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Number of Tsunami Victims Still Growing

Aired December 28, 2004 - 08:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bodies everywhere -- the number of tsunami victims still growing. This morning, a race to try and bury the dead before some diseases set in that'll affect the living. The United States and world relief agencies responding to one of the greatest human disasters in recent memory with an unprecedented relief effort. We'll tell you about that.
Also, a baby boy washed from his grandfather's arms by the great wall of water. And now, amid so much confusion, he's been found and they're reunited, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Actually, Bill and Soledad are off today.

I'm Heidi Collins.

SANCHEZ: And I'm Rick Sanchez filling in for Bill.

COLLINS: And, you know, Sri Lanka is one of the countries hardest hit by the tsunamis. We've been talking about it all morning. We are going to have a live report coming up from there in just a moment.

And after that, we'll talk to Sri Lanka's U.S. ambassador about what America can do, should do and maybe actually could have done.

SANCHEZ: Also, it turns out that there's a lab at Oregon State University that we've found out about that actually can create tsunamis. And we're going to be seeing for ourselves what's being done there using these to try and prevent the type of devastation that we've been doing in South Asia. You'll actually see it right here with us during the next hour.

COLLINS: We want to go ahead, first, though, and check the headlines.

Carol Costello once again -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you.

Good morning to you all of you.

Now in the news, a new audiotape indicating possible al Qaeda support for insurgents in Iraq. The Arab language network Al Jazeera broadcasting the tape, said to be from Osama bin Laden. Terrorism experts say the tape suggests a merger has formed between bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi blamed for leading attacks on foreigners across Iraq. A U.S. official telling CNN the tape appears to be authentic.

A statement by defense chief Donald Rumsfeld seems to have sparked some controversy. In a Christmas Eve visit with U.S. troops in Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld made a reference to United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. But in his remarks, Rumsfeld referred to the people who "shot down the plane." A Pentagon spokesman insists Rumsfeld simply misspoke.

To Philadelphia and charges against two doctors and three pharmacists over a drug sale scam. The five charged with selling drug samples that were supposed to be free. Prosecutors say one pharmacist paid doctors and drug company representatives $500,000 for free samples and then resold them at a profit.

And here in New York City, workers putting the finishing touches on the famous big ball for New Year's Eve. The ball is designed with Waterford crystal and light bulbs to make it shine. The festivities in Times Square just three days away now. Thousands expected to gather there to usher in the new year.

COLLINS: Now that you're here, will you be going?

COSTELLO: Absolutely not.

COLLINS: It doesn't take long to figure that out, does it?

COSTELLO: Can you imagine like thousands of people pack that one street and you probably can't see a thing.

COLLINS: No. You've got to be really tall in order to see.

SANCHEZ: There's some nice hotel rooms up above, though, right?

COSTELLO: Yes, if only I had the money to get a hotel room like that.

SANCHEZ: A good place to be.

Well, international relief teams are fanning out to try and start the massive recovery in South Asia. That's where deadly tsunamis, as we've been telling you, have now claimed more than 32,000 lives. More than half of those deaths occurred on the island nation of Sri Lanka. The magnitude of the disaster there is only really starting to emerge.

Satinder Bindra is live. He's in Galle. That's one of the hardest hit areas because it's on southern tip of Sri Lanka. So interestingly enough, you're not only, Satinder, in the hardest hit country, but now you've placed yourself in the area of that country that was probably hardest hit, as well.

What's it like there? SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rick, there's utter and complete devastation here. There's no power. The lights that you see are our camera lights. And the Sri Lankan government has just upgraded the death figures -- 18,000 dead here in Sri Lanka. A majority of the deaths in the south and in the east.

Rick, a short while ago, about a couple of hours ago, I visited the main hospital here and senior hospital officials told me that in this one hospital alone, they'd seen 800 bodies over the past two days. Hospital officials clearly overwhelmed. Three hundred bodies remain unidentified and officials have now ordered mass burials.

Relief work continues and as you can see behind me, masses and masses of debris have now been lined up in small mountains. These will be cleaned at first light tomorrow.

