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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Special Edition: Tsunami Disaster

Aired January 2, 2005 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 11 p.m. in Colombo, Sri Lanka, midnight in Phuket, Thailand, and on the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for our special "Late Edition," "The Tsunami Disaster."
It's been a week since the deadly waves rolled in, and we're still uncovering new information about what happened, what the losses are and what lies ahead for literally millions of people across southern Asia.

In just a few minutes, we'll have my interview with the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, who's just leaving now for a mission to Asia to assess the damage.

First, though, let's get a quick check of all the latest developments on the tsunami disaster.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The world's response to this disaster has turned on a huge pipeline of emergency supplies, but the developing story today and over the days and weeks, probably months, to come will be the challenge of how to get the aid to where it may mean life or death to literally hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims.

Atika Shubert is joining us now live via videophone. She's in Indonesia, one of the hardest hit areas.

Atika, set the scene for us. What's happening there now?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, I'm actually in the city of Medan, which is the coordinating center for all of these relief efforts that are flooding into Aceh. Here there are aid workers, government officials, military officials. It seems just about anywhere you turn, somebody is involved in getting relief to Aceh.

At the airport here, warehouses are stacked high with food, water and medical supplies. But the problem is, even though all of this is collecting here, getting it to the people who need it most is proving to be a difficult and very slow process.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUBERT (voice-over): Relief supplies are flooding into Aceh, but not fast enough. The infrastructure is simply overwhelmed.

With only two small airports to service the area, the skies are literally blocked with traffic from relief flights. Insufficient loading and refueling equipment also means the turnaround time for these needed supplies is painstakingly slow.

(on camera): This is the main warehouse for relief supplies into Aceh. Mountains of food, water and medical supplies. But getting it to survivors can be a logistical nightmare.

(voice-over): French aid group Firefighter Without Borders has been trying to send a rescue medical team to the devastated west coast of Aceh, an area inaccessible by road.

They're all packed, ready to go, but they've been scrambling for almost two days to find transportation.

(UNKNOWN): Yes, but I'm sure we'll make it today.

I think you have to say after one bottleneck, there's another one. So I should not stop at one. It will end up some time.

SHUBERT: That's why support like the U.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier group is so badly needed. It is a floating rescue mission, with 6,000 crew, a hospital and, most important, a fleet of helicopters that can reach even the most inaccessible parts of Aceh.

(UNKNOWN): It's wonderful because they don't have to park at these airports any longer than to pick up the supplies they need and to move them to the affected areas. So that's been a great asset for us to have those lily pads, if you will, in the water.

SHUBERT: Helicopter missions like this will keep survivors alive for now. But unblocking the logistical bottlenecks on the ground takes time, time many survivors don't have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUBERT: The biggest bottleneck, Wolf, is infrastructure. There just simply isn't enough here.

Even at the best of times the Aceh region was pretty remote. Now with the earthquake and tsunami waves devastating it, the road system here has been at least partially destroyed, cutting off the west coast of Aceh, in addition to the fact that getting fuel and vehicles on the ground is incredibly difficult.

Now, aid workers here say those kinks are being loosened up now. Some of those bottlenecks are being unblocked. But they warn it will take time.

BLITZER: Atika, what about the fear of deadly disease breaking out in the aftermath of this tsunami?

SHUBERT: Well, this is a very real fear here. And that's why clean water is very important to get to those survivors, now. They've managed to live through an earthquake, a tsunami, but if they don't get clean water, disease could very well kill them.

And that's why using helicopters is so important here, because they're able to reach areas that are completely cut off and inaccessible; at least get those very basic, necessary supplies to hold survivors over for at least a little while, until those roads can be opened up and a flow of those goods can get to them.

BLITZER: CNN's Atika Shubert reporting for us.

Atika, thank you very much.

The stories of survival from the tsunami are indeed incredible. Our senior Asia correspondent, Mike Chinoy, is joining us live from Banda Aceh, in Indonesia, where entire villages were erased from the coastline, but the miraculous stories of survival continue to unfold.

Mike, tell us what's happening now.

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

Well, I spent most of the day about 17 kilometers or 10 miles west of here, right on the coast, in an area that had been completely leveled by the tsunami.

It's an area where the main bridge down to the western coast has been shattered. And while I was there, we had a boatload of refugees coming from a town called Chilong (ph), another town that was just literally wiped off the face of the Earth. It's about 60 or 70 miles, 100 kilometers south.

These people were among of very few survivors in this town. They managed somehow to flee to the mountains. And then they came back to Chilong (ph). And they found a boat, which had been at sea during the time of the tsunami. And they managed to get that boat and sail up the coast. They were battered, bloody, sick, dazed, but at least they were alive.

The indications are that in a whole stretch of villages along the coast there are just thousands -- tens of thousands of people dead.

In fact, collecting the dead is a big, big problem. In the tent behind me is the headquarters of a group of volunteers who have come here to Banda Aceh with the express purpose of helping to retrieve corpses, which have been decomposing in the streets now for a week, which is a real threat to public health.

This group is led by a man who normally is an I.T. engineer. During the past five days they've retrieved 700 corpses. And they said, based on their assessment of the situation, to clear all the corpses, just here in Banda Aceh alone, is going to take four months.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Mike, over this week, you've told our viewers of the stench, the smell of death that literally permeates this area. We've seen you walking around with handkerchiefs over your face to ease some of this burden. Do you still smell that a week later?

CHINOY: Oh, yes, absolutely. Perhaps a little bit less in some parts of Banda Aceh.

But there are certainly many areas where you can go to, there are still thousands and thousands of bodies buried in the rubble. They have made some progress in getting corpses that were just right out in the middle of the street out of the way and to have disposed of them. But you can drive around this town, five, 10 minutes from here, and you have to put a mask on, because the stench is really strong.

And where we took those pictures of the refugees, right along the coastline, there were whole communities that had been destroyed. And when the wind blew strongly enough, you could certainly detect the whiff of the odor of decomposing bodies in the air.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Have they basically given up, Mike, on finding survivors? Or are they still looking?

CHINOY: No, they haven't totally given up. In fact, some associates of the group whose operation you see over my shoulder behind me went out earlier in the day, in this devastated area. And they went up into the mountains, because they think that it is possible that some people who managed to somehow outrun the tsunami and head for the hills may still be up there. There's no way to know for sure.

What seems certain, though, is that there's very little likelihood of anybody who might have been trapped, sort of, in collapsed buildings or anything like that still being alive. But it's possible, out in the wild, in the forest and mountains, people who fled the onrushing waters may still be there. In what kind of condition, we don't know, but people are still looking.

BLITZER: I can only imagine the grief that the survivors that you're seeing, that you're encountering, are feeling, the expressions of grief that they're making out there. Tell our viewers around the world, Mike, what they're saying to you, these people who have lost so much over these days.

CHINOY: Well, it's very, very interesting. On the one hand, they are absolutely stunned and dazed and shell-shocked. On the other hand, there is a, sort of, practicality about the folks who have survived. They're, kind of, getting down to trying to hang on to what they've got and make due with what they have.

And in this devastated area, we came across a number of people who had lived there. Some of them were crying, but they were very stoic. And they were picking through the rubble. They were looking for bits and pieces. One couple found a couple of shirts and a mug of theirs, and they said, "Well, this is what we have. It's better than not having anything. And at least we're alive."

But I think, unquestionably, over the long term, the experience of being in this tsunami and in this earthquake and losing, not only your immediate, sort of, living quarters, but a whole society around you essentially being physically demolished, will certainly have long- term psychological consequences for people. But right now, it's simply a question of keeping people alive. The psychology comes later.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Mike Chinoy reporting for us from one of the hardest hit areas, Banda Aceh, in Indonesia.

Mike, thanks. Once again, we will checking back with you here on CNN throughout the day.

On this day the secretary of state of the United States, Colin Powell, leaving right now, together with the governor of Florida, Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of President Bush. They're about to leave Andrews Air Force Base.

These are pictures that we're getting now of the secretary of state arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, with the governor of Florida. These are not live pictures. This is videotape that just got in to CNN. The back of Governor Bush there with General Powell, the secretary of state of the United States. They are about to embark on this mission overseas to get a firsthand account of what had exactly happened in the hardest hit areas.

On Thursday, they'll be in Jakarta for a summit of international aid donors to try to put together even more assistance to these people whose lives have been so devastated over this past week.

Governor Bush attending, not only because of his involvement in hurricane disaster relief in his own home state of Florida, but also to underscore the commitment of President Bush himself, his brother, representing the United States together with Colin Powell.

And in just a few minutes, my interview with Colin Powell. We conducted it just a short while ago here in Washington, before he headed out to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, in suburban Maryland.

Now, let's get the latest from Sri Lanka. The overall death toll rose to over 46,000 today in that war-torn nation.

BLITZER: Our correspondent Harris Whitbeck is on the tiny island of Kinniya, witness to how this small community has been altered forever.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kinniya's district hospital on Sri Lanka's east coast, its principal wards completely turned upside down. In the maternity ward only a vase of plastic flowers is left intact. Lab and diagnostic equipment is strewn about, rendered useless. Dozens of doctors, nurses, mothers and newborn children died here. (on camera): All of this occurred in less than 20 minutes. It's a testament to the incredible destructive power of the tsunami.

Now, days later, many people on this island feel that an equally powerful force is manifesting itself among the population. That force is the will to survive, to clean up, to move on.

(voice-over): Hours after the disaster, a contingent from Doctors of the World arrived in the country. Volunteer professionals from Spain and France, they expected long days of arduous work among severely affected victims. Instead, they found a population that had decided on its own to take immediate action.

(UNKNOWN) (through translator): We saw that people were organizing themselves. People joined together to build an important network of solidarity. Even private companies pitched in.

WHITBECK: The doctors say the main threat they now see in this area is a lack of infrastructure for public sanitation. But there is no lack of manpower to clean up. This group of islanders has been working nonstop for over a week, first removing dead bodies; now cleaning streets.

"We're doing all we can," they say, "but we need machines to move the heavy pieces of debris." All they need, they say, is a bit more solidarity.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Kinniya, Sri Lanka.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Just ahead, my interview with the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell.

The United States government has increased its aid pledge tenfold. They did it on Friday after being called stingy. But is it all enough? We'll also ask the man who initially made that so-called stingy charge, Jan Egeland, the head of the relief efforts over at the United Nations.

Our special "LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is on his way back to Washington, D.C., at this hour, as his delegation makes its way to southern Asia, the scene of the tsunami disaster.

You see Secretary of State Colin Powell just moments ago, together with Florida's Governor Jeb Bush, getting ready to walk aboard that U.S. Air Force jet that will take them to South Asia to inspect what's going on. They will report back on the needs, how relief operations have begun, and what remains to be done.

The president of the United States on his way back from the Crawford ranch in Texas right now. He'll be back in Washington in the next couple hours to take charge as well of this international effort to deal with the tsunami disaster.

Just a few moments ago, here in Washington, just before he left for Andrews Air Force Base, I spoke with the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, about what his mission is up to.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Secretary Powell, thanks for stopping by on your way to the region.

Did the U.S. miss an opportunity, immediately after the enormity of this disaster was known, to respond dramatically and generously?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: No, I don't think so. Not at all.

This disaster took place just seven days ago, and during the first 24 hours, I called every single foreign minister of the most affected nations, and said to them, "The United States stands ready to help. The president wants to do everything we can to help you. Let our embassies know what you need."

Our ambassadors immediately began distributing emergency aid. We set up teams.

The first request for assistance came from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. They wanted $7 million. We immediately gave them $4 million.

On Monday afternoon, we'd upped that to $15 million. By Tuesday, we'd upped it to $35 million. And during the course of the week, as with many other nations, as we saw the extent of the disaster, all of us increased our contributions: the U.S. upped to $350 million.

But beyond the $350 million, our Department of Defense is spending tens of millions of dollars more as we dispatched two carrier groups, a regular big aircraft carrier group and a Marine amphibious group, to the region. And private donations are significant.

So I think that we have responded appropriately. We have diverted food aid. We have put disaster teams on the ground. The president announced the creation of a core group that allowed us to pull the contributing nations of the region together to work with the United Nations. We pulled together an international coalition that is working well now.

I'm heading for the region today with Governor Jeb Bush and other government officials, and we'll not only visit some of the affected countries, but we'll also be participating in an ASEAN chair conference on the 6th of January in Jakarta with the international community.

So we responded well, and, you know, we're a little push-backy, I guess I can say, with respect to the claims that we didn't respond well. We did.

BLITZER: But the $350 million, you think that's the bottom line, or is it going to go up?

POWELL: Who knows?

Right now, the international community has put in place $2 billion worth of assistance. The problem right now is not money. The problem right now is getting supplies to large airports and seaports, and then retail distribution. So what I need more than money right now, and what those nations need more than money right now, is helicopters and C-130s and small fixed-wing airplanes that can get out to these remote areas.

It'll take a while for this money to get into the pipeline. But food is arriving. Water is arriving. Medical care is arriving. Forensic assistance is arriving. All of these things are being put in place by the international community.

And so let's not measure this just in terms of who gave the most money at a particular point in time. There is a lot of money now available, and it's not just the secretary of state of the United States saying this. This is what we're hearing from the United Nations and from Jan Egeland, who is the principal humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations.

BLITZER: All right, we can go through all these points point by point. I want you to respond, though, to what Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the member of the Appropriations Committee, said in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): We should have been eagerly telling that part of the world, especially the Muslim part of that world, that we here in America are generous, are good people, and we are strongly committed to help them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: We are strongly committed to help, and we are helping. I mean, $350 million, two carrier groups, thousands of troops. When you look on television this morning, Wolf, what you're seeing are American helicopters landing and delivering assistance. And the private sector has responded so well.

