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Stories of Survival; Interview With Kofi Annan

Aired December 28, 2004 - 21:00   ET


SAM CHAMPION, WABC TV: Tonight, devastation beyond the imagination. The killer tsunami's historic death toll rises across Southeast Asia. May be as high as 60,000 now. More miraculous stories of escape from the disaster zone. And the desperate race against time to get help to devastated areas. Can the U.S. and other wealthy nations do more?
Tonight, an exclusive. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan speaks out, in his first and only TV interview in this catastrophe.

Plus, incredible tales of rescue and survival, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. I'm Sam Champion from WABC TV in New York. Larry has the night off tonight.

We're going to take you all around this disaster. We've got several interviews tonight that will go into the area. We'll tell you what's going on now, we'll talk about the disaster efforts, the relief efforts to help. But we'll also answer some questions that have popped up in the last couple of days about avoidance, this kind of thing, is it possible in other areas.

We're very fortunate tonight to have the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, with us. We'll get a chance to really ask him some questions that he hasn't been able to be asked yet. So let's talk to him first. Mr. Secretary-General, are you with us tonight?


CHAMPION: I'm glad you're there.

You know, we hear numbers. And today some of the news reports were of 60,000, 50,000. CNN's reporting 33,000. What are the numbers? How do we know what they are? Has this entire area been surveyed yet?

ANNAN: I think we have a good idea as to what the numbers are. But of course, as you gain access to more remote areas, you will discover more bodies. And so I think it's going to go higher than the 40,000 that people are talking about at the moment.

CHAMPION: Can you give me your idea -- you certainly know more about it than most we will talk about as the overall view -- or most we will talk to. So what's your estimate here?

ANNAN: Well, I hesitate to give you an estimate, but I think there's going to be thousands, thousands, if not tens of thousands more than the figure that is generally being used now.

CHAMPION: Now, everyone's rating this disaster. It's something that we tend to do when something terrible happens. We kind of look to rank it in other disasters that we're familiar with. How will this one go down?

ANNAN: This is a huge disaster. And I have been profoundly touched and saddened by the loss of life and the destruction, and of course I've had the chance to offer my condolence to the leaders of the countries concerned, for the governments and the peoples concerned. I think this is a huge disaster, which has affected eight, nine countries, and the cleanup and the reconstruction is going to be enormous, and we need to be careful and ensure that we have all that we need to ensure that there's no health problems, no epidemics that will lead to further loss of life.

CHAMPION: Now, you've spoken with every one of the leaders that are involved in this disaster. What are they telling you?

ANNAN: Well, I think they were all struck by the suddenness of the disaster, because this is a phenomenon they haven't seen in their region for a long time. And obviously were quite unprepared for it. But the needs are enormous. They need food. They need clean water. They need shelter. They need medication. And as the World Health Organization has indicated, we need to begin worrying immediately about the non-food items, sanitation, clean water, to ensure that epidemics does not set in. And so they need lots of help and are looking to the international community to respond and respond generously.

CHAMPION: And sir, let me ask you about that. Now, what's the United Nations' role in this? Is it just a bunch of mass efforts, private efforts, military efforts, they're all running in together, or is there someone spearheading this so that there's some kind of organization? What's your role here?

ANNAN: We have sent disaster coordination teams into these countries, and we try to coordinate the national, international and the regional efforts. My humanitarian emergency coordinator, Jan Egeland, is spearheading the efforts. And we do work with all the U.N. agencies. They are all mobilized. And our NGO partners, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and with the governments. I think the coordination becomes absolutely essential to make sure that you get the items you need, and everybody is aware of who's doing what, so that you don't have unnecessary duplication. And so we try to play that essential coordination role in each of these cases.

CHAMPION: So you'll be aware of each and every group that's there to offer help, then, I guess?

ANNAN: Yes. Eventually we will be aware of each and every group and who's doing what, and how we can pool our efforts to have greater impact.

CHAMPION: Now, how much is this going to take? How much money is this going to take to help fix this problem?

ANNAN: I think you have two phases. You have the emergency phase, where you need to get the relief supplies and try to save lives. And then of course you have the recovery and the reconstruction phase. My guess is that it's going to require billions. It's going to require billions. Next month, on the 6th of January, we will make an appeal for funds to cover the emergency aspects, in Geneva and in New York. And I hope the response will be generous. But down the line, I think we are going to need billions. Billions of dollars.