SANCHEZ: So, Satinder, just to repeat what you said at the very beginning, because it may be the first time we hear this, the number has jumped to 18,000 where you are? That means, well, the last time we checked it was 12,000. It's gone up 6,000 since then?

BINDRA: That's right. This is, these 18,000 are all the dead across this island nation. I've been repeating and reporting this morning that many people here in Galle, where I was, felt that the original number of about 12,000 was too conservative. Officials here told me, and these were police officials, that in one case, an entire train was swept off the tracks and into the sea. Several hundred believed to be killed in that one incident alone.

Rick, just behind me, there's a tiny store. It's called the Lanka Bakery (ph). In this one small store alone, five people, all women workers, killed in a matter of minutes. I went in the store and I found the wall clock there had stopped at 9:32. That was the time we estimate the first wave hit Sri Lanka, almost three days ago now.

SANCHEZ: And you've seen most of the country. It's the first time you get down to Galle specifically, which is on the southern tip. No question in your mind this is, just from what you've been able to observe, the hardest hit area?

BINDRA: This is the hardest hit area that I have observed. But I have reason to believe, judging from reports that I'm receiving from the eastern parts of Sri Lanka, that those areas are even harder hit. Now, that's hard to imagine, I know, but in the next plane 24 hours, there'll be more helicopters available here in Sri Lanka, courtesy of the United States and perhaps even India. So then journalists and other officials will be able to travel to the east to make a more proper assessment.

The eastern part of Sri Lanka, I must add, Rick, faces Sumatra. So the first waves would have hit Sri Lanka's eastern coast hardest. That's why all officials are telling us that the casualties and the damage is the worst on the east coast.

SANCHEZ: You raise a very important point, that often after disasters like this there are parts of geography that literally people just haven't gotten a chance to get to yet to bring you the stories of what's going on there. And that seems to be the case in that eastern part of the island, as you just let us know.

Well, we certainly thank you for bringing us up to date on that story. And we'll be getting back to you -- Heidi, over to you now.

COLLINS: As Sri Lanka deals with the unfolding disaster there, I talked earlier with Devinda Subasinghe -- he's the Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States in Washington -- about the devastation back in his country.


DEVINDA SUBASINGHE, SRI LANKAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: The death toll is rising. I think all of us have seen the numbers and I believe, as the search and rescue phase moves into the recovery phase, those numbers will escalate. I'm pretty certain of that. The reason for that is that we were right in the direct target of the tsunami that got generated off of the coast of Sumatra. And it has impacted upward of 70 percent of my country's coastline, particularly the southern, southeastern and southwestern coastline, which is heavily populated.

COLLINS: Looking at the pictures now, it's just still amazing, of course.

What is the biggest problem from what you are hearing from people back at home? What do they need most? I mean we're hearing about possible disease coming from contaminated waste and decomposing bodies and water supply that is not good. What are you focusing on now for the people of Sri Lanka?

SUBASINGHE: I think the initial phase is to conclude the search and rescue phase and then move into an intense recovery phase and begin to find the means of either identifying or appropriately disposing of the deceased. And then clearly the water supplies have been contaminated, as well as the infrastructure, both telecommunications, power, across-the-board. The transportation network has been disrupted, and begin to find ways around those, as well as bringing mitigants to prevent the spread of water borne diseases. I think those are the main priorities going forward.

COLLINS: Just heartbreaking after everything that they've been through and it seems as though many, many days ahead are going to be that much tougher for them, as well. About one million people displaced now.

Where will they go?

SUBASINGHE: I think many of them probably will move inland and will be accommodated in facilities away from the coastal areas. Many of them perhaps moving in with extended families. The government is looking at shelters in schools and other facilities that are available. And yes, it is a significant human tragedy and coming at a time when we were just moving forward on a peace process that was beginning to address some of the longstanding set of issues that have existed in the country over a lengthy period of time.

COLLINS: What will happen with that progress, obviously, at a complete standstill at this time?