And so in just seven days' time, from what was essentially notification last Sunday that an earthquake had occurred off the northern coast of Sumatra and was producing a tsunami -- just a week ago we thought the numbers of people lost were in the neighborhood of, say, 10,000. Now, it's 150,000. Nobody knew that last Sunday.

BLITZER: You're going to the region with the president's brother, the governor of Florida. The L.A. Times writes in an editorial this morning, the president should go as well. Listen to what the editorial says.

"The president would be wise to travel to the region in the coming weeks. There is no need for a grandstanding tour of devastated communities, but a respectful visit to national capitals to express our nation's condolences, and to ask how the president could help would go a long way toward rehabilitating the U.S. image in the world."

Is that a good idea?

POWELL: The president will be following this very closely. He has been following it very closely from the beginning. And he is sending me and his brother, who has great experience in these matters, to the region to represent him. And he will get reports from us.

But let's keep in mind, these are nations that are spending their time and attention now delivering relief to their citizens, and a visit by the president of the United States, with all that entails, would be a diversion of their attention from providing support.

So we don't need a big, grandstanding event right now, which would essentially, no matter if it's only two capitals, be a significant diversion.

BLITZER: Will the money -- the $350 million, plus the additional millions that the Defense Department is spending, will that come from existing funds, or will you seek an additional appropriations measure from the U.S. Congress?

POWELL: The way it works is we go to existing accounts that we have and we take the money from those accounts. But those funds were supposed to go somewhere else, so they'll have to be replenished.

And I've talked to Senator Bill Frist, the leader of that Senate this morning, and he has made it absolutely clear that the Senate will come back in session whenever it is necessary to obtain the necessary supplemental funding to replenish these accounts, and I'm quite confident we'll get the same sort of response on the House side. Congressman Jim Leach is heading to the area, and Senator Bill Frist will also be heading to the area by the end of the week. So we'll get strong congressional support to replenish those accounts.

BLITZER: So whatever it costs, the U.S. government, the federal government, the Congress will respond?

POWELL: Yes. We're responding now. Money started flowing within 24 hours. An expression of interest.

And all week long, as we announced the smaller amounts, the $15 million, the additional $25 million, we made it clear, I made it clear and the president made it clear that we knew those numbers would rise.

But you can't just throw a number out. You have to get some sense of what is needed, some analysis of what is needed. And right now a total of $2 billion has been pledged by the international community, and the secretary general of the United Nations is very satisfied with that response, as is Mr. Jan Egeland.

But let me make one other point here, Wolf. The nations in the region never thought that the United States was not responding. They knew we were responding. They knew our ships were on the way. They very much appreciated the fact that I called and that the president called the heads of state and government, to let them know that the United States, the American people, would be responding to this crisis. And we have responded.

BLITZER: The critics -- and there are plenty of critics, there are always critics, including the editorial writers at The New York Times -- say it's one thing to make a pledge, it's another thing to deliver.

Thursday, they wrote this: "Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged."

POWELL: When we pledge an amount, we plan to deliver that amount. Sometimes there are difficulties with respect to the actual delivery of resources. In a place like Iran, that might be particularly difficult.

But let me give you another example. In the Caribbean earlier this year, there was devastation that was brought about by Hurricane Ivan and the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. And we initially put a few thousand dollars into the system and then a few million, and we ultimately got a handle on the extent of devastation in our part of the world and we went to Congress and we got $120 million. And that money will be delivered over a period of time.

Not all of the money is spent immediately. It takes time. You have to determine, what are we spending the money on? Is it for food, or is there enough food? Should we spend it on reconstruction? Should we spend it on hospital care? Where should the money appropriately go?

So the money spends out over a period of time in a sensible way, not all at once.

BLITZER: When you heard the U.N. relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, utter these words -- and I'm going to play them -- I want to know what went through your mind. Listen to what he said earlier in the week that caused quite an uproar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAN EGELAND, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me why are we so stingy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He wasn't referring directly to the U.S., but that was the upshot, that the rich countries, like the U.S., were not giving as much as they should.

POWELL: He wasn't talking about this particular crisis. What Jan was saying was that, in general, he thinks that more money should be given to disaster relief and, frankly, to development assistance around the world. And that's his job, to point out these kinds of things. But he wasn't talking about us. And he made that clear in the days that followed.

He is very satisfied with the contribution we made. And I've met with Jan on Friday in New York, and we had a video conference with him on Thursday. So we're all on the same sheet of music.

Last year, the United States provided $2.4 billion to disaster relief throughout the world. That was 40 percent of the whole world. So we have nothing to apologize for. It's 40 percent of the whole world's contribution. So we have been generous.

And in the four years of President Bush's first term, we have increased our development assistance funding, we have come up with the Millennium Challenge Account, which you're well familiar with, Wolf, where we're going to give billions of dollars to the developing world in order to prepare them for a different future.

BLITZER: You know, the critics say that as a percentage of GNP, gross national product, the U.S. is not giving what some other countries are giving.

POWELL: We don't accept that definition of giving, because our giving comes in many forms. Some of it is straight contributions of the kind we've been talking about, the $350 million, for example, but other giving comes from the private sector. Our private sector, and not just business private sector but Americans themselves, are the most charitable group of people on the face of the Earth.

And while we're talking about what the United States government is doing, for example, with respect to this current crisis, what you see the private sector doing, companies matching employee contributions, Amazon.com asking you not to buy a book but make a contribution to the American Red Cross. In the last couple of days, they've raised $14 million from their subscribers. Same thing's happening at AOL.com, and so many other places. That's typical of American generosity.

And so you have to factor that in, and you have to factor a lot of the other things that our military does in the course of the year. So we do not accept percentage of GDP as the best measurement of overall giving.

Now, as secretary of state, I'm always looking for more resources from our Congress, and we've been rather successful over the last four years in significantly increasing disaster relief funding and development assistance funding.

We know better than anyone that some of the problems we face in the world, and undeveloped nations, and their fight against HIV/AIDS, and their fight against poverty, their fight against disease is an important fight. We have to be part of that fight, and this administration, under President Bush's leadership, has done a lot with respect to development assistance, HIV/AIDS, free trade, opening up trade so that nations can develop. BLITZER: Let me -- it's not just a gift. It's not just charity. This is an investment in America's own national security.

POWELL: That's why we have approached it in this way. It is an investment in national security. If nations are poor, if they don't see hope, if they're riddled by disease, if no one is helping them, then radicalism takes over. They lose faith in democracy, and they start turning in other directions.

So you're absolutely right. This is an investment not only in the welfare of these people, which in and of itself is a good thing to do, it's an investment in our own national security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we'll have more of my conversation with the secretary of state, Colin Powell. That's coming up just ahead.

And this note: President Bush has ordered flags lowered to half staff here in the United States in honor of the tsunami victims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're monitoring all the latest developments in the tsunami disaster; we'll have much more of that coming up.

First, though, more of my conversation with the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, as he and the president's brother, Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, head out to southern Asia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Claire Short, the former British minister, was critical of your decision to create this core group, of Japan, Australia, India, the United States, to take the lead in trying to deliver some of the aid. She said this: "I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the U.N., when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up."

POWELL: Well, first of all, the reason we created that core group of nations, it's because those nations are in the region, to include, if I may, the United States, because of our military presence in that part of the world. And what we needed to do was to make sure we were coordinating our efforts. The core group will grow a little bit more, and then it will go out of business as the U.N. gets itself geared up.

But I called Secretary General Annan the same day that we formed the core group, and made it clear to him that this was not in any way competing with the efforts of the United Nations and other international organizations. And on Thursday, we met with the core group ambassadors in Washington on a video conference, with Secretary General Annan, with the head of the World Food Programme, with the head of the U.N. Development Program, with Jan Egeland, and made sure we were coordinated. And then on Friday, I met with the secretary general in New York, and we're completely knitted up.

And I would expect that over the next week or so, the core group will have done its work, and the whole international community will be very well coordinated and knitted up, and the core group can go out of business.

BLITZER: So I guess it wasn't a slap at the U.N.

POWELL: How can it be a slap at the U.N. when I went to the U.N. and said, "Kofi, we've got to do this, in order to get started, to make sure we're coordinated, and we will integrate it in with your efforts"?

And all of that was done within four days. We created the core group on Wednesday. And on Thursday, we were meeting with the U.N. core group members and the U.N. agencies. And on Friday, secretary general and I spoke to the world about this via a teleconference.

And we'll all be in Indonesia, in Jakarta, on the 6th of January. The United Nations, the nations of the region, ASEAN nations, other international organizations, and the United States. I will represent the United States there.

And what we have tried to do is use the core group -- and we called it "core" -- as a way of getting started, recognizing that it would ultimately be subsumed into the efforts of the United Nations.

BLITZER: I guess you could make the case that there's a lot less bureaucracy with four countries than with the whole world getting involved, to get the process going.

POWELL: What we had was a catastrophe that built up. Initially, we were hearing maybe 10,000 people have died. That was tragic, and we started to respond to that. But the numbers just escalated enormously over the next four days.

BLITZER: And now it's 140,000?

POWELL: Now, it's 145,000, 150,000.

BLITZER: How many Americans have died?

POWELL: So far we can only confirm 15 American deaths. But there are a lot of Americans that we haven't heard from.

BLITZER: How many?

POWELL: There are several thousand.

BLITZER: Thousands of Americans?

POWELL: Easy. It doesn't mean that they have been lost. It's just that we have not heard from them. Their families are not sure where they are. But only 15 confirmed deaths, and no suggestion that there are a large numbers of Americans in hospitals we haven't reached out to. And so, there are some several thousand Americans that we're just waiting to hear from, or have their families tell us, "No, we know where they are; they're OK."

So I don't expect a huge number of American casualties, because in a week's time, we have only identified 15, and we have had no families coming in suggesting -- not many families coming in suggesting that they fear the worst. They've just not been able to reach out to their loved one, or their loved one is not able to reach out to them.

BLITZER: Is the State Department, the U.S. government, ready to create a tsunami warning system in that part of the world so, God forbid, this kind of tragedy couldn't happen again, in other words people would be warned, "Run for your lives"?

POWELL: We are ready to participate in such an effort. We have the scientific expertise associated with this kind of a warning system, with our NOAA, and we want to work with the international community.

But the nations in the region have also got to make a commitment to this, and I think they are now ready to make that commitment, and we're ready to work with them.

BLITZER: NOAA, the National Oceanographic Administration.

And so you think that would be ready to go when? Technologically it's not a complicated operation.

POWELL: I can't -- it's not a complicated thing, I mean, people know how to do it, but it takes money. It takes equipment. It takes resources. And I can't predict to you when it will be ready. It's really outside the purview of the State Department. We will work with other governments and government agencies.

BLITZER: I know your time is very brief because you've got to get going, but a couple of questions on some other subjects.

The Iraq elections, January 30th. Today, another horrendous attack in Baghdad. Iraqi national guard officers killed. Is the country going to have the elections on January 30th, despite the violence and despite the concern many Iraqi Sunnis are expressing?

POWELL: We are moving forward, with the Iraqi interim government, to have these elections on the 30th of January. The president and the prime minister of the Iraqi interim government are determined to have these elections. Poll workers are out working. While we see these terrible scenes on television of Iraqi policemen losing their lives, citizens losing their lives, citizens are also coming out to register. They want to have an election, even in the Sunni triangle. These people want to vote. Why wouldn't they?

And what we are seeing are insurgents and terrorists who don't want to vote. Why? Because they want to go back to the past. They want to go back to tyranny. They want to go back to the suppression of human rights.

And we want to move forward, and go for these elections on the 30th of January.

BLITZER: So the elections will take place on January 30th?

POWELL: That is what the government is committed to, and what we're committed to.

BLITZER: What about the elections January 9th, the Palestinian elections? There's a lot of hope right now that this could result in a restart of the peace process. Are you confident that will happen?

POWELL: I'm confident that the election will take place. And, frankly, municipal elections took place recently. The Israelis know that they have to open the area up to allow people to campaign and to get to registration places and poll places. And we've also seen a solution to the problem of Palestinians voting in East Jerusalem. So I think we're moving forward towards successful elections on the 9th.

After those elections, and we see who has been selected to be the president of Palestinian Authority, we have to see reform. We have to see a commitment of the new government to deal with terrorism, to end terrorism throughout the Palestinian Authority. We need to see reform of the security services.

And I think they will find that the Israeli government and the new government that is being formed with the Labor part of the coalition ready to work with a new partner for peace. And the United States will play an important role.

BLITZER: Should the president name a special envoy to focus exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

POWELL: That's a judgment the president will have to make. We have...

BLITZER: But you know the issue. You did it.

POWELL: Yes, I know the issue very well, and over the last four years, we've never really had conditions in place -- with the presence of Mr. Arafat and with the continuing violence, we've never had the conditions in place that I think would have supported the role of a special envoy.

We had General Zinni involved, we had Mr. Tenet involved, we had the Mitchell peace plan. We had many efforts, but we have a new opportunity now with Chairman Arafat gone and no longer, frankly, part of the problem.

We have new solutions emerging: the withdrawal from Gaza and some West Bank settlements by the Israelis, a new Israeli government, a new government of the Palestinian Authority.

The president will have to make a judgment at what point is a special envoy useful. BLITZER: Would you be interested in doing that job?

POWELL: Right now, I am planning to complete my work as secretary of state, return to private life, and I don't know what will come after that yet.

BLITZER: The president probably would think you'd do a good job at that.

POWELL: I will not prejudge what the president might think, even though Wolf Blitzer seems to know.

BLITZER: I think you probably would do a pretty good job.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much. Good luck on your trip.

POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Next week, we'll be watching, and the whole world will be anxious to get a good report.

POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

POWELL: Bye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We have to take another quick break. When we come back, we'll speak with the head of the relief effort under way at the United Nations, Jan Egeland. He'll answer the question what donor countries should be doing right now.

More of our special "LATE EDITION" in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

More on the tsunami disaster in just a moment, but we're getting word in to CNN right now of the death of a top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, joining us now with word of this.

Ed, tell our viewers what's going on.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN has confirmed that late last night Congressman Robert Matsui of California, a Democrat, died here at Bethesda Naval Hospital in the Washington area. He was 63 years old. He died of a rare blood disorder.

He had been in the House of Representatives for some 26 years. In the last election cycle, he was chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, and also was a key player on the Social Security issue, which, as you know, is a top priority in this Congress. That's obviously a big blow to Democrats. He had been a national spokesman on that issue.

Also, he was a Japanese-American, and, as a young boy, he was thrown into an internment camp, but rose all the way up to become the first Japanese-American ever to serve in the House leadership.

A statement has just come out from House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who said, quote, "With dignity, integrity and passion, Bob Matsui served his family, his community and his country. He will be sorely missed, and long remembered."

BLITZER: And our deepest condolences to the Matsui family and to all of his constituents.

Thanks very much, Ed Henry.

We'll have much more coverage of the tsunami disaster. That's coming up right after another quick break. I'll speak live with the man heading the United Nations relief operation in Southern Asia, Jan Egeland. He'll be among my guests.

Our special "LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Still ahead, we'll get the very latest from our correspondents on the scene in Asia. And then we'll speak live with the ambassadors from four of the hardest hit countries: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. They'll join me here in Washington. We'll talk about the devastation in their homelands.

This is a special "LATE EDITION," "The Tsunami Disaster."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a special "LATE EDITION," "The Tsunami Disaster."

Disaster strikes in Asia: more than 100,000 dead and the toll is climbing. What do these countries need to recover and rebuild? We'll ask the ambassadors from the hardest hit nations: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): There is a lot of food that's getting through, through the World Food Programme. The biggest thing now is to get them shelter, get them clothing back on and get basics back into there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Relief workers converge on the disaster zone. Can these organizations save the survivors? The heads of UNICEF, CARE and the World Health Organization weigh in on the dire situation on the ground.

Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION." We'll speak with Jan Egeland coming up. He's heading the relief effort on behalf of the United Nations.

First, though, let's check all the latest developments on the tsunami disaster. For that we go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: For the countries hammered by the earthquake and the tsunami, a heartbreaking race to claim the dead and to try to rescue and comfort survivors.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Thailand, where he has been able to speak with that country's prime minister.

Aneesh, tell us what he said.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good afternoon. That's right, earlier today I spoke with Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. I began by asking him to define the situation here on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA, PRIME MINISTER, THAILAND: One thing that we've seen that many -- a united force between the private sector, public sector and the government and also international. It's very strong in this area. We're helping each other in almost everything.

And in this area, it's quite surprise me that it's come back to the normal activity quite fast. But anyway, we will have to do the landscape and better ships. And also, we will have to take care of those who are still missing as soon as possible.

RAMAN: A large number of the missing are foreign tourists. What can you say about the missing? Are they presumed dead? Do you think you'll find some alive?

SHINAWATRA: There are some duplicates in the information. Because, you know, for example, Phuket, we examine the names of the missing and many of those who are treated in hospital. There are some replicates. So we delete -- we cleaned the file. After we cleaned the file, we found out that only one third still missing. So that is more realistic.

And also, it's probably be the same case in Penang (ph) and Kabi (ph).

RAMAN: What are the greatest difficulties for the relief efforts right now?

SHINAWATRA: Due to the incident passed about seven days already, and the corpse is quite rotten. That is the difficulty in identifying who they are. That's the part. But, anyway, luckily that we have forensic experts from different countries to help us to identify, including the Interpol.

RAMAN: Last question: Secretary Powell is coming from the U.S. on Tuesday. What do you expect from his visit?

SHINAWATRA: Well, Thailand is not really expect anything from international except the understanding and the cooperation. But now we receive more than we expect. That is a lot of experts and equipments that come in to help us.

That's all what we need. We don't need any financial assistance, I think -- but we think that the expertise that they have because we have no experience like this before. But now we have a lot of expertise and experts to help us. That is what we are really happy with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAMAN: Wolf, the death toll here now hovering around 5,000. A little under the number coming from the capital city, Bangkok, but more coming from provincial reports here.

The big factor is that number of missing: some 6,500 still unaccounted for. The prime minister suggesting that number could go down. But even if it does, a large number of them are presumed dead.

Wolf?

BLITZER: And the whole issue of tourism in Thailand. So much of that economy, especially where you are, depends on tourism. What's the prognosis right now?

RAMAN: Wolf, it's an economic imperative for Phuket to rebuild and rebuild quickly. Tourism is a central industry for this country, $10 billion U.S. a year annually. The island of Phi Phi, the coastal area of Cowlak (ph) are all devastated.

So, Phuket feels itself relatively lucky. It's in some semblance still standing. The pressure is on for hotel managers we've spoken to to try and get people here by mid-January.

But as you can imagine, it is almost a surreal transition. This is still hallowed ground. There are still bodies unseen out there. There is still debris that litters this island. So, whether or not people can come and enjoy a holiday in a setting such as this is yet to be seen.

But we now know, Wolf, that some 70 percent of people have canceled their reservations, 30 percent still coming. But for the economy, for the people still living who depend on this industry, $1 spent here is $1 back into the economy, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Aneesh Raman in Phuket in Thailand.

Aneesh, thank you very much for that report. We're also getting new information, and we're getting new accounts. They continue to surface about what exactly happened as tourists returned home to Britain. They brought their stories along with them.

Gary Cotterill reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY COTTERILL, ITV NEWS: Home from the horror, but not free from it.

SIMONS: I went under so many times, I can't believe I came back up.

COTTERILL: Amanda Simons is in a wheelchair as a result of her ordeal, but her wounds are more than just physical. She's one of the few to escape from Khao Lak, Thailand's worst affected beach, where more than 2,000 holidaymakers died. Her hotel collapsed under the force of the wave.

SIMONS: The current just took me out, and I got trapped between some concrete and wood on my head. And this Thai man, he pulled me out. Then I saw his body washed up.

COTTERILL: Amanda feels guilty about her rescuer's death and sorry she couldn't do more to help others.

SIMONS: There's a girl who I can't find. Her name is Matilda, and she was from Argentina, and we were in the sea together. And when it went under, she said, "Take my hand." And I said, "No, I can't, because I know you can't hold on to someone. You've got to be strong and be on your own." And I didn't take her hand. And when the next wave came, she didn't come back up.

COTTERILL: Amanda's boyfriend is angry. He says British officials in Thailand left them stranded without food, money or documents.

(UNKNOWN): Every other country's had stuff all the way through. Even people not even injured, first class seats home free. We had nothing. They told us to call up our original airlines. Well, our tickets are in the sea, as with everything else.

COTTERILL: Many homecoming Britons are struggling to deal with the things they've seen and experienced. Amanda Simons is no exception.

SIMONS: Someone up there didn't want me to go today. And I made it. But it's not fair all the people that didn't make it.

COTTERILL: Gary Cotterill, ITV News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The United Nations emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, set off a firestorm this past week with his statement that rich nations are stingy. Since then, the U.S. and other developed countries have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance.

Mr. Egeland is joining us now live from New York.

Thanks so much for spending a few moments with us.

What did you exactly mean, going back to that "stingy" comment, because it did cause somewhat of a stir?

EGELAND: What I was asked about in a press conference at the U.N. headquarters was, looking back on the year, what did I think of the generosity of the rich world?

And then I said that, before this tsunami effort started, I think the rich world can do more for the poor. I just came back from Somalia and from Sudan and elsewhere, where we do not have enough food, where we do not have enough effort, do not have enough resources to meet the needs.

Since then, I've seen a phenomenal outpouring of assistance for the tsunami victims. We have gotten more money pledged in the last six days for those affected by this unprecedented disaster than we've had for all of our humanitarian appeals combined in 2004.

So let's hope we are now setting the new standard. This is how it should be. This is how the world comes together to help those in greatest need.

BLITZER: So is it fair to say, Mr. Egeland, you're satisfied with the $350 million pledge made by the United States?

EGELAND: Indeed. It is a very generous pledge. Japan has come up with $500 million, U.K. with $100 million, Sweden with $75 million. It is an outpouring I never ever seen before.

I'd like to say that the United States have been ideal in the way they have responded. They have also provided military assets that we are reliant upon now, as we try to reach out to the most remote places in Sumatra and Aceh, which are the worst-hit of the areas.

BLITZER: Let me read to you a paragraph from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, in part reacting to your earlier comment.

It says: "When it comes to private group giving, nobody beats Americans. The list of U.S.-based private and religious organization already working in the area is stunning. And it's good to see the U.S. decision effectively go around U.N. bureaucracy by working directly with a coalition of Japan, Australia and India to coordinate relief." That's a reference to the so-called core group that's been set up by these four nations.

Is that how you see it, that this core group is designed to go around the U.N. bureaucracy? EGELAND: No. As Secretary Powell just confirmed, the core group was an excellent initiative to provide the kind of hardware, the kind of resources that we in the U.N., who have the task to coordinate the global effort of 40, 50 donor nations, those assets that the United States, Australia, India, Singapore and others have in the region, we need, we are getting. And I'm very, very glad to see the very close cooperation between the United States and the United Nations. We need the U.S. to help us. If not, we will fail. And if the U.N. fails, the whole aid effort fails.

But also, the U.S., and all our member countries needs the coordinating body that we are. We are now coordinating hundreds of private relief groups, a dozen agencies from the U.N. and from elsewhere, and efforts from so many generous countries.

BLITZER: There are experts who now say, Mr. Egeland, that the money is not the problem, the problem is actually delivering the assistance to those who need it most. Logistically, it's a nightmare right now; is that a fair assessment?

EGELAND: It's a fair assessment. And those experts are my people, working around the clock in the field.

At the moment, we have very generous pledges. I wish we would have this kind of pledges in all the forgotten and neglected emergencies in Africa and elsewhere, where also hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.

In especially Indonesia, I would say, northern Sumatra and Aceh more than any other place, it's a question now of logistics bottlenecks.

The Banda Aceh airstrip is really a one-line airstrip. We can only take so many planes, and we are being clogged up.

Therefore, with the help of this core group and their assets, and also with that which is offered from Europeans and others, we're setting up alternative airbases in Malaysia and elsewhere, to be able to circumvent some of these bottlenecks.

In the next few days, we will see the aid effort shooting even more speed.

BLITZER: Is the official number -- the last number that you have of confirmed dead, about 140,000, is that up to date?

EGELAND: Well, I believe the confirmed figures are between 140,000 and 150,000. It will go further up.

I'm afraid to say that our people in Indonesia, talking with the local authorities, have numbers of additional missing people who will probably bring the figures up.

No region was as hard hit as northern Sumatra and Aceh. And more than two-thirds of all of the casualties may be there. BLITZER: What about disease? How concerned are you that the outbreak of disease could claim tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of additional victims?

EGELAND: I'm very concerned. Already, we're seeing that diarrhea is on its way up among children. Respiratory disease, many other water-borne diseases are on the increase.

The reason for that is that millions, millions lost their water sources. Children are now drinking polluted or infected water. And it takes only days for a small child to be in a very, very critical situation.

Water and sanitation is the number one problem we have among those 5 million affected. Then comes food, shelter and other medical services. All of that is desperately needed and it is a race against the clock.

BLITZER: Well, when you say 5 million people desperately need to have those kinds of fresh water, clean water, for example, sanitation and there's a race against the clock, how much time is there to save these people's lives?

EGELAND: We are already making big progress. In Sri Lanka, in the Maldives and the national authorities in so many places, in India, in Thailand, et cetera, are making enormous progress. We, the U.N., will be able to oversee or undertake feeding of 700,000 people within the next 72 hours, which are all of those in need of food.

In Indonesia, it is going slower because the devastation was at its worst there. The number of isolated communities are in the greatest numbers.

And at this time, when we really needed those few roads and those very few airstrips, they are all damaged. That's why it's so good to have U.S. military helicopters and other assets from regional countries available. And we are also there reaching out to more and more communities as we speak.

BLITZER: Jan Egeland, the United Nations relief coordinator, good luck to you. Good luck to all of the men and women undertaking this enormously important mission. I appreciate it very much.

EGELAND: Thank you very much. They are working around the clock.

BLITZER: I know they are.

And we have to take another quick break. When we come back, though, country by country, how are the hardest hit nations coping as the death toll continues to climb? We'll ask the ambassadors from Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

And later, a helping hand: aid organizations rushing to help. The heads of CARE, UNICEF and the World Health Organization evaluate the situation. Our special "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION".

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, says the world is in a race against time to save tsunami survivors.

Joining us here in Washington are the ambassadors to the United States of four of the countries hardest hit. Kasit Piromya is from Thailand. Ronen Sen is from India. Devinda Subasinghe is from Sri Lanka. And Soemadi Brotodiningrat is of Indonesia.

Welcome to "LATE EDITION." Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Ambassador Soemadi of Indonesia, let me begin with you. The latest numbers that we have here at CNN show 79,940 people confirmed dead in Indonesia, with another 3,598 missing. Does that coincide with what your information is?

SOEMADI BROTODININGRAT, INDONESIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Yes, it is information from late yesterday.

BLITZER: So there's no more information coming out today?

BROTODININGRAT: Not yet.

BLITZER: What is your expectation? What does your government anticipate? Because these numbers are hard for people around the world to even begin to comprehend.

