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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Stories of Survival

Aired December 30, 2004 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


NANCY GRACE, CNN ANCHOR, LARRY KING LIVE: Tonight, the tsunami death toll now approaches 119,000 and it's climbing. Thousands of Americans still missing, their families desperate for any news. Millions of survivors suddenly homeless, now threatened by disease. Tonight, an update from one famous survivor, supermodel Petra Nemcova. She clung to a tree for eight long hours with a broken pelvis after the wave of death swept away her long-time companion.
Also tonight, the family with two little girls who outran a wave of death. And the latest from the prime minister of Sri Lanka, one of the hardest hit nations. We hear from rescue workers on the ground fighting against enormous odds, sights and sounds from one of the worst natural disasters ever to strike, next, on LARRY KING LIVE.

Welcome to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace from Court TV in for Larry tonight. Thank you for being with us. As you know, the death toll now approaching 119,000 and climbing. Tonight, with us Rob Marciano, CNN news and weather anchor. He is joining us from D.C. On the scene there in Sri Lanka, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Eddie Bernard. He's the director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab. Also with us, Dr. Derek Desilva Jr. First of all let's go to Rob Marciano. Rob, explain to us exactly what has happened.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN NEWS & WEATHER ANCHOR: Well, the earthquake, just off shore of Sumatra, everybody knows that, 9 magnitude. As far as we know, 9.5 is about as strong as an earthquake can get, mathematically speaking and that happened under water and that released an amount of energy that traveled in excess at times of 500 miles an hour and wreaked havoc on these beach communities that had to deal with the oncoming water. And as that 500-mile-an-hour wave makes its way across the ocean, it does so almost undetected. It's dealing with a -- such a depth of ocean. Once it gets to the more shallow water, that's when it becomes more evident what's happening and comes with very little warning, at least when there's no warning system in place. Maybe we'll touch on that a little bit later on throughout the hour.

GRACE: It's amazing to me no warning system in place for a disaster like this. Let's go now to Faith Kates. You know her by now. She's the agent for supermodel Petra Nemcova. Petra, in the midst of this disaster, Faith welcome and please tell us Petra's story.

FAITH KATES, AGENT FOR MODEL PETRA NEMCOVA: Well, as you all know, Petra was vacationing with her boyfriend Simon in Thailand. And she was in her bungalow, and she heard children screaming and Petra is all about the children and she heard children screaming. She thought they were in trouble. And as she stood up, the wave just engulfed both her and Simon and took the bungalow away. And as she was swept away, she saw Simon, that was the last time she saw Simon. And she just, by the luck of God just held on to a tree for eight hours until somebody came and rescued her.

GRACE: And she did that with a crushed pelvis, correct?

KATES: She did. She has a crushed pelvis and she's got some broken bones in her hip. But Petra is a survivor and she just prayed and she kept positive the entire time.

GRACE: Now I understand she has not only a shattered pelvis but other broken bones and internal injuries?

KATES: She's got some broken bones in her hip. And this morning we got word that she did have a small blood clot in her stomach. But the doctors are really taking good care of her. They're coming to see her every hour. I do pray for her complete recovery. And I think physically she will have a complete recovery.

GRACE: Tough question, Faith, what about her long-time sweetheart, Simon Atlee?

KATES: Well, this, as you know, there's no word on Simon yet. We've sent two of Simon's best friends who have just arrived in Thailand this morning to look for Simon. And, you know, Petra's in the hospital so she doesn't really know the magnitude of what's going on. And she's, of course, hoping that Simon's OK. And if nothing yet, she would love to just be able to bring back his body to his family.

GRACE: Oh, gosh. You know, there are approaching 119,000 dead, millions displaced, now facing the threat of disease. But so many of us feel that we know Petra because we've seen her face for so long. She's so famous. My question to you is, how is she doing and when did you last speak to her?

KATES: I spoke to her about 12 hours ago. She's doing a little bit better. Her sister arrived in Thailand to be with her. Her agent is going to arrive there in about two hours to be with her. She's got some friends there. You know, she's doing as well as you can expect somebody under these circumstances. Petra really, really is a positive person and she's going to try to make something positive come out of this horrible disease.

GRACE: When do you think she'll be brought home?

KATES: We're hoping by early next week she'll be brought home.

GRACE: Faith, thank you so much. And I assume that his family is headed that way?