CHAMPION: Well, Mr. Secretary-General, we certainly appreciate you being here, and we do have Jan Egeland in the studio. We will talk with him in just a moment.

ANNAN: Good.

CHAMPION: But let's go to CNN's own Matthew Chance, who is reporting from Thailand, from Phuket, actually. Matthew, what's it like there now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a scene of staggering, tragic proportions, Sam. So many people have been killed, many thousands of course across the region. Here in Thailand, by no means the worst affected of the countries in the region, officials are saying at least 1,500 people have been killed, and they're saying another 1,500 at least are still unaccounted for and are missing.

There are scenes of desperation on this holiday, a destination island of Phuket from the various hundreds of families of the survivors that have gathered outside the town center here to pin -- the town hall, rather, to pin photographs of their loved ones on notice boards, to try and get as much information as they can to hook up with their sons and their daughters and their brothers and their sisters, who have simply gone missing.

Many of them came over here, of course, over the Christmas period, over the holiday period, for their vacations and simply haven't been heard from since. And so, it's a very tragic situation indeed. There's an intense relief effort under way on the part of the Thai authorities, to try and not just help the Thais who have been affected by this so severely, and they have been affected extremely severely, but also to go to the more remote islands, whether these remote sort of tourist resorts, and to gather, unfortunately, the bodies from the beaches there that have been washing up over the past few days, and putting them in centers where family members can go over and at least try to embark on the grisly task of identifying those bodies.

CHAMPION: Matthew, that's horrible.

CHANCE: So again, it's a very difficult situation, with a great deal of activity here on the ground and a great deal of confusion as well, Sam.

CHAMPION: That's just a terrible, terrible situation there. Matthew, if you're still with us, if we have your connection, I'd like to ask you another question. Are you gone?

And we have lost him. All right.

CHANCE: No, I'm here.

CHAMPION: Oh, Matthew, are you there? Can you hear me now?


CHAMPION: OK. Great. Let's put a face on this...

CHANCE: I can hear you very well.

CHAMPION: ... if you can. Because, you know, we hear these numbers, and it all sounds just incredibly overwhelming. But you were actually following one story, where an American couple came across a little boy shortly after the tsunami, and they thought that he may be without his family, and they actually have done all they can to help him. Can you tell me a little bit about that story?

CHANCE: Well, this really -- I mean, out of all the thousands of terrible stories that there are, of course, across the region and in Thailand, there is this one story that has really captivated the local media and of course the international media as well. Johannes Bergstrom (ph) is in fact a Swedish little baby of one year and eight months old. He was found face down, half drowned, in the mud after the waters had receded. When we saw him in the international hospital here in Phuket, he was struggling for breath, wearing an oxygen mask, covered in bruises and cuts all over his face where he'd been ripped from the arms of his grandfather, it eventually emerged, who were here on holiday on the beaches of Thailand. Separated from his entire family. A desperate search was launched for the parents of Johannes (ph)...

CHAMPION: And one of them has shown up, right, Matthew?

CHANCE: ... in the local media, "The Phuket Gazette," which is a local paper here.

CHAMPION: One of them has shown up?

CHANCE: Well, yeah, I mean, and what we saw yesterday is that the grandmother, the grandmother showed up yesterday. The father has now been located in a hospital too -- too ill still to actually get to his son. But the sort of -- the terrible aspect of the story, although it's got some joy of reuniting in it, is that the mother of Johannes (ph) is still very much missing.

CHAMPION: And much like all the other stories there, it seems there is some good news sometimes, and then there is certainly bad news that follows it. We'll be right back with more interviews around this entire disaster, but we'll also talk with Jan Egeland. You'll know this name. It's created quite a stir. So we'll talk about that when we come back in just a minute.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. This is a tidal wave. This is scary.



CHAMPION: We now go to Dr. Eddie Bernard, who's the director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the business, we call it NOAA. He is the past chairman of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program and former director of the National Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu. If there is anyone who knows tsunami, it's Eddie Bernard. Eddie, I'm so glad you're with us tonight.

Let's talk a little bit about the -- how it happens that we don't know the complete connection between seismic activity and when it's going to cause a tsunami and when it isn't. How do we get closer to getting those two together?

DR. EDDIE BERNARD, NOAA: Well, part of the problem is that the earthquake itself is probably only contributes a portion of the tsunami formation. Based on the studies of the last decade, it appears that when a massive earthquake takes place, it's also violently shaking the underwater portion of the land and creating underwater landslides that also contribute to the formation of the tsunami. And unfortunately, we do not have any instruments that can detect or monitor or measure those underwater landslides. We only have the instrumentation to do the earthquake portion.