BROTODININGRAT: Well, since we haven't yet reached the most remote area, I'm afraid that the number might increase somewhat. But then the most remote areas are not densely populated, so hopefully if there is an increase in the number it will not be as spectacular as the number we have already.

BLITZER: What is the greatest need right now, based on the information you are getting?

BROTODININGRAT: Well, apart from food and medicines, we need shelter. Because there are so many buildings which are destroyed. So all those refugees are sheltered basically in the open area and we need tents for them. But also we need means of communication.

BLITZER: And that's -- just the logistical part of it is enormously difficult.

BROTODININGRAT: Yes. And there is a link between the money and the logistic of communication. I mean, to move things to the right destination, needs some money.

BLITZER: You need money, but you also need the equipment, the helicopters, the special vehicles to get the equipment there.

BROTODININGRAT: Right. Yes.

BLITZER: Are they arriving?

BROTODININGRAT: Yes, and now it's getting more and more available, especially with the increase in the number of helicopters which are available now. Helicopters are the most versatile means of communications to reach the remote islands.

BLITZER: Sri Lanka, Ambassador Subasinghe, is also very, very hard hit. The latest numbers we're getting: more than 45,000 confirmed dead -- more than 46,000; the number is going up. Another 5,200 or so still missing. Is that information accurate?

DEVINDA SUBASINGHE, SRI LANKA'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Those are the numbers that we are hearing as well.

BLITZER: When we say 5,000 still missing, can that number fluctuate? Or are you fearing the worst case for those 5,000?

SUBASINGHE: Yes, I think so.

BLITZER: Because it has now been -- what? -- a week.

SUBASINGHE: It has been a week. I think -- so the missing are presumed dead at this moment. And that number is yet to be defined clearly. And recovery operations are ongoing, and that's a significant focus at the moment.

BLITZER: In Sri Lanka, how is the recovery operation going?

SUBASINGHE: It started slow, but the government of India responded supplementing our own modest resources. And the deployment of the U.S. assets as well, especially helicopters to undertake these activities. They are beginning to ramp up to a level that I think we could get some answers in the next days.

BLITZER: As many viewers know, there's been a civil war going in parts of Sri Lanka over these many years. How is that impacting? Because there is enormous fear of looting and killing.

SUBASINGHE: There's been no major law-and-order issue. The group that was conducting that conflict has opened up most areas and allowed us access. And we are expecting that this national tragedy will help us come together going forward.

BLITZER: Let's move on to Thailand, Ambassador Kasit. Thailand -- our information is about 4,812 people; that's the latest numbers we're getting from your government. Is that up to date?

KASIT PIROMYA, THAILAND'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I think the figure that I just had was 4,993 dead, so it's a bit different.

BLITZER: A lot of these people were tourists too, right?

PIROMYA: Yes, about half.

BLITZER: About half. And most of them from Scandinavian countries in Europe? Is that -- it's a very popular resort.

PIROMYA: Yes, as I say, Western Europe, in particular.

BLITZER: From Germany and from...

(CROSSTALK)

PIROMYA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Germany and so on, and other Scandinavian, including the Spanish, the French and the British.

BLITZER: Have those individuals been identified?

PIROMYA: I think most of them, yes, have been identified. And tomorrow the forensic expert from Thailand is working with about 16 teams from 16 countries on the forensic side of it to see what type of coordination and work to be able to do in order to hasten and complete the identification as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: So 5,000 confirmed dead, approximately. What about still missing?

PIROMYA: About 3,500.

BLITZER: Another 3,500, and many of those are Westerners, tourists as well?

PIROMYA: Yes, because it has affected a tourist area. The whole six provinces in the southern part of Thailand.

BLITZER: So much of Thailand's economy is based on tourism. Without tourism, the country is in deep trouble.

PIROMYA: Yes, without, but I think we will be able to recover.

BLITZER: When you say you'll be able to recover, how long does this recovery operation -- do you estimate it will take?

PIROMYA: Well, I think for the immediate one is to clean up, to find the bodies and process the foreigners for their return to their home countries. The medium-term reconstruction, rehabilitation, I think will take six to 12 to clean up and to rebuild and so on, and I think my...

BLITZER: Six to 12 what?

PIROMYA: Yes, 12 months...

BLITZER: Twelve months, really?

PIROMYA: ... on the cleaning up and so on. And my government has announced that we would not be able to rely on ourselves as much as possible.

BLITZER: Ambassador Ronen Sen of India, our information in India at least 10,000 people have died. Is that right? RONEN SEN, INDIA'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: We have confirmed figures of 9,541 confirmed dead and 5,421 missing. And so the likelihood of these people remaining alive is diminishing.

BLITZER: So we're talking maybe 15,000 people.

SEN: Fifteen thousand is what -- unfortunately, that will be the number, yes.

BLITZER: There some estimates saying there could be two or three or four times that many seriously injured from this tsunami. Is that the information you are getting?

SEN: Those who are injured have been attended to immediately because we started our search and rescue operations immediately, within an hour or two. And in India, as well as my Sri Lankan colleague referred, in Sri Lanka also we were there from day one.

BLITZER: India has the resources, the infrastructure to deal with this kind of disaster, unlike some of the other countries. You don't need as much international assistance. Is that right?

SEN: We have not asked for any international assistance, nil.

BLITZER: You are moving people from all over India?

SEN: There has been a tremendous response from ordinary people in India, from all over India, volunteers, and in terms of resources. So the response has been extremely heartwarming because we have to go on a number of things we have to handle simultaneously. One is in the affected areas, and those missing are particularly in the remote island areas, particularly Nicobar.

BLITZER: And unlike Thailand, most of the people killed in India were Indians, is that right? Not tourists?

SEN: Absolutely, the vast majority. I think the tourists would have been a minuscule minority.

BLITZER: All right Ambassador Sen, stand by.

And please, all the ambassadors stand by.

We have much more to talk about, including why wasn't there any advance warning given to people in this region about a tsunami? We'll talk about that and more with the ambassadors from these four countries.

Stay with CNN's "LATE EDITION." Much more coverage coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN) (through translator): I lost all my relatives, including my wife and grandchildren. I had four young daughters. Now I am the only surviving person in the family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Horrific stories continuing to emerge from the survivors of the tsunami disaster.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

With us, the ambassadors to the United States from Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Indonesia, Ambassador Soemadi, the hardest hit: 80,000 people so far confirmed dead; that number could go higher. Are you satisfied with the level of U.S. and Western assistance coming to your country?

BROTODININGRAT: Yes, lately it's increasing. And certainly it complements well with all the mobilization that we do among our own community. And so far it's all right.

BLITZER: Indonesia's the home of the largest Muslim community in the world. There has been some suggestion, though, that Muslim nations in the Middle East and elsewhere are not meeting the kind of needs that exist in Indonesia.

Are you disappointed in the level of contribution coming from other Muslim nations?

BROTODININGRAT: Well, I don't have any note with me, but if I -- as far as my information is concerned, there are some contributions from Saudi Arabia, for instance.

BLITZER: But not in the kind of major, tens of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars that the United States, Japan, other countries are putting up.

BROTODININGRAT: Not yet. Hopefully this will snowball also. This is going to be snowballing and will affect also our brothers in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Ambassador Subasinghe from Sri Lanka, are you satisfied with the level of international assistance? Your country is a very poor country.

SUBASINGHE: Yes, we are, Wolf. I think beginning with my first conversation with Deputy Secretary of State Armitage, Sunday morning, the Washington has moved, moved in a scale and in a timely fashion to meet our needs. And we have had the response we sought, and that is continuing from the international community as well.

I think everyone was slow off the mark because of the magnitude. Took a while to understand. And, yes, we are satisfied with current and forward-looking elements of the assistance.

BLITZER: In general, though, do you accept this argument that the wealthiest nations in the world are basically stingy when it comes to economic and developmental assistance to the poorer nations in the world?

SUBASINGHE: Speaking on Sri Lanka's behalf, that has been the recipient of foreign assistance over 50-plus years, we are very satisfied that our needs have been historically met by the richest countries, and is continuing to be met, and in particular by the United States' response over the past week.

BLITZER: Let me ask the ambassador for Thailand the same question.

What's your assessment of the level of assistance that your country needs right now?

PIROMYA: It has been excellent from the first few hours. We got word from President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and many senior officials of the U.S. government and the Congress, the offer of help. And your officials from the State Department and from the Department of Defense have already been in contact with our people from the first few hours.

And at the moment, I think we have about 10 military aircrafts from the United States in the area operating already. And your forensic team, C-130 aircraft with the medical assistance and the food have been in place within 24 hours.

So the assistance forthcoming from the United States government has been prompt, excellent so far and very intensive. And you already have a preliminary assessment team, led by USAID, in place as of yesterday. And the coordination with other donor countries and international agencies have already started.

So I have no complaint at all. We are grateful to the U.S. government and to the American people.

BLITZER: Ambassador Sen, India doesn't need international assistance. But here's a question a lot of Indians are asking right now.

It was hours between the time of the earthquake near Sumatra and the time the tsunami reached India. How many hours? Four or five hours at least, right?

SEN: No, because, if you look at it, it's about 840 nautical miles. And tsunamis have been known to travel at about 600 miles an hour.

BLITZER: But Indians along the coast should have had some warning that this was coming.

SEN: Absolutely. But we didn't have a system in place. Actually, we don't have a system in place in the Indian Ocean area. We have a very, very sophisticated network of satellites for meteorological data. And we have among the best system in the world. But this was not -- we were not prepared for a tsunami, which required actually placing of sensors. BLITZER: Well, what are you going to do about that? What is India, which is a highly developed country, technologically, one of the best in the world, what are you going to do about this to make sure, God forbid, this doesn't happen again?

SEN: Well, we have taken a decision.

Number one is, we are going to procure a system which will involve putting in place sensors at the sea floor level. And these will be...

BLITZER: The bottom of the sea?

SEN: This is right at the seabed.

And linking these up with the existing sensors we have on the sea surface level. And we will try to not only for ourselves, but we're trying to get the entire neighborhood involved. And this is as a member of the four core group of countries. This is what we are looking at.

BLITZER: Well, I want to wish all of you good luck and our deepest condolences to all the people in your country and, indeed, throughout the region, who have perished as a result of this tsunami disaster. Thanks for spending a few moments with us. Good luck to all of you.

And for tsunami survivors a dangerous time indeed. Many of them stalked by hunger and disease in the aftermath of the earthquake and the tsunami that literally destroyed their villages.

Upcoming next, we'll speak with experts in international assistance. "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Catastrophe in Southern Asia bringing the spotlight back to international aid organizations. Are they prepared for a disaster of this magnitude and can they quickly enough respond? Do they have the resources in place?

Joining us now, guests -- shortly from Colombo in Sri Lanka, Carol Bellamy will join us from UNICEF.

But joining us right now Dr. David Nabarro. He's in Geneva, he's head of crisis operations for the World Health Organization. And Ahuma Adoduadji is the emergency director for CARE, joining us from Atlanta.

Let me begin with Dr. Nabarro.

Tell us what the World Health Organization is doing right now. What's the most pressing need in the aftermath of this tsunami? DAVID NABARRO, HEAD OF CRISIS OPERATIONS, WHO: The first thing we must do is to track disease among all the affected populations. We're talking about around 5 million people. We've got to know who is in need and where they are and which people are beginning to show signs of disease. Then we've got to act quickly with governments and other agencies to respond in the right way when we see signs of disease.

We're doing that now in Sri Lanka. We've got good coordination and good response starting, and we will be moving quickly to do this in Indonesia. Also I believe that the response in India and Maldives is picking up.

But for us, it really is a race against time. You only have a few days after a disaster like this to avoid a diarrhea outbreak. We've seen it elsewhere. We're going to see it here. And you only have a few more days to avoid a whole set of other disease problems.

And so we need to make sure and we're doing that. We've got enough staff on the ground to get the coordination response right. Getting medicines now to hospitals all over the region. Also we're getting doctors in position so that they can provide a better service. But we know we've still got a much greater need to cope with than we're responding to at the present time.

BLITZER: Dr. Nabarro, some of the experts are suggesting that among the most pressing immediate health needs: the health threats resulting from wound infections, dehydration, heatstroke and infectious diseases. Is that the immediate priority right now, those four categories?

NABARRO: Certainly, the immediate need for those who have been affected by the crisis is to make sure that they get proper care in hospitals. It's a terrible disaster if someone who's been injured then can't get proper surgery or antibiotics.

And we have gotten reports, I'm afraid, of some still hospitals without adequate medicines. But we are really moving at an incredible rate to get medicines to the hospitals. That's priority one.

But then for the whole population, as you've said, it's clean water. We have to make sure that water supplies are not polluted with feces and that sanitation is improved. Perhaps that's proving to be particularly challenging in Indonesia and it's not easy in Sri Lanka.

And the other priorities you've identified are, indeed, as important. Though I want to raise the challenges that are faced by old people and very young who get respiratory infections, particularly when they are in shelters that are rather overcrowded, and who are likely to die of pneumonia and the future problems we've got with malaria and dengue.

So we've got quite a challenge ahead of us, on the health side. And we need to make sure that we can continue to coordinate the relief so that we get the responses in place and to know which of the communities that are still in need. BLITZER: Dr. Nabarro, is there any evidence yet, any indication that any of these diseases, like cholera or malaria or dengue, any of these diseases have erupted?

NABARRO: We've got reports of increases in diarrhea incidents in a number of settings throughout the region. That is to be expected seven days after a crisis like this.

We have not got confirmed reports of cholera, which would be a real worry. Nor have we got confirmed reports of dysentery.

And malaria incidents is not yet noted to be on the increase, though we're worried about Aceh, because it's the rainy season and it's the time when malaria does start to pick up.

So at the moment, touch wood, we have not got reports of epidemics, but it would be foolish for us to assume that we're through the worst. Indeed, it's during the next week that we really have to be most concerned.