KATES: Two of his friends are on their way as we speak. They may have just landed there to look for him. And I just pray that we can find Simon. GRACE: And I understand that she is under sedation right now, but when she wakes up, she keeps asking where's Simon, find Simon?

KATES: When I spoke with her last night, as soon as she starts to talk about Simon, she started to cry and she put down the phone. And, you know, she feels very, very guilty, because she invited Simon to come on this trip because this was her favorite part of the world. And she really wanted Simon to experience this great, beautiful country that she loved.

GRACE: Our hearts and prayers are with her, especially with Simon Faith. Thank you very much. Faith Kates with us tonight. Let's go now to Phuket, Thailand, joining us CNN reporter Aneesh Raman. Aneesh, welcome. Give us an update, friend.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nancy, good evening to you. The death toll here now well over 4,000. The Thai prime minister yesterday suggesting it could reach as high as 7,000. But as you've heard in that compelling story, one of the most difficult things on the ground here now is that the bodies that are being found are simply beyond recognition. They are so decomposed. So for families that are wandering here like zombies, tourists that remain without their wife, without their child, incapable of leaving just yet, even finding the closure as we heard of knowing where their relative died, of claiming that body is becoming elusive.

We went to a relief center here yesterday and a very eerie sight. You walk in, and on one side is a wall of the missing. Photos posted by mothers, by sisters, by friends, with numbers to call if you know anything about where their loved ones are. Just across from that, a matter of feet away, a wall of just utter despair, photos of the dead, taken early on so that families could come and try and identify their loved one. As we say, even that has become a luxury. Closure itself for many of these families as we proceed and this death toll continues to rise, might not come, Nancy.

GRACE: When you were describing the wall of photos, how many photos are placed and what are the efforts being done tonight to find these people or at least their remains?

RAMAN: The efforts are ongoing, Nancy, especially in some of these hardest hit areas. Pung Na (ph), the southern coastal province was completely devastated. Hotels there gutted. The rubble remains. Initially the large jumps in death toll were because so many people, the elderly, children were washed away as these waves took out - the force of these waves is strong coming in, equally strong going out. People that couldn't cling went out to sea. Their bodies were the initial -- were washing onshore.

Now, though, the initial -- the jumps in the death toll are coming from rubble that is being cleared and large numbers of people being found. But those walls filled with pictures. It's hard not to feel for every family because every photo, a 5-year-old German boy, a 20-year-old American, a 30-year-old couple from Korea, each one has a story, each one has relatives desperately trying to find them. And it's becoming increasingly difficult for them to know what is going to happen.

GRACE: I'm sure so many tourists there don't want to leave until they know something and that may never, never happen. Let's go now to CNN senior medical correspondent. He's standing by in Sri Lanka, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, welcome. Please describe for us what you're seeing.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, SR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are in one of the settlement camps that we've been hearing so much about just a couple of kilometers from the coast which is just over to my left here. What happened is that the tsunami waves came in, people actually came upland and upwards to what is now a Buddhist temple. This is a Buddhist temple (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's the name of this temple. It's not a very big temple, but about 3,000 people who are displaced are all staying here. You can see some of them behind me.

Let me just give you a little bit of a preview here, Nancy. A couple of structures behind me. It doesn't look very big, but about 3,000 people actually sleeping in this area. There are only three bathrooms here, which is obviously a significant concern. People have been talking about the sanitary conditions for some time. This is a glimpse of what it's really like. I can tell you being on the ground here a couple of things. They do appear to have water, clean water. They do appear to have food as well.

Some of the problem, though, is medications and medical care. For the first time yesterday, some doctors arriving, some supplies arriving. But what's most striking, Nancy, is the people talk about the second wave after the tsunami, possibly the second wave could be people dying of very simple things, things that could be cured or fixed by a 25 cents antibiotic or a stitch. The problem is some of those things aren't getting where they need to be, Nancy.

GRACE: Sanjay, how serious is the threat of disease? What's the possibility from your professional point of view as to how many lives those diseases could claim?

GUPTA: You know, it's difficult to say at this point. We're a few days out now from some of these settlement camps being developed. You do hear about outbreaks of things like cholera and dysentery as well as malaria. Two things at work here. One is just the standing water. Standing water can be a problem in terms of breeding some of these diseases such as malaria. Two is just the congestion of people. People all grouped together like that can also make it more likely for diseases to develop.