SUBASINGHE: It has been, as we know, but I believe that the -- my countrymen and women are going to pull together regardless of ethnic or religious differences because this is a human tragedy that's going to -- that has touched everyone throughout the island, indirectly or directly. And I believe it's going to bind the country and move a lot of positive attributes forward.

COLLINS: If you had a moment to give some words of encouragement to the people of your country, what would they be?

SUBASINGHE: I think it's going to be a difficult path out, the immediate path. I have a staff member on my staff at the embassy who thinks she has lost her family and doesn't know the answers. I think it's going to be a while before we get a lot of answers to my countrymen and women that have been impacted by this.


COLLINS: Devinda Subasinghe, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, speaking about the disaster in his country.

Just to update you, as we recently heard from our correspondent there in Sri Lanka, 18,000 people now dead in Sri Lanka alone -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: And we're getting a better picture, I guess is the way to describe it, of what this looked like, what this wave looked like as it did this damage that we've been telling you about throughout the morning. Two feet high, 100 miles long, rushing silently across the ocean with a speed of a 747. That's the way it's being described. And, of course, the wave would grow in intensity depending on the surface of the ocean. It's massive waves that wiped out thousands of lives. And they're the daily work of the person that we're now going to be talking to.

It's Dan Cox.

He's the director of the world's largest tsunami simulator.

He's joining us now live from Oregon State University.

Professor, thanks so much for joining us, sir.


SANCHEZ: All right, we start with these two tectonic plates, right, the India plate and the Burma plate? And somehow they shift. And that creates this wave. Just, before you do your simulation, take us through so we can understand how this shift in the bottom of the ocean creates the wave.

COX: Well, basically it lifts the entire column of water up, as you mentioned before, displaces it a few feet. And then the wave is free to move. And it'll move out in all directions. And then, again, it's moving about the speed -- the wave is moving about the speed of a 747. And then which parts of the coast get hit the hardest really depend on the terrain underneath the water. And so the wave is going to be attracted to certain features and then that wave can grow in intensity. And all of the energy has to be released once it hits the coastline.


All right, you have a simulation there that you do where you study this with students and others at your institute. Take us through it, if you could. We're going to be showing some tape of your demonstration.

Do you see it?

COX: Sure. Yes. What we have in the -- what we have here is this large pool. It's 160 feet long. And then at the far end we have this wave maker, and very carefully controlled with a computer that sends out the exact signal that we want to simulate the wave.

SANCHEZ: Well, now this looks different than the pictures that we've been seeing that we've been getting in. Of course, we obviously don't have the definitive pictures of what happened, but in many of the pictures it looks like the tide is just kind of growing or going in slowly, that giant 40 foot wall that seems to be reflected in what you're showing us isn't reflected in the pictures there.

Why is that?

COX: Well, today we just -- we really set it up for a demonstration. And then the actual wave that you're going to see really depends on what's happening at each particular section of the coastline. So sometimes, as you said, it's just a very low rise in water that moves across. Other times it is like what they call a turbulent bore or a rush of white water that goes in. It really depends on which section of the coast you're on.

SANCHEZ: Those blue blocks we see there, I imagine -- right behind you -- those represent, what, buildings?

COX: Right. So what we set up for this demonstration, there's a series of blocks. The technical term is macro roughness. And then we also set in a series of cars that show the effect of the wave on the debris. And one of the things that we try to study is where does that debris go. A lot of times the biggest force is created when the debris hits something, either a building or a storage tank or something like that.

SANCHEZ: Well, yes, I'm interested in what -- if that were a true scenario, and, you know, boy, I don't even want to imagine this, but if it was the west coast of the United States, for example, and there were buildings close to the coast, what would be the force of impact with which that wave would be hitting those buildings and what kind of damage would it do? COX: Yes, roughly the scale of the model that you see is about one on 40. So the wave that you see is about 40 feet high in real life. And we really honestly don't know exactly what the impact would be the buildings, and that's why we have to do this kind of research. And the first thing that is going to happen after a large tsunami event like what just happened is the scientific community will go to the different sites and try to assess what happened, get some lessons learned. And then we try to answer some of those questions, either with a numerical simulation or here in the laboratory.