So this missing element in the formation of a tsunami has caused a lot of confusion and complications in trying to interpret what types of earthquakes will actually generate a tsunami.

CHAMPION: It certainly has, and it's something that I want to discuss more with you. Also I want to talk with you during this hour about warning systems and where we put them and how we get them there.

Also with us in the studio tonight, so hang with us, Eddie, if you would, is Jan Egeland, who's the United Nations undersecretary- general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Mr. Egeland, thank you so much for being here.

Comments that you made earlier certainly have created quite a stir in the press. It was enough to get some attention on the morning news broadcasts this morning. So tell me, do you feel like you were misunderstood? What did you say, and what did you mean to say?

JAN EGELAND, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: Well, I'm glad I have the opportunity to set the record straight, because in a long press conference, where I went through all we're doing now for the tsunami victims and the race against the clock to help as many as possible, and with a very generous outpouring of assistance from so many countries, United States, Europe, Japan, and others, I was also asked at the end of the press conference, looking back, am I happy with the general response to foreign assistance in this year, and...

CHAMPION: And what did you say?

EGELAND: I have to say that I think it is sad that there has been a global decline in money available for foreign assistance and for humanitarian assistance, and that happens in a growing world economy. So it's my job to be impatient. I see too many starving children to not be impatient.

CHAMPION: And you took the heat for that remark, but then the numbers seemed to go up right afterwards. So how do you feel about it when you look back at it now? Money seems to be coming up, I guess, is what I'm saying.

EGELAND: Well, I think it's very bad that the two things were mixed, because the -- no country was ever singled out by me. There is no country that is stingy. There are many generous countries now contributing to the tsunami victims. We have $100 million now nearly recorded, and it's going up. It's a massive, massive relief effort. I wish we would have as much in the nameless and forgotten emergencies around the world.

CHAMPION: Well, certainly when you put a face on something like this, you do get people's responses. So they're responding to this particular disaster, and that's understandable. But tell me what we're doing. I guess our main concern is water and the health after now.

EGELAND: In this massive relief effort that is going from Somalia in Africa, in the west to Malaysia and Indonesia, in the east, everything has to be done, but the most important thing I would say is to get water and sanitation up for the people who have been affected. Because tens of thousands have died because of this wall of water coming and crashing everything, but hundreds of thousands, millions have lost a safe water source, have sewage floating around their children, have no health facilities. It is -- it's an enormous disaster that we will have now to deal with as a global community, and those who take the brunt in this assistance effort at the moment are the local authorities and the national authorities in the countries concerned.

CHAMPION: We have Nicolas Von Arx, who's with the International Red Cross, with us. Nicolas, I wanted to ask you a question, sir, about the water. And if we're talking about relief efforts, getting things there in a matter of days, we're already days after the event. What are people doing for water now, for clean drinking water?

NICOLAS VON ARX, RED CROSS: Well, water is certainly a big problem here in the area of eastern Sri Lanka, because many people have been displaced. So they're staying in makeshift camps, in churches and temples and school buildings. And of course, these facilities cannot handle all the water issues. A big problem is that salt water has contaminated a lot of wells in the low-lying areas when this tidal wave came in. So access to safe drinking water is certainly going to be an issue the next few days.

CHAMPION: And now, you're with the International Red Cross. You've certainly seen this happen. How long can someone go without a good supply of fresh drinking water?

VON ARX: It has to go very quick, because especially the small children will suffer quite quickly if they do not get drinking water very fast. So there's certainly going to be a problem. It's also -- different agencies are working on trying to get water there. There's water trucking going on, there's repairing of wells, there is -- there are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) being installed. The problem is just that there are so many camps, so many displaced people. We hope we can cope as quickly as possible.

CHAMPION: Now, Nicolas, there's another problem there. It appears that violence in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels may have calmed down a bit just before the event, but I mean, now they're talking about landmines washing around from this inner struggle in that country. So what do you do with that?

VON ARX: There was one problem at an army camp, which was completely washed away, and it seems that quite a lot of landmines have been displaced by this tidal wave. We contacted the army -- we contacted the army yesterday, and they pledged that they were going to remove these mines as quickly as possible, starting from today. So this makes certain areas inaccessible at the moment.

