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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Most Memorable Moments of a Week We Will Never Forget
Aired January 1, 2005 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight. The most memorable moments of a week we will never forget. The devastation beyond imagination. The miraculous, terrifying tales of escape from those who survived the tsunami of 2004. Now, highlights of Larry's coverage of this historic disaster, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Good evening. Special edition of LARRY KING LIVE tonight. You know what we're covering. Joining us in New York is Sam Champion, WABC weatherman and reporter. In Seattle is Dr. Eddie Bernard, director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. He's past chairman of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. Former director of the National Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu. And Dr. John Anderson, Dr. Anderson is director of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory. He is in Reno. We'll also be checking in with our reporter Aneesh Raman in Thailand, as well as Brad Olsen of CNN's Beijing bureau. And Moira Lee will be with us in Bangkok.
Dr. Bernard, what is a tsunami?
DR. EDDIE BERNARD, NOAA: A tsunami is a series of waves that have been produced by a disturbance of the ocean's surface. And several things could create a disturbance of the ocean's surface, such as an underwater earthquake, and underwater landslide, a volcanic eruption, or even a meteor could hit the ocean and produce a tsunami. Once it's formed it radiates out in all directions. And it propagates very fast in the deep ocean. And as it approaches the shoreline, it becomes slower and waves amplitude in size -- wave amplitude goes up in size. And usually the forces of these waves can be anywhere from 20 to 40 miles an hour as it approaches the coastline.
KING: What does the word mean?
BERNARD: The word "tsunami" is a Japanese compound word. "Tsu," which means harbor. And "nami," which means wave. And in Japan, that's how they were forewarned that a tsunami was approaching. They would see anomalous waves in the harbor. So that's how the word originated.
KING: Dr. Anderson, they are not predictable. Are they occurring -- they tell me earthquakes are occurring all the time, minor earthquakes everywhere. Are there tsunamis occurring all the time everywhere in the world?
DR. JOHN ANDERSON, NEVADA SEISMOLOGICAL LABORATORY: Well, good evening, Larry, thank you so much for having me. No, tsunamis are not occurring all the time. Only when a very large earthquake occurs underneath the floor of the ocean.
KING: Therefore, even though there's so much more water on the earth than land, there are more earthquakes than tsunamis?
ANDERSON: Yes. By hundreds of thousands.
KING: So there can't be a tsunami in the middle of the Atlantic?
ANDERSON: Well, there can be large earthquakes in the middle of the Atlantic. And a large earthquake in the middle of the Atlantic, if it happened to displace a lot of water, could generate waves going around to some of the shores of the Atlantic. But that's not a very likely scenario. In fact, in the middle of the Atlantic, the type of faults that you have there are not the kind that generate tsunamis. On the other hand, along the margins of the Caribbean Ocean, there are the same type of faults that one has in Indonesia. And there's the potential for a tsunami to be generated there.
KING: Sam Champion, are they forecastable?
SAM CHAMPION, WABC WEATHERMAN: No, not really. That's one of the difficult things about this is that you're waiting for seismic activity. These waves are different from the waves that we always see that are caused by winds or tidal changes. This has to be something that happens seismically under the ocean surface. Either an earthquake or as we said, a volcano or large landslide that might displace water. They happen on big scales and they happen really without any warning. It would take probably an earthquake above a 7.0 is what they look for when they're issuing a watch to say, this is capable of producing a tsunami. This earthquake could produce a wave of water that would move. So they kind of look for a major event to happen. And they really do happen without warning.
KING: Aneesh Raman is with us by video phone. He is in Phuket, Thailand. Where were you Aneesh?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the earthquake occurred I was in Bangkok and that's 500 miles north of where we are now. I can tell you, there, buildings literally swayed. I felt it. And even further north in the tourist area of Chengmai, some 950 miles north of where we are, there was structural damage. But here in Phuket, obviously, those 30 foot waves devouring the coast. This is where the destruction is worst, Larry.
KING: And Brad Olsen, a CNN Beijing cameraman, is with you there in Phuket, Thailand. Where were you, Brad?