BLITZER: Mr. Adoduadji of CARE, a lot of our viewers know the important work that CARE has done around the world. Is CARE doing what it should be doing right now? In other words, are you up to this mission?

AHUMA ADODUADJI, EMERGENCY DIRECTOR, CARE: Yes. In fact, CARE has got one comparative advantage. In all of the countries, we've been involved for decades. So we have people on the ground. We have infrastructure. Many of our staff are nationals. They know the ground. So we were able to very quickly, within days of the disaster, move our people to start, you know, facilitating the move of people to high ground.

We've been involved in Sri Lanka. We're distributing relief supplies to 35,000 people. In India, we're doing the same. And in Indonesia, we just have a team there now which is getting ready to mobilize.

And also, we want to stress that we're looking at the problem both from a short-term, medium-term and long-term point of view, because we recognize a disaster of this magnitude is going to take a long time to recover. So all of our strategies is looking at trying to make sure that we immediately save lives, but also look at how we work with the communities to rebuild their lives.

And as I speak now, there are CARE colleagues in each of the countries actively working on the ground to save lives.

BLITZER: Has there ever been, at least in your lifetime, in your experience, Mr. Adoduadji, a natural disaster of this magnitude in which CARE and other international aid organizations have been so deeply involved?

ADODUADJI: Well, CARE has been involved in many of the big ones. Recently in Gujarati (ph), in Orisa (ph), and we were involved in Darfur. But probably this one, in recent history, is one of the largest ones.

First, the speed with which it happened, the geographic spread and the scope makes it indeed an unprecedented disaster. But we have responded very quickly to ensure we saved the maximum number of lives within the shortest time possible. And we'll continue to push forward in that.

But I have to agree with you. This one is one of the biggest in recent history.

BLITZER: I want to ask both of you this question before I let you go. To our viewers in the United States and around the world who are watching right now, so many of them would like to help.

Mr. Adoduadji, what's the most important thing that the average person out there could do right now to help in this crisis?

ADODUADJI: First of all, I have to say, thank you. Many in the American public have responded very generously. As I speak, we've already received about $9 million.

We think cash is one of the best ways to respond to this, because we can purchase many of the supplies we need within the region. Cash -- and you can reach CARE through www.care.org. And we thank the public for their generous support.

BLITZER: Mr. Nabarro, let me ask you the same question: What can people do to help?

NABARRO: Firstly, of course, contribute. And, I think, all of our organizations are encouraging contributions because we need cash quickly, before too long. And some of the pledges that have been made have yet to turn into hard cash.

But more importantly, don't forget. Don't forget in 10 year's time, in 20 years time what happened to the people in this area. Because they are going to need solidarity from all of us as they reestablish their lives and their livelihoods into the future. And particularly, in order to give a good chance to their children to have some kind of prosperity. Long-term development is going to matter at least as much as the emergency assistance that is now being so generously provided.

BLITZER: In many respects, this crisis may just be beginning.

I want to thank both of our guests for joining us.

David Nabarro, thank you to you in Geneva.

Ahuma Adoduadji joining us from CARE in Atlanta.

We still hope to speak later on "LATE EDITION" with Carol Bellamy of UNICEF. That will be coming up. She's in Colombo in Sri Lanka.

We'll take another quick break. We'll have the latest details from the disaster area. We'll speak with our reporters and other experts on what is being done to bring emergency medical assistance to the region.

Our third hour of "LATE EDITION" will be coming up at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

One week after disaster has struck, we're still learning more on the impact on literally millions of people across southern Asia. We'll have the latest developments from the region and the response from around the world. It's been dramatic. We'll also check in with our team of CNN reporters as we learn new details of the deadly earthquake and the tsunami that followed and of the global relief effort. All this coming up.

First, though, a quick check of what's making news right now about the disaster.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's immediately go to Colombo in Sri Lanka.

Carol Bellamy is the executive director of UNICEF dealing with children -- the plight of children. Carol Bellamy joining us now live.

Children have been enormously affected by this disaster, Carol Bellamy. Give our viewers a sense of proportion. What's going on specifically involving children?

CAROL BELLAMY, EXEC. DIRECTOR, UNICEF: Well, let's start with the children who have died. We think that close to a third of the deaths have been children. If you look at the population of these countries, it's a very young population. Children were the least able to run to beat the waves. They weren't able to climb the trees. They weren't able to get away. So, so many children have died.

Secondly, and today I was visiting so many places where I found children who'd lost parents. So children are now without their parents or with one less parent. We're hopefully going to find their extended families.

And finally, they're without the things they know about. Their teachers are dead. The schools aren't functioning. They don't know what to do. They don't understand this. So children have taken an enormous attack in this crisis.

BLITZER: Are children also more vulnerable to the outbreak of disease which could, in fact, take place in the aftermath of the tsunami?

BELLAMY: In some ways they are. You know what I say to many people that the still water may be as dangerous as the rushing water. Because the still water brings cholera. It brings malaria. It brings dengue. And particularly for children it brings diarrhea. Diarrhea is something we've all had if you've traveled, but for children it can really can lead to dehydration and to death. And this is something that can have an enormous impact on children.

Where I visited in Sri Lanka today, they have not seen an increase in diarrhea, but it is something that we are very worried about.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, Carol Bellamy, but under normal circumstances, 1 million or 2 million people a year die from diarrhea alone. Is that right?

BELLAMY: That is correct. You know, in America, I don't think people think about this or maybe even Europe they don't think about this, but diarrhea is something that actually can really leave -- particularly for children, because they're so vulnerable. Their bodies are smaller. They're so vulnerable to this kind of impact of dehydration and then leading on top of, perhaps, malnutrition to death.

So this is something that we have to be very careful about. It's why we at UNICEF and others are focusing very much on trying to get clean water to people and to try to make sure there are some kind of sanitary facilities -- simple latrines. But these are crucial to keeping people alive.

BLITZER: Was UNICEF prepared for a crisis of this enormity?

BELLAMY: No. Let me be honest, no.

I mean, we were there. We have a program in Sri Lanka. We have a program in Indonesia. We were in every one of these countries. We immediately responded to the crisis in every one of these countries, but we weren't prepared for this. Nobody was prepared for this kind of scale of disaster.

We are trying to do our best. Everybody is trying to do their best. I think the U.N. is actually, I hope, doing a good job and I hope people will say, "Look, whatever you think about the U.N., it's really working here." But nobody was prepared for this and we've got to do more.

BLITZER: The most important thing that average people who are watching right now, that they can do is make a financial contribution, not necessarily collect cans of food or something along those lines, but simply write out a check or give a credit card number. Is that right?

BELLAMY: It is. Let me be really clear. I know people want to send clothes. They want to send cans of food. They want to send other things. Send money. I don't care who you send it to. Well, I do care. Send it to legitimate organizations. I hope some of you will send it to UNICEF.

But even if you don't send it to UNICEF, send it to good charities: Save the Children, Red Cross, Oxfam, to the U.N. But money is what makes a difference now. If you send food and clothes, it'll get stuck. What we need now is money.

BLITZER: How concerned are you, Carol Bellamy, of scam operators, bad people who might try to take advantage of this?

BELLAMY: I'm a little concerned about that, but you know what? This is really interesting. These are countries where the governments are actually elected governments. I don't mean they're perfect, but they are actually in charge. We're not talking about countries where there's no governmental capacity. Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India -- certainly India has led their response. These are governments in charge.

I'm concerned a bit about scams. I think everybody -- if I could talk as an American, I would say U.N. organization, but as an American, check the Web. Make sure who you give to is legit. Thanks.

BLITZER: OK. Carol Bellamy, the executive director of UNICEF, doing such a critically important mission out there. Thanks for spending a few moments with us. Good luck to you and all men and women who work at UNICEF. Good luck to all the people in that region.

The suddenness of the tsunami caught literally tens of thousands of people unaware along the coastlines of southern Asia. And in southern Sri Lanka, the force of the wave was still so strong more than a half of a mile from the beach that it tossed a passenger train off the track, killing hundreds of people.

CNN's senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us now live from Sri Lanka with more on this development.

Sanjay, this is one horror story after another.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf. As we traveled south along the coast from Colombo where Carol Bellamy is, we saw more increase destruction and devastation. As we started getting to the very south of Sri Lanka, that gruesome scene that you just described -- we were there just several hours ago.

I want to warn our viewers, first of all, that some of the images you're about to see may be disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): In a coastal, southern Sri Lankan town, these gentle waves don't give an indication of the devastation they can wreak. The tsunami came, it not only swept swimmers and boaters out to deep sea, but half a kilometer inland it swept a train off its tracks, throwing the cars around as if they were toys.

Chandriki Gunasaka (ph), a schoolteacher, and her daughter were returning home that day and had almost made it when the train suddenly screeched to a halt. They weren't alarmed at first, thinking it was a villager stepping on the tracks to commit suicide, a disturbingly common event in this deprived area of Sri Lanka, but then she looked to her right.

CHANDRIKI GUNASAKA (ph), (through translator): I started shouting, "Oh, my god" and grabbed my daughter.

GUPTA: She was staring right into the first wave of the tsunami.

GUNASAKA (ph) (through translator): The water was rising incredibly fast and very quickly to quickly rose to the train bar. Our heads slidded to the top of the train box. It all happened in less than two minutes. I just kept thinking, "What can I do?"

GUPTA: At the time, she thought only of her daughter.

GUNASAKA (ph) (through translator): I put my daughter on top of the luggage rack inside of the train.

GUPTA: When the second wave hit, her train was tossed to the air and that was the last thing she remembers.

(on camera): When they say it seems like a bomb went off, this is what they're talking about: a square kilometer of utter devastation creating an instant burial ground for more than 500 people.

Today, about a week after the tsunami hit, 24 more bodies have been recovered.

(voice-over): Somehow, Chandriki (ph) and her daughter were untouched with only a few scrapes. They escaped through a window. They were the only ones in their entire train car to survive.

The tsunami stripped this entire area of life and hope. This victim died so suddenly, the hand still holds the handkerchief.

Reminders of children lost, the most painful to see: a child's shoe, a baby's picture, a grade schooler's book and a young boy's bike.

As the Sri Lankan air force raised bodies from the rubble, hundreds stare in stunned silence. Among the dead were those in nearby homes crushed not only by the waves, but also by a train hurtling through the area.

It will take an impossibly long time to clean up, but eventually this area may return to some sense of what it was. At the same time, the Chandriki (ph) and her daughter have already begun to piece back together their own lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And, Wolf, as evidence of the destructive nature of the tsunami, again, about a half a kilometer inland was a train stopped dead on its tracks. You can see the lip of the wave, they tell me -- the actual lip of the crest of the wave about three to four meters in height. About a cubic meter of water weighs a ton, so you can just imagine all that force coming in on that train. And you saw firsthand now the destructive nature and the subsequent consequences of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay, I'm going to have you stand by. Very dramatic material indeed.

I also want to continue this conversation, but I also want to bring in our special guest, the U.S. Senate majority leader, Senator Bill Frist, who himself is a medical doctor, a cardiologist.

You're heading out to the region, Senator Frist. Give us your sense of the enormity of what's happening and what you, as the leader in the U.S. Senate, can do with it.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: I'll be leaving the day after tomorrow to go to Sri Lanka and then we'll be going to India a bit later. I'll be wearing several hats: One is majority leader of Senate, so that I can go and firsthand be able to look at the devastation, the human tragedy that we just witnessed; and then come back to the floor of the United States Senate and advise and counsel with my colleagues in the Senate to see how best we can respond.

The president of the United States has put a figure of $350 million out there. That's something we'll respond to whenever he says is it time for us to respond.

But in addition to that -- and people like Sanjay are seeing it firsthand -- we have another disaster after the disaster that may well hit that we can do something now, and that is the disease, the dengue fever, typhoid, the cholera and diarrhea you were just talking about. And you're exactly right, diarrheal diseases kill 1.8 million people around the world.

But that second wave begins to hit some time this week, and then about two weeks from now a potential for things like malaria or dengue fever, both of which are carried by mosquitoes.

BLITZER: These are things that you and Dr. Sanjay Gupta learned about in medical school but rarely have an opportunity to deal with firsthand.

Sanjay, I want to bring you back into this conversation and continue it with Senator Frist as well. Are you seeing any evidence so far that any of these diseases are breaking out?

GUPTA: Well, we haven't seen a true epidemic yet, Wolf. We go to some of these displacement camps and we do see diarrheal illness.

A couple of things to point out. First of all, there's no laboratory to diagnose for sure whether or not these are cholera or dysentery. Patients that develop diarrheal illnesses are given antibiotics if they can get them. Not every district in Sri Lanka has access to antibiotics right.

What we have seen, sort of, interestingly, we did see some of the respiratory diseases, including influenza B. As Dr. Frist noted, this is a significant respiratory disease. It has a high mortality rate. People die of this disease. And again, this is basically due to congested living quarters and unsanitary conditions.

An example, Wolf, we were at a displacement camp of about 3,000 people. There are only three bathrooms there. I think that, sort of, speaks to the unsanitary conditions in and of itself.

I'm going to let senator Frist, Sanjay, pick your brain a bit. He's heading out to the region and he's probably got some questions. He's heading out to Sri Lanka where you are right now.

Go ahead, Senator Frist. Ask Sanjay any medical questions, any other questions you want to ask to get ready for your mission.

FRIST: Yes. Sanjay, as we were just talking about, the next phase will be the diarrheal illnesses unless we act. A lot of people in, really, the West think, that means just medicines. I think what we need to emphasize is what you just said, it means shelter that can be protected, that doesn't have too much congestion, that we have access to potable water.