But it's not only the mines. It's also the bridges have been destroyed and roads have been washed away. So certain areas are still just plainly inaccessible.

CHAMPION: Unbelievable. Now, Mr. Egeland, let me turn to you for a moment. When will there be satisfactory amounts of food and water in each one of these areas? I mean, we know they're spread out in a vast area. How many days away are we from getting what we need to those people?

EGELAND: Well, tens of thousands are getting assistance as we speak, but more are beyond reach for us at the moment. We did not believe it was as bad in Somalia as we've just learned it is. There are areas in Sumatra in Indonesia we haven't been able to access today. I met the ambassador of Maldives, who say that many of the islands there nobody's had access to. We don't know how the people have been faring there. I would say Sri Lanka and Indonesia are possibly the two areas where the biggest relief effort will be taking place. However...

CHAMPION: In a matter of days, weeks?

EGELAND: In a matter of hours from now. But also continuing throughout the next year. Because we have, as the secretary-general just said, we have to rebuild societies. We have to give them back water and sanitation. We have to give them back the thousands of schools that are gone. We have to help as an international community.

Some of the countries in the area have already also responded. India is an affected country, but also a donor country. I think a very major international effort...

CHAMPION: And that's certainly going to be a big effort. We have to get them to survive the next 48 hours, certainly.

Nicolas Von Arx, with the International Red Cross, we thank you for being with us. And we'll be back with more, a wraparound of this terrible discovery in just a moment.


CHAMPION: Mike Chinoy is in Sumatra now. Mike, you're just about 100 miles away from where the epicenter of the earthquake was. That means the damage was pretty instantaneous there and probably catastrophic. Tell us what's around you.

MIKE CHINOY, CNN SR. ASIA CORRESPONDENT: It's an absolutely appalling scene here, Sam. I'm in Banda Aceh, which is the capital city of Aceh Province, just about 100 miles or 150 kilometers from here to where the epicenter of the quake was, and this city of several hundred thousand people was absolutely devastated. Local residents were telling me that the waters came two or three miles inland in a wall 12 to 15 feet high. People talked about hundreds of folks running in terror through the streets trying to escape the raging torrents of waters. Most of the houses here have been damaged or destroyed. Many people are camped out on the streets dazed, in shock, traumatized. There are still bodies littering the streets in many parts of the city as you drive around, the putrid smell of decaying bodies is everywhere. On the -- and it's a really awful, grim situation.

CHAMPION: Mike, is this the province where they discovered -- walked in to kind of check out the town, they discovered about 10,000 people dead in that town?

CHINOY: Well, that is not a report that I have heard, but the big concern here is there are big areas of this province that have been completely cut off, and there are fears that we could have scenes like that. There's a whole slew of communities on the coast that would have been even closer to the epicenter of the quake, and the communications have been cut off. The roads have been destroyed. So there are fears that tens of thousands of people have simply not been heard from. We don't know what's happened to them. The Indonesians are talking about 25,000, 30,000 dead so far, and that toll is likely to go much higher.

CHAMPION: Mike, do you see any kind of relief efforts there now? Is there anyone serving up medicine and food and water in those areas that you're in?

CHINOY: We are beginning to get some help in -- the Australians are going to be flying in several planeloads of medical supplies in the coming hours. The Indonesian army is beginning to gear up. But in fact, in the first few days, there wasn't much relief effort, even though the Indonesian military's got 30,000 soldiers here because they've been fighting a war against separatists in this corner of Indonesia. But a lot of people we talked to expressed great frustration. We've got acute shortages of medical supplies, of drinking water, of food, of fuel, electricity is out, and so far only a trickle has been getting through -- Sam.

CHAMPION: Mike, how do you survive this? I mean, really and truly, how do you get by during the day? I mean, supplies are limited. There's no power, there's no possible way for you to boil water, is there?

CHINOY: Well, we ourselves have a kind of kit that we bring with us to cover these disaster areas. But it is tough. We're just sleeping on the floor of a big building. But we at least have something. Lots of people here have nothing. There's a real concern about the water supply. There's very little water, and the supply that's here is likely to be contaminated. You see a lot of very distraught, dazed people sitting around on the streets. And it's all made worse because this is the tropics. The temperature here is very high. The humidity is very high. That, of course, speeds up the process of decomposition for all those bodies lying around. So there is a real danger of epidemics, major health problems in the days ahead.