BRAD OLSEN, CNN CAMERAMAN: I was in the province of Karabi, just south of Phuket, about two hours' drive. And when the tsunamis struck I was actually up in the jungle with my family. Because I had received a sunburn the day before and we just didn't want to go to the beach. We had just too much sun. So we were quite lucky.
KING: Now let's check in with Moira Lee, Moira is a tsunami survivor who was on Patong Beach, that's an island resort off Phuket. She is now in Bangkok. Where were you and what happened? MOIRA LEE, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: I was actually sitting in a coffee shop directly on the water. And we didn't actually know what was going on I guess since they're so unpredictable. But we were having coffee and the woman in the coffee shop said to us, "The water is too high." And she kept saying that. I said, "What does that mean?" not a minute later, she screamed, "Run," and we all started running and the water came really quickly. We started jogging through the streets trying to get to the mountain. And my friend and I just started running. And every time we turned a corner action we thought we lost -- the water had stopped. But when we'd come to a through street, the water would be there. So we ran for several streets with the water right at our heels. Then we got to behind several buildings and streets, we got to the base of the mountain.
And it was like a mass exodus out of the city. Thousands of people on scooters and walking and in trucks, just moving really slowly up the mountain. So we eventually got a ride with somebody in their truck and they drove us to the top. But since we were there for the first tidal wave, we were -- since we were right there when it happened, we saw the other two or however many there were hit by the time we were at the top of the mountain.
KING: Did you have any idea what was going on?
LEE: No, we had no idea. And actually, for the first eight hours or so, no one had any idea as we sat on the top of the mountain. We knew that obviously when we got to the top, we could see the waves. We knew that there were tidal waves and we knew there had been an earthquake because a lot of people felt it. I actually didn't feel it. But I did wake up around 8:00 when it happened.
But we didn't really know. We had no idea what was going on. And as soon as people could get out to their families abroad, that's how we were hearing news from people abroad who had heard things. We didn't know what was happening. And then we actually just decided, because a lot of people were going back down the mountain, we didn't know what had happened so we decided to go back down the mountain. When we got down there about 4:00, we'd been there since 10:00 in the morning. There was a mad frenzy again to get back up the mountain and we ended up on a different mountain. Because somebody gave us a ride again. And we stayed up there on the side of the road all night. Just waiting. Because we didn't -- there was no -- there were no authorities. We did see a few police officers. People were coming with food and water and blankets. But it seemed like they were locals. Local Thai people. Who were wonderful, amazing. Who would go back and forth, up and down the mountain, getting people supplies and things. But we didn't ...
KING: Moira stay with us. Dr. Anderson, before you leave us, is this possibly the forerunner of other events?
ANDERSON: Well we can expect that there will be more earthquakes of this size in other locations around the world. In fact, farther to the southeast along the same fault zone, there are some more seismic gaps that are what we might describe as mature. So it would be entirely -- no scientific surprise to have more large earthquakes along the coast -- The southern coast of Sumatra in the next 10 or 20 years. But I would not expect this to be a forerunner of any -- any specific earthquakes in the next few days.
KING: Thank you, Dr. Anderson. Sam Champion and Dr. Bernard will remain with us. We'll be talking with other survivors and other people involved, other reporters as well on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get inside. Get inside guys.
We've got to get out there. We'll be all right for this one. OK. I'm getting frightened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Another survivor joins us. From Tonsai Beach in Krabi, Thailand. He is Sam Nicols. Where were you and what happened, Sam?
SAM NICOLS, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: I was on the beach rock climbing. On Tonsai ( Beach. And all of a sudden -- I guess we noticed the tide pull out really quickly but didn't put one and one together with the earthquake, that it was an earthquake and that it could be a tsunami. And all of a sudden, people started pointing out in the ocean. And you could see a wave of big breakers roll in off the coast. Crashing against the rocks farther out. I had enough time to grab my backpack and run 50 meters along the beach to a bar, stop and take out my camera and begin to take pictures as the waves began to crash over sailboats out in the bay.
I didn't have my cell -- I think I was a big unsure how big they actually were without being able to see it since they were so far out. The waves eventually moved in. By the time I grabbed my bag, I knew I had to run. They had overtaken me. And I was knocked over by two waves pushing me into the bar I was at. I crawled up into the DJ booth overlooking the dance floor and managed to - Luckily, the building had not collapsed. The buildings around me did collapsed. But that building didn't collapse. But I'd been underwater for two waves. And I was extremely lucky to escape without any injuries.