SANCHEZ: Well, it certainly is important work that you're doing there.

Dan Cox, director at Oregon State University, the world's largest tsunami simulator.

We thank you, sir, for being with us.

COX: Thank you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: And you can log onto for up to date information on tsunami disaster and images of the aftermath. As you can see just this morning, the information continues to change and continues to come in. You're also going to find first hand accounts from survivors and the numbers for disaster hotlines in that region that we will share with you -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Time now to check on the weather once again with Chad Myers at the CNN Center for the very latest. And it looks like you're going to show us that map now.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I'm going to flip it around to the other side of the world, Heidi, and show you what's going to go on today in the rescue and the recovery here. A lot of folks want some pretty good weather. Right very close centered to the epicenter itself, actually, it's going to be fairly stormy, but that's a typical pattern for any time in the early part of the winter season. Even though it is winter there, it is still very tropical. You get those tropical showers just like you will in Florida. All of India, though, pretty much in the dry. And even Mogadishu on here, because that wave did go all the way to eastern Africa. That will be dry for later on this afternoon for the recovery there.


COLLINS: The tsunami disaster is full of tragic stories that we've been telling you about. But there is at least one headline lifting the spirits of many. It has to do with this special little boy.

SANCHEZ: Also, Iraq prepares for elections. But how is it democracy if the losers are guaranteed an office?

COLLINS: And maybe you've seen the ads, get more dairy and you'll lose weight. But is the claim getting milked for more than it's worth? We'll tell you about that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: The tsunami disaster in Asia is triggering what's likely to be one of the biggest worldwide relief efforts in history.

And as our Allan Chernoff reports, the ripples of the disaster are reaching the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. State Department.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Americans are answering the call for help, opening their hearts and wallets as they phone in donations to the American Red Cross.

LESLIE GOTTLIEB, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Calls have really increased in the past day, I think, as the enormity of the situation hits home and people realize how devastating this is.

CHERNOFF: Relief workers in Portland are packing medical supplies. A volunteer medical team is scheduled to fly Tuesday morning to Thailand.

BAS VANDERZALM, NORTHWEST MEDICAL TEAMS: Volunteer medical professionals in the Northwest are incredible and very giving. And so we are ready with personnel to be deployed.

CHERNOFF: And the international relief group Doctors Without Borders is seeking volunteers.

CATRIN SCHULTE HILLEN, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Our first appeal is to medical personnel and logistic personnel that is available, that can help, yes, we'd be delighted. We need volunteers for the field.

CHERNOFF: Employees of the International Red Cross, CARE and OXFAM are already on the ground, working on the harsh logistics of providing food, drinking water and medical care. Aid workers agree the need will go on for months.

CHRISTOP GORDER, AMERICARES: The larger task at hand will be keeping the survivors alive. There are millions of people who were displaced and vulnerable, in these unsanitary conditions, to killer diseases like diarrhea and upper respiratory tract infections.

CHERNOFF: Secretary of State Powell announced the U.S. government is starting off with $15 million in assistance. Not enough, argues the head of emergency relief at the United Nations.

JAN EGELAND, U.N. UNDER SECRETARY-GENERAL: It is beyond me why we are -- why are we so stingy, really, when we are, and even at Christmastime should remind many Western countries, at least, how rich we have become.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Relief organizations say Americans should donate money, not goods. That will allow professional aid workers to buy and deliver the goods and services that victims most desperately need.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


COLLINS: And I had an opportunity to speak with Secretary Powell a little bit earlier this morning about Jan Egeland's comments. He said to us that the U.S. is not stingy and that this country did respond immediately to the disaster relief requests in the tsunami region.

For a full list now of international aid organizations accepting donations to help survivors, you can go to our Web site. That's at

SANCHEZ: For the second time this month, there is a massive auto recall to be telling you about, and that's what we're going to do. Details on this one is ahead right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

And, boy, have we got a great -- this is one of -- this is going to go down as one of the better questions in a long time.