CHAMPION: Mike, you've certainly painted us a picture of what it's like there. And for that, we thank you. I mean, that's -- no one else could do it but someone who is standing right there. So we thank you.

Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, we thank you for being here.

EGELAND: Thank you.

CHAMPION: And straightening up a little bit of the squabble that's been going on over the past couple of days.

We'll be back with stories of survival and also hunting relatives that were lost when we come back in just a minute.


CHAMPION: And we start this half hour with a personal look at the disaster actually. Vivian and James Firmage. They're in Bangkok now. They're about 30 minutes away from getting on a plane and getting out of that zone. But they survived the tsunami. So we want to talk to them about that this evening. Are you there, Vivian and James Firmage?

JAMES FIRMAGE, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Yes. We just have one line. We can pass the phone back and forth as needed.

CHAMPION: All right, sir. Now, you were traveling with your family vacationing, and you have two children, right? FIRMAGE: That's right. We've got Katelyn (ph), who's 10, and Mikhaila (ph) who's seven (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the vacation.

CHAMPION: Set it up for me. What were you doing?

FIRMAGE: We were on Ko Phi Phi Island, estimated about 9,000 tourists and local Thais. It's sort of shaped like an hourglass with an isthmus in the middle where much of the shops and one-story bungalows were all set up. We had just checked out ready to get on a ferry, and we'd gone down to the beach for one last look, and we were looking at the locals, who noticed that the tide, which is normally high, was unusually low, and they were looking sort of scared and in wonderment. And the water receded fairly quickly ...

CHAMPION: And you had no idea that this was a warning of something to come, right?

FIRMAGE: No. Well, my wife had said that she had heard -- or felt a tremor, because we're from California, we're not ...

CHAMPION: You're used to that.

FIRMAGE: Yeah. But paid no attention, just thought it was my daughter jumping on the bed. And we came back, and roughly two hours later, around 10:30, the water receded, and then it came back in sort of a swirling motion, and then it looked unusually large, and then it came rushing like a torrent. The locals picked up their kids and started running. Now, we were right on the beach. We estimated the water, which was not -- which is like when a wave crashes on the sand and rushes at you, came rushing at us, and we turned and ran, just ...

CHAMPION: So you were outrunning this wall of water behind you.

FIRMAGE: Yeah. At first I thought the water just going to come around our ankles, and my daughter, who has a journal, dropped her journal. I told her to stop, I'll pick it up, and i turned around, and at this point the water had just crested the beach, and from now it was 10 to 12 feet monster that was chasing us. It was like the equivalent of a jet plane engine roaring at you with trees breaking and houses shattering, and we thought that was it. We ran ...

CHAMPION: James, is there anything -- was there a time that you think you made a decision that saved your life and the lives of your family and your daughters, or was it just blind luck that got you through it?

FIRMAGE: I think the only decision was that we noticed the local people started running, and if that's not as sure sign as anything, they looked scared when we were watching the water recede. I don't think anybody knew, but we got enough of a head start maybe and we saw the water coming. It was maybe 500 yards away. By the time I turned around after about 100 yards, it was maybe 100 yards away. And if you've ever been in any kind of flood situation and you're looking at a wall of water that is 10 to 12 feet tall we ran serpentine through a small village. The single-story houses that are made of wood and tin were exploding behind us. CHAMPION: It just had to have been frightening for you.

FIRMAGE: It was terrifying.

CHAMPION: Now, when did you realize that what you had just gone through was potentially the worst natural disaster in recent history?

FIRMAGE: I -- at that point, to be honest with you, all I was thinking about was getting to high ground. We knew that -- we stumbled upon some stairs and Thais and foreigners were clamoring to get to a high point, and there were people that were right behind us that were there, they were gone, washed away, buried under debris and mud and wood and tin. It was horrifying.

CHAMPION: You have an amazing story, James Firmage, and we are glad you're here to share it with us. And we will allow you now to make your plane so you can get home safely. Thank you so much for being with us tonight. With us as well is Marcelo Bengoechea. He's the brother of photographer Fernando who is missing after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. Fernando was vacationing with a friend, interior designer Nate Berkus. All of us who watch "Oprah" know Nate. We are so sorry for the situation you are in, Marcelo, as you await some kind of word about your brother. Tell us, what do you do in this? What are you going through right now?

MARCELO BENGOECHEA, BROTHER OF MISSING TSUNAMI VICTIM: Thank you. It's a tough situation being so far away from the disaster area and not being able to do much other than being on the phone and waiting hopelessly for a phone with good news.