We're not seeing too many. We're in the south of is Sri Lanka. We are not seeing too many here. We are hearing about some on the other coast actually developing more outbreaks of the cholera and dysentery. The numbers so far seem relatively controlled, but it could be weeks, if not months to try and determine, Nancy, how much of an impact that second wave is actually going to cause. The tsunami, obviously you see the numbers much more quickly. With the disease, that could take weeks and months. Nancy?

GRACE: With us in Sri Lanka, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. When we come back, we'll find out more about specific disease concerns as well as beyond the physical health concerns. Some public health authorities warn there is a desperate need for emotional counseling for the survivors left behind. We are live in Sri Lanka. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRACE: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace from Court TV, in for Larry tonight and now we are bringing you a story of survival. Let's go straight out to James and Vivian Firmage, also with them, we're happy to say Caitlin and Michaela, their girls. Let me go to you, James. Tell us what happened.

JAMES FIRMAGE: We were on the island of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand and we had checked out of our hotel and were talking a last walk up the beach for a massage and a look around and we noticed that the tide, which should have been high, was unusually low. And that the long tail boats that normally pick up tourists and take them out onto tours around the sea were in the sand. And when we got to the little hut where we were thinking about the massage, a couple of the locals were looking anxious and worried because of the tide, which was receding. And at that point it shouldn't have been.

So what happened next was the tide went out. It came back in in a swirling motion that startled all of us. And at that point, my daughter, Michaela, who was sitting on the ground was tapped on the shoulder by a local who turned and came to us. And then the next minute the locals turned and ran. And we turned and ran, too. Not realizing that the wall that was coming -- the water that was coming to us wasn't exceptionally large when we first looked at it. So we started running. My daughter was carrying a journal. We were running for about 100 yards. She dropped it. I said, don't pick it up. I picked it up, I don't know why.

And at that point I turned around and I could see the water was 10 to 12 feet coming out of the ocean, taking everything in its path. And the sound of the ocean was similar to the engine of a jet plane roaring at us. So then I thought, I didn't think we were going to make it. I told Michaela to run. We ran through a little village and I could hear the water closing the gap on us. The trees were snapping behind it. The houses were virtually exploding, like somebody put a bomb into it, but it was the water breaking through it. Miraculously we ran up the steps next to a restaurant that was in the shape of a boat, which was sort of our safety and at that moment I turned around again and the water went rushing by. I have no idea what happened to the people that were next to us, who were running next to us. And we went to higher ground and then sort of took stock of where we were.

GRACE: So, Vivian, while you were running, you could turn back and actually see the water gaining on you?

VIVIAN FIRMAGE: Yeah, we could. I tried not to look back too much, because Caitlin was ahead of me and I was trying to keep an eye on her, but also find out where James and Michaela were. At one point I kind of fell and got back up told Caitlin to just keep on running. Looked back and saw how close it was to Michaela. And it was very, very scary. Because I didn't think she was going to be able to run fast enough and she did. She just kept running. And we all just kept running. When we got to the steps, people kind of stopped. And we just said -- I just yelled at Caitlin and she just remembers she just hears me yelling, up, up, up, just keep going up. And we did and we got to the top of a bungalow and sat there and turned around. And just cried and watched and didn't know what to do.

GRACE: Caitlin, when you turned around, did you see your mom fall?

CAITLIN FIRMAGE: I reached the top of the stairs.

GRACE: Yeah.

C. FIRMAGE: And I turned around to see, because I had gotten separated and I didn't -- for a while I didn't see my mom. And I never saw my dad or my sister. But they were behind my mom. And I looked, and she wasn't there. I looked over many tops of heads. And then I saw her head as she -- maybe she had just gotten up. So I was instantly relieved. And she saw that I had stopped and she told me to go up, up, up.

GRACE: You poor little thing. When you would turn around, you couldn't see your family?

C. FIRMAGE: I didn't see anyone. I only saw people screaming and running and other families. And then I searched and I started to worry. And then I saw my mom's face and I was relieved. And then she popped up and told me to go.

GRACE: Michaela, what do you remember? What do you remember?

MICHAELA FIRMAGE: Well, I most remember the noise, because I had no idea what was going on. So when I heard the noise, I just remember that mostly.

GRACE: Were you afraid?