And I guess I'd like to ask you right now, we had the big wave come through. It washed away buckets, it washed away infrastructure, it washed away the latrines and the potential for containing sewage. What are you seeing on the ground now? Will we be able to have clean water there either delivered or purified, or cleaning up pools of water which will lead to malaria?

GUPTA: Senator, thank you.

There are several things to keep in mind here. First of all, not to think of Sri Lanka as one country, but rather several different districts. The people who are on the ground here, the charitable groups that have actually been doing assessments on the ground that we spent time with will tell you that the southeast is very different from the northeast, for example.

Let me give you a couple of examples of that. In Ampara, the southeast, they actually grow a lot of rice, so food has not been as much of a problem there for them. They don't have access to enough antibiotics, so people who are developing diarrheal illness are not getting treated soon enough.

You go to the northeast harbor it's a little bit easier to get the antibiotics there, but they've had a real problem with safe food and safe water.

All the areas we've visited, Senator, we can tell you, have had a problem with living conditions. So many homes were destroyed here, there's a lack of homes, people living in very congested, crowded, cramped quarters, leading to unsanitary conditions. We've seen that just about everywhere we go.

The concerning thing, I think, is that there's no plan right now from a lot of these organizations on the ground to actually build homes and to actually get people back into those homes. People are dealing with an acute situation, but a long-term plan we haven't really seen yet, Senator.

FRIST: Sanjay and Wolf, I think that's what we need to send, that message to the American people. And it really ties into what you talked about with Carol, because a lot of people think, "Send cans of food or send clothes." It comes down to shelter where things are not too congested where, as you know, if you have a viral illness, or an upper respiratory illness, like what Sanjay said, it'll be propagated throughout an entire community and become epidemic overnight.

Food itself, although, as Sanjay said, is very important for us to hear, not everywhere is going to need food, but to keep people's nutrition up, their immune system up, they're going to have adequate nutrition to fight that virus when it hits them.

BLITZER: Do they, Sanjay, have the medicine, malaria pills, for example, the antibiotics that they should have now? Are they in place, the stockpiles, what you assess they may be needing in the next few days and weeks?

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting. People talk about a blast of relief, and I do think a lot of medications have arrived in Sri Lanka itself. But, again, Sri Lanka is not one country. Don't think of it that way. Think of it as several different districts.

Because of the tsunami and the subsequent devastation, it is really hard to access some areas. Roads are cut, bridges are overturned. There are fuel shortages. You've heard about all these things.

The consequences of all these things, is it's hard to get the medications from Colombo, which is the capital and has a working airport and is relatively undevastated, to the eastern part of the country, to southern part of the country, where things are much more devastated.

So, yes, some medicines are probably in the country now, but getting it to the right people at the right place at the right time proving more difficult.

BLITZER: Sanjay, you have a question you want to ask Senator Frist?

GUPTA: Senator Frist, I know you've traveled to a lot of blighted areas around the world, areas that have been devastated like this. How do you think this is going to play out over the next weeks and months? It seems like the, sort of, acute plan is in place. What about the longer-term future?

FRIST: Sanjay, it is this mid-term and long-term plan that we, the American people, must stay focused on.

I'm pretty pleased with, over the last week, the way the world has responded. We just talked about the next phase, which will be diarrheal illnesses. The next phase after that will be three to four weeks from now, things like malaria. I've been in the Darfur region and over in Chad, another great human catastrophe, really moral tragedy that is going on there as we speak now.

There we didn't see malaria, we didn't actually see a lot of the epidemics, because people did act, they did act together. Our job as legislators, our job in working with the president of the United States, is going to be, based on assessments like the ones that you're doing, that the hundreds of people that are working with USAID right now, with those assessments that we planned both for the mid term and the long term, in terms of shelter, housing, food, in terms of removing the still ponds of water, improving the marketplace there.

It's interesting, that part of the world, 40 percent of the world today, the whole world, does not have access to potable water. We tend to forget that. One of the major areas which hasn't had access is that part of the world you're in now.

One last thing, distribution, as Sanjay said, is huge. There are 11 countries with thousands of miles of coastline there that had the tragedy that is just played out by Sanjay that right now are not being covered by the media and don't have an airport nearby and don't have roads going in and people are suffering right now. A challenge to us mid term and long term is to access those regions.

BLITZER: I'm going to have Senator Frist and Dr. Sanjay Gupta stand by. I want to continue this conversation because it is so important.

We're going to take a quick break. Our special "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): It was all happening so quick. The water was going so crazy. It was unbelievable. And at one point I thought I couldn't hold on, and bodies were flowing by, and that motivated me to maybe hang on a little longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: An American caught in the tsunami disaster in Phuket, Thailand. Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

We're continuing our conversation with two medical doctors, the top Republican leader in the United States Senate, Senate Majority Leader Senator Bill Frist is joining us here in Washington, and our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is joining us from Sri Lanka.

Let me begin with Senator First. You probably get complaints all the time from some of your constituents that the United States gives too much money away, foreign aid. Why not keep the money here in the United States? Are you hearing anything along those lines in the aftermath of this tsunami disaster?

FRIST: Wolf, I've grown accustomed to it over the last eight years. I spent a lot of time in southern Sudan, where there's been a tragic civil war. I've spent a lot of time in the Darfur region in Chad, the country adjacent to that, where we're having a huge crisis. A lot of time on HIV/AIDS in Africa.

And a lot of times people say, "Why, Dr. Frist or Senator Frist, do you spend time there?" or, "Why do you designate funding for those parts of the world?"

And I think, if there's one thing that this current crisis, this tragic disaster, these heart-breaking pictures that we see, represents and leads us all to understand is this oneness of mankind, is this interconnectedness which maybe we could ignore 20 years ago, maybe you could ignore it 30 years ago, but you can't today.

Whether it's disease like a little virus -- the HIV virus, which travels -- knows no borders and kills 40 million people; whether it's an earthquake that's affected 11 countries today, this tsunami, which a lot of people didn't know what a tsunami was, but that tsunami could occur in the Pacific, it could occur off our coast; people see this interconnectedness.

The one thing that hasn't received very much attention now is that a lot of this happened -- the tsunami has happened in areas where there's a lot of civil strife going on, like Sri Lanka, not too far from where Sanjay is today.

That connectedness between economic development, civility, trust with mankind in this oneness sense, coupled with public health, dysfunction, loss of parents, all the orphans that are going to be there today, that HIV/AIDS virus in other parts of the world wiping out that whole middle section of productive civil leaders, this oneness of mankind leads us all to understand that we need to continue to invest.

BLITZER: Sanjay, a lot of our viewers are probably concerned looking at you right now. They love you. They want to make sure you stay healthy. There's an outbreak potential of disease that could affect not only Sri Lankans but a lot of Westerners and foreigners who are there as well.

What are you specifically doing, and our colleagues, to make sure you don't become vulnerable, God forbid, to cholera or malaria or any of the other diseases that could be distributed by bad water or by bad sanitation or by mosquitoes?

GUPTA: Well, we are trying to take care of ourselves. Thanks for asking. Using mosquito repellent, trying to drink only safe water and safe food those sorts of things.

A couple of things. You know, we're obviously healthy individuals. A lot of individuals we've been seeing here in Sri Lanka are, unfortunately, not as healthy as we are. They haven't had access to water and food now for several days. And they're much more vulnerable in terms of catching some of these diseases.

We're trying to take care of ourselves but also report their stories at the same time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, I know when I've gone to vulnerable areas in the so-called Third World, I've taken malaria pills. Are you taking malaria pills now?

GUPTA: Actually, I'm not taking malaria pills, Wolf. I thought about taking them.

As you know, having been on stories like this, I had really very short notice to come out here. I had been to this region not that long ago, so I'd received some of my immunization shots, inoculations and that, whatnot.

Malaria pills themselves I'm not taking. It may not be a bad idea. As I'm sitting here talking to you, we're just completely covered in mosquitoes. And I'm trying to swat them off as I'm talking to you. But it is a bit of a problem out here.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Frist has a question for you, Sanjay.

FRIST: First of all, Sanjay, I'll bring you malaria pills if I see you in Sri Lanka in a two days.

GUPTA: All right.

FRIST: But, I do have a question that would be helpful to me in response to your question of what we're going.

The Senate on Tuesday will pass a strong resolution that shows support for the international efforts and the U.S. efforts. A question that's come up to me is whether or not we should, on the same model that we have the Peace Corps, develop an international health corps, where Americans, whether its physicians like yourself or me or nurses or public health officials, we would have a corps of people on an ongoing basis to be able to participate, whether in response to such catastrophes as this or in fighting epidemics like SARS or HIV/AIDS.

What would you think about that?

GUPTA: I think that's a great idea, Senator.

A couple things that we've noticed, and you've probably noticed as well. In this region of the world, for example, there are outstanding medical personnel, doctors and nurses and there are very good and they're very good number as well.

The problem here, as you know, and many people are starting to see already, is: It's not so much a question of medical personnel as it is getting the supplies out here, the medical supplies. So, the, sort of, long-term having a, sort of, health care corps that could visit more under-represented parts of the world, probably a good idea.

But that's not in any way to underplay the very good medical care and very good hospitals. I've spent times at Apollo hospital, for example, which you may see, Senator, when you visit Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is an outstanding hospital. They have doctors there that are sending doctors from that hospital all around the country trying to take care of patients in these displacement camps. If you ask them, which I have, "Do you want more doctors to come here?" they'll tell you, "No, we don't actually need more doctors. What we need is supplies, food and water."

BLITZER: Well that may be, Sanjay, where you are in Sri Lanka, but I suspect maybe in Indonesia, some other hard-hit areas, whether in Thailand or India -- maybe not India, so much -- they might need volunteers, medical professionals to come out and help.

Are you getting any indication that people along those lines with expertise, doctors or nurses, should volunteer to go out there?

GUPTA: Yes, you're right. We haven't been to Indonesia, but that area has been so hard hit, particularly along the coast, that hospitals themselves, medical camps, all those have been wiped out as well. So the medical personnel out there may have been harder hit. So medical personnel, in addition to the supplies, may be better used.

But again, I think it goes back to what the senator said, every area is a little different. And I think that all the assessment teams, and if there is a corps of health care professionals come out, really need to do their homework, to make sure that they're best utilizing their services and their time before they hit the ground.

BLITZER: I want Senator Frist to listen to his colleague, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on Thursday. He criticized the way the administration has reacted so far to this disaster.

Listen to what Senator Leahy said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEAHY: It has been slow response. It has not been the response this country is capable of. I think a lot of people in that part of the world see it that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Frist?

FRIST: I just disagree. And, again, it disturbs me that any body would be critical of the United States. We've heard it from the people at the United Nations, we've heard it from people in Europe, and I guess we're hearing it from my very good friend, Senator Leahy.

Within 24 hours, Secretary Powell, in talking to the president, there were six disaster declarations. That means that aid can immediately start flowing. We had already appropriated $384 million to the International Disaster and Famine Assistance Fund. That money was immediately available.

Within 72 hours, we had put a carrier group in that direction. Twenty of our major cargo airplanes were on the way. We had people from USAID already on the ground within 24 hours doing the assessment and more people out the door. I just really don't see how -- especially on top of that escalation from $15 million to $35 million to $350 million in a reasonable, a measured way -- we want to make sure this money can be used to effectively.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Frist: Are you confident the Senate will appropriate whatever is needed to do deal with this disaster?

FRIST: Yes. And one of the reasons that I'm going is to be able to see on the ground, to be able to reassure people across this country that that money is being used effectively.

I told Secretary Powell earlier this morning that as soon as he and the president thought it was appropriate for that supplemental to come to the floor of the Senate, we would take it there.

BLITZER: I want to wish you good luck on your trip, Senator Frist. Be careful. Start taking those malaria pills. I think you're supposed to start taking them a little earlier, before you get there. You have all your shots at least?

FRIST: I've got them all. I've got all the shots. And malaria pills start tonight, and I'll take a couple for Sanjay as well.

BLITZER: Sanjay, we'll look forward to seeing you safe and sound back here as well. Thanks for all the terrific work you're doing.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Our viewers in the United States and around the world are grateful to you, and all of our colleagues, for taking not only a great physical challenge, but a great danger to yourselves to report this news as you're reporting it. We're grateful to you, Sanjay, and all of our colleagues from CNN around the world.

Appreciate it very much, Senator Frist. Good luck on your trip.

FRIST: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll take another quick break. We'll have a check of what's making news in the tsunami region right now. We'll also speak with two leaders of international health organizations about the risks facing the survivors.

Our special "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): It was a miracle that my children and grandchildren were saved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some good news out of the tsunami disaster.

Welcome back to our special "LATE EDITION."

When the tsunami waters receded, we saw just the first glimpses of the devastation. Now, a week later, the region is fighting a vast health crisis.

Nancy Aossey is the president and CEO of International Medical Corps. She's joining us now live from Los Angeles.

And Catrin Schulte-Hillen is program director for Doctors Without Borders. She's joining us now live from New York.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

And, Nancy, let me begin with you. For our viewers who aren't familiar with the International Medical Corps, tell them what you do.

NANCY AOSSEY, CEO & PRES., INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CORPS: International Medical Corps sends teams of doctors and nurses and health professionals to the most underserved and more devastated and remote regions in the world.

So we're often one of the first to be on the scene of a man-made disaster, such as Rwanda or Bosnia or Somalia, but our real core mission is to work with local populations, to train local populations, so that they can ultimately be self-reliant themselves.

So International Medical Corps focuses a lot of its efforts on helping to rebuild countries and rebuild regions after natural disasters, and certainly after many of the wars and civil conflict that we've seen the last 20 years.

BLITZER: Is your team of doctors and nurses, health care professionals, in place already in dealing with the tsunami disaster?