SANCHEZ: I think this is a really good one.

TOURE': Thank you, Rick.

I appreciate that.

SANCHEZ: Certainly.

TOURE': Listen, in "Annie Hall," Woody Allen's Oscar winning masterpiece, his Alvy Singer says, "Intellectuals prove you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on." Sometimes you can say the same about the media. We try to know everything that's going on, and yet sometimes the audience screams you guys aren't seeing the forest for the trees. And sometimes you're right.

Well, now is your day to fire back. In 2004, what did the media get in an unnecessary tizzy about? The Question of the Day, what was the most over hyped story of the year? And, of course, people are saying well, in saying what was the most over hyped story of the year, you are re-over hyping the stories.


TOURE': Yes, we know that.

OK. "Martha Stewart," says Rodney Hahn (ph) from Missouri. "Martha Stewart. What she did was peanuts compared to the Enron crowd, yet this administration made her the poster child for insider trading. It's probably safe to say she didn't help draft our energy policy."

Greg from Nova Scotia: "The Scott Peterson trial takes the cake. It was beat to death all day, every day, with a nightly recap." I think that's an unintended pun there from Greg. "The only thing missing was Chad Myers not giving the courtroom temperature."

Mike from Santa Cruz: "Anything to do with Janet Jackson's left boob. There should be some balance. I'd like to hear about the right boob, as well."

And Kay from Jefferson City, Missouri: "The flu shot 'shortage,' which panicked thousands and caused old people to stand in long lines. Now we're getting ready to throw flu shots away because we had enough to begin with. Thanks a lot, mainstream media."

And, you know, everybody right off the bat, Scott Peterson, Kobe Bryant, Paris Hilton, the Howard Dean scream. There were a lot of people voting for that.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I'd forgotten. That's a good one.

TOURE': The Kobe trial. They're screaming.

COLLINS: They're screaming heehaw.

TOURE': They're all screaming.

SANCHEZ: It's a well informed public that's writing in.

COLLINS: Of course it is.

All right, Toure', thank you very much.

TOURE': Thank you.

COLLINS: Well, people all across Southeast Asia are trying to put their lives back together. In a moment, you'll see how some Americans are working to make that task a little bit easier.

Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back.

It's just about half past the hour on this morning.

And I'm Rick Sanchez filling in for Bill.

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

Good morning, everybody.

SANCHEZ: There's an amazing story ahead about a baby boy just 20 months old separated from his family by the tsunami and then somehow reunited by way of the Internet. We're going to bring it to you.

COLLINS: One of the good stories out of all of this. And many Americans may be wondering what's being done right here to help the injured, hungry and homeless from the tsunamis and how America can help. So we're going to bring you a live report from one U.S. agency as this massive relief effort is being put together at lightning speed.

The Iraqi election, as well, is only one month away.

So a lot to talk about this morning.

SANCHEZ: There certainly is.

Well, let's get right to the headlines.

And to do that, Carol Costello is joining us once again.

COSTELLO: And good morning to both of you.

Good morning, everyone.

Now in the news, insurgents launching multiple attacks across Iraq this morning. At least five separate attacks occurring near the towns of Balad and Tikrit, leaving more than a dozen people dead. Also today, a car bombing killed five Iraqi National Guard troops as they were working to remove a roadside bomb near the city of Ba'qubah. That's east of Baghdad.

A former Army Reserve commander back home now after six months in the brig for stealing equipment she claims her unit needed in Iraq. Major Cathy Kaus getting a welcome homecoming in Ohio yesterday. This is in Dayton. Kaus was one of six Reservists court-martialed for taking abandoned Army vehicles in Kuwait to help prepare for a mission in Iraq.

And another major SUV recall announced by Ford. The company is calling back more than a quarter of a million Escape SUVs to repair a defect in the rear gate that could cause it to open in a crash. Ford recalled more than 470,000 of that SUV model earlier this month due to an accelerator problem. So call your dealership now.

COLLINS: Yes, definitely.

Carol, thanks.


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