M. FIRMAGE: Yes.

GRACE: You know, it's so odd, James, that the water had gone away, had gone out like low tide. That is so odd. Let me go to Rob Marciano. Guys, don't move. Rob, why is that? When there's going to be a tsunami wave, with waves this huge that claimed so many lives, why was the water sucked back away?

MARCIANO: Well, the simple answer to that question, or elementary-wise, is that if you go to the beach and you watch the waves go in and out, before a big wave comes in, that water is drawn out to sea. More specifically with tsunamis, they're long wave waves. They can be over 100 miles in length, as far as the crest to the trough. So a lot of people think that there's always going to be a recession of the ocean before a tidal wave or tsunami hits. It's actually about a 50/50 shot because you're basically timing that trough to arrive before the actual crest does. And that's a good, good warning sign, if you know what to look for. For a lot of folks, that's what saved them. And so we were lucky in this sense that the trough came before the crest. And that helped for sure.

GRACE: Back to you, James and Vivian. When the locals came up and started tapping you on the shoulder, what did you think was happening?

J. FIRMAGE: I didn't know what was happening. I was confused. I thought that the -- I knew that it was perhaps a wave coming. But I thought perhaps it was just going to be a little bit higher than normal. But to see the anxiety on their faces prior to that, clearly this was something that they were concerned about. So it set off a little alarm in my head. I didn't know what to expect. But I figured that somebody who knew the island well and who lived there, ran with terror in their face, I was going to follow them and I was going to take my family and go.

GRACE: Vivian, do you have any idea, has it hit you yet that you're safe and how lucky you and your family are?

V. FIRMAGE: Yeah. Actually, I do realize that. We kind of realized how lucky we were sitting up there on top of the mountain when we had to spend the night in the jungle. And we saw the injuries of people sitting around us. We saw -- there was a guy sitting with us who just kept breaking down into tears because he was running next to us, but his girlfriend was swept away. And so we did realize how lucky we are. We had clothes on. We were lucky we happened to have a backpack with our passports. People around us, there's people without clothes, with nothing on them at all. So, yeah, you know, not only did we survive that, but, you know, we were -- survived a lot easier than a lot of the other people. And that's what I feel bad is all of them that suffered much more than we did.

GRACE: Vivian, after you guys escaped this wave by running for your lives, you then spent a night in a jungle in a high area of an island and survived that as well. James and Vivian, Caitlin, Michaela, what a story. Thank you.

V. FIRMAGE: Thank you.

GRACE: Let's quickly go to Mike Chinoy. He is standing by in Indonesia. Mike, give us the latest.

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. The latest here is that the relief operation is just beginning to get under way. For the first time today, we have a sense that supplies are beginning to be delivered here in Banda Aceh, which is the capital of Aceh province, a city of several hundred thousands, much of which was completely leveled by the disaster. We've got tens of thousands of homeless people. In fact, we're working, just over my shoulder, you can see if we move the camera a little bit, several refugee families. They've just been camped out. That's home for them. They are sleeping there. They're eating there. They're washing there. They've got some very young children. This is part of a compound that belongs to the local government here. And they, last night, like us, were disturbed by two aftershocks, one pretty big, about 4:00 in the morning local time. It's the second night in a row that we've had several aftershocks. Pretty unsettling to be in a kind of uneasy sleep and suddenly the ground starts shaking. But it's just one of the many challenges that folks here are living with. The U.N. is saying the biggest public health concern is to get clean drinking water to people. The great fear is it's tropical weather. It's 90-plus degrees every day, very, very humid and all of the sewage, the plumbing, running water, that's all gone. So distributing clean drinking water to prevent the spread of diseases --

GRACE: Mike Chinoy, stand by. We'll be right back with Mike. He's the CNN senior Asian correspondent. The aftermath has been described like a nuclear blast. We'll take you straight back to Mike when we get back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRACE: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace in for Larry tonight. So far the death toll across 12 nations is approaching 119,000 dead. Let's go straight back to CNN senior Asian correspondent Mike Chinoy. Mike is standing by in Indonesia. Mike, I understand the aftermath of this tsunami has been described by many as being like a nuclear blast with whole villages just vaporized. Is that true?

CHINOY: Yes. Yes. What is really -- it's hard to fathom, but we've seen pictures that were taken along the western coast of Sumatra Island where there's a stretch of almost 100 miles where literally every single town has essentially disappeared. One of the people I talked to who took those pictures described these places as being vaporized. It's like all you can see are the foundations of buildings.

One place that these pictures were taken from a plane, a light plane, I wouldn't have been able to guess that anyone had ever lived there, that there had ever been a town there. But he said, yes, in fact people had lived there. He had flown over it beforehand. So it's just unimaginable and you're talking about lots of towns with thousands of people. So I think the concern here is that the death toll will skyrocket.

GRACE: Another issue is that so many of these locations are so remote they can't get the aid, correct?

CHINOY: That's correct. In fact, we understand that the governor here is looking into the possibility of trying to get a fleet of helicopters mobilized to come and be based in the airport here in Banda Aceh. That airport is operating, that's how we got in. But you can only get there by helicopter. All the roads are gone. All the bridges are gone. There's just no other way to go. And the air strips on some of these towns, the few that had them, have been damaged by the quake. It's very hard to land fixed-wing planes. So a fleet of helicopters is one of the ideas under consideration.

The only other way to get relief is for ships to come by sea, and then to bring supplies that way. I know both the American and Australian navies are trying to move ships into the region. But that takes time. And for the people who survived the initial disaster, who have been sitting out there for almost a week now with no fresh water, no medicine and no help at all, they don't have that kind of time.

GRACE: And the other thing, mike, the aftershocks that are coming, describe -- not only describe them, but they are adding to the fear and misery of all these people. There are no bridges, no roads, they're out in the middle of nowhere.

CHINOY: That's right. Well, I can tell you, I was dozing last night and for the second night in a row, I was awakened when the ground started shaking and some people in a building a few yards from where I was, several dozen of them, mostly fellow reporters came running out and some of them were shouting and pretty agitated. I would be nervous if I was inside a building and it started vibrating heavily, too. And you can only imagine, if you have seen what happened last Sunday to have lived through that quake. Don't forget, that quake, the quake last night was about 10 seconds, 15 seconds. It went on for five minutes on Sunday at a 9.0 on the Richter scale. It's almost impossible to conceive.

And then within an hour, these giant tsunamis came in and wiped out anything that was left.

So if you lived through that, you can only imagine what it's like psychologically. And the issue here, unfortunately, is survival. Psychological questions, helping people cope emotionally, that's very low down.

The question right now is just keeping people alive. And even there, we're not really very far along yet.

GRACE: Mike, before I go to break, you have seen it all, including Tiananmen Square. You've done this for years. Were you prepared in any way for what you have seen and experienced?

CHINOY: Well, I've covered other earthquakes. I've covered plane crashes. I've covered natural disasters. But I have never seen anything like this. And nothing that you do can prepare you for this.

The first day we got here, we drove 10 minutes from the airport, because we heard there was a mass grave. We knew there was a mass grave, because you could smell the stench of decaying bodies long before you got there. And there were 1,000 bodies, the guys at the scene said.

They were bloated, they were decomposing. They didn't have any body bags. They had just been piled up. And they were being shoveled like so much garbage into a pit and covered over with dirt because that was the only way to bury them. Indescribable.

And I met a woman there who had lost her whole family. They were all missing except her 3-year-old. She found his body in the street and had brought it, and had to give the body of this 3-year-old, to her son, to these people, and it was just tossed into the pit and bulldozed. Horrible, horrible.

GRACE: Mike Chinoy is reporting live. We just saw two of the littlest survivors that are so lucky. And your story is so incredibly heart wrenching. Mike Chinoy with us.

When we come back, we're going back to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Sri Lanka. And speaking of Sri Lanka, here are live pictures, as we speak, of Sri Lanka.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRACE: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace. And we are bringing you the very latest on the tsunami that has now claimed the lives of nearly 119,000 people. Millions being displaced tonight as we speak.

With us, in Sri Lanka, CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Also with us, the weatherman from CNN, Rob Marciano.

Rob, question for Sanjay?

MARCIANO: I'm curious, you know, when I've covered weather stories, Sanjay, disaster weather stories, the folks who have survived are usually a little bit on edge. You know, they're looking towards the sky for possibly next storm.

Do you find -- describe the psyche of the survivors down there. Are they looking at the ocean, waiting for the next wave to come by or are they just thankful that they survived?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, it's really interesting. A lot of people sort of talked about rumors of another tsunami, as if it were fact, as if it were going to happen. So that psyche definitely was there.

What's sort of interesting, Rob, this is a different culture here in this part of the world than what a lot of people back in the states are used to.

For example, look around this camp, for example, you see some of the faces, some of the images of these folks. They're not filled with the despair that you'd sort of expect.

Consider what they've just been through. They've been through a tsunami. Many of the people here are widows and orphans that had to identify their husbands or fathers. A lot of times couldn't even get a chance to identify them. They just saw pictures before the bodies -- had already been cremated or buried.

And then they end up in a settlement camp. Add on then, that this is one of the most deprived communities already in Sri Lanka, and now they've been through this, making them more vulnerable than ever.

GRACE: Question, Dr. Gupta, what is the situation now, tonight, with water, food and shelter?

GUPTA: You know, it's -- it's interesting. What we've found is that Sri Lanka is a country that should be thought of, not as one country, but as many different districts. There are different situations as you look in different parts of the country. Nancy, let me give you a couple of examples. If you look in the southeast, for example, Opra (ph). That's a region of the country that makes a lot of rice. So as far as food goes, they're actually in pretty good shape. But they don't have enough antibiotics.

Travel a bit further north, they don't have enough food, but they have more antibiotics. So it's a very disparate sort of situation. And getting the details of where the aid needs to be has been a real challenge.

A lot of these organizations, the relief organizations talk about blasts of relief coming. That is certainly one part of the equation. The second part of the equation is making sure that right relief gets to the right places, Nancy.

GRACE: Dr. Gupta, a question. You are in what they are calling a displacement camp. Describe that for us. What are the conditions there?

GUPTA: Yes, it's really interesting here. We're a couple of kilometers from the coast. So what happened is, about 3,000 people, right after the tsunami, came upland into this -- this Buddhist temple. That's what it is, a Buddhist temple, now housing 3,000 people. Not big enough, certainly, for all these people.

But let me just point out a couple of things. Behind me here you see one of the shelters. A pile of clothing here. A lot of the clothing actually being donated. You can see by the size of that, Nancy, I think you can anyway, that's hardly big enough to house all the people that need to be here.

As you move around here, a couple of structures that actually, to try and cook some food. There are a couple of things of water here, as well. A small cooking facility.

One of the most striking things, Nancy, I think, is that there are three bathrooms here. Three bathrooms. That's it. Three thousand people.

So the conditions aren't great. And it's this lack of sanitary conditions that people are concerned about with regards to these potential epidemics. So that's what they're dealing with here, Nancy.

GRACE: Tough question, too. Dr. Eddie Bernard, he helped spearhead an effort to get a global tsunami warning system put in place. Is money, doctor, the main reason there wasn't monitoring in the Indian Ocean?

DR. EDDIE BERNARD, PH.D., DIRECTOR, NOAA'S PACIFIC MARINE ENVIRONMENTAL LABORATORY: Well, that was one of the factors. But the other factor was that this particular part of the world, although it's experienced localized tsunamis, it's been a very rare occurrence. It's an Indian-wide, basin wide tsunami.

And in the history of, at least the recorded history we have, this is by far the most devastating and catastrophic tsunami that's ever been experienced.

So the fact that there wasn't a tsunami warning system throughout the Indian Ocean is probably not uncommon, because other places that experience relatively few tsunamis, such as the Mediterranean, do not have warning systems either.

GRACE: Rob, what about it?

MARCIANO: Dr. Bernard, we have warning systems in place, or at least monitoring systems, across the Pacific basin and a conglomerate of countries that participate in that. And unfortunately, these countries that were affected by this -- this tsunami, not participating in our system.

Describe for us exactly what it is. Buoys, monitoring sites, and the what -- what is the plan that's in place when a tsunami or earthquake is detected in the Pacific basin?

BERNARD: Well, right now, the system operates, basically, is triggered by the earthquake. We -- the Pacific-wide system, the Pacific-wide warning system, monitors for earthquakes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And when the instruments detect a large earthquake, such as the one in Sumatra, then alarms go off. And they start to monitor -- they, first of all, locate the earthquake and size the earthquake. If the earthquake size exceeds a magnitude of 7.5, they will issue a warning immediately.

And then we'll start to monitor tide gauges in the local vicinity of the earthquake to see if a tsunami has been generated. If the tsunami has been generated, they will extend a warning to cover all the other countries in the Pacific basin that might be affected by the tsunami. If they do not detect a tsunami, then they cancel the warning immediately.

But this process is not uniform in its coverage, so the tide gauges often do not pick up the tsunami quickly enough before the devastation has been wreaked on -- on the coastlines.

However, it's very important that everyone understand that the most important component of any warning system is education. And the people in the Pacific have spent enormous amount of effort educating the population so that when the residents of a coastal community feel an earthquake, they do not need a warning system to tell them that there's danger. So that's the initial part of the warning system.

GRACE: Dr. Bernard, so you advocate that when you feel an earthquake that's the best warning that can be given?

BERNARD: No, I'm saying there's a physical limitation to how quickly a warning can be issued. So if you are on a coastline, and you feel the earth shaking, then that is nature's warning to you that you should evacuate.

GRACE: Well, doctor, we've got to go to a quick break, but it seems to me that there were warning signals regarding this tsunami. Is that correct?

BERNARD: Yes. If people were educated to -- and alert to those. In fact, one of your survivor stories indicated the most obvious one. That is, there was a rapid draining away from the coastline of the water. There was an extremely low tide.

That, in itself, was a natural warning that a tsunami was on its way.

GRACE: We're taking a quick break, but for those of you that can, here is a way that you can help.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRACE: Right here, you are seeing live shots, people lined up, trying to get food. That's in Sri Lanka. The death toll now approaching 119,000 victims.

Millions of people displaced. They are abandoned. They are alone. They are in remote regions where it's almost impossible to get them aid.

We are bringing you the very latest tonight. Right now, to Dr. Derek Desilva. His family still back in Sri Lanka.

Doctor, what can you tell us?

DR. DEREK DESILVA, FAMILY IN SRI LANKA: Well, fortunately, both of my aunts that are there have been located, and they're both -- they're both fine.

We heard from my one aunt initially, and she had -- she was absolutely fine. My other one lived -- my other aunt lived right outside Colombo in a town called Nurelia (ph).

And it's just amazing to me the power of this wave. And what actually happened, because she actually lives close to Colombo on the western part of the island. And the power of this wave, and knowing some of the dynamics of this, the way it had come around. My other aunt told me that she had three feet of water in her home, and this is on the western part of the island.

It's just mind-boggling to think of how powerful this thing must have really been.

GRACE: Now when you say she's on the western side of the island, where is that in relation to the wave?

DESILVA: Well, the wave hit on the eastern part of the island, and if you look at is Sri Lanka, and if you look at Indonesia, it came -- the wave came from Indonesia, it hit the eastern part of the island. And the graphic that we have up there right now, if you look at where Colombo is, her home is a little bit south of that.

So thinking of what actually happened here with that wave hitting, and water still coming around to the other side, is just absolutely frightening.

GRACE: Right now we are going to Alasdair Gordon-Gibson. Alasdair is the head of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Welcome, sir. How long have you been there in Sri Lanka?

ALASDAIR GORDON-GIBSON, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE RED CROSS: I've been here, actually -- we have a mission on the field for some time and I've been here for the last 11 months. So we were on place when the disaster struck.

GRACE: Can you give us the lowdown on the situation there tonight?

GORDON-GIBSON: What is evident from all the reports, the figures are just constantly changing, and the scale of this is yet really to be seen.

And -- and clearly, one of the main concerns now is health care and sanitation. Every correspondent has mentioned the risk of water- borne diseases, the risks of diarrheal diseases, dysentery and maybe worse. So we've mobilizing support to help mitigate that in the event of something serious happening.

Respiratory diseases, particularly for children, pneumonia is often a big killer in these situations.

But I think what has been very evident in your program tonight, and it's been interesting, is the human -- the human element of this disaster. I mean, we heard at the opening of your program about the story of Petra and her missing boyfriend Simon. And we've had the stories of the family also in Thailand.

And it's just -- it's just psychological help. It's just restoring of family links, the family reunions which is going to be absolutely critical for people over the coming weeks and months.

And the International Red Cross has a web site to help restore family links, and -- www.FamilyLinks.ICRC.org. And I think this support will be as -- as important as anything over the coming weeks and months.

GRACE: Speaking of support, tell us from where you sit, is there enough -- are there enough supplies to go around right now, tonight?

GORDON-GIBSON: Yes. There is a good response and a superb response at national level and at international level. And there's a good quantity of supplies, especially at the international and local level getting in.

What -- what is often consumed in most headlines is the image of survivors, surviving and helping each other. There's community's resilience. The first response has been superb, from the Sri Lankan Red Cross, for example, in providing emergency support in the first hours after this, first aid. The communities themselves mobilizing to help each other. And now it's the time, I think, for the international community to mobilize in the coming days, to restore and build up these capacities of this -- of this wrecked communities across this huge vast stretch of coastline in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

GRACE: Alasdair, I want to ask you, what aid has arrived, where, who is giving it? America has been accused of being stingy. Right now, Great Britain has led the field with a pledge of $96 million, more than the U.S. has committed.

Describe the aid that has arrived so far.

GORDON-GIBSON: The international response, as I said earlier, has been absolutely extraordinary. It's been -- it's been very, very good. I don't know how to quantify the response at a country level.

But the federation, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies have just launched another preliminary appeal for just under -- over $59 million. And this is being covered very well to date. And this figure may rise, depending on the needs in the region to rehabilitate these stricken communities.

But our experience, there are huge quantities of medical support coming in to Sri Lanka. Technical teams have been moving in. The problem there, of course, the challenge is now moving those. Because the quick response of the -- the huge response now mobilized internationally is now beginning to congest the airport.

And the national response at a local level is making access for these teams down onto these stricken communities very slow.

GRACE: Right.

GORDON-GIBSON: So this will be a big, big challenge for all of us.

GRACE: Alasdair Gordon-Gibson with the International Federation with the Red Cross. Stay with us. We'll be right back with more from Sri Lanka.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRACE: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Nancy Grace, in for Larry tonight.

It's hard to describe with words the pain and suffering that millions of people are enduring tonight. The death toll rising to nearly 119,000 dead, millions of people displaced due to a deadly tsunami and earthquake.

Let me quickly go to Rob Marciano, CNN news and weather anchor.

Rob, I have read in many reports that there were warnings on radar systems in other countries. But the countries, including the U.S., did not know how to give that information to the hardest hit. Is that true? Was there advance warning? MARCIANO: That's -- that's accurate. The tsunami -- tsunami warning center in Hawaii knew about the earthquake, within a half an hour put out a statement saying that the Pacific basin was safe, meaning the west coast of the U.S., Alaska and also Hawaii, but likely near the center of the epicenter, or near the epicenter, there could be a tsunami. That statement was put out on the wires.

GRACE: Right.

MARCIANO: Very difficult to get that word, though, to those countries that were affected. They physically called Australia said, hey, try to get in touch with them and let them know what they thought. But the communication was the breakdown. The knowledge was there on the U.S. side.

GRACE: Right.

MARCIANO: They made the effort. But it just -- it hit the brakes.

GRACE: Very quickly to Phil Lemonde, the program representative for Oxfam. What's the latest tonight in Sri Lanka, Phil?

PHIL LEMONDE, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR OXFAM GREAT BRITAIN IN SRI LANKA: Well, we're still getting a clearer picture of the needs and getting clearer access into the areas. We've had teams out, five teams doing rapid assessments. We also have five offices in the country who were actually able to respond immediately.

But the enormity of the situation is still sinking in for everybody here. I heard Mike Chinoy giving a chilling report. And I think that trauma is still in the community. Though as Alasdair said, there is a resilience here that is incredible. But people are just coming to the grips with the reality of the day-to-day reality and how we can best deal with it.

GRACE: To Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's there in Sri Lanka. Sanjay, we are only seeing pictures and video. You are there. Tell us what you are sensing. Is there any optimism at all tonight?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, Nancy, there is optimism here. And I think that's one of the most striking things for all of us, our entire team here, is that despite everything that these -- these people have been through over the last several days, there is still a sense of optimism.

The community that you're seeing behind me, they were just queued up for food. You maybe saw that. This is a community of people who are a fishermen community. Many of the husbands were lost. So many of the people that are at this camp are widows and orphans.

Despite that, despite the fact that they lost a loved one just recently over the last several days, there is this -- not the sense of despair, but optimistic about what the future holds, as well.

GRACE: Right. GUPTA: So a striking thing here for us in Sri Lanka.

GRACE: Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much for being with us live tonight. Their suffering compared so starkly to our joy here in America following the holidays.

Thank you to the wonderful panel. And as I go out, how you can help.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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