AOSSEY: Absolutely. International Medical Corps has had an operating presence in Indonesia for many years. This past week -- and you use a word "racer" there, Wolf. I thought that was a very good word. This last week, we've raced to establish an operating presence in Banda Aceh and throughout the entire presence -- throughout the entire region in Sumatra.

BLITZER: Catrin, a lot of our viewers aren't familiar with Doctors Without Borders, but tell them what you do.

CATRIN SCHULTE-HILLEN, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Well, Doctors Without Borders is a medical humanitarian organization, and we concentrate on helping victims of conflict, of natural disaster and of epidemics.

So, in this specific crisis, we concentrate, as Nancy has said, on the most remote areas, on those areas where local capacity is estimated to be lower in the capacity to respond themselves, and reaching out to population that lives in the most remote areas and those who are most vulnerable. BLITZER: Catrin, based on what you know right now -- and I'll ask Nancy the same question -- is there a shortage of medical personnel on the ground in these most devastated areas?

SCHULTE-HILLEN: It very much depends on the context.

I think we have to -- we can't globalize. We have to look at each area and each country individually. Those countries where medical personnel is not necessarily an issue and the local medical personnel can perfectly handle them, will just need support in terms of supplies and maybe some technical advice on civilian systems and things like that.

And then there are areas that have been so hard hit that medical personnel has been affected also, or that have, you know, are either in a crisis or coming out of a crisis and that just don't have the amount of medical personnel.

BLITZER: Nancy, what's your assessment?

AOSSEY: It is difficult to globalize it. I agree with that.

I know in Indonesia, we are getting reports back from relief teams on the ground. There are areas within the Sumatra area that have been completely wiped out. We are absolutely tapping into the local population in Indonesia. They've got some really great, well- trained doctors and nurses.

However, what we are going to need to do there is also supplement Indonesian professional health workers with people that we send from the outside internationally.

We're real concerned about some of the remote areas where we've heard that entire towns have been wiped out. Certainly the medical professionals will be gone, as will the hospitals as well.

So the focus right now, for our purposes at International Medical Corps, is not only to, of course, gather the appropriate medical supplies and financial resources, but to work on establishing the logistical pipeline. That's absolutely critical, especially in remote places in the Sumatra region.

The logistical supplies and the pipeline are going to be very important to reaching those remote areas. And that's one of our biggest focuses, right now, at IMC.

BLITZER: All right, Nancy Aossey and Catrin Schulte-Hillen, I want both of you to stand by.

We have much more to talk about, including children -- the impact on children. And we'll continue our conversation on this special "LATE EDITION" in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: How to save the injured, fight off disease and reconstruct a medical system washed away in the tsunami: Those are some of the challenges for international teams of doctors, nurses and our two guests, Nancy Aossey of the International Medical Corps and Catrin Schulte-Hillen, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders.

Let's talk about some of the immediate health threats out there. First of all, experts have suggested that wound infections a big problem, dehydration, heatstroke, infectious diseases, God forbid, could develop. The greatest needs right now, safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter.

Nancy Aossey, what am I leaving out?

AOSSEY: Well, certainly medicine is going to be important and food as well.

I think what's important is to recognize that many of the people who were able to survive the initial tragedy are now at immediate risk of dying in an epidemic. So all the things you mentioned, Wolf, are important, especially, especially clean water. One of the worst things that could happen is for there to be widespread epidemics from things that could have been prevented had we been able to get assistance there as quickly as possible.

So all of the things you mentioned are important, and they almost have to happen at the same time because they're all interrelated.

BLITZER: Infectious diseases a nightmare scenario, Catrin, that potentially could break out. Among the infectious diseases that everyone is worried about right now, mosquito-born diseases, specifically malaria, dengue fever caused by stagnant water, respiratory diseases, bacteria and viruses caused by poor sanitation, diarrheal diseases from contaminated water or food or simply poor hygiene, including cholera and dysentery, all of which can be fatal.

Am I being overly pessimistic in worrying about these infectious diseases, Catrin?

SCHULTE-HILLEN: No, I don't think so. I think the danger of epidemic has to be in the back of our minds. But I do think that we have to concentrate the immediate efforts toward the population on diseases which normally exist in the area because they will be on the rise.

And the list that you pointed out is absolutely correct.

What the teams are seeing right now, for example, in Aceh is a strong increase in respiratory tract infection, especially in children. They're living outside. It's raining. Then malaria might be an issue with the stagnant water that's clear. There might be epidemics.

But I do think the concentration needs to be on what we're seeing now: respiratory infections, infections of small wounds.

And one thing that didn't come up on your list, and I think is very important, is psychological trauma. We do see quite a few patients coming to the health facilities because they're disoriented or they've hurt themselves, just wandering around. And the key issue that they're dealing with is the trauma. So, we...

BLITZER: Catrin, I was going to say, if there are health care professionals, doctors and nurses, who want to get involved in Doctors Without Borders, how should they contact you?

SCHULTE-HILLEN: At the moment, I have to say the teams that we have in the field at the moment are sufficient.

We have had an overwhelming response from people who wanted to volunteer. The issue is always the availability, the preparation. We get people onto the field in this kind of crisis that have experience and that have had the training.

So, you know, welcome always, but at the moment, I think on the volunteer side, we're pretty much covered. To contact with us, it's on the Web site, doctorswithoutborders.org, to get all the information about how to become a volunteer with the organization.

BLITZER: And final question, same question to you, Nancy Aossey: What should people do if they want to help -- get involved with your group?

AOSSEY: The best way, I agree with what Catrin said, in our case, is to send donations to support our efforts. Cash donations allow us the flexibility to purchase what is most needed at the time as we react to the needs over the next several weeks.

And the best way to do that, we have an 800-number, 1-800-481- 4462. Another thing they can do is visit our Web site, www.imcworldwide.org. We are racing to raise the resources we need as we try to get them distributed throughout Indonesia.

BLITZER: Nancy Aossey and Catrin Schulte-Hillen, thanks to both of you for joining us. And thanks to you and all your supporters for the important work that you're doing; literally life-saving work right now.

AOSSEY: Thank you.

SCHULTE-HILLEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Straight ahead, the latest update on relief streaming into the areas ravaged by the tsunami. And my interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell. He's heading to the region right now. I spoke with him earlier today.

Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a special "LATE EDITION: The Tsunami Disaster."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) POWELL: The need is great and not just for immediate relief but long-term reconstruction, rehabilitation, family support, economic support. I'm not sure $350 million is the end number.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Man on a mission: Colin Powell flies to the tsunami- battered region. Is the U.S. doing enough to help the relief effort? A special interview with the out-going U.S. secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): It's harder than anything I've ever dealt with in my career.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Covering calamity -- the correspondents on the ground tell us what it's like to be reporting in a region torn by tragedy.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

It's been a week since the earthquake and the deadly waves caused by this enormous disaster, and we're still uncovering new information about what happened, what the losses are and what lies ahead for literally millions of people across southern Asia. We continue to check in with our team of reporters in the region. We'll get to there.

First, though, a quick update on some other new developments.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: In southern India, as we're seeing throughout the region, individuals and aid agencies are chipping away at the enormous disaster.

CNN's Ram Ramgopal is in southern India. He's joining us now live with the latest on what's happening there.

Ram?

RAM RAMGOPAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, indeed, Wolf, the big challenge here is the relief camps, where hundreds upon thousands, and perhaps even millions, of people are trying to flock into these relief camps set up by the government. Certainly, the big concern for authorities here is to ensure that the hygiene conditions in these camps do not deteriorate to the point where disease becomes a reality.

The doctors working in these camps have been trying to basically ensure that anybody there who wants to take a shot, or in some instances must necessarily take a shot -- an antibiotic shot in some instances, vaccines in others. They're trying to ensure that clean drinking water as well as water for washing are in adequate supply, because, as you know, Wolf, this is one of the big concerns.

But so far the good news is that there have been no epidemics, at least, certainly in these camps that we have visited. But authorities say it's still too early to tell, because even in a matter of hours, things can change very rapidly.

Wolf?

BLITZER: And so, what you're saying, the medical supplies, the medical professionals -- has the Indian government moved quickly enough to bring all this equipment and personnel to the region, Ram?

RAMGOPAL: It certainly appears to be so, Wolf.

Initially, when we got here a couple of days ago, it appeared a little more chaotic. But certainly, in the last two days, certainly yesterday and date before yesterday, we were at a couple of these camps. It appears that they are definitely moving quite rapidly.

The army is out, army doctors. There are private doctors. There are a number of volunteers. It appears that certainly the medical supplies are on the ground, as are water and other basic needs. But the big challenge, of course, is, you know, hygiene does continue to be a big, big concern.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Ram Ramgopal in southern India, thank you, Ram, very much.

We continue to hear new stories of survival from throughout southern Asia. Our senior Asia correspondent, Mike Chinoy, caught up with an Australian drawn to western Indonesia by its reputation for big surf.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID LINES: ... all across the river to go surfing. I saw that thing starting to break. And it would be 12 meters high. It was relative to those trees.

I'm looking at this big green barrel. It was actually barreling. And part of me was going, "That's not a bad looking wave." But, of course, we had to get out of there.

CHINOY (voice-over): Exactly a week later, David Lines' neighbors, the few who survived, weep over the ruins. Lines, a surfing fanatic, born in Canada, educated in Hawaii, now a naturalized Australian, came to Aceh because of the waves, met and married a local woman, Norma (ph), and built his dream house. On December 26th, they outdrove the tsunami.

LINES: We had to go toward the wave to get out of the property, through a gate up a little laneway, up through the side and then get out. The girls were screaming and crying out to Allah and it was all happening. We've got out, come around, picked up some people, and then we -- there's a main road that goes down to -- it's like a two- lane bit of asphalt that goes down to the beach. Well, we turned right there.

Then I looked in the rearview mirror for the first time. And then I saw the wave pushing through the trees. It was a broken wave pushing through the trees, taller than a man. It was quite a bit taller than a man, and it was just pushing through with sticks. It was yellow and white, had stick figures running in front of it. And I'm just gone.

CHINOY (on camera): And what happened to the stick figures?

LINES: Well, they're all dead.

CHINOY (voice-over): Lines' adopted hometown, Luc Nah (ph), was obliterated. When he returned to look for his house, this is what he found.

LINES: So right now we're standing on my house, the foundations of my house.

CHINOY (on camera): Show me around. What was what?

LINES: This actual area is, sort of, my front room. My TV was over there.

CHINOY (voice-over): The wave drove Lines' things hundreds of meters inland. David's wife, Norma (ph), lost 17 relatives. They scour the rubble for anything. They don't know what they're going to do.

In the end, this was about all there was.

LINES: No, it's still OK. Here you go.

CHINOY: Plus a surprise.

LINES: There you go. There's a fin.

CHINOY: Memoirs of a surfer's dream life...

LINES: This is probably where I grab stuff so I can give them to kids and we can...

CHINOY: ... washed away by the waves.

LINES: There you go.

CHINOY: Mike Chinoy, CNN, Luc Nah (ph), Indonesia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Maldives in the Indian Ocean was also in the path of the tsunami with deadly results. Just a short while ago, I spoke with Maldive's President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. We spoke just a little while ago. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Gayoom, thanks very much for joining us.

Can you give our viewers around the world an update? How many people have died as a result of this tsunami in Maldives?

PRES. MAUMOON ABDUL GAYOOM, MALDIVES: So far, we know that 80 people have died, and 28 are still missing. So the death figure could rise in a day or two.

BLITZER: What is your biggest concern right now?

GAYOOM: Our biggest concern is rehabilitation and reconstruction.

You know, a lot of our infrastructure has been completely destroyed. Twenty-nine resort islands have been closed and 14 islands have been evacuated. And all our social infrastructure, the roads, power generation, telephones, have been destroyed on many islands.

And our economic infrastructure, like jetties and fishing fleet and resort islands, have been seriously damaged and affected by the tsunami.

BLITZER: How many people in Maldives have been displaced, have become homeless as a result of this disaster?

GAYOOM: I would say around 15,000 so far.

BLITZER: Is there a huge problem as a result of fear of disease beginning to erupt in the aftermath of this tsunami?

GAYOOM: Fortunately, there has not been an infectious disease spreading. But, of course, we have to be careful, because it is normal in these circumstances that some diseases could spread. But fortunately, it has -- no disease has spread so far.

BLITZER: Is international assistance, technical, financial, humanitarian, medicine, beginning to arrive in Maldives?

GAYOOM: Yes, international assistance has begun to arrive. We have received food supplies, medicines, water and so forth. But we need much more assistance, both for the present relief work as well as for the reconstruction of entire communities and items.

BLITZER: Specifically, what do you need most right now?

GAYOOM: At the moment, we need, first of all, clearly, equipment. I mean, equipment and machinery that are needed to clear up the debris and waste material that has accumulated as a result of the tsunami. We need things like excavators, pick-up lorries and loaders and so forth. Heavy equipment is required on each and every island to clear up the debris and the rubble so that we can start reconstruction work.

BLITZER: Is there...

GAYOOM: We also need power generating capacity.

BLITZER: ... anything specifically that the United States is now doing to help? The U.S. has an aircraft carrier, we know, in the region. Are you getting the assistance from the United States that you would expect?

GAYOOM: We have been promised assistance from the United States. I believe the high-level delegation is going to arrive soon. And I think a technical team is expected either today or tomorrow from the United States.

BLITZER: Do you think that this tsunami now will result in an early warning detection system for the region so that these kinds of disasters can be eased somewhat down the road a little bit, advance warning given to people throughout the region in case there's another similar disaster at some point?

GAYOOM: Exactly. I think an early warning system is absolutely a necessity, because of what happened recently. At the moment, in the Indian Ocean area, we don't have an early warning system. But it has become an absolute necessity right now.

