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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Tsunami Death Toll Could Exceed 60,000
Aired December 28, 2004 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, misery and mourning around the world. The tsunami's rising death toll is now an incomprehensible figure which could exceed 60,000 people. Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
MESERVE (voice-over): Staggering. As the death toll doubles, the scale of the disaster defies imagination.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions and millions and millions of people are affected.
MESERVE: Race against time, from burying the dead to saving the living. Could disease kill as many people as the tsunamis?
Hope and despair. One grandmother is reunited with a lost child, another loses everything.
Coastal concerns. Could the next big quake trigger disaster in the Pacific Northwest?
ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, December 28, 2004.
MESERVE: Thanks for joining us. I'm Jeanne Meserve in for Wolf Blitzer. It's a disaster of epic proportions, compounded by the fact that areas targeted by the tsunamis are isolated and impoverished. Indonesia may have gotten the worst of it. In the low-lying city of Banda Aceh, at the tip of Sumatra, volunteers collect corpses for burial. Officials can only guess at the toll in outlying areas.
It was called the Queen of the Sea for its route along the coastal rail line in Sri Lanka. Now, this train and its track have been destroyed by the sea and police believe 1,000 people perished on the train, passengers and villagers who had climbed aboard trying to escape the tsunami.
As nations battered by waves struggle to help their own, the world is gearing up for a massive relief operation. The U.S. has pledged $35 million dollars and is planning to send ships, aircraft and troops to the region.
The death toll climbs by the hour. With new information coming into us now, by some counts, it is already close to 60,000. CNN has so far confirmed at least 33,000 fatalities. Indonesian officials tell CNN their death toll stands at 5,000, but others say it is already as high as 27,000 and likely to grow.
On the island nation of Sri Lanka, the official death count stands at more than 18,000. Once again, that figure is likely to rise. Indonesia was closest to the quake, which triggered the tsunamis and may be the hardest hit nation. CNN's Mike Chinoy is in Banda Aceh, where the most important task is to bury the dead. We warn you that his report contains graphic images.
MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've heard the astronomical numbers, but nothing can prepare you for a scene like this, the remains of men, women and children, about 1,000, the workers say, piled high for burial in a mass grave. The stench is overpowering, contaminating the area, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bystanders. The grief is equally powerful.
"I lost everyone and everything," says 30-year-old woman Yuceniati (ph). "My four children and my husband are gone, gone. I was holding my 8-month-old in the waters, but the waves pulled us apart." But Yuceniati knows where her 3-year-old is. She found his body in the street and brought him here.
(on camera): This scene is so horrible, there are no words to describe it. And what makes it even more awful is the fact that the bodies behind me are just a small fraction of the overall number who died here.
(voice-over): "There are still a lot of bodies out there," says Alam Seoul (ph), "because so much of Banda Aceh was flooded by the waves."
There's no dignity in this kind of death. It feels more like a garbage dump than a grave, but in their desperate struggle to bury decomposing bodies before the danger of epidemics grows even greater, the authorities have little choice.
Mike Chinoy, CNN, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
MESERVE: Sri Lanka was savaged by the tsunami. The southern tip of the island bore the brunt to the death and destruction. With new images from a witness to the disaster, CNN's Satinder Bindra reports from Galle.
SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This eyewitness video obtained by CNN shows a 20-feet high tidal wave ripping through southern Sri Lankan town of Galle. The savage sea consumes everything in its wake: homes, cars, vans and furniture. Terrified residents try to find cover. Many don't make it. Within seconds, hundreds in this town, many of them children, are engulfed by the raging waters. Doctors say most of the children died of trauma injuries. Others drowned. Police say about 1,000 Galle residents died when this entire train was tossed around like a toy. Nature didn't even spare miles and miles of steel track. Galle's more able-bodied adults survived by clamoring upon buses. As the waters receded, these survivors had the unbearable task of taking their loved ones home.
Others frantically search everywhere for their family members. Unable to find them, their grief explodes. Thousands in this world- famous beach resort and across Sri Lanka are still missing, but hopes of finding any more survivors are fading fast. Rescue workers in Galle are now only pulling out badly decomposed corpses.
(on camera): Over the past two days, more than 800 bodies have been brought to this hospital alone. With 300 of them still unidentified, hospital staff here are now organizing mass burials.
(voice-over): Fearing the spread of illness and disease, authorities organize a massive clean-up. Mangled cars are pulled out from under tons of rubble. Dozens and dozens of such buses will soon end up in the scrap yard.
These holiday season signs seem eerily out of place in this grief-stricken city. No one here wants to participate in New Year's celebrations. Sri Lanka has already declared five days of national mourning and all Galle's residents can think of is thousands of their countrymen, friends and family members who will not be with them in the new year.
Satinder Bindra, CNN, Galle, southern Sri Lanka.
MESERVE: At the beach resorts of southern Thailand, where west meets east, foreign tourists are among the many dead and missing. Adrian Britton reports from Phuket, Thailand.
ADRIAN BRITTON, ITN-TV REPORTER (voice-over): An outdoor mortuary where the bodies of nearly seven hundred people have been recovered from the rubble of Pawluk Beach (ph), most from the collapse of a single hotel. The corpses are taken away by the truckload to be claimed and grieved over by their relatives.
Further south in Phuket, the coffin makers cannot work fast enough in the tropical heat. Three days after this disaster, Patung (ph) Hospital is still receiving the dead in high numbers.
(on camera): At this mortuary, two of the dead have already been identified as British tourists. Now behind me on the right, bodies are being laid out. Families are coming here to see if they can identify any of their lost relatives. And immediately behind me, coffins are being stacked up, large ones and smaller ones for children.
(voice-over): Westerners sift through photographs of the deceased, knowing recognition will confirm their worst fears. Halls of the emergency center are covered with lists of those killed and faces of the missing, including British holiday makers. Robbie George (ph) from the Isle of Wight has come here for news of his friend he last saw on Phi Phi island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gave me his bag, he said look, five minutes, mate, and I'll be with you, like. And then he just didn't get the boat. So, I'm stuck here with his bag and that, just waiting for him to turn up. Hopefully he's going to turn up.
BRITTON: Imagine a mile-long stretch of seafront where every shop has been bombed. That is the type of devastation along the beach road in Patung. This speed boat was swept into Bruce Hudman's (ph) apartment. He escaped serious injury, but vividly recalls the morning the sea came in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard somebody on the television say it's like being in a washing machine -- it is, but with enormous pieces of concrete and all sorts of stuff flashing backwards and forwards across you. And how we didn't get killed, I don't know.
MESERVE: In India, two vacation spots turned into death traps and officials say they may never learn the full extent of the tragedy. CNN's Suhasini Haidar reports from the Andaman Islands.
SUHASINI HAIDAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hundreds of tourists are now camping at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Airport in the Andaman Islands. This archipelago has seen some of the worst of Sunday's tsunami destruction. Many of these holiday makers had planned to ring in the New Year at these islands' beautiful beaches, but now they say after the tsunami and the series of aftershocks that followed, they are just too frightened and can't wait to leave.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We want to leave quickly, because we're scared of any more tremors and we've also heard food and water may be in short supply.
HAIDAR: Now, officials in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands say the numbers of those that died here may never fully be known. This is because parts of the islands were completely submerged and entire communities have been washed away, some of them indigenous tribes with no account of just how many people there were.
Naval and coast guard vessels are fanning out to these islands, trying to reestablish communication to provide people there with food and clothing, but they say that just may not be enough. These islanders depend on fishing and farming, their fairly close-knit communities. In the blink of an eye, they say, they've lost their loved ones, their land and any means of livelihood.
Suhasani Haidar, CNN, Port Blair in the Indian Ocean.
MESERVE: The killer waves, which originated close to Indonesia. eventually slammed into the coast of Africa, 2,800 miles away. Sitting at the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia was especially hard hit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAN EGELAND, U.N. RELIEF COORDINATOR: Somalia is a country which we did not expect to have big damages. It is. There are many villages wiped away in poor Somalia. It's one of the places where we get information very late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Somalian officials put their death toll in the hundreds with hundreds more missing. Somalia's government is operating temporarily out of neighboring Kenya, which was not hit nearly as hard, but as these dramatic weekend pictures show, the waves forced beach-goers to flee and destroyed dozens of boats. One person was reported killed.
Sadness and fear gripping families members awaiting word on their loved ones. Hear from relatives in the United States, some of whom had family onboard the destroyed train we showed you just a few minutes ago.
Devastation and disease. Why the World Health Organization says the death toll could double.
Plus, little boy lost. A toddler caught in the chaos, suddenly alone in an unfamiliar world. His story ahead.
MESERVE: The U.S. is pledging millions of dollars in aid to countries hit by the tsunamis. And the Pentagon is making plans to send troops and supplies to the region. Let's bring in senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre now.
Jamie, what are they sending?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, at this point, under consideration is the dispatch of several hundred U.S. troops, mostly Marines to provide relief. But that decision has not been made yet. It's going to await the evaluation of assessment teams on the ground.
But here is what's in the works right now. There are 11 cargo that are planes packed with bottled water, meals ready to eat -- those military meals, those are seen as critical needs. And some of the cargo planes also contain five separate assessment teams that are going to fan out over the area to try to determine exactly what more aid the U.S. can provide.
In addition now, the U.S. has sent nine of those P-3 patrol planes. They are doing search and rescue as well as damage assessment, again, to help with the assessment process. Also, the Pentagon today revealed that it's sending 13 ships into the region. That includes the U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and its escort ships, and the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard and its escort ship.
But what's important is what they have on them, which is helicopters, bulldozers, cranes, trucks, earth-moving equipment. And they also have medical facilities on the ships and the capacity to purify water. An aircraft carrier can make 50,000 gallons of clean water a day from sea water.
So those are the things that are heading to the area. They'll be used, if needed. But again, the Pentagon stresses, the U.S. government stresses that these are preliminary steps and as a State Department spokesman put it today, the U.S. government realizes the need will be greater -- Jeanne.
MESERVE: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thank you.
We've told you about the horrible scale of this disaster, the catastrophic loss of life, but for those on the front lines, there's little time for shock, little time to mourn. They have an urgent task at hand. Brian Todd is here with that part of the story -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jeanne. Many of these people face imminent danger to their own lives in form of deadly diseases that could break out in flood-stricken areas.
TODD (voice-over): For those whose lives are already devastated, a bleak picture of what may lie ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a chance that we could have at least as many dying from communicable diseases as we have had dying from the tsunami.
TODD: Health experts we spoke to say it's too early to talk about numbers, but they, too, voiced serious concerns about water and food-borne disease in the areas hit by tsunamis.
DR. JEFFREY KOPLAN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: Depending on the nutritional status of the population, how dehydrated they already are, how much help they can get, how much treatment they can get, they can be very severe.
TODD: The doctors we contacted, including public health and infectious disease specialists from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, had one consistent warning, that the lack of potable water in many of these areas could trigger outbreaks of so-called diarrheal diseases, cholera, salmonella poisoning, e. coli, dysentery, some forms of hepatitis; all treatable they say, but not if you can't get clean water or IV fluids to people who are already weakened.
DR. TOM WALSH, NATL. INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Once cholera, for example, is established, the onset can be very rapid. There are ways in which you can deliver water, but it has to be -- there has to be certain nutrients and minerals that you would put into that water to replenish what is lost from cholera.
TODD: Some of these areas had substandard water and sewage infrastructure to begin with. And one specialist says many victims had, quote, "borderline nutritional status before the tsunamis hit." Now, with infrastructure knocked out in many places, and water supplies possibly contaminated with sewage, a potential epidemic looms.
WALSH: The effects can be overwhelming. Mortality can be astronomically elevated. Those that are afflicted, most are the most vulnerable, infants, toddlers, children.
TODD: Experts are also warning of widespread malnutrition with decomposing human and animal remains causing food supplies to become contaminated. And if displaced villagers migrate to refugee camps, respiratory diseases like flu and pneumonia could also break out -- Jeanne.
MESERVE: Brian, I'm sure there's a psychological aspect to all of this, not the highest priority at the moment, but are the experts worrying about that down the road?
TODD: Absolutely. They say that the sheer force and violence of these tsunamis causes a great deal of anxiety, disorientation, even depression that a lot of these people are going to be dealing with weeks, months, even years from now.
MESERVE: Brian Todd, thank you.
Many other countries also are sending aid to Asia. And a U.N. official is distancing himself now from earlier controversial comments. Let's go to CNN's senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth -- Richard.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, the United States today increased dramatically its planned aid to the earthquake- tsunami region to some $35 million, this one day after a U.N. senior humanitarian official criticized rich countries, in general, for how they respond to world humanitarian crises.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAN EGELAND, U.N. RELIEF: We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me why are we so stingy, really.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is not stingy. We are the greatest contributor to international relief efforts in the world. We do more to help people who are suffering from lack of food or who are in poverty or suffering from HIV-AIDS. EGELAND: I have been misinterpreted when I, yesterday, said that my belief that rich countries, in general, can be more generous. It has nothing to do with any particular country or the response to this emergency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROTH: Yes, they were not happy in Washington upon hearing of Jan Egeland's remarks on Monday. Egeland called the Bush administration Monday evening to say that he was misinterpreted. The fact remains the U.S. is, indeed, the largest financial donor country in the world. However, as Egeland and others at the U.N. will point out, the United States, along with other rich countries, are far below planned financial targets to help the poorer countries, promises they have made to hit by the year 2015.
But Jeanne, Egeland is very frustrated. He has been on the ground in places like Darfur, Sudan. He sees the millions that are starving and he calls repeatedly for wealthy countries in the world to act here and in other places.
MESERVE: Richard Roth, thank you.
And to our viewers, here is your turn to weigh in on this story. Our Web question of the day is this: Is the international community doing enough to help tsunami victims? You can vote right now at cnn.com/wolf. We'll have the results later in this broadcast.
An American in Thailand scuba diving when the tsunami struck. Her amazing story next.
Health care crisis. Hospitals damaged, doctors overwhelmed. Next, we'll take you inside a hospital in Sri Lanka.
Island aftermath. Once a popular tourist destination profiled in the movie "The Beach." We'll tour what is left of Ko Phi Phi.
Plus, this: Witness to destruction, dramatic new video capturing people trying to escape from the big waves.
MESERVE: As the dead are buried, there's an ongoing effort to keep the living alive. Many survivors have harrowing stories of their brushes with death. CNN's Hugh Riminton reports from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid survival stories, a tale of no survivors. On Sri Lanka's west coast, south of the capital, Colombo, all 1,000 people on this eight-carriage train are now recorded as dead or missing.
It was the same series of waves that hit English tourist Peter Etheridge on a nearby beach. PETER ETHERIDGE, TOURIST: I couldn't believe the power. It was just unbelievable.
RIMINTON: Taken to Colombo's main hospital, he cuts a lonely figure. The wave swept away Pat, his wife of 32 years.
ETHERIDGE: And then it came in again. I could hear my wife. I knew where she was. And I was hiding behind a roof. And I went around to get her. And then just all hell broke loose, and that was the last time I saw her.
RIMINTON (on camera): Despite the stories in these wards, doctors are being stripped out to the capitol, Colombo, to fill the overwhelming needs out in the district hospitals that are bearing the brunt of this medical emergency.
(voice-over): One hundred and twenty-five doctors, many of them volunteers, have already been airlifted to front line clinics. The burnout rate, just 48 hours before most need to be relieved.
ANIL JASINSHE, COLOMBO CENTRAL HOSPITAL: The conditions, you know, you don't have electricity. You don't have water service. The buildings are shattered; the hospitals are shattered.
RIMINTON: The immediate needs: antibiotics and painkillers. The medical challenges: wound infection, respiratory problems among those who inhaled water. And bodies, so many they threaten to contaminate everything.
But tourist Bob Phillips credits such desperate medicine with saving his life.
BOB PHILLIPS, TOURIST: I don't know how many stitches I have. It's been stitched up twice already. The nurse, she just threw water on it and you could put your hand in there and she just pulled all the mud out. That was the big problem, is it getting infected, you see.
RIMINTON: Hugh Riminton, CNN, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
MESERVE: A dramatic story of survival about an American in Thailand. Faye Wachs was scuba diving when the tsunami hit. Faye's mother, Helen Wachs, joins us from Oakland, California. Thanks so much for joining us today. Your daughter is OK. Where is she now?
HELEN WACHS, MOTHER OF TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Well, Faye and her husband Gene were in the Bangkok airport the last time I spoke to her, and they are scheduled to be flying in on a Korean Airline plane and arriving in Los Angeles tomorrow morning.
MESERVE: Now, you found out she was OK through an e-mail. You have that e-mail with you. Could you read us a little bit of that?
WACHS: Yes. "I can't describe carrying -- we are alive and unhurt. We're just happy to be alive. I can't describe carrying a moaning person who just saw his girlfriend killed down a hill in the middle of the night. I saw more bodies than I care to report. The hotel where we were staying is mostly gone. We lost everything but our lives. We were lucky enough to be scuba diving at the moment the wave hit."
Do you want me to continue?
MESERVE: No. Why don't you stop right there? She was scuba diving, found out from reading this e-mail, I gather, from a text message what had happened, and her description of what happened coming into shore was pretty dramatic. Can you tell us about that?
WACHS: Do you want me to read it? I have it right here.
MESERVE: You can either read it, or tell us in your own words.
WACHS: Well, what she said was they saw a lot of trash in the water, and the dive master said that it was really rude for people to throw trash. Then they saw larger bits of debris, and thought there might have been a boat crash. And then the dive master got a text message from his wife that said "catastrophe," and as they went in, they saw bodies floating by and they tried to grab them. And they said at that point, they knew they couldn't save them, but they thought their families should at least know what happened to them.
MESERVE: And when Faye got to land, she then chipped in and tried to help, didn't she?
WACHS: Well, she and her husband were wearing flip-flops and bathing gear. They went to their rooms. They did. They -- Gene dug a man out who had been trapped in rabble for 12 hours, and he and Faye carried him, and they spent the night carrying wounded people to be triaged and to be taken by helicopter to hospitals.
MESERVE: Did she say much about how badly help was needed by the local people?
WACHS: She said it was extraordinary. I think more what she said was she was impressed by the International Red Cross and how they were there, by the Thai government and the Thai people, how they were just helped every step of the way, that buses were chartered for them, that planes were chartered for them, that they were given food and drinks, and they just had nothing but words of praise for the effort to help people.
They said the devastation was extraordinary. They said they -- sorry.
MESERVE: I was just going to ask, what she had to say about the U.S. government and its response and whether it was helpful in this instance.
WACHS: Well, I'm sorry to say that she was appalled at the treatment they got when they got to Bangkok airport. Every other government was there greeting people. The American consulate people were in the VIP lounge. When they finally found them after three hours, they were charged to take passport photos. Some people didn't have money with them. Faye, fortunately, had her ATM card with her, and she said they paid for passport photos for some of the other people on line with them, and gave them money for food. She was really very surprised at that.
MESERVE: How is she doing psychologically? Can you tell from the communications you've had?
WACHS: Oh, Faye is a very strong person. I've always described her as our wise old owl, and she always keeps a sense of perspective. And as long as she was busy helping people dealing with the calamity, I think she was fine. In her first e-mail, at some point she said she thought she and Gene would need some serious counseling when they got home, because they were quite overwhelmed by what they saw. And Gene said...
MESERVE: Go ahead, please.
WACHS: No, Gene said that when they got into the plane and left, what he noticed was that there was no longer the stench of raw sewage, because of all the devastation there, all the septic tanks have been overthrown. The smell of the bodies. They said the clean smell was an amazing feeling to him.
MESERVE: You're going to see her soon. What are you going to say to her?
WACHS: Oh, we're just so happy to have them both home. They're just fabulous people and we love them. And we're just so grateful that we're able to greet them and to see them. And our hearts truly go out to the people who do not have the ending that we have.
MESERVE: Helen Wachs, thank you for bringing us your story and your daughter and son-in-law's as well. Appreciate it.
WACHS: Thank you.
MESERVE: As the tsunami tragedy unfolds, families here in the U.S. await word on the fate of their loved ones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A human part of you feels so angry, because I'm sure you've heard like the lack of a warning system. Like, there's no reason a train should have been traveling down a coast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: The anxiety and anger of what could have been done to save lives hits home.
Catching disaster with a camcorder, the dramatic pictures taken by vacationers. We'll show you the footage ahead.
Plus, what was the set for the Hollywood blockbuster "The Beach" is now the scene of complete devastation. A look at what the tsunami did to this vacation hot spot next.
MESERVE: Welcome back.
Faces of the missing and those found, but not claimed, the young children alone in the aftermath of the tsunami.
First, though, a quick check of other stories now in the news.
Insurgents killed 12 Iraqi police officers in an attack on a police station in the northern city of Tikrit. It was the deadliest in a series of attacks that left 18 police officers and five Iraqi National Guard troops dead across Iraq.
At least two people died in an explosion that leveled a small building on a commercial strip in Ramsey, Minnesota. At least one person was pulled alive from the rubble and rescuers are still searching for a fourth person believed to have been alive in the building. No official word on the cause of that blast.
The woman accused of strangling a pregnant woman and cutting the 8-month-old fetus from her womb appeared in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri. After a discussion of her finances, a magistrate judge appointed two attorneys to represent 36-year-old Lisa Montgomery. She faces federal charges of kidnapping resulting in murder.
A major storm is battering parts of California. Flooding is reported from areas north of San Francisco to near Los Angeles and some residents have been ordered to evacuate. Meteorologists are predicting up to a foot of rain in some regions and at higher elevations up to four feet of snow.
And now back to our top story, the aftermath of the Christmas weekend tsunamis in Asia. Some of the tsunamis hit resort areas popular with tourists.
John Irvine of International Television News was the first Western journalists to visit Ko Phi Phi.
JOHN IRVINE, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): For many holiday-makers who go looking for a piece of heaven on earth, the search is here on Ko Phi Phi. But just look at the island today. The developed part has been obliterated, the view is one of destruction and the smell is one of death.
The hotels, bars and shops are on a narrow strip of sand a mile long but only 100 yards wide. The sea is on both sides. This became meat in a sandwich.
(on camera): This island and in particular this part of the island was absolutely crammed with holiday-makers. There were so many, some were actually sleeping on the beach. You can imagine they would have partied pretty late into the night. And on the morning of Boxing Day, when the tsunami smacked in from both sides, much of Phi Phi was still asleep.
(voice-over): Most of the tourists who survived have now been taken off the island by the Thai authorities who are here in force at last. Their primary task is to retrieve the bodies of the perished. How many died here they simply don't know yet. They've recovered 400 bodies already, but in our brief tour of the island, we found several more of the unlucky ones.
In recent years, Ko Phi Phi has been a magnet for pleasure seekers. Where Mother Nature has bestowed so much bounty, she turned violent for just an instant. What a terrible thing has happened to this beautiful and gentle place.
John Irvine, ITV News, Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.
MESERVE: Another Thai resort area, Phuket, also faced the deadly water surge.
CNN's Matthew Chance has the story of a Swedish toddler who turned up at a hospital there.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): At a guess, he's just 2 or 3, gasping for breath and alone. Nurses in this Phuket hospital call him Boo-Boo, but his real name is lost, like his parents in the chaos of this tragedy.
Bruised and scratched, he was found half drown and in shock. They didn't know what country he was from. When he's around people he gets upset, even angry, his nurse tells us. When he's alone or with me, he just sits.
Outside the town hall in Phuket, faces of the dead and missing are pinned to notice boards as the waters have receded; desperation is swamping this holiday paradise. Families like the Johnson's from Sweden have flown in to find their missing daughter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but it's better to be here, instead of sitting home and only see on the television. So we asked to be here and see what we can do and if we can find her or figure out what happened to her.
CHANCE, (on camera): These are still early days in this disaster without precedent. Across the region, casualty figures and the numbers of missing are still rising. Yet amid all of this tragedy, for some at least there is still hope.
CHANCE (voice over): For them it's a miracle, but this is one family at least reunited. After a frantic search, Boo-Boo is back in the arms of his grandmother. His real name is Hanis (ph) she, tells me. His father is alive in hospital, his mother still missing, a moment of joy tinged with terrible loss.
Matthew Chance, CNN, Phuket, Thailand.
MESERVE: That same hospital is now seeking help with another child. Sophia Michl, shown here, is 10 years old and from Germany. The hospital is looking for Sophia's parents.
And from the streets of Phuket comes this heart-wrenching photo of Karl Nilsson of Sweden. Karl says his parents and brothers were swept out to sea and he has nowhere to turn.
While dozens of international tourists are confirmed dead, tens of thousands of native Asians died in the tsunamis.
CNN's Veronica Pedrosa reports.
VERONICA PEDROSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her name is Bella (ph), and she lives in Tamil Nadu. Until Sunday, she had a family, a home. Nothing, nobody else is left. She lost several generations of her family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My three houses has been swallowed by the wave. Everything was taken by the sea.
PEDROSA: Her grief, inconsolable as it is, is matched by that of many others in her village, and countless more along south Asia's coastlines. Banda Aceh, Indonesia. As many as 25,000 may have died. Scores of bodies are being unceremoniously dumped in mass graves near the state capital. But in other areas of the province, a U.N. official says there isn't anyone to bury the bodies.
City streets are now hospital wards lined with victims of the tsunami. For the survivors, aid is beginning to arrive. Soldiers who days ago had fought an insurgency in Aceh now keep watch over the stricken crowds.
In Thailand, too, mass burials are getting under way. In Kaulaut (ph), where tourists used to go, the bodies are lying row by row.
The stench of death blankets southern Sri Lanka. Rescuers uncovered thousands of bodies as they searched the rubble around Galle. The death toll is going up all the time. One official told reporters, I am not sure when it will stop.
Veronica Pedrosa, CNN, Hong Kong.
MESERVE: We have just received new satellite images showing the devastation from space. Take a look at this picture taken in January 2004. Sorry. I've just been told we don't have those pictures right now. When we get them, we're going to bring them to you and show you what it looked like from on high.
And now, killer waves caught on tape by unsuspecting tourists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. This is a tidal wave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: What vacationers saw and their first-hand images next.
And could a tsunami-causing earthquake affect where you live? I'll ask a geologist to weigh in next.
Plus, a woman in New York awaiting word on loved ones who were on this train in Sri Lanka. Her story straight ahead.
MESERVE: In many areas, the killer waves were caught on amateur video as they hit. Here is a look at some of the most dramatic footage. This comes from the resort island of Phuket in Thailand.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. This is a tidal wave. This is scary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MESERVE: Also from Thailand, this was shot in the town of Krabi, along the western coast. To southern Sri Lanka now. In Sri Lanka, the official death count stands at more than 18,000 and that number is likely to rise.
Now a quick glimpse of the waves battering southeastern India. This was shot at a popular Indonesian tourist destination located along the Straits of Malacca between Indonesia and Singapore. The Indian Ocean quake is even having an impact in North America. A four- inch rise in ocean levels was recorded in Alaska, while an 8.5-inch wave surge was measured in San Diego. And in one part of Mexico, authorities reported a wave of more than eight feet, all that from an earthquake on the opposite side of the world.
So, what are the chances of an underwater earthquake hitting closer to home? And what would happen if one did?
Here to discuss that is Chris Goldfinger, a Marine geologist from Oregon State University.
So could it happen? Will it happen, Mr. Goldfinger?
CHRIS GOLDFINGER, OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY: Yes. Yes. In the Cascadia subduction zone of Oregon and Washington, it has happened many times in the past and it certainly can happen in the future. We think that it has happened about 18 times in the last 10,000 years. So, the certainty of having one in -- like Sumatra in Oregon and Washington is virtually 100 percent.
MESERVE: Now, how do you know it's happened 18 times before and how can you predict that it may happen again?
GOLDFINGER: Well, there's quite a bit of evidence along the coast from Vancouver Island all the way to Northern California of tsunamis similar to the one in Sumatra that leave sand deposits behind. That's the first way that that was discovered.
We can also go to the deep sea and look at core samples. And these are cores that were taken a couple of years ago. And what these show is sand layers here that came from submarine landslides. And each of these landslides was triggered by a great earthquake. And so we can see these. We can look at the sand layers and we can radiocarbon date the material underneath them and know what time -- or what year, at least within a few decades, or as much as maybe 50 years, when that earthquake was. So, we can see the patterns of these events through time over the last 10,000 years.
MESERVE: Now, the so-called subduction zone is critical here. Explain to us exactly what that is and why it's important.
GOLDFINGER: Sure, I would be glad to.
A subduction zone is where one of the Earth's plates slides underneath one of the other plates. So what we're looking at here is a 3-D view of the Cascadia subduction zone. And this smooth blue area out right here on the plate is the Juan de Fuca Plate. This -- all the rest of this blue area is part of North America. And the green in the background is the coastline and the Cascade Mountains.
And so, this is a subduction zone, where the smooth plate slides underneath North America. And in the sliding, that's where the earthquakes take place. Underneath this blue part, there's a lot of friction there. And they stick together for hundreds of years. And then, during the earthquake, they slip suddenly, where North America, or Sumatra, in the case of Sunday's earthquake, will jump forward out here out over the subducting oceanic plate. And it will jump around 20 meters all at once.
So, that's both the earthquake and the push of the earth forward underwater -- all of this is underwater -- is what generates the tsunami.
MESERVE: OK, Chris Goldfinger from the University of Oregon, thanks a lot for explaining the science of this to us.
GOLDFINGER: You're welcome. Thanks for having us on.
And we have just received new satellite images showing the devastation from space, courtesy of DigitalGlobe.com.
Look at this picture taken in January of 2004 of Kalutara Beach in Sri Lanka. Kalutara is 15 miles south of Colombo on the west coast. Now, compare that to a photo of the exact same location taken Sunday four hours after the tsunami hit.
And we will have more on the tsunami aftermath coming up. We'll hear from a New York woman who had relatives aboard this wrecked train.
And another look at the devastation, this time through the eyes of photographers.
MESERVE: As the tsunami death toll continues to mount in Asia, families in America are frantic for information. A woman in New York had family members aboard the train that was swept off its tracks in Sri Lanka.
CNN's Mary Snow reports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's driving us crazy that we're sitting here, like, when we're hungry, we get to eat something.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty-four-year-old Shanika Ransinghe's (ph) shock has turned into a desperate search for information about missing family members in Galle, Sri Lanka. Her uncle is among the missing. Two other members of her extended family, a mother and her disabled daughter, did not survive when a roof collapsed over them. Her father struggles with words to describe the horror.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is something that you don't want to wish for your worst enemy. It's like -- it reminds me of biblical times, like flood in the bible times.
SNOW: Shanika is spending most of her waking hours trying to get information, mainly from the Internet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just try to stay as occupied as possible, but, at a point, it kind of drives you crazy when that's -- what you're trying to do is just stay occupied.
SNOW: Part of the information she learned was that the harrowing pictures of a train swallowed by the sea hit close to home. Extended family members were on board.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A human part of you feels so angry, because I'm sure you've heard like the lack of a warning system. Like, there's no reason a train should have been traveling down a coast.
SNOW: But the anger has also turned into action. Shanika and her sister are among members of her community's temple collecting everything from clothes to canned foods to medical supplies. And there's also a need for tools and a need for information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His brother is missing.
SNOW: This Buddhist priest at a nearby temple has been monitoring Sri Lankan broadcasting, trying to help link families with missing relatives.
PERCY NANAYAKKARA, TEMPLE MEMBER: This is sort of like a nerve center where all people contact.
SNOW: And they share grief.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a sense of community and everybody is helping out. I know most of these people have work today. And they're taking time off to help.
SNOW: These sisters are hoping to take time off to go to Sri Lanka themselves to deliver aid and help rebuild.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A pair of hands sometimes is more valuable than any money. So, just to go and be close to them and not just my own family. There's nothing I wouldn't be willing to do.
SNOW: Now, besides hoping to go to Sri Lanka herself, Shanika says she's also begun writing to corporations, looking for donations, this as she and her family continue their desperate search for answers -- Jeanne.
MESERVE: Mary Snow, thank you.
One of the victims of that Sri Lanka train wreck has been identified as 55-year-old Temera Mendez (ph) of Chicago. Relatives say Mendez's body was pulled from the wreckage. She was traveling with her 25-year-old daughter, who survived.
More powerful images of the deadly tsunami, new photographs from the region up next.
MESERVE: Here's how you are weighing in on our Web question of the day. This is not a scientific poll.
Tsunamis are fast-moving forces of nature, moving up to 600 miles an hour through the deepest water and slamming into shores at 30-40 miles an hour. Even so, we can learn a lot about their terrible, awesome power from still photographs.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT"'s continuing coverage of the tsunami disasters starts now.
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