CHAMPION: It's probably -- I mean, the language barrier and the distance and everything else. Is there one place where you can get information? Are you able to get any information? And if not, what do you intend to do here?

BENGOECHEA: No. We've been calling the embassy in Sri Lanka, calling every phone number we can get our hands on, and we were not able to get any information regarding his whereabouts. That's the purpose of me being here, is to put his image out and hope that somebody out there can see his image and find him.

CHAMPION: Yeah. I certainly understand this is a difficult one for you. So no word at all. Have you had any word from someone in the party who was last with him?

BENGOECHEA: No. The only word is that they are searching for him and doing the best they can to find him. And I hope that somebody sees his image on TV and is able to provide us with some kind of information regarding where he's at.

CHAMPION: Tell us a little bit about your brother. He's known in New York certainly as a very gifted photographer. I believe a fashion photographer. Tell us a little bit about him.

BENGOECHEA: My brother is an incredible person, a very talented photographer, and a person with a huge heart. And I'm sure that when they finally find him he's going to be actually helping the locals and all the people get saved. I'm sure that's how they're going to find him.

CHAMPION: Now, you've seen pictures of people standing around looking for others. So you know this is just a terrible situation where people are not getting linked up, they're not getting hooked up. It is quite possible that he is someplace else and just hasn't been able to reach someone. Lines are down. I mean, you must be consoling yourself with the fact that this is such a chaotic scene that the unknown can certainly be true here.

BENGOECHEA: Exactly. Our hope is that he's stranded at a place where he cannot be reached or that he has no communications. He's a strong swimmer, a surfer. So I'm sure the wave did not do anything on him. It's just a matter of him being stranded and not being able to communicate to us.

CHAMPION: Now, his traveling partner, Nate Berkus, is well known certainly from the "Oprah Show" and also from "O Magazine." Have you had any word about Nate?

BENGOECHEA: Nate is well, and I'm sure he'll be contacting us as soon as he can.

CHAMPION: Any word on when he is getting out of the country or how people are getting out of the country?

BENGOECHEA: I know he's staying there until my brother is found.

CHAMPION: So he is staying put until there's some kind of word?


CHAMPION: How many people were in that group that they were traveling with?

BENGOECHEA: I don't know.

CHAMPION: And again, so you haven't heard from any of those people, anyone other than kind of secondhand knowledge from Nate, right?

BENGOECHEA: Exactly. That's all I've heard.

CHAMPION: Well, we certainly are able here to get your brother's picture out in hopes that, you know, it may help in some way. Is there any way of disseminating that you know of that picture there in the island?

BENGOECHEA: No. No, not really. That's why I'm here on CNN, because you guys have the largest reach worldwide, and I hope that this photo is seen by somebody that has some information regarding him.

CHAMPION: Marcelo Bengoechea, we certainly appreciate you taking your time to be here. It is probably the boast difficult moment of your life, and I certainly appreciate you taking time to share it with us, and hopefully, we'll be able to help.

We'll be back with more stories from this terrible disaster when we come back in just a minute.


CHAMPION: We begin now with Hugh Riminton. CNN's Hugh Riminton. It is often that we find reporters having to go into situations where most people are trying to get out of, and Hugh is now in Colombo, Sri Lanka, covering this for CNN. Hugh, it's got to be such a total terrible situation that it's impossible to find a spot to begin. But if you can, tell us what you're in the middle of.

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the remarkable thing that dawns on you the longer you stay here is the scale of this. You think this is an enormous thing, and then with every new piece of information it just seems to get bigger and bigger, more and more complex. It seems hard to believe at this stage because it's some days into this disaster to realize that it is still effectively in the assessment stage for the emergency relief effort. There is still so much that they don't know about what they're facing at this stage. To give you just one example, the Sri Lankan medical --emergency coordination team got themselves together.

They realized that there's no point to get the injured into the capital where the biggest hospitals are. They have to get the doctors out into the outlying efforts. So they very swiftly virtually stripped the capital of doctors out of the hospitals and airlifted in 125 doctors to these district hospitals. There they found in many cases the hospitals were broken down. The buildings themselves were shattered. There was no water, no electricity. There was no sanitation.

It was a horrific circumstance because a lot of people had brought bodies to the hospital for some reason. They thought that the hospital was the place for the bodies, only increasing the health dangers. That's the information that has come back so far. But some of those doctors who have gone out 48 hours ago, they have never heard from them since. The communications are so poor that they don't even know what their medical teams in the field are dealing with, what they need what they're seeing.