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks so much for spending a few moments with us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all of people of Maldives. We'll be watching this story, clearly, very closely. Appreciate your time.

GAYOOM: Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO)

BLITZER: The president of Maldives, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, speaking with me just a little while ago.

When we come back, the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, spells out the purpose of his trip to the tsunami region. Our "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO)

(UNKNOWN): I knew I had to let go of one of them. And I just thought, "I'd better let go of the one that's the oldest."

(END VIDEO)

BLITZER: Many heart-wrenching choices made in a split second on December 26th.

Welcome back to our "LATE EDITION."

On the verge of leaving the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell takes on one of the toughest jobs of his lengthy government and military career. He is leading the official U.S. delegation to the areas battered by the tsunami.

I spoke with him just before he left Washington a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

BLITZER: Secretary Powell, thanks for stopping by on your way to the region.

Did the U.S. miss an opportunity, immediately after the enormity of this disaster was known to respond, dramatically and generously?

POWELL: No, I don't think so, not at all.

This disaster took place just seven days ago, and during the first 24 hours, I called every single foreign minister of the most affected nations, and said to them, "The United States stands ready to help. The president wants to do everything we can to help you. Let our embassies know what you need."

Our ambassadors immediately began distributing emergency aid. We set up teams.

The first request for assistance came from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. They wanted $7 million. We immediately gave them $4 million.

On Monday afternoon, we'd upped that to $15 million. By Tuesday, we'd upped it to $35 million. And during the course of the week, as with many other nations, as we saw the extent of the disaster, all of us increased our contributions: the U.S. up to $350 million.

But beyond the $350 million, our Department of Defense is spending tens of millions of dollars more as we dispatched two carrier groups, a regular big aircraft carrier group and a Marine amphibious group, to the region. And private donations are significant.

So I think that we have responded appropriately. We have diverted food aid. We have put disaster teams on the ground. The president announced the creation of a core group that allowed us to pull the contributing nations of the region together to work with the United Nations. We pulled together an international coalition that is working well now.

I'm heading for the region today with Governor Jeb Bush and other government officials, and we'll not only visit some of the affected countries, but we'll also be participating in an ASEAN-chaired conference on the 6th of January in Jakarta with the international community.

So we responded well, and, you know, we're a little push-backy, I guess I can say, with respect to the claims that we didn't respond well. We did.

BLITZER: But the $350 million, you think that's the bottom line, or is it going to go up? POWELL: Who knows?

Right now, the international community has put in place $2 billion worth of assistance. The problem right now is not money. The problem right now is getting supplies to large airports and seaports, and then retail distribution. So what I need more than money right now, and what those nations need more than money right now, is helicopters and C-130s and small fixed-wing airplanes that can get out to these remote areas.

It'll take a while for this money to get into the pipeline. But food is arriving. Water is arriving. Medical care is arriving. Forensic assistance is arriving.

All of these things are being put in place by the international community.

And so let's not measure this just in terms of who gave the most money at a particular point in time. There is a lot of money now available. And it's not just the secretary of state of the United States saying this. This is what we're hearing from the United Nations and from Jan Egeland, who is the principal humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations.

BLITZER: All right, we can go through all these points point by point. I want you to respond, though, to what Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEAHY: We should have been eagerly telling that part of the world, especially the Muslim part of that world, that we here in America are generous, are good people, and we are strongly committed to help them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: We are strongly committed to help, and we are helping. I mean, $350 million, two carrier groups, thousands of troops. When you look on television this morning, Wolf, what you're seeing are American helicopters landing and delivering assistance. And the private sector has responded so well.

And so in just seven days' time, from what was essentially notification last Sunday that an earthquake had occurred off the northern coast of Sumatra and was producing a tsunami -- just a week ago we thought the numbers of people lost were in the neighborhood of, say, 10,000. Now, it's 150,000. Nobody knew that last Sunday.

BLITZER: You're going to the region with the president's brother, the governor of Florida. The L.A. Times writes in an editorial this morning, the president should go as well. Listen to what the editorial says.

"The president would be wise to travel to the region in the coming weeks. There is no need for a grandstanding tour of devastated communities, but a respectful visit to national capitals to express our nation's condolences and to ask how the president could help would go a long way toward rehabilitating the U.S. image in the world."

Is that a good idea?

POWELL: The president will be following this very closely. He has been following it very closely from the beginning. And he is sending me and his brother, who has great experience in these matters, to the region to represent him. And he will get reports from us.

But let's keep in mind, these are nations that are spending their time and attention now delivering relief to their citizens, and a visit by the president of the United States, with all that entails, would be a diversion of their attention from providing support.

So we don't need a big, grandstanding event right now, which would essentially, no matter if it's only two capitals, be a significant diversion.

BLITZER: Will the money -- the $350 million, plus the additional millions that the Defense Department is spending, will that come from existing funds, or will you seek an additional appropriations measure from the U.S. Congress?

POWELL: The way it works is we go to existing accounts that we have and we take the money from those accounts. But those funds were supposed to go somewhere else, so they'll have to be replenished.

And I've talked to Senator Bill Frist, the leader of that Senate, this morning, and he has made it absolutely clear that the Senate will come back in session whenever it is necessary to obtain the necessary supplemental funding to replenish these accounts, and I'm quite confident we'll get the same sort of response on the House side.

Congressman Jim Leach is heading to the area, and Senator Bill Frist will also be heading to the area by the end of the week. So we'll get strong congressional support to replenish those accounts.

BLITZER: So whatever it costs, the U.S. government, the federal government, the Congress will respond?

POWELL: Yes. We're responding now. Money started flowing within 24 hours -- an expression of interest.

And all week long, as we announced the smaller amounts, the $15 million, the additional $25 million, we made it clear, I made it clear and the president made it clear that we knew those numbers would rise.

But you can't just throw a number out. You have to get some sense of what is needed, some analysis of what is needed. And right now a total of $2 billion has been pledged by the international community, and the secretary general of the United Nations is very satisfied with that response, as is Mr. Jan Egeland.

But let me make one other point here, Wolf. The nations in the region never thought that the United States was not responding. They knew we were responding. They knew our ships were on the way. They very much appreciated the fact that I called and that the president called the heads of state and government to let them know that the United States, the American people, would be responding to this crisis. And we have responded.

BLITZER: The critics -- and there are plenty of critics, there are always critics, including the editorial writers at The New York Times -- say it's one thing to make a pledge, it's another thing to deliver.

Thursday, they wrote this: "Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged."

POWELL: When we pledge an amount, we plan to deliver that amount. Sometimes there are difficulties with respect to the actual delivery of resources. In a place like Iran, that might be particularly difficult.

But let me give you another example. In the Caribbean earlier this year, there was devastation that was brought about by Hurricane Ivan and the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. And we initially put a few thousand dollars into the system and then a few million, and we ultimately got a handle on the extent of devastation in our part of the world and we went to Congress and we got $120 million. And that money will be delivered over a period of time.

Not all of the money is spent immediately. It takes time. You have to determine, what are we spending the money on? Is it for food, or is there enough food? Should we spend it on reconstruction? Should we spend it on hospital care? Where should the money appropriately go?

So the money spends out over a period of time in a sensible way, not all at once.

BLITZER: When you heard the U.N. relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, utter these words -- and I'm going to play them -- I want to know what went through your mind. Listen to what he said earlier in the week that caused quite an uproar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EGELAND: We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me why are we so stingy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He wasn't referring directly to the U.S., but that was the upshot, that the rich countries, like the U.S., were not giving as much as they should.

POWELL: He wasn't talking about this particular crisis. What Jan was saying was that, in general, he thinks that more money should be given to disaster relief and, frankly, to development assistance around the world. And that's his job, to point out these kinds of things. But he wasn't talking about us. And he made that clear in the days that followed.

He is very satisfied with the contribution we made. And I met with Jan on Friday in New York, and we had a video conference with him on Thursday. So we're all on the same sheet of music.

Last year, the United States provided $2.4 billion to disaster relief throughout the world. That was 40 percent of the whole world. So we have nothing to apologize for. It's 40 percent of the whole world's contribution. So we have been generous.

And in the four years of President Bush's first term, we have increased our development assistance funding, we have come up with the Millennium Challenge Account, which you're well familiar with, Wolf, where we're going to give billions of dollars to the developing world in order to prepare them for a different future.

BLITZER: You know, the critics say that as a percentage of GNP, gross national product, the U.S. is not giving what some other countries are giving.

POWELL: We don't accept that definition of giving, because our giving comes in many forms. Some of it is straight contributions of the kind we've been talking about, the $350 million, for example, but other giving comes from the private sector. Our private sector, and not just business private sector but Americans themselves, are the most charitable group of people on the face of the Earth.

And while we're talking about what the United States government is doing, for example, with respect to this current crisis, what you see the private sector doing, companies matching employee contributions, Amazon.com asking you not to buy a book but make a contribution to the American Red Cross. In the last couple of days, they've raised $14 million from their subscribers. Same thing's happening at AOL.com, and so many other places. That's typical of American generosity.

And so you have to factor that in, and you have to factor a lot of the other things that our military does in the course of the year. So we do not accept percentage of GDP as the best measurement of overall giving.

Now, as secretary of state, I'm always looking for more resources from our Congress, and we've been rather successful over the last four years in significantly increasing disaster relief funding and development assistance funding.

We know better than anyone that some of the problems we face in the world, and undeveloped nations, and their fight against HIV/AIDS, and their fight against poverty, their fight against disease is an important fight. We have to be part of that fight. And this administration, under President Bush's leadership, has done a lot with respect to development assistance, HIV/AIDS, free trade, opening up trade so that nations can develop. BLITZER: Let me -- it's not just a gift. It's not just charity. This is an investment in America's own national security.

POWELL: That's why we have approached it in this way. It is an investment in national security. If nations are poor, if they don't see hope, if they're riddled by disease, if no one is helping them, then radicalism takes over. They lose faith in democracy, and they start turning in other directions.

So you're absolutely right. This is an investment not only in the welfare of these people, which in and of itself is a good thing to do, it's an investment in our own national security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking with me earlier today just before he left Washington, D.C., for a trip to the tsunami region, a trip he's joined by the governor of Florida, Governor Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

Up next, a quick check of the very latest news in the tsunami region. And later, in Sweden, a nation waits for the fate of thousands of loved ones. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The tsunami was over literally in moments, but now more than 141,000 people are confirmed dead. Over the past week, the ripples of this disaster have gone well beyond the ravaged coastlines.

CNN's Robyn Curnow reports from Sweden, a nation waiting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The end of another day in Sweden. Thousands of Swedes still missing far away in Asia.

(on camera): The global scale of this catastrophe is becoming increasingly clear. Before last week's tsunami, who would have imagined a natural disaster that affected so many people around the world, the grief stretching from those remote areas in Indonesia, all the way to these northern Scandinavian countries?

(voice-over): Here in Stockholm, it seems as if everybody knows someone caught up in the tsunami. This newspaper headline says even the prime minister has a friend missing.

To help people cope, churches are staying open late, offering people like Bettina and Turve (ph) Lessner some quiet time away from the stresses of trying to find missing relatives lost in Thailand.

BETTINA LESSNER: We are just sitting at home waiting and waiting to get any news, any phone call. And in the second day, I gave up hoping for them, but in the evening of the second day, on the Monday, my mother finally got through on a phone and had survived. CURNOW: The three members of her family are still missing. Her niece, Freya (ph), should be celebrating her first birthday on Monday. Also gone, Freya's (ph) maternal grandmother and uncle.

Posting these pictures on the Internet, along with other Swedish families hoping for some news.

LESSNER: My brother and his wife, they have been searching everywhere, getting pictures from their little baby daughter everywhere so if someone finds her, they can get in contact with us.

CURNOW: Just one of the thousands of family tragedies playing out in the Nordic countries, who are linked in grief with communities on the other side of the world.

KRISTINA LJUNGGREN, PASTOR: For Swedes, it's a national catastrophe, but it's also a global catastrophe, and we have to think about, pray for other people who have no homes to go back to. We must never forget the people down there.

CURNOW: Robyn Curnow, CNN, Stockholm, Sweden.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: For many people in southern Asia, life even before last week was a huge struggle, and the earthquake and the tsunami have brought fresh pain and challenges that stretch halfway around the world.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIYANA SANDERS: Dear Mrs. Sanders, we wish you and your family many prayers throughout this tragedy.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mail has brought Diyana Sanders condolences and checks.

(UNKNOWN): It's a check for $100, for $800, $500, $230.

MESERVE: In one day, a total of $7,400 to rebuild the orphanage Diyana's brother Daylan Sanders established on a sliver of seaside in Sri Lanka in 1994.

(UNKNOWN): She's just 10 years old and she's been with us just a couple of months.

MESERVE: Daylan left a comfortable life in the U.S., selling his home to finance the building of the orphanage, and help the children in his native country.

SAMALAN SANDERS, DAYLAN'S MOTHER: Since he was a little boy, he was always a very caring person. He would collect money in a little purse and give it away to beggars.

MESERVE: Twenty-eight children found a home at the orphanage until last Sunday.

DAYLAN SANDERS, FOUNDER, SAMARITAN CHILDREN'S HOME: There are no words in human speech to describe what we saw. It was a 30-foot wall of sea just bearing down on us like an angry monster.

MESERVE: Daylan crammed the orphans and his family into one small boat which, uncharacteristically, started on the first try.

DIYANA SANDERS: The boat capacity was only 15 people. There were like 32, 33 people crammed in there, trying to get across the lagoon to the city, and there were all dead bodies in this lagoon, and there were people holding on to rafters and branches and screaming to them and asking them to help them.

MESERVE: Daylan and the children survived. The orphanage did not.

KANