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Tsunami Death Toll Now Nearly 68,000, With Nearly Half in Indonesia

Aired December 29, 2004 - 08:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It goes even higher. The tsunami death toll now at nearly 68,000, nearly half of them in Indonesia, we learn. One historic Indonesian city completely wiped out.
The relief crisis -- the U.S. adds more money to the race to get help to the living before disease takes the lives of thousands more.

And survivors -- a super model's harrowing experience and her search for her missing boyfriend on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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

SANCHEZ: And hello once again, everyone.

Bill and Soledad are off this morning.

I'm Rick Sanchez.


The World Health Organization has said as many people could die for disease as were killed by the tsunami itself. But with so many in need in an area so vast and access so difficult, we're going to see how hard it's going to be to save lives there.

SANCHEZ: There's something interesting about natural disasters like this, in this particular case, a tsunami. It did not discriminate. The richest and the poorest were taken on Sunday. Among the survivor stories we will hear, the super model who survived, as well as what happened to the family of filmmaker Sir Richard Attenborough right here.

COLLINS: For now, though, we want to check on the headlines.

And Carol Costello is here for that -- good morning, Carol.


Good morning to all of you.

Now in the news, nearly 30 people are dead following an ambush on Iraqi police. U.S. military sources say an anonymous caller lured a group of Iraqi security forces into this booby-trapped house. American and Iraqi forces have been searching the rubble for survivors. At least one civilian has been rescued.

Residents in southern California are bracing for even more bad weather. A powerful storm battered the region yesterday with almost a foot of rain and winds of up to 60 miles per hour. The weather causing flooding and power outages. Three deaths have reportedly been linked to the storm. More on what's expected in today's forecast. Chad will have that coming up.

A California couple is suing the maker of Children's Motrin and several other drug companies claiming the drug caused their 7-year-old daughter to go blind. The family claims the company is concealing risks of potential allergic reaction, known as Steven Johnsons Syndrome. The pharmaceutical maker Johnson & Johnson has not commented on the lawsuit.

US Airways is asking its employees to work for free at Philadelphia's International Airport over new year's weekend. The troubled airline hopes to avoid a repeat of a Christmas fiasco that left it short of flight crews and workers to process baggage. The company also announced it is planning to review employees' attendance records. No word from employees this morning.

COLLINS: All right, Carol, thank you.

We want to move on now to health officials and how they say the risk of death by disease could rival the number lost in the tsunamis, a toll which now stands at nearly 68,000 people. Eleven countries on two continents are affected by the tragedy. Thousands of people in these countries remain susceptible to deadly diseases.

And here now, a look at the newest amateur video in from Phuket, Thailand, an area popular with tourists. Officials in Thailand now saying that for every one Thai native, there may be two tourists who were killed by the tsunamis.

Dr. David Nabarro is the head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization.

He's joining us now from Geneva, Switzerland.

Doctor, thank you for being here.

We've just been updating this death toll and it is staggering now, at nearly 68,000.

What are the priorities as far as health is concerned in this area?

DR. DAVID NABARRO, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Well, thank you and good morning.

Yes, there are some extremely urgent issues that we urgent issues that we now need to address to ensure that those who have survived the tragedy are able to continue and get on with their lives.

First of all, we want to be sure that people who have been injured by the effects of the tsunami and the earthquake can get access to medical care and other treatment. Usually for every person who dies, there are four times as many who are injured. And we know that hospitals and health services in many parts of the region are just overwhelmed because they have been damaged by water and staff also are not able to work.

Then we've got to be sure that the rest of the survivors can get the food, the water and the shelter that they need to be healthy. We're particularly concerned about children and old people, who tend to be most at risk. We're worried that they're going to suffer from a mix of conditions, including diarrhea, respiratory infections and insect borne diseases like malaria and dengue.

But if we look, first of all, at water borne diseases like diarrhea, we're expecting that unless we can enable people to access drinkable water that's free of pathogens or germs, that they will start to see diarrhea cases increasing probably within the next week or so. And there's a chance that with inadequate health services that we could get quite high rates of death due to the diarrhea and that's why we've said to everybody concerned please pay attention to the health of the survivors. In other tragedies and disasters like this, we have seen that post-disaster disease can take away and kill as many people as are killed by the initial event.

COLLINS: And you say some of those diseases will start to show up about a week or so from now. Let me also say that I read, I have an article in front of me where you said, "The initial terror associated with the tsunamis and the earthquake itself may be dwarfed by the longer-term suffering of the affected communities."

What did you mean by that?

NABARRO: Well, the communities have been hit by an extraordinary destructive force. We're not yet fully clear as to what's happened in Aceh Province in Indonesia. But everything that's coming through in reports we're receiving today suggests that the whole infrastructure has been devastated in a number of parts of Aceh.

And then if we go around the coastline in the whole affected basin, there is just a swathe of territory in which the infrastructure has gone. And it takes communities weeks, months, perhaps years, to recover from this kind of disaster.

And it's the human damage that concerns us here in the World Health Organization, the damage done to people's live as a result of the destruction of their livelihoods. The physical damage due to illness I've just described and we believe that that is going to be extraordinary unless we can get relief where it's needed on time. But let's also remember there's tremendous mental scarring that occurs as a result of a tragedy like this and we've got to be sure that we pay attention to people's mental health needs, as well as their physical needs.

COLLINS: Yes, unfortunately I imagine that it's going to be some time before you're able to even do that. Also, I want to get back to some of the video that we've been seeing, unfortunately, over and over again -- dead bodies lying in the streets. There has been much talk about how important it will be to get those bodies buried so as not to further spread disease.

How big of a concern is that particular task?

NABARRO: Well, thank you for asking that question.

Most of us think that a dead body is a source of disease, partly because there is sometimes a smell of decay and partly, of course, because it's an unsightly spectacle. But I want to stress that the fundamental need at the moment is to look after the well being of living people and to make sure that they have what they need for life. And the requirement to properly dispose of dead people, through burial or some other method in a way that it appropriate for the local tradition, is certainly there. But it's not urgent from the point of view of public health.

Viruses and bacteria do not survive long within the body of somebody who has died.

COLLINS: Well, we appreciate you clearing that up for us.

And quickly, before we let you go, sir, as you've already mentioned, getting the aid to these people in these remote areas, logistically, can be really a nightmare. It's difficult for all of the food and the medical supplies to get into the places where they really need to be.

How far along is that effort? I mean what are they seeing on the ground right now?

NABARRO: Well, certainly the local authorities in all the countries concerned are moving very, very rapidly to try to bring relief to the communities most affected. What usually happens is that you get reports in of the needs and you start to move relief to where the needs are, whilst the reports are coming in. So it can initially be a little haphazard. But that's normal and the situation we're seeing right now is exactly as we would expect, with local governments and international bodies moving very rapidly to bring relief in.

But it never arrives quickly enough and there is still suffering and will continue to be suffering for several days as communities, particularly in the hard to reach places, wait for the relief they need. And our job in the United Nations is to try to make sure that the relief that is provided matches with the needs of people. And my particular concern, working here in the World Health Organization with my colleagues, is to ensure that the relief that's most important for ensuring good health and survival gets to people quickly. And safe water, water purifying tablets, diarrhea treatment, diarrhea prevention, plus the other essential requirements for good public health is what we're putting as number one, one, one.

COLLINS: Of course. And how critical it is.

Dr. David Nabarro with the World Health Organization.

Sir, thank you for your time.

SANCHEZ: We had made this point earlier about natural disasters and the fact that they simply don't discriminate. Among the dead and the missing in this disaster, family members of actor and film director Sir Richard Attenborough. Attenborough's 14-year-old daughter Lucy died when the big waves hit Phuket, Thailand. His daughter Jane and her mother-in-law still missing. You can recall that Attenborough appeared as a creator of the dinosaur fantasy land in the movie "Jurassic Park."

Also, check super model Petra Nemcova and her boyfriend, Simon Atlee. They were vacationing in Thailand when their bungalow was swept up by raging waves. Nemcova ended up clinging to a palm tree for eight hours. Her boyfriend is still missing. She survived.

Faith Kates is Petra Nemcova's agent.

She is joining us this morning, along with Jamison Ernest, a friend of both Nemcova and Simon Atlee.

My thanks to both of you for being with us.

Faith, let me begin with you.

I understand you did have a phone conversation with Petra while she was in the hospital?

FAITH KATES, PETRA NEMCOVA'S AGENT, OWNER, "NEXT MODELS": We spoke to Petra when she was in the hospital on Monday.

SANCHEZ: What did she say?

KATES: She was just grateful to be alive and she told us what had happened, that she was in her room and she heard some children screaming. And as she heard the kids screaming, her and Simon got up to go see what was going on, and the wave came at that time and it just took the whole entire bungalow.

SANCHEZ: They were inside the bungalow?

KATES: They were inside the bungalow.

SANCHEZ: So the waves -- how did they get from inside the bungalow to outside the bungalow?

KATES: That's the phenomenon that they don't know.

SANCHEZ: And as they went outside, she was able to hang onto a palm tree?

KATES: She said that the tree just appeared and she hung onto that tree for dear life.

SANCHEZ: How serious are her injuries? KATES: Well, she's got a broken pelvis. She's got some fractured bones in her hip. She's got no internal injuries. Other than that, physically, she'll be OK.

