By and  on December 28, 2004

NEW YORK — Government officials, along with apparel and textile manufacturers, were struggling to measure the economic impact and the human toll of the most powerful earthquake in 40 years, which propelled tidal waves into countries across South and Southeast Asia and killed at least 22,000 people.

Officials focused on search and rescue efforts a day after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck beneath the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia. It generated walls of water that obliterated coastal towns from Indonesia to Somalia on Africa’s east coast.

Manufacturers who source and produce branded and private label intimate apparel and textiles in the region had more questions than answers. Sri Lanka appeared to suffer the worst devastation, accounting for almost half of the deaths in the region. India, Indonesia. Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Maldives and Somalia also reported thousands of dead.

“Most of the areas were along the coast,” said Vikram Mishry, political counselor at the Indian embassy in Washington. “Right now, we are counting lives lost and that is rising by the minute as fresh casualties come to light. We just don’t have a dollar figure at the moment.”

South and Southeast Asia are major apparel and textile producing regions. U.S. importers and retailers produce billions of dollars worth of garments in the countries hit hardest by Sunday’s earthquake. Damage to ports, roads, railroads and other modes of transportation and communication may have a major impact on international commerce.

“I would assume there will be some major disruption, but I haven’t gotten anything specific [from the ocean carriers],” said Hubert Wiesenmaier, executive director of the American Import Shippers Association, which negotiates contracts with 10 ocean carriers for 200 small and midsize apparel, textile and footwear importers. “This is not officially a peak period of apparel, but vessels have been full.”

Wiesenmaier said a “comparatively large volume of apparel” is shipped from the Indian subcontinent and southern Asia to the U.S. He said U.S. importers and retailers will closely watch all of the ports, particularly Bombay and Madras.

Many vendors said communications were nonexistent with the exception of sporadic e-mails from contractors and factories, as well as designers and merchandisers who were traveling in the region.

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