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Relief Effort Underway Following Tsunami Disaster in Southeast Asia; Yushenko Claims Victory in Ukraine Elections

Aired December 27, 2004 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming again, coming again!

Big one!


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Tsunamis, mountains of water unleash a circle of destruction a thousand miles wide. The terrible death toll, more than 20,000 and going up hour by hour. A global relief effort being mobilized now heading for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Four countries in shock for mother nature's fury. Tales of unspeakable terror, epic loss and amazing survival on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING, with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez in for Bill Hemmer.

COLLINS: And I'm Heidi Collins in for Soledad today.

SANCHEZ: Pictures are amazing, people all over the world are waking up to these today and just shaking their heads as the look at this, wondering how it could happen.

It is a picture of devastation, it is caused by these tsunamis. The real story nowhere clear yet, we're just beginning to learn how many people may be lost.

Just let me tell you, the numbers just keep growing by the hour, as we get them here at CNN. Already, it is twice the amount killed on D-Day. Just to put things in perspective. Probably a million people left homeless as well. A dollar figure may never be put on what has thus far been destroyed.

COLLINS: Obviously, lots of unanswered questions as we begin this hour. But throughout the show, we are gong to hear first-hand accounts of people who were literally running for their lives.

Also, the massive relief effort already under way. And what causes a tsunami, if early warnings could have saved lives. We are going to talk about how there is no warning system in the Indian Ocean. Also how prepared America could be for a tsunami like this.

SANCHEZ: With all the coasts that we have, as well.

Well, we do have lot of news on this morning and a lot of other things to get to. Let's check in now with stories "Now in the News" with Carol Costello, at the Time Warner Center.

CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Rick, thank you. And good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News": A deadly bombing in Iraq, a car bomb went off outside the headquarters of one of the Shiite political parties in southern Iraq. Iraqi police say at six people are dead, dozens more injured.

Ukraine opposition leader, Viktor Yuschenko, claiming victory in the country's presidential race. Yuschenko holds the lead with nearly all of the votes counted in that repeat election, according to officials there, that is.

Yuschenko addressed supporters in Independence Square, saying the election marked a new chapter for the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

Here in the United States, football great Reggie White is dead. He was only 43 years old. The two-time NFL defensive Player of the Year and ordained minister died yesterday. The cause of his death, still unknown, and autopsy now planned. The pastor serving as family spokesman says White had a respiratory ailment for several years that affected his sleep.

And thousands of travelers still stranded at airports today. They got stuck when a computer glitch forced ComAir to cancel hundreds of flights. ComAir says it hopes to resume its full schedule by Wednesday. In the meantime, a federal investigation is under way into record number of employee sick calls that forced U.S. Air to cancel many of its weekend flights.

Back to you at the studio.

SANCHEZ: All right, Carol Costello, we do thank you.

Heidi, over to you.

COLLINS: Relief and rescue the top priorities this morning in six Asian countries following a major earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean. The result is one of the worst natural disasters of our time, with more than 21,000 people dead and thousands more still unaccounted for.



(PEOPLE SCREAMING) COLLINS (voice over): An earthquake of epic proportions triggered powerful tsunamis across Southeast Asia. The initial quake, measuring 9.0 in magnitude, hit about 100 miles off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island, early Sunday morning. The quake is the strongest in 40 years and fourth largest in recorded history.

Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka were hardest hit as tsunami waves 30-feet high slammed ashore without warning. Gargantuan walls of water engulfing entire coastal communities.

WALTER HAYES, SEISMOLOGIST: We had a sudden lift of the ocean floor. That water has to go somewhere, about 200 or 300 miles of involved and that water rushes into shore at a speed of 300 to 400 miles per hour. There's no way to get out of the way, without warning. This one was too close to the shore to have adequate warning.

COLLINS: In Indonesia, many of the victims were in Auche (ph) in northern Sumatra. Flood waters surged more than six miles inland, leaving bodies in the tree tops. The low-lying areas of Sri Lanka were defenseless against the tsunami, thousands died there, and thousands more are missing.

In Thailand, 30-foot waves washed ashore in the resort area of Phuket, one survivor was in his boat when it hit.

ERNEST MOLLEMANS, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR (via phone): We were lucky because just to the left was another small beach. That was actually Sun Sai Bay (ph), and he just turned left and went straight for the beach and we were wondering why is he doing this? Then we looked back, in back of us and saw this wave about five feet high come straight at us.

So, we were just lucky, the boat went straight for the beach. When it hit the sand, we all jumped down and started running for the beach. We were lucky because the beach actually went uphill, it was a bit steep; and so we kept running up the hill and then we just saw the boat get crushed.

COLLINS: The massive waves swamped more than 1200 miles of India's southern coastline washing away villages, and it's feared, thousands of fishermen who were out at sea.

MANMOHAN SINGH, PRIME MINISTER, INDIAN: My heart goes out in sympathy to all those family whose have lost their dear ones due to this tragedy.


COLLINS: This is peak tourist season for Thailand's Phuket Island, resort. But the tsunami has turned the seaside attraction "Paradise Lost." Aneesh Raman is joining us now live from that area in Thailand with the very latest on the recovery.

Aneesh, tell us a little bit about what you see around you now this morning.


There is utter devastation on this island. The death toll in southern Thailand jumping dramatically in the past few hours it now stands close to 900. On Phuket Island alone, some 130 presumed dead. The majority in the coastal town Tungh Ah (ph), where more than 500 people are thought to have perished in these storms.

The reason they're saying this took place is that as of last evening, some 400 to 600 people were thought to be lost at sea, those bodies now washing onshore. It has now been about 33 hours since the 30-foot waves, two of them, nearly simultaneous engulfed this beach area, completely devouring everything in its sight. That people that were in the water or on the beachfront were instantaneously submerged. Those lucky enough to have found shelter in higher ground are now in the hospital, many of them with severe injuries and Heidi, they are just simply desperate to go home.

COLLINS: Aneesh, you talk about hospitals. Tell us the situation there. Are there any hospitals standing?

RAMAN: There are. Phuket did not suffer much severe structural damage. That had initially been the worse case scenario, people perhaps entombed in rubble. Instead, many, if not all the buildings here remain standing. So they are being able to be used. East of us in the Island of Pi-Pi (ph), on official telling us the waves took a clean sweep of every building there. Severe devastation, but here in Phuket, where the vast majority of tourists were, no severe structural damage which is helping rescue and relief efforts greatly.

COLLINS: I actually heard you say a little bit earlier today, Aneesh, there couldn't be a busier time as far as the tourists go in Phuket. What is the government doing to help those tourists? Are any of them able to go home, soon?

RAMAN: The government is doing as much as it possibly can well aware Phuket is one of the prime tourist destinations, this is peak season. They have set up full-scale tourist relief centers. One here in Phuket, a sister one in Bangkok. They are trying to medevac many of the tourists who are injured to five Bangkok hospitals that have been set aside just for them. They are also trying to get as many tourists who want to leave this area into Bangkok providing free lodging.

Now, a lot of countries who have tourists here are beginning to send aircraft to pick up the bodies of their dead nationals, as well as to transport, Heidi, those survivors back home.

COLLINS: All right, Aneesh, I understand you were actually in Bangkok. How far away is that? And were you able to actually feel the effects of the earthquake?

RAMAN: I was. Bangkok is much further north than here. Buildings there literally swayed and even further than that, we have heard reports in the tourist area of Chang Mai (ph), much further than even Bangkok, there, buildings suffered damage due to the earthquake itself. So, the repercussion of this were felt far throughout Thailand. But here is where the devastation took place. Here is where the survivors need help and here is where the Thai government is concentrating its efforts, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Aneesh Raman, thanks so much. Coming to us from Phuket in Thailand. We'll check back with you later on, Aneesh. Thanks, again.


SANCHEZ: Let's go to the CNN Center in Atlanta now. Chad Myers is standing by. Chad you and I are going to talk about the weather in the States. But you spent a lot of time studying this, preparing for this field. You probably know an awful lot on tsunamis and can give us insight on how these things happen? Would you take is through it. Would you just give us a sense how these tidal waves are formed as a result of these earthquakes?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Picture, if you will, Rick, a calm lake in the middle of Minnesota. You throw a big rock in the middle and you have waves that come out from where that rock splashed down.

We didn't throw a rock in the top, literally threw a rock in the bottom, under the ocean, as the earth moved under the ocean. It moved with the force of 4.0 billion pounds of TNT. It's like a huge explosion going on there. There wasn't an explosion, it is just a moving of the dirt, the moving of the ground. That moving of the ground moved water. Obviously, it has to.

That water, then, rushes away from that spot, just like throwing a rock in the water. You don't really have the ripples on top of the water, like you do. The ripples are actually in the ground, under the ground and in the water, very close to the surface of the dirt itself, of the ocean floor. As that water spreads out, it spread quickly into Sumatra and quickly into Thailand. And also went off to the west itself and the west is India, Sri Lanka. As that water hit the land, it goes up.

Obviously, there's no place else for it to go. The water gets shallower and shallower and then it goes up and makes a big tidal wave. And there were tidal waves all across there, to the eastern edge of India.

And now, we're even finding out the tidal wave went all the way to eastern Africa, all the way under India and all the way to Africa itself. So, all of the island chains here, all were going to be affected, many completely cut off from any type of in or outbound information. We don't know very much about some of those islands. I'm afraid the numbers we're talking about will go still much higher -- Rick.


COLLINS: Will Geddes is in Phuket, Thailand. They are on vacation, he survived the devastation and is joining us now from Phuket Island, on the phone. Will, thank you so much for being here. And first of all, so happy to hear you are all right. Tell us where you were with when the tsunami hit, and what you did.

WILL GEDDES, EYEWITNESS, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR (via phone): I was probably in the worst place possible, Heidi. I had decided go out for a bit with of a swim. It was when literally when I was actually out in the water.

At that time, only ankle-deep level. Literally within two seconds, the water reached sort of chest height. I'm 6'2." The water came in so quick and then pushed myself and a few other unfortunates right towards the beach very quickly and very hard.

COLLINS: Did you realize at that point, Will, that something was very wrong? What did you do?

GEDDES: I have to say, yes. The water and tide recessed quite significantly where it normally would stand. It had gone out quite some distance. I think quite a few people had gone on to the beach to really investigate why the water and tide had gone down so much. Quite a few of us were unaware that was probably the first early warning sign a tidal wave would be imminent.

COLLINS: Yes, I have actually heard quite a few people say they just were confused and just really didn't understand what was going on around them. Now, you ran, you actually ran for your life. Tell us what you saw.

GEDDES: I'd have to say, Heidi, "swim" might have been a better operative word for this case. Or struggle as best I could, I'm a pretty fast swimmer and a strong swimmer, at best, but there were a lot of people who were struggling quite significantly. We were pushed very much, you know, right up the beach. And literally, if we hadn't got out the end of that first wave, then I think there would have been very few people, certainly at the beach I was at, that would have got out alive.

COLLINS: Were there any warnings, at all, that you were aware of?

GEDDES: The only warning we had, Heidi, was a sort of minimal aftershock which came in about 0600 in the morning, followed, sort of two hours later, just after 8 o'clock, by a slightly stronger aftershock, which sort of shook most of the contents of the villa I was staying in. It was only still about an hour and a half later the actual first tidal wave hit.

COLLINS: From what you're seeing around you, I know you've had an opportunity too walk up and down the beach just a little bit, what is it people need most right now?

GEDDES: For the moment, they need their homes back. Certainly, a lot of tourists have been displaced when I walked around last night and went into the nearest town, Surrin (ph) Beach. There were lot of tourists who had obviously lost their accommodation and were wandering around very displaced.

There was a real state of trauma that was evident. You could see it in people's eye. They just didn't quite know what was going on. Were still somewhat in trauma from the whole of the day's incidents.

COLLINS: Will Geddes, we certainly appreciate your account of things that happened.

We're talking about 21,000 people dead at this point. We expect those numbers to go up. We will be watching the story all throughout the morning. Just unbelievable video that has been seen today.

SANCHEZ: One wonders from the point of the earthquake happened to when they actually started feeling the waves, how much of a time interval was there and is there any way in the future create a warning system for people to know there's a wave coming their way.

COLLINS: They say the reason there wasn't because it's never happened in this area before, so that is another frightening thing to think about, where could it happen in other parts of the world?

SANCHEZ: In such a large area as well.

COLLINS: Lots of questions, obviously.

But, Iraq, also dominated the headlines in the year 2004. What else made our list of the year's top stories? We'll take a look in our series "The Last Word."

Also, the opposition claims victory in the Ukraine, but is the election crisis really over? We'll talk to the likely winners. That's Mr. Yuschenko there. His top advisor is going to join us.

COLLINS: And the search for survivors across Southeast Asia, the latest on the tsunami disaster, all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Rick Sanchez.

It appears the winner of Ukraine's presidential runoff is opposition leader, Viktor Yuschenko. Overnight he declared victory in Kiev's Independent Square. That is where his supporters had protested the results of a November 21 election. Prime Minister Viktor Yanuchovich was declared the winner in that contest, as you recall. But a rematch was called for following allegations of fraud, widespread allegations of fraud, we should add.

And with us now is Olek Rybachuk. He is Yuschenko's chief of staff and a man that probably should be smiling right now.

Is that correct? How confident are you that you've pulled this thing out? Are you confident? Do you feel like you've won this thing?


SANCHEZ: Let me try this one more time then. Ready? Are you pretty confident that you have won this election?

RYBACHUK: Absolutely. As of this minute, 99.5 percent -- no, 98.5 percent of all votes have been counted and Yuschenko is comfortably leading with more than 8.5 percent of advantage. It's around 2.5 million votes.

SANCHEZ: The last time there was an election, though, there was a controversy that followed. What's to guarantee we don't have the same thing happen this time, in other words, you have Mr. Yanukovich say, hey, look, we need a do-over, now, again?

RYBACHUK: It would be difficult for Mr. Yanukovich for a couple reasons. The supreme court of Ukraine has really come to the conclusion there was a massive and organized fraud during Mr. Yanukovich's campaign. And there are like 200 criminal cases opened against bad guys, so to say.

In the case of Mr. Yuschenko, everybody admits, after parliament has introduced amendments to the presidential law, there was very little possibility of any fraud. Plus, sir, we had like 14,000 only foreign observers. Today, we hear from them if there was any major cases of violations or not, but from what I hear, from what journalists speak, from what many other people involved in the process are saying, there was no massive fraud, nothing significant. That victory is pretty convincing.

SANCHEZ: People all over the world are fascinated by this case of the poisoning of Mr. Yuschenko. What effect did it have on this election, A, and I think we're still wondering who did it and who will pay for it?

RYBACHUK: Well, there will be an investigation. There is additional information coming in. Just a few days ago on one of the channels, there was a tape played with two people talking about the plot, and giving names. So that tape also leads to our strategic department in Moscow and their secret service agents or ex-secret service agents. I would be careful at picking out the words. In short, it was clear that there was a plot.

And how it affected the campaign I can tell you, as one of the campaign managers, Yuschenko was not able to campaign almost for a month in the most important time before second tour, before first tour, and in between second tour of elections. He was actually taken out of campaign when it was decisive for him, plus he suffered a lot.

You can see not only from his face but from how he was actually not able to be as active as he was when he was giving five rallies non-stop, this time he was giving one rally in a few days because of the physical pain.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you this question directly. I just heard you say you think Moscow was involved in this poisoning. If that is the case, as the new lead over Ukraine, will he break ranks with Moscow for what they tried to do to him, using your words?

RYBACHUK: Now, I would like to reconfirm what I've been telling during my last trip to Washington and New York with Yuschenko's first trip, and he said that formally talking to all ambassadors recently, that his first trip as the president of Ukraine will be to Moscow to discuss with President Putin the bilateral relations.

What I'm saying about, is that plot was clearly with the involvement of ex-Soviet Union experts, in this case, many of those guys might be Russians ethnically, and ex-members of secret service.

But again, we clearly understand Russia is our priority and Yuschenko is making his first trip to Putin and he'll be talking to Putin.

SANCHEZ: Olek Rybachuk, Mr. Yuschenko's chief of staff. We thank you for taking time to talk to us this morning.

Heidi, over to you.

RYBACHUK: Thank you.

COLLINS: Well, it was a travel nightmare at the airport this weekend. I was right in the middle of it. Guess what? It may even get worse. Andy's "Minding Your Business" coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.



Let's talk about thousands of people being stranded in different parts of the country for two different reasons, because of two different airlines. We start with US Air. And Andy Serwer joining us now to kind of break this down.

With US Air the problem was?

ANDY SERWER, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Staffing, and with Comair, it was computers. Basically, it was not a Merry Christmas, at all, Rick, this past holiday weekend for thousands of travelers, as you say. Bad weather was a problem, a couple airlines wilted under the pressure.

As you suggested, US Air, staffing problems, flight attendants and baggage handlers did not show up. Airline officials blaming sick call-ins. Union officials saying, you're just understaffed.

Now, meanwhile, in Atlanta, Comair, which is a regional carrier for Delta, they really had problems with their computers; 1,000 flights canceled. You just can't operate a business this way.

US Air cancelled over 400 flights, by the way, over four days. Baggage all over the place, people stranded it was a total mess. Here is the worst part, Rick, as you suggested Delta Airlines CEO saying the tough part is yet to come saying 2005 is going to be another terrible year. The big airlines on track to lose over $5 billion.

Look for other 20,000 employees to lose their jobs and the mess goes on and on and on in this business. It's just very difficult. It was very unfortunate for people out there trying to get around to see their relatives.



SANCHEZ: How does it shake it in the end.

SERWER: Have a tough time?

COLLINS: I think I'm the only one who traveled?


SERWER: She got in at 3:00, in the morning.

COLLINS: No. That was story I told to you so you would feel sorry for me. But no, I was delayed by about three hours. I mean there are more stories out there. It was interesting. This time around they told me it was ATC, come on, you know, the weather, right?

SERWER: Right. It is always something, right?

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Andrew.

SERWER: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Toure is here now, filling in for Jack Cafferty.

Nice see you.

TOURE: I am. Nice to see you.

Heidi, the days before Christmas are a time to think about others, as we race from store to store searching for that perfect gift. But now that the wrapping's in the trash we no longer fear the guilt that comes from giving bad gifts, now we can think about ourselves.

Like pirates escaping from the scene of the crime, now is the time we count our booty. I got some great stuff, like this great shirt from my little sister. Good going.



TOURE: But my favorite present this year, word geek that I am, came from Mom. It is this writer's thesaurus, that I got. Featuring essays on words by Zadie Smith and David Foster Wallace, two of my favorite writers.

For example, Zadie says, when using the word "bourgeoisie", remember, that it is completely bourgeoisie to say, "How bourgeoisie!" Now, if you don't mind that inference, then the word is at your disposal. But anytime you say, "That's bourgeoisie. He's bourgeoisie." You are saying, yourself, "I am bourgeoisie." That's my favorite gift of the year. Our question of the day, what's the best Christmas gift you received this year? E-mail us now at

COLLINS: All right. Well, we are going to share all of our little stories with Toure, too. Andy is just dying to tell you his favorite gift.


SANCHEZ: I'm sorry, we're out of time, though.


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