SANCHEZ: Now, Jamison, apparently Simon was washed away by the waves?

JAMISON ERNEST, FRIEND OF PETRA NEMCOVA: Yes. When we spoke to Petra, she said that after the tidal wave hit them and her and Simon were both dragged out to sea. And she grabbed onto the tree and held on, you know, for eight hours and just kept staying positive the whole time. But Simon just disappeared. And I've contacted his family and we've spoken to everybody in England associated with Simon just to inform them of what's going on.

SANCHEZ: As I understand it, she's still holding out hope.

What are her thoughts regarding Simon? Petra's, that is?

ERNEST: Petra's a very, very, very positive person and no matter what the situation is, she'll always have the best hopes and, you know, the best at heart to think of something good that will happen.

SANCHEZ: She believes he's still alive?

ERNEST: She believes he's still alive.

SANCHEZ: Has anyone told her that it appears that he may be missing?

ERNEST: She knows that he's missing.

SANCHEZ: But was washed away by the wave?

ERNEST: Right. She's aware of that. But she's hopeful that, you know, somehow, some way that he'll be found.

SANCHEZ: Let me read you a quote. This is interesting. This is from her, or from people who have spoken with her over there. "The wave was moving like concrete. It didn't wrap around you like water," she says, "it hit you."

There were babies hitting her. There were bodies washing away and she was just trying to hold on. It sounds like a remarkable story.

For eight hours she held onto the palm tree?

KATES: For eight hours. She said -- she is a remarkable human being. In everything Petra does, she's always so positive. And I think all the positive energy that she has inside of her just let her hold on until somebody came and found her.

SANCHEZ: She must be grateful to be alive. In her conversations, despite the fact that she's very injured, how does she sound to you? ERNEST: Petra is very positive, obviously in pain. You know, when I spoke to her, I was trying to make her laugh a little bit, to not be so depressed and upset about the situation. I told her she's not allowed to go away for Christmas or new year's anymore to any place but the Czech Republic or New York.

SANCHEZ: Thailand was her favorite vacation spot.

ERNEST: Yes. Her favorite place to go. And she loved scuba diving and she loves nature and, you know, the beach.

SANCHEZ: When did you find out, Faith, that the tsunamis had hit and when did you connect it, oh my goodness, my client, my friend Petra is over there?

KATES: Well, what happened to me was I was in -- on vacation in Long Island when I had heard. And I packed my family up and I said to my husband, we've got to go. And we drove -- we literally got into the car within an hour and we drove back to New York. And Jamison called me at about 12:00, 12:30 on Sunday night and said Petra's there. And I said yes. And we have to find her. And he and Olga had already been on the phone making phone calls. And we found her, I mean, thank god.

SANCHEZ: And no word on Simon.

What are you doing to try and find out or make contact with anyone who may know?

ERNEST: We've sent his pictures around to the hospitals in Thailand and we've gone through all the Web sites where they have people who are missing or are found in any way. And we've been contacting -- I called all the airports, along with Petra's sister. And we paged his name and when we were searching for Petra, we paged her name at all the airports and there's no, you know, obviously no response so far.

SANCHEZ: We wish you both the very best.

Thanks for coming in and sharing your story with us.

ERNEST: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Faith Kates and Jamison Ernest.

ERNEST: And one thing is...

SANCHEZ: Please.

ERNEST: We were discussing, it would be a great gesture if people like Richard Branson or Donald Trump or Bill Gates would send their planes over to these places in disaster to help people get out of there, because there's a lot of people that are stuck there right now. And instead of giving money, use their resources to help these people.

SANCHEZ: A point well made.

We thank you both once again -- Heidi, back over to you.

COLLINS: World leaders are working to help Southeast Asia recover from this tragedy as the entire scope of the disaster remains unknown.

CNN spoke with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday about his reaction.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: 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 condolences 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.


COLLINS: Annan said the U.N. will appeal on January 6 for funds to cover the emergency relief costs. And for a list of ways that you can help tsunami victims, just log onto

SANCHEZ: All right, lack of the weather once again.

Chad Myers is doing that.

He's at the CNN Center in Atlanta with the forecast -- good morning, Chad.



COLLINS: The tsunami disaster is touching families all across the United States. Among those still missing, the father of a little girl from New Mexico. We'll talk to his sister about the desperate effort to find him.

SANCHEZ: Also, a reporter and his family caught in the biggest story of his life. But he lived to tell it, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: ITN's Britain Asia correspondent John Irvine was on a family holiday at a beach resort in Thailand when a tsunami suddenly slammed into that beach. Today, he and his children relived the moment that this huge wave suddenly struck.