And for those who they are talking to the conditions are so appalling, they're so rugged, that after 48 hours of working all through the day, all through the night, they are so spent physically and emotionally that they are having to be pulled out where they can be to be relieved by new doctors. They simply have gone past their effective work rate because of the nature of the conditions and the work.

CHAMPION: Now, Hugh, you actually touched on something I definitely wanted to ask you right away and that is obviously that you're seeing some kind of relief already in the area. Now, are you seeing other humanitarian efforts in the area other than the doctors coming in? Is there food and water? Are people putting up shelter there? RIMINTON: Well, for the most part the food and the water that is getting out there is being locally sourced. It is not coming from any coordinated international effort. There are various aid agency that's were already on the ground with a variety of different projects around Sri Lanka, and they have used their vehicles, they've used their contacts, they've used their money to get food, to get water, to get the first initial things out, to get some help in getting the injured to hospitals, using vehicles and so on.

But in terms of a coordinated international response, this is what we might imagine would now be the situation. The world galloping to the rescue and pouring across this island, all kinds of good things that really is still at the -- you know, it hasn't been born yet. It's still in the gestation period.

There is going to be a meeting in the next couple of hours by the United Nations Disaster Assistance Coordination group. This is UNDAC, the group that flew in from Geneva to try to pull in all these disparate strands. They're having a meeting in a couple of hours. That meeting is still about what do we do, precisely what is needed? Because experience has shown that when there's nothing but good will pouring in often that's counter-productive, it clogs up all the supply lines, the logistic lines, and it may not be what the people need at the other end.

So they're still, as I say, in that process of finding out what exactly do we need and more to the point how on earth do we get it there?

CHAMPION: And Hugh, that's got to be the most helpless situation anyone could possibly find themselves in. Hugh Riminton in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Now let's go to Satinder Bindra who is in Galle, Sri Lanka. We hear there are no coordinated efforts in some areas. Is there where you are?

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the effort here at this point is slightly better-coordinated. Just about 14, 15 hours ago heavy equipment was moved in here, and this heavy equipment was used to sort of clear debris to clear cars, to sort of try and improve the health and sanitary conditions here. The big fear is, of course, that if there's a health epidemic or if there's a medical problem, then that could kill more people than the killer waves itself.

So, yes, things are slightly better organized. The municipal administration is doing all it can. I should add, though, they're facing a tough problem because I'm standing right in front of the local police station here in Galle. There are cars literally wrapped around trees. The entire police station is smashed. So in the initial period, the first 24 to 48 hours, it would have been very difficult for the local administration, including the police, to coordinate a proper relief effort.

CHAMPION: And it sounds like it's going to take building one from the ground up. I mean, there's not much structure there, from the pictures that we're seeing now, there is total destruction and chaos. So you're going to have to clear space and build relief efforts from the ground up. Is that true?

BINDRA: Yes. I mean, there's a lot that needs to be done. But a lot is happening now. I should just inform you that the Indian Navy is playing a major part in this. Four Indian ships have arrived in the area. Two are located just by Galle, two are in the northeast, and these naval ships are carrying helicopters, these naval ships are carrying medical teams, medical supplies, diving teams. So international help is now arriving.

Yesterday I saw two Indian helicopters bring in supplies. These supplies are being distributed. So a relief effort can be coordinated from offshore as well, from ships. They really don't have to sort of spend that time in building up something. They'd rather spend that time in sort of flying in more supplies, flying in more teams, and other international teams are also arriving. The French have arrived. The Israelis are here. So you know, things will take time, but things are now definitely moving on.

CHAMPION: And it seems like the clock is ticking. Satinder Bindra, thank you so much for joining us live. And we'll be back with more stories of survival. We'll also talk a little bit about early warning systems right after this.


CHAMPION: CNN has just confirmed over 56,000 in the death toll. So certainly it will add up. And expecting -- Many relief agencies are expecting that number could double with illnesses following the disaster. Eddie Bernard, Dr. Eddie Bernard director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, we call it NOAA, the weather guys do. Eddie, let me ask you about this Pacific system that we've got. And if you could kind of tell me what it would take to put one in the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic, how do we do this? What do the buoys have on them?

