been accounted for and searches can be stepped up for others who may be missing, he said. The State Department’s toll-free number is 1-888-407-4747.
More than 140,000 people died in the tsunami that rocked 12 nations Dec. 26, including thousands of tourists. Most of them were Europeans who were vacationing in Thailand, but Maura Harty, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, said in an interview with NBC News that more U.S. deaths were also likely to emerge.
At least 12 Americans have been found in hospitals in Bangkok, Thailand, said Harty, who is coordinating efforts to account for missing Americans.
Ereli said that U.S. consular officers were in the field in Thailand and the other affected countries and that more had been sent to help with the increased workload.
In addition to working with local immigration officials to determine Americans who may have come and gone from the country, consular officials are working with local relief agencies, hospitals and other organizations that may have information.
As for money for the overall relief effort, Ereli said, the United States will be involved for the “long haul.”
After coming under criticism in the immediate aftermath for its slow response, the Bush administration has committed $350 million for emergency relief and reconstruction. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — the president’s brother — are visiting the affected countries to assess what else can be done.
Asked why the United States doled out only small sums — $50,000 to $100,000 — in some of the stricken countries, Ereli said aid was being targeted at what could be absorbed immediately. “Throwing large sums of money is not always what’s called for” right away, he said.