This is their story.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) JOHN IRVINE, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The children were playing on the beach when I came running down to find them and my wife, Libby. The sea off Ko Yao was a flat constitutional amendment, but with one big exception. A 20-foot wave was coming in shore very quickly, indeed. Five-year-old Peter was staring at the wave mesmerized. I lurched forward and grabbed him.

(on camera): Obviously with the wave pursuing us pretty rapidly, Peter and I were moving rather more quickly than we are this morning. My wife Libby and my daughter Elizabeth headed for our bungalow over there, but I knew that myself and the little fellow here simply wouldn't make it. We listened to the wave breaking on the beach. There was a big bang as it came through those trees. I suppose we'd reached about here before we were washed away. We were then carried about 40 yards.

The wave carried us both through this little gap between these two bungalows. All the time I was acutely aware of all the debris that the wave had picked up on its journey. Peter and I ended up actually down there in this field. And here are some of the tree trunks and other bits of debris that the wave carried with us. Fortunately, they missed us.

(voice-over): Afterwards, we find that my wife had gone through a similar experience. Only our daughter had made it to the bungalow, which was itself swamped. Nine-year-old Elizabeth was tumbled around. The furniture and fittings were destroyed, but miraculously, she suffered only cuts and bruises.

Some of the buildings here were damaged structurally, so powerful was the tsunami. We lost pretty much all of our belongings, but we consider ourselves incredibly fortunate.

As for this resort itself, the general manager is promising he'll be back in business within a fortnight.

John Irvine, ITN News, Ko Yao, Thailand.


SANCHEZ: Truly amazing. A first person's story of survival, and no doubt a very thankful family this morning, as well, Heidi.

COLLINS: People reached their breaking point, as well. In Sri Lanka. Misery and devastation give way now to anger. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: We want to check in with Toure' now and The Question of the Day.


COLLINS: People really wanting to help. TOURE': Well, some are and some aren't. There's a lot of arrogance in the air, a little bit, too.

Listen, the tsunami disaster is perhaps the worst any of us have ever seen. America is the only remaining superpower, the world's policeman. The Bush administration has pledged $35 million in aid, more than any other government. Many citizens are donating money. Some will adopt tsunami orphans. But many are saying I have a hard time paying my own bills and there are people all over the world who need our help.

Should we be cleaning up another house when ours is messy or do we have an obligation to help those in need?

Our question is what's America's responsibility to tsunami victims?

Johnny from New Orleans says: "I find it interesting that we spend $800 billion on war and destruction and yet brag about a measly $35 million in the name of humanitarian aid. Perhaps if we spent more on proving that we want to be a peace loving society, the rest of the world wouldn't view us as the bullies this administration has proven we are."

Tim from Fredericksburg, Virginia: "Has the rest of the world assumed that we, the U.S., are nothing more than a blank check? It's like they're saying don't tell us how to live or be a part of the greater good, just hand over your checkbook and leave us alone."

Dave from Japan says: "I see your point. America didn't do it. It ain't America's responsibility. Why should America help? What's in it for America?"

See, there's this -- that's not right, some people.

And Rob says: "For a country that prides itself as Christian, as well as wealthy, $35 million is pathetic. Many of the weapons that are used on a day to day basis cost many times more. Did not Christ ask us to love one another more than this?"

Good point.

COLLINS: Yes. And yet we heard earlier in one of the interviews that we did that the international aid has gone up 140 percent for those countries, what we've given to others. So, a lot of different opinions out there, for sure.

TOURE': There are.

There are.

COLLINS: All right, thank you, Toure'.

TOURE': Thank you.

SANCHEZ: And this, families all across the globe are searching desperately for loved ones caught in the tsunami disaster. And one of the missing is the father of a little girl in New Mexico. We're going to talk to that man's sister right here. You'll hear it on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Half past the hour now on this AMERICAN MORNING.

I'm Heidi Collins in for Soledad O'Brien today.

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

And we continue to get new information and new video, as well, from places, places that have been hit by these tsunamis. And update just ahead from a seaside village that may account for the single greatest loss of life in Sri Lanka.

COLLINS: We also continue to hear stories from people searching for their loved ones. One woman is looking for her brother. He is her only relative, and he was doing what he always does at Christmas, visiting his favorite vacation spot.

SANCHEZ: Let's bring in Carol Costello now for the check of some of the headlines that we've been following throughout the morning.


COSTELLO: I just talked to his sister a little bit and oh, just rough. But you'll be talking more with her a little later.

COLLINS: That's right.

COSTELLO: Now in the news, President Bush is expected to give his first public comments on the tsunami disaster. White House officials say the president will deliver a statement, following an update on U.S. relief efforts in the region. Secretary of State Colin Powell has been the highest ranking U.S. official to speak out about the recovery efforts so far.

In California, three men accused in a steroids distribution case are scheduled to be back in court.


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