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Asia Quake Death Toll More Than 23,000; Election Woes; Ground- Breaking Gadgets

Aired December 27, 2004 - 9:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming again! Coming again!


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Tsunamis, mountains of water unleash a circle of destruction a thousand miles wide. Bodies are being piled high in countries rimming the Indian Ocean. The terrible death toll more than 23,000 and increasing hour by hour.

A global relief effort is being mobilized now. 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 Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And hello again, everybody. Bill Hemmer's off. I'm Rick Sanchez.

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

SANCHEZ: Details from the countries hit by these tsunamis are still coming into us. Survivors are telling us that at first there was an instant confusion, and then suddenly a wave of water three stories high. The difference between who lived and who died is probably really just a matter of chance. Another harrowing survivor story is coming up for you in just a little bit.

COLLINS: And some of the other stories that we're following this morning including the wild Washington State governor's race. When will it finally be over? And who gets to decide that anyway? Will either side ever give up?

We expect to get some answers to those questions coming up in just a little bit.

SANCHEZ: And there's an update on that story. But let's check in on the headlines now and go over to Carol Costello, who's joining us.

COLLINS: Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you both. Good morning to all of you. "Now in the News," more violence in Iraq this morning. Smoke rising from the scene after a suicide car bomb attack left at least six people dead in Baghdad. More than 30 others are wounded.

Opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko is declaring victory in Ukraine. Observers say Yushchenko holds the lead with more than 90 percent of the votes counted in the repeat election. The apparent winner telling supporters the election marks a new era of independence for the Ukrainian people.

Here in the United States, retailers are hoping holiday gift card holders will make up for some disappointing pre-holiday sales. Some retail chains are running ads trying to get people to use their Christmas gift cards before the new year. Industry analysts estimate $17 billion worth of the cards were given as gifts this season.

And 49 the magic number for Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning beat Dan Marino's single season passing record of 48 TDs with just under a minute left in yesterday's thrilling game, throwing a 21-yard pass. That set the Colts up for a 34-31 overtime win over the San Diego Chargers.

And just in case you're interested, because you know I'm a Detroit Lions fan, Detroit won. But so did Carolina, so Detroit's pretty much out of it.

COLLINS: Oh. But you still have a smile on your face. And that's...


COLLINS: ... optimistic for next year.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

COLLINS: OK. Carol, thank you.

Well, relief and rescue are the top priorities this morning in six Asian countries following a major earthquake deep beneath the Indian Ocean. This amateur video is new to CNN now this morning shot from a hotel balcony by a tourist in Sri Lanka. The resulting tsunami is one of the worst natural disasters of our time, with more than 23,000 people dead and thousands more still unaccounted for.



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 uplift in the ocean floor. That water has to go somewhere, and it's about 200 or 300 miles of -- involved. And that water rushes in to shore at a speed of 300 to 400 miles per hour.

There's no way to get out of the way without warning. And this one was too close to the shore to have adequate warning.

COLLINS: In Indonesia, many of the victims were in Ache in northern Sumatra. Floodwaters surged more than six miles inland, leaving bodies in the treetops.

The low-lying areas of Sri Lanka were defenseless against the tsunami. Thousands died there. 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.

ERNST MOLLEMANS, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: And we were lucky because just to the left of us was another small beach that was actually on (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And he just turned left and went straight for the beach, and we were wondering why is he doing this?

And then we went back -- back -- and then we saw this wave about five feet high come straight at us. And so we were just lucky. The boat just went straight for the beach, and then when it hit the sand we all just jumped out and started running to 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 1,200 miles of India's southern coastline, washing away villages and it's feared thousands of fishermen who were out at sea.

MANMOHAN SINGH, INDIAN PRIME MINISTER: My heart goes out to all those families who have lost their dear ones due to this tragedy.


COLLINS: You can see the devastation on his face, can't you?

Michael Elliott is an editor at large for "TIME" magazine. He witnessed firsthand the tsunami devastation in Phuket, Thailand. He is now in Singapore and joins us now live on the telephone from there.

Michael, thanks for being here. Glad you are all right, as well. Tell us what you saw. We've been hearing some witness accounts from other survivors. Tell us your story.

MICHAEL ELLIOTT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, the extraordinary thing, Heidi, is that if you weren't on the beach itself you hardly felt (ph) anything happening. I was about 200 yards off the beach when some kids kind of came running up screaming that something had happened down on the beach. And I went down there -- this was at least a half an hour after the -- after the wave had hit -- and saw this extraordinary scene of devastation with all the beachside shacks and restaurants and cafes just kind of reduced to matchwood.

The beach that I was closest to -- I was just kind of listening to your previous report -- it was rather similar to the beach that I was closest to. It had a little ridge behind it, I should think about 10 feet high. And the high water mark came up just short of that 10- feet high mark. But it didn't slop over, over the beach into the low- lying areas behind them.

I went to a village in Phuket yesterday, and then I went back again this morning and kind of really went right through it. It was absolutely on beach level. And the village had been completely devastated.

I've never seen anything like it. I mean, houses reduced just to kind of shards of glass and matchsticks. Of course, the more modern structures were cinderblocks, on concrete, stood up better. But a lot of the native houses that were made of bamboo, thatch and corrugated iron were just kind of completely destroyed.

I saw boats that had been tossed inland, I should think 400 meters. Cars that had been just kind of picked up and thrown against the backs of stores.

COLLINS: Michael, what were your thoughts...

ELLIOTT: A scene of just complete devastation.

COLLINS: What were your thoughts as you went back to Phuket, knowing that you had been there just moments after this whole thing happened and to see how incredible the change was? Again, looking at these pictures now of just absolute devastation.

ELLIOTT: Well, this is -- I mean, in Phuket, and I'm sure in all the other coastal areas that have been affected by this in Asia, Heidi, there is this kind of extraordinary line 300 miles -- 300 yards back from the beach. You would not know that anything had happened. You genuinely would not know that anything had happened.

People, holiday-goers, vacationers are sitting around pools drinking beers and cocktails and what have you. This is almost a line that you can draw. You know, a line in the ground that you can draw depending on whether or not the water came up there or it didn't. And everything from the water side is an absolute wreck.

So it's a very peculiar feeling because most of the island, most of Phuket and most of the other places, just look, you know, the same sort of paradise anywhere in southeast Asia at this time of year. It's only when you actually get down to the beach settlements and the beach towns. And I'm really talking about a 200, 300, 400-yard stretch that you can really see the extent of devastation.

COLLINS: Well, I can't imagine how that must look. It is, as you said, a very busy time of the year for tourists there. And you now are in Singapore, which tells me you clearly were able to get out of the area. Is that what you were noticing other people trying to do as well, other tourists that were there?

ELLIOTT: Yes. The -- the airport in Phuket was closed the whole of the 26th. It's now -- it opened late last night, I guess, late at night on the 26th. It's been open pretty much today.

It's a complete mob scene in the airport today. Of course a lot of people carrying -- carrying injuries. A lot of people banged up, you know, bandaged, cuts and abrasions and so on.

But a lot of people have just been kind of completely flooded out of their hotels and the rooms that they were in. So people are kind of desperately trying to get out to Bangkok or to Singapore.


ELLIOTT: But, of course, in Madras and the Andaman Islands and India, you're not talking about tourists who can afford to kind of run to the nearest airport and get out. There you're talking about villagers who are really going to have to pick up the pieces and will need an awful lot of help doing so.

COLLINS: All right. Michael Elliot from "TIME" magazine. We certainly appreciate your story here this morning on AMERICAN MORNING. Michael, thanks.

SANCHEZ: As you might expect, the crisis in southeast Asia has set off a call for international aid. Officials say U.S. relief efforts are already under way in parts of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The White House has put out a statement. In fact, we've got part of it here.

It's President Bush sending his condolences for the "loss of life and suffering caused by the earthquake and the tsunamis." White House officials are saying that the U.S. is ready to offer "all appropriate assistance to the countries that have been effected."

Let's go over to Chad now and talk a little bit more about this as we talk the weather.

The whole idea that suddenly tectonic plates on the bottom of the Earth shifts causing this wave that goes into the area -- and you know, Chad, you start to think in terms of California. Do we have a system in place that would warn the people on the coast there in case something like this happened in our -- to our country?


SANCHEZ: All right, Chad. Thanks a lot.

You know, it's funny. Yesterday we were flying out of Fort Lauderdale and the pilot says, "Too many planes, folks. We're just going to have to sit on the runway. It's just too busy. Too many planes trying to get out all at once." COLLINS: Yes, yes. They get awfully crowded this time of year. We expect it, I guess.

Well, do you hate glasses and contact lenses but laser surgery just isn't quite for you? Dr. Gupta has an alternative. One of the most amazing inventions of 2004.

SANCHEZ: Can't wait to hear.

Also, that unbelievably tight governor's race in Washington State is finally over. Or is it? Why they could now start from scratch.

COLLINS: Plus, the battle for the White House dominated 2004. What else made our list of the year's top stories? It's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


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

The people of Washington State have waited some 55 days since the Election Day to try and find out who's going to be the governor of their state. It's already taken two recounts. It could be more. And now it looks like Democrat Christine Gregoire leads Republican Dino Rossi by 130 votes of the 2.7 million votes that were cast.

Let's try and get an understanding of this story, as confusing as it sometimes may seem, from the "Seattle Post's" (ph) own David Postman -- pardon me, "The Seattle Times" David Postman.

I used your name in the title of your newspaper. David, thanks for being with us.


SANCHEZ: All right. We try and understand. The beginning is kind of easy to understand.

The election was over and the Republican was winning, but he wasn't winning by enough to not trigger a recount. So that's exactly what they did. Right?


SANCHEZ: That's easy to get. Now, when that's over, he's still winning. Why did they continue to recount?

POSTMAN: Well, it was still so close that the law allows the losing party to request a recount. They had to pay for it. The Democrats had to put up the money for it. But it was so close, that 42 votes separating them, that the law allowed one more recount.

And that was it. That one done by hand, as opposed to the first recount which was just run everything through the machines again.

SANCHEZ: And even after, they still lost, right?

POSTMAN: Well, once this count started, once the hand recount started, Democrats trailed through most of it. But in the end, Christine Gregoire was able to get that winning margin. So on the third count, the second recount, it turned around.

SANCHEZ: Right, it was the third time. Now, interestingly enough it was something like what, 42, 43 votes?

POSTMAN: Forty-two after the first recount.

SANCHEZ: That's amazing when you consider how many people cast ballots. Now, something interesting happened in all of this. They went back to King County, which is Seattle?


SANCHEZ: And in King County they found something like 723 ballots that somebody had forgotten? Or what was the deal with those?

POSTMAN: Well, they hadn't forgotten so much as but they were mishandled. They -- during the process of checking signatures on absentee and provisional ballots, the computer showed there was no signature match. So the county election workers decided, well, there's no match, and they essentially put them in the reject pile.

Well, it turned out the county did have signatures for a lot of those ballots, and they were supposed to go and look through their files. They never did.

It was a big administrative mistake and those ballots were set aside. Discovered much later when the chairman of the King County council discovered his name was on a list of ballots that were tossed out. It started another round of litigation and another round of reconsideration.

SANCHEZ: So those have been counted now?

POSTMAN: Not all of them. But the bulk of them were counted last week. And that gave Christine Gregoire that margin.

SANCHEZ: So that's why she has the advantage now because of those. So are the Republicans now going around trying to look for a similar scenario in different counties that could give them the same advantage?

POSTMAN: Exactly. And it's a little tougher fight because every other county had already certified their recount. But that's essentially what they're going to do starting this morning, is hit 38 other counties if they can, looking for ballots that had been rejected, try to get them back on the table.

SANCHEZ: You're a writer, and we're out of time. So with one word describe to me what word would best describe the attitude of the people living in the state of Washington right now.

POSTMAN: Disbelief.

SANCHEZ: I imagine so. Hey, David Postman, thanks so much for joining us. Nice explanation. We appreciate it.

POSTMAN: Sure. Thanks.


COLLINS: Now to some of the year's most amazing inventions. "TIME" magazine has chosen the five most ingenious health care creations in 2004. Sanjay is back, and he's at the CNN Center now to show and tell us about these ground-breaking gadgets. We like that.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, really an amazing year as far as medical advances go, Heidi. Let me just jump right in and go through a few of these advancements.

First of all, this thing called the Rheo Knee. This was actually developed by an Icelandic company, along with MIT. This is for amputees.

Basically, what this knee is -- it costs about $17,000. It has a microprocessor in here. And one of the difficulties in people using artificial knees is that it requires too much work.

This has the least resistance of all the knees and actually makes it a lot easier for amputees to walk. That's a more complicated invention. Let me go through a couple of easier ones.

This is called the Violight here. I think we've got an image of it here, right here.

The Violight, this is basically for your toothbrush. There's a concern, Heidi, that you use these toothbrushes, basically they have all kinds of germs in them. You don't get a chance to adequately wash them. You put them in the Violight, it has an infrared light, ultraviolet light at the bottom of it, and actually cleans the toothbrush after 10 minutes.

COLLINS: They have them at the nail salon, Sanjay.

GUPTA: That's right, they use it for manicures and pedicures. That's what they use it for as well.

A couple other things. Let me just go through this.. Let me just go through this.

You mentioned the laser eye surgery. We talked a lot about lasik eye surgery for some time. People have been disappointed, though, because it doesn't work for everybody.

There is something else known as the Verisyse. You see an animation of it there. They actually make small incisions on either side of your eye and then put a small lens underneath it.

Now, this is going to be placed on top of your lens and actually sits behind the cornea. The operation takes about 20 minutes and may be an option for those who aren't candidates for lasik -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Well, is this surgery going to replace lasik then completely?

GUPTA: Not yet. Lasik is still going to be the standard for some time. The biggest concern is people who even have some degree of astigmatism may not get some benefit from this particular eye operation.

Let me go through a couple other inventions with you as well. There's something really interesting for doctors and nurses out there called OnTarget.

Basically, if you've ever gone to the doctor to get blood drawn, they actually have -- sometimes they have a hard time finding your veins. And you may have had this experience, Heidi.


GUPTA: Theirs is actual -- it's a vein contrast enhancement. What they do is they actually inject something in there and then basically allow the vein to turn red, giving the doctor or nurse or whoever is drawing the blood a better indication of exactly where the vein is -- Heidi.

COLLINS: So it sounds like two shots to me, number one. Number two, they tell me that my veins roll, and they're really, really hard to find. Does that just happen to some people, or is there something in my body that makes it go that way?

GUPTA: Some people do have anomalous veins, meaning they're not exactly where they should be or they're not tethered quite as well. So they do move around a bit. But typically the elderly, children and those dehydrated may have more of a problem with this.

Let me just give you one final invention as well. This is something that I was working on quite a bit this year. It has to do with AIDS.

And you and I have talked about this issue quite a bit, Heidi. There's a lot of people out there who may have HIV and don't know it. So researchers hard at work trying to develop something to help them.

This is called OraQuick. This is a HIV test kit.

Basically, what it does, you just swab the inside of your mouth. You put it into a solution. And after 20 minutes you get a result. It's about 99 percent accurate.


GUPTA: Let me give you the front of that as well so you can see it. But, yes, so these are some of the best inventions, medical inventions, at least, of the year -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Great. And great work on that one for us, too. Sanjay, nice to see you. Thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: It is a holiday to forget for thousands of stranded airline passengers. When will they finally be able to go home? Well, let's just say they won't be happy with the answer. We'll bring it to you on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back. The gang's all here.

A holiday to forget for thousands of stranded airline passengers. When will they ever get to go home? Well, it's going to be a rough one for them, isn't it?

COLLINS: It probably is.

SANCHEZ: Also...

COLLINS: We've got Toure here, in case you didn't notice. He's filling in for Jack.

TOURE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's a big shifter there.


COLLINS: You're talking about gifts and really great gifts that people got.

TOURE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

The day before Christmas is a time to think about others racing from store to store, trying to find that perfect something. Now that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because of trash, though, there's no more fear of filling guilt when you give a bad gift. Now you think about yourself.

It's "me" time. Like pirates escaping from the scene of the crime, now we count our booty.

How'd you do? Did you get great stuff? Or did you get stuff that makes you think, they don't really know me anymore?

Our "Question of the Day," what's the best Christmas gift you received this year? Got three good ones. And the last one's really good.

COLLINS: OK. We're waiting.

TOURE: Tom from Lawton, Oklahoma, "My wife asked for something bright and shiny. So I got her a two million candle power flashlight from Wal-Mart."

COLLINS: Oh, man.

TOURE: Not what she was looking for, Tom. (CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Are they still married?

TOURE: "I would not suggest this," he says, "to other husbands. Toni (ph), I really do love you. I hope that she's watching."

This is like radio doing shout-outs on the radio. Tom says, "I love you, Toni (ph)."

OK. Lisa from Tucson, Arizona, "The best gift I received was an I love Lucy afghan." She's a huge Lucy fan.

SANCHEZ: Lucy, I'm home.

TOURE: There you go.

Now the big one. Kat from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, "On Christmas, I inadvertently found out my boyfriend is cheating on me and also cheating on the woman he's seeing. He's pathological. Not the usual fare one finds under the tree, but a gift of truth nonetheless. Onward."

SANCHEZ: Wow. That guy could be nominated for homeland security director.


TOURE: But Kat's got the right attitude. Onward and upward. You know the truth. Proceed. We love that.

COLLINS: Please. Please, we beg of you, send us more e-mails with better gifts.

Time now for a sneak peek at "90-Second Pop."



COLLINS (voice-over): Maybe Prince should change his name to "King." The purple one has a brand-new reason to go crazy.

Plus, audiences "Meet the Fockers."


COLLINS: But did the movie's new funny girl fail to live up to her nickname? Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.




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