BERNARD: Well, first of all, you need to understand that the system that we have in place is monitoring for earthquakes to give us the first indication that a tsunami may be formed, and then we engage the measurements of the ocean, either using deep ocean buoys or coastal tide stations, to determine exactly if a tsunami has been formed and how large it is. It's quite possible using communications available today that the entire planet could be monitored through one tsunami center, probably the one in Honolulu would be the ideal candidate because it's been doing this for the last 30 years throughout the Pacific.

CHAMPION: Now, if I understand this right, Eddie, I mean, what it would take is the USGS, or the seismic people would monitor an earthquake. Then the -- whoever's -- they would -- we would look at the buoys around the world to see if there was any change in the measurement of the ocean height or wave height. And then we would send out a warning. And in the Pacific that warning goes out through radios and also loudspeakers on vulnerable beaches. Could we mirror that all over the world? BERNARD: It's quite possible. It's technically feasible today. I would like to make one correction to your statement, though. And that is the tsunami warning systems do not -- that NOAA operates -- does not necessarily wait until the confirmation that a tsunami has been formed. It will issue a warning based on the earthquake magnitude alone. So anything ...

CHAMPION: 7 or above, right?

BERNARD: Magnitude 7.5 and above throughout the Pacific. And so we would not have to wait for the wave to reach one of the buoys. Instead, evacuations could take place immediately. And then the buoys would come into play because they would tell us how big the tsunami would be. But more importantly, they would tell us how many waves we could expect, how long we would expect the attack to occur on the coastline, so that then relief operations can go back in.

First responders can go in when it's safe as opposed to going into harm's way when the waves may not be finished with the attack.

CHAMPION: OK. Thank you, Eddie, for explaining that to me. Sam Nicols, a tsunami survivor, you were with us last night on the show. You're in Thailand now. We just wanted to check in with you since we had the ability to do that. How are you doing tonight?

SAM NICOLS, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: I'm doing great, actually. I have to say, it's been a remarkable change just in the last two days. Life is slowly getting back to normal. I was one of the few who decided to actually stay around at the place that I was. And in many ways it's hard to tell that the -- When you just look down the beach, there's a bunch of long-tail boats that are being repaired, but otherwise life is getting back to normal, the restaurants are open again, the swimming pools are out of order, but yeah food is back in, people seem very relaxed, and it's a very positive outlook that I take from it today.

CHAMPION: Well, it seems like it's a much better situation than it was yesterday or the days before. And Sam Nicols, we thank you. We just knew that true Larry viewers would want us to follow up and make sure you were okay tonight in Krabi, Thailand. Sam Nicols, thank you for joining us there. CNN's own Matthew Chance. We talked with you earlier. Matthew, before we leave this hour, I want you to quickly tell me, are there any relief organizations that are better than others for Americans to donate to?

CHANCE: Well, there's a good deal of organizations, of course, operating around the region, not just here in Thailand but of course in all the affected areas where this Asian tsunami has actually hit. I think the important thing is to, you know -- I'm not a relief expert. But I think go with the big organizations that have an infrastructure on the ground and who can sort of coordinate the resources most effectively. Of course, the big problem is that countries, individuals give so generously, but often it's difficult for those resources to get to the people who need it most. Those biggest companies -- those biggest charities, rather, have the best infrastructure on the ground to get it out there where it's needed, Sam.

CHAMPION: All right, sir. And we do understand, as we're being told, that many charities have had ongoing programs in those areas. So if you know of charities that you've given to before that are in those regions, then you might just want to consider giving money to those organizations again. Some people already have folks on the ground, they have programs on the way that they can just expand on. And then as far as we're hearing that people really want money out of this. Matthew, we only have like 20 seconds left. Is there anything you need to tell folks tonight?

CHANCE: Just a great deal of activity on the ground here to try and find all of those missing people here in Thailand. There are a lot of people from the states that have been coming on holiday to Phuket and the surrounding area. There are big efforts under way on the part of the Thai authorities and the local charities on the ground to try and get to all these people, either identified or at least, you know, listed as missing and trying to get some, you know, kind of good indication of how many people there are still out there, Sam.

CHAMPION: Matthew chance, thanks for joining us tonight. Stay safe. I want to thank our guests for joining us tonight and sharing their incredible stories with us and all the information we hope we've given you to kind of answer some of the questions that have popped up in the last couple of days. NEWSNIGHT is next. We thank you for joining us. This is a story certainly that will have a lot more continuing over the weeks to come. Good night.


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