KING: Sam, why did you stop and take pictures?
NICOLS: I think I thought about that many, many times. I don't understand why. It was a really stupid thing to do in hindsight. I'm used to seeing large waves, coming from California. And when I saw the waves out there, they didn't really look that big. And the water had drawn out so far, they seemed so far away, I couldn't imagine they were going to get there as quickly as they did at the end. It's something that I've mused over in my head many times how it was. It was just a big mistake. B ut I've never been in a situation like that. I think nobody knew what to expect. And I just consider myself extremely lucky I didn't get injured more than I did.
KING: Sam, were you there as a tourist?
NICOLS: Yes. I'm here living for three months doing rock climbing. And on Tonsai Beach there is a big rock climbing center. And that's one thing I should say, now today, about 90 percent of the tourists have left, but I think 75 percent of the people who are rock climbing have stayed around and have been very helpful to the local people, helping them clean up a lot of the debris on the beachside. Pulling apart the buildings that were flattened. There's definitely a lot of great camaraderie between the Thai and the Westerners working towards rebuilding the place that everyone enjoys coming to so much.
KING: Dr. Bernard, could this hit the United States?
BERNARD: Yes, it could. In fact, it has happened in the United States in the past. The most recent disaster that beset our country was in 1964, the Great Alaska Earthquake, which produced a large tsunami in Alaska and the waves propagated all the way down to the West Coast. And it continued to attack our coastlines. And it actually wound up killing another ten people in Crescent City, California. And two people in Newport, Oregon. So yes, we have had this experience in the past. But not at this magnitude.
KING: Sam, is there any defense, if you had a warning?
NICOLS: Yes, if we would have had -- many people, the Thai people complained that they did not hear a warning from Phuket or from Phi Phi Islands which were hit before us. If we would have had two or three minutes more, even, to just evacuate everyone out. Yes, it could have no common(PH). The waves here, we were some what shielded from the other islands, the waves only got in about 15 meters. So it wasn't even that far. Maybe 30, 40 in some places. But it wasn't that far to move yourself to get out of the way.
KING: Sam Champion, do you ever remotely think about something like this in New York?
CHAMPION: Well, Larry, these people certainly didn't. And that's one of the things that you can't fault them for being caught off guard, here. They're such a rare occurrence. And most of the people who experience one in their lifetime didn't experience one before it. You'll hear time after time again these stories of the water being sucked out and being able to see the beach much farther than you could before. That's a warning sign. It's a sign that this water is piling up offshore and just minutes away from rushing at you. Most people don't know that, though. They haven't faced it before. So when they're looking at this, they're drawn to the coastline. They actually go closer to the coast to say, wow, look at this, the water's out, there's no water or it's lower than it should be.
And they're standing there. And all of a sudden, this wall of water comes at you. And you often don't see it as it's depicted in the movies, like a big rushing wave. It will be a mound of water. And then, as it gets closer to the shoreline, it's almost like that sweeping wall of water does form a wave characteristic just before it breaks the shoreline. So on the horizon, you may see something coming at you. And you're looking at this phenomenal sight that you're never seen before and you're caught completely off guard.
We don't think about it. And to answer your question, we don't think about it much in New York on the East Coast. It's a West Coast phenomenon for us. It happens in Hawaii at least if you took it on average, it would be like once a year in Hawaii. In the '50s and '40s, they had such a problem with them they formed this tsunami warning kind of grid that they put the buoys out in the water and they're able, after they get a report of an earthquake to see if the water has shifted and to be able to sound warnings on the coastline. There is nothing like that on the east coast of India. Even though India's one of the member nations of the global tsunami program. They're more concerned about their other coastline because that's typically where they come from.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with lots more. Don't go away on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE on CNN. Stay with us.
KING: Dr. Bernard, is there any chance that this has implications beyond the area where it occurred?
BERNARD: Well, we already know that the tsunami actually propagated around the entire Southern Ocean. There was recordings of it in New Zealand and even on the continent of Antarctica. So, this particular tsunami was very widespread. It went around the globe, at least in the Southern Ocean.
And -- but as far as implications for the rest of the planet right now, this event is pretty much concluded, as far as the tsunami goes. What tomorrow holds, what other earthquakes in other parts of the world may happen and what tsunamis may be generated is yet to be seen.
But I did want to correct one misperception that may be out there. And that is, every year, there are about five tsunamis, one of which is destructive. That is, it can cause property damage and loss of life. The other four are measurable by instrumentation. But tsunamis are an uncommon event, but not that uncommon. Five a year is a pretty regular event.
So, in the hundreds of thousands of earthquakes that occur each year, at least five of those produce tsunamis.
KING: Why are earthquakes much more common?
BERNARD: Well, for one thing, the size of the earthquake will determine whether a tsunami is produced or not.
We can probably have micro-tsunamis that are produced by smaller earthquakes. But we do not have any instrumentation that can measure it.
BERNARD: So, I think it's somewhat of an issue of threshold.
What you're witnessing here in the Indian Ocean is a catastrophic event. Probably the earthquake and a series of underwater landslides combined to make a gigantic tsunami. This is unprecedented in the history of mankind, as far as the devastation it's wrought on the Indian Ocean. So, what we're seeing here is probably one of the largest events that we will witness on planet Earth.
And how often this will happen remains to be seen. The last event that was a basin-wide one was in 1960, where the earthquake was a magnitude 9.5 in Chile. And the waves propagated to Hawaii, where they killed about 66 people. And then they continued to propagate all the way to Japan, where they killed about 200 people.
KING: So, Sam Champion, in essence, all tsunamis are earthquakes, right?
CHAMPION: Well, they -- I'd say most of them are, or seismic. And what we mean by that, Larry, is, it -- it requires some kind of movement of the earth itself, like a plate shift or a volcanic eruption normally. Then those things -- one of those could also trigger a landslide, which would drop a large shelf off a large piece of land and create a wave in that way as well.
The thing about water is, is that it transfers energy just amazingly. I mean, if you move it -- just think about if you're in the bathtub and you're pounding on the water. That goes all the way to the edge of the tub until it breaks on something. And that's the way it will travel in the ocean as well. That wave will continue.
And we're not talking about a surface wave, remember, nothing like what the winds of a hurricane will create or anything like that. That's if you're actually in the tub and you do like this on the top of the water. That's a surface wave. Think of it as if you put your hand underneath the water in the pool or in the tub and you move your arm underneath the water. That creates a little mound of water on top.
And it's much more powerful. It travels the entire distance of that water until the bottom of the ocean starts to come up to meet it. Then, when you get into shallow water, that energy's moving at such a pace, it has to go someplace. So, it piles up and creates a big wave and then strikes the shoreline.
If you were out in the middle of the Atlantic when this happened, you may not have even noticed this mound of water come up. But, certainly, by the time it reached the shoreline, it was devastating.
KING: We have another survivor joining us at Phuket in Thailand, Phuket. He is Bruce Austin.
What happened to you? What were you doing there, by the way, Bruce?
BRUCE AUSTIN, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: All right. Well, the first indications we had was vibrations which came through probably around 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. And then I was in my bed at the time. First, I heard a crashing sound coming through from the front of the building. We were lucky because the hotel we were in had an underground car park, which took a large part of the impact.
But the wave came through on the first floor. I heard a crashing, banging, screaming sound. I rushed out to find -- see people basically bleeding everywhere, broken bones, people thrown into -- out of windows everywhere. We were under about 10 feet of water at the time. And the situation was terrible.
KING: Were you there just as a vacationer, Bruce?
AUSTIN: Yes, I was. I was -- I was out here with my cousin John(PH). We were out here diving. He was actually at one of the ground-floor bedrooms. And he was almost drowned with several other people. But, luckily, they're safe.
KING: Are you trying to -- are you trying to leave?
AUSTIN: We were trying to get on a flight. We're booked out tomorrow. There's a certain amount of chaos still here, but things are relatively well-organized. The authorities appear to be controlling the situation as well as it can. But it's very difficult to get flights in, very difficult to get flights out. Things are still -- still pretty -- pretty bad.
KING: Sam Nicols, is this a big tourist time of the year there? Is this summer?
NICOLS: Yes, well, this is definitely the high season, the absolute highest season. Between Christmas and New Year's, I think, is when things max out, as far as the number of tourists who are here. So, yes, and from that side, it couldn't have come at a worse time.
KING: Moira, would you say that the difference between those who lived and those who died was luck?
LEE: I would definitely have to say it was. There was no warning. And, definitely, where you were on the island was sort of just luck, fate, I guess, what happened.
KING: Do we expect, Aneesh, the totals to go up?
RAMAN: We do, Larry. As I said, it more than doubled yesterday. It's likely that something similar will occur today, into tomorrow.
The Thai government really dealing on seemingly infinite levels with this rescue and relief effort. They have two clear demographics, the tourists and they have got the population here. As we have mentioned, this is the peak of the tourist season. Some five million people, Larry, come here annually. And this is really when the majority of them arrive. They are also, the Thai government, dealing with a local population that was hardest hit in the coastal area. But they're trying as hard as they can to make public efforts to help these tourists. They've given free lodging to anyone in Bangkok that wants it, as they figure out what to do next when they leave this area. They've also set up two major tourist-specific relief centers, one here on the island of Phuket, a sister one in Bangkok.
And they're MEDEVACing out any tourist that has severe injuries to some six Bangkok hospitals set aside just for foreign nationals. A t the same time, some international help coming, the U.S. sending three military aircraft, the Japanese helping out as well. And some of these countries where the dead are from, Larry, have begun sending planes to pick up the bodies of their citizens, as well as to take the wounded home.
KING: Dr. Bernard, are there post-tragedy health problems?
BERNARD: Generally speaking, the contaminated water poses a health problem.
The massive amount of cleanup operations, the decomposition of animals, as well as humans, if they're not properly covered up and cared for, these all do pose problems for the local jurisdictions. It's a horrific problem in this particular case because of the widespread damage that was done.
KING: Would you say, don't drink the water?
BERNARD: Absolutely. And, certainly, you need to have some way to purify it, either tablets or boil it or something to -- because that's the most acute problem that is facing these countries as they are cleaning up right now.
KING: We'll be right back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: Tonsai Beach, Thailand. First, Matt, who is a college graduate out of Flagstaff, Arizona. What are you doing there?
MATT ENGBRING, SURVIVED TSUNAMI: Well, Larry, I actually decided to come here as a tourist and vacation here for rock climbing.
KING: Rock climbing. All right. What happened on ...
KING: What happened on Sunday?
ENGBRING: Well, we were up early climbing here on Tonsai Beach. And well, first, you have got to understand that -- kind of the geographic feature that I'm standing on the beach here is only, you know, 10 feet, 20 feet wide in many sections. And, we butt up against these cliffs, you know, that tower anywhere between 250 to 500 feet tall. And, this is the draw for the climbers is we come here because these cliffs are so fantastic.
But, that morning, we were actually climbing when we heard a large, you know, rumbling noise. Huge noise coming from the ocean. You know, as you know, there's no early detection warning systems or anything in place and we really didn't have any time to assess the situation. During the wave, I was on a climb while holding a safety line for my friend who was on a climb and we heard the wave coming in. And I had her stop on the cliff. And tie into a safe point.
And at that point, I got off my safety line and ran out to the beach to see what was going on. There was -- the other two members of my party were also on the beach. So there's four of us total. The three of us had a couple brief moments of looking at a wave before all three of us were completely swallowed up and submerged by the water.
We were right up against the cliffs when it hit. And it knocked -- well, it knocked my friends -- the two of them a lot worse than me, knocked them up into the cliffs and they disappeared almost immediately. And, within, you know, about two seconds, I went under the water, as well.
And, it seemed like a long time, but I came up from the water swimming and realized that I still had my friend on a cliff, the other member of our party, Patty(PH). And so I sprinted back to the area where the safety line was and I tied myself back into the safety line and put her back on to the belay(PH)
KING: Matt, what happened to the other two guys?
ENGBRING: Well, at this point, I have no idea what happened to the other guys. The waves were still coming in. And we were getting flooded. The water level at this point had probably already reached, you know, above 25 feet of what it normally was. I was holding onto a safety line getting kind of tossed around far while.
KING: What eventually happened to the two of them?
ENGBRING: Well, what -- as the waves subsided, two things happened. One of my friends was able to grab onto a cliff, you know, which turned out to be about 25 feet in the air holding onto the rock as he got thrashed around in the waves. And while the other one took his chances and swam away from the cliffs out into the sea and turned around and swam back into where he was able to grip to a ladder and climb up a ladder to get up on top of this other cliff.
KING: Matt, why ...
ENGBRING: So ...
KING: Matt, why did you run down to the beach?
ENGBRING: To take pictures.
KING: Matt, Matt. On second thought, Matt, that was not the world's smartest thing to do.
ENGBRING: Right, right. Well, you know, it is my former experience with oceans, you know, this wave when it was coming in really didn't look much anything bigger than I had seen before at a surf breaks in California. But, the way the feature is here, it's a very, long swallow beach. It goes out -- it's only maybe 10 feet deep for a good half mile out. And if I had realized that any sort of swell coming in like that is going to be a huge displacement of the water into the city, we had no idea. We, again ...
KING: Matt, you hang with us. I'm going to check in with other people. Dr. DeSilva in New York, you used to live in Sri Lanka, you still have family there. How are they?
DR. DERRICK DESILVA JR., M.D., LIVED IN SRI LANKA: I have two aunts that were there. And fortunately, one of them had contacted my dad after my dad contacted her, and she was fine immediately thereafter. But the second one we heard from yesterday evening, and fortunately, she was also OK. But what was very interesting is she lives right outside Colombo in a town called Mount Lavinia(PH), and had about three feet of water in her home according to my father. So the way the water got around is just absolutely frightening.
KING: Now, what are the resources there for dealing with this?
DESILVA: Well, the Sri Lankan Medical Association of North America, which my father and myself are members of, we've been collecting money. We have been collecting various resources, antibiotics and anything that is possible that we can send there. The resources that we have in this country are -- is just going to be money, it's going to be water, it's going to be food.
The resources -- we're going to try to get those resources there through the Chamber of Commerce. I spoke with Dr. Vijay Katachi(PH) who's the president of the organization just on my way into the studio today. And tells me that we're going to be working with the Chamber of Commerce in Sri Lanka and through some of the doctors there to get all these resources distributed within the country.
KING: And I'll check with you in a couple of moments about what the dangers are for disease and the like. Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, the executive director, what is UNICEF's role?
CAROL BELLAMY, EXEC. DIR., UNICEF: Well, we're in each of these countries. We were there before this happened. So we were able to mobilize immediately. We reallocated some of the money. Our focus is largely on children. As you know, there's a very young population in all 10 of these countries. Children have died but those children who have survived are suffering physical damage, intellectual -- psychosocial damage, if you will. We are particularly focusing on shelter, blankets, water purification and making sure that the kids are staying alive.
KING: You can't drink the water, can you?
BELLAMY: No. Again, the doctors know better than I. But we work very often in these situations. Frankly, distilled water may be almost as damaging as the fast water that we saw in the waves. The potential for malaria, for cholera, for dengue fever, and certainly for children to have diarrhea through the bad water and therefore dehydration could cause many more deaths.
KING: More on LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be sweeping the area and covering as much as we can in the hour ahead. Don't go away.
KING: Joining us now in Ft. Myers, Florida, is Dr. Ellen Prager, president of Earth to Ocean. Author of "A Furious Earth: the Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamies." Dr. Rohit Sharma is on the phone from Colombo, Sri Lanka. And with us in Colombo is Dr. Sanjay Gupta our own CNN senior medical correspondent. In Galle, Sri Lanka is Satinder Bindra, the CNN New Delhi bureau chief. And by video phone from Phuket, Thailand is Matthew Chance. Phuket is the popular resort island.
When, Dr. Gupta, when Sanjay, did you get there?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I got here about 36 hours now, Larry.
A couple of things to report. And obviously, people have been hearing for some time about the death toll from the tsunami itself. The concern that people have been talking about for sometime is what happens now? What are the secondary effects? Are there concerns about epidemics and the clean water? Are there concerns about lack of sanitary conditions?
Being on the ground now, talking to both doctors and survivors, it appears this isn't hype, Larry, these are some real concerns.
We are hearing about outbreaks of chickenpox, for example. You don't hear about outbreaks of chickenpox anymore. That's a concern of people who are unsettled and don't have sanitary conditions. It's also tough to get the relief out to those areas that need it the most. The roads just don't work that well and hard to get some places need rice other places need antibiotics, very specific needs. People are still working hard on this, Larry.
KING: Dr. Sharma is director of medical services Apollo Hospitals in Colombo, Sri Lanka. How are you doing there? What's happening?
DR. ROHIT SHARMA, APOLLO HOSPITALS: Oh, we are operating at two levels. At one level, we're taking care of patients who have been brought to our hospital, which is a tertiary care hospital. And of course, services are being provided, including counseling services.
Then there is, at another level, we're sending out ambulance teams to the periphery, to the coast, to the south coast, to the east coast, to the northeast. Where the level of care required is not really high-tech. What we need is really basic stuff, basic antibiotics, we need water purification tablets there, we need to dress their wounds, we need to provide care for diabetics. You know, the basic stuff. Nothing very high-tech.
But it's -- the scale of the disaster is unimaginable. There are about -- those who died have died, but those who are left behind, they're the ones, the living, they require our care. And they're about upwards of 1 million people who have who are displaced. That means more than 5 percent of the country's population.
Dr. Ellen Prager in Ft. Myers, president of Earth2 and author of "Furious Earth: the Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis." Did that book forecast this?
ELLEN PRAGER, AUTHOR: Well, certainly not something on this catastrophic scale. I do talk about some of the previous disasters related to tsunamis, but we've really never seen something like this.
KING: So, this the furious to the Nth degree, right?.
PRAGER: Oh, unfortunately, yes.
KING: Do we know why?
PRAGER: Well, tsunamis have happened throughout the Earth's history. It's a consequence of a sudden displacement or earthquake at the sea floor interacting with the ocean above it. So, you know, these things happen just like earthquakes happen.
KING: So it is a natural phenomenon?
PRAGER: It is most definitely a natural phenomenon. The earth's surface is made up of tectonic plates that are constantly moving. And you can sort of think about it, when the edges of the plates either ride under one another, they jostle against each other, that causes these sorts of earthquakes.
KING: So, by that definition, it could happen anywhere?
PRAGER: Well, it typically happens most often where these plates come together. So, while literally it could happen anywhere, it's most likely to happen in specific areas of the world.
KING: One of them being where it hit Sunday?
PRAGER: Most certainly. The most common area is around the edges of the Pacific Ocean in what's termed the Ring of Fire. But you have those same sort of plate boundaries where this happened.
KING: So Hawaii would be a natural target?
PRAGER: Well, it's a natural target. And in fact, they have had several tsunamis in the past.
KING: How about the Pacific Coast of the United States?
PRAGER: Very much so. Several hundred years ago, there's geologic evidence that they had a massive tsunami. And this is why the United States, the department -- NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has set up a tsunami warning system principally in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii.
KING: Sanjay Gupta, what surprised you the most about what you have learned since being there?
GUPTA: I think when you talk about the secondary problems, Larry, I mean, you talk about the people battered and bruised, for example, a lot of people hear that and say that's not so serious. I mean, they survived.
In fact, it can be serious for some of the reasons that Dr. Sharma was outlining. If you have a deep cut, for example, and you can't get a 25 cent antibiotic, all of a sudden, people could die from rather routine things. And that's a real problem.
The people of Sri Lanka actually started to mobilize themselves. We visited a few organizations that actually mobilized several hundred doctors around the country, set up orphanages for these displaced children whose parents were lost. They have a place to stay now. Many of them, in some of these orphanages around the country.
So the people have sort of risen to the task, as happened so often in times of crisis. But these medical problems are going to be around for sometime and they need to be dealt with.
KING: Dr. Sharma, are you still with us on the phone?
SHARMA: Yes, yes, Larry, I am.
KING: Do you have enough personnel?
SHARMA: No. We don't. We're short of people at all levels but we're managing, nevertheless. We have to with whatever resources we have. And we're working along with the government, too, under direction, as well as independently. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) calling people from leave. Everybody is pitching right from -- well, the consultants down to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), everybody is pitching in. So I think we should be able to manage.
KING: Would it help if doctors flew in from other countries?
SHARMA: Not really. Not really. What we need is -- the material that we have, the medicines and aid that we have, that has to reach to the area where it's required. That is not happening. That's what we're worried about, that's what we're concerned about, that's what we're trying to achieve. KING: We'll be back with more of LARRY KING LIVE right after these words. Don't go away.
KING: We're back. We can now make connection with Matthew Chance in Phuket, Thailand, who I understand is at the missing wall. What is that, Matthew?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a wall which you see right behind me. A notice board more than a wall, in fact, of photographs and postcards and pictures of people who are missing, people from all around the world; from the U.S., from Australia, from Europe, around Asia, as well, to come here essentially on holiday for the most part, and simply have not been seen since the tsunami struck on December the 26th.
These are people who, relatives, survivors, people who were with them on holiday, perhaps, people who have flown in since then, have come here and put these photos up to try and get as much information as they can, Larry, so they can be ideally, of course, reunited with them.
And that's possible because the hotels -- the hospitals here, rather, are still very, very full indeed of individuals who have not yet been identified. So there is a good chance that people on this board are still alive.
But obviously, as things get more organized, as the hospital workers have made connections with the people looking for survivors, and those connections are made, then hope as days go on clearly diminishes for these people, Larry.
KING: Satinder Bindra in Galle, Sri Lanka, how are the people holding up?
SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, they're not holding up too well. They're emotionally shattered. They're very confused. And as you drive along this coastal belt, Larry, you see hundreds of people just sitting outside their homes. Their homes, of course, have been completely destroyed.
They have this vacant, sort of blank look on their faces. They really don't know where and how to start reconstructing their lives. One person told me yesterday, quote, "I feel very alone. I don't know if I have a future."
Now this southern part of Sri Lanka, Larry, is world famous as a tourist resort. Many people come here to enjoy the sun and the beaches. Now people here who work in the tourism industry, and that's a majority of them, aren't even sure if tourists will come back. So they don't even know if there's any point to rebuilding their homes. Many people had put their life savings in their homes and in their businesses. It's all gone. People had no insurance.
And on top of that, Larry, they have to deal with the fact that they're still looking for some of their loved ones. Many people here, thousands of them, in fact, are still missing.
KING: Dr. Prager, God forbid, could this happen again? Could it happen tomorrow?
PRAGER: You mean in the same area?
PRAGER: It could. You know, the likelihood is very small that it would happen again in the same area. When you think about it, when you have one strong earthquake, you don't typically see another strong earthquake in the same area for a long time because the stress on the fault that has been released has to build with the time again. So it could happen in the future. But probably not for a long time.
KING: Is the time of the year important in the area it occurs, like hurricanes?
PRAGER: Well, no. Not particularly, other than the fact that unfortunately it was the tourist season so there were a lot more people on the beach.
KING: But the climatic conditions don't affect this as it would a hurricane which doesn't occur in January in Miami?
PRAGER: No, no, no. Nope. It really doesn't have anything to do with the seasons.
KING: Thank you, Doctor. Carol Bellamy, the problems seem insurmountable.
BELLAMY: Well, we can't give up. We have to respond. The U.N. is coming full blast. We have responses from governments around the world, governments even in the area. India was hit but they're also helping some of the other countries. You know, we can't let it push us back. It is an incredibly large, horrible disaster but these people have a right to have a life in the future and we have got to do something about that.
KING: Dr. DeSilva, you were surprised -- were you surprised that the doctor in Sri Lanka said they don't need doctors?
DESILVA: Well, he is obviously there. And he knows what the situation is. But I am a little surprised because I know that the Sri Lankan Medical Association here in this country is -- there are some physicians from this country that are going to be leaving within the next week to go there just to add some assistance.
And in fact, when I spoke with a Dr. Vijay Cotochi (ph), who is the president of the organization, on the way over here, he said to me that that that is going to be the next thing that perhaps will need to happen. Because these physicians are working 24 hours a day, they're just working around the clock. At some point, they are also going to be fatigued and are going to need some kind of relief.
KING: Thank you and thank you to all of our guests for participating in this special hour of LARRY KING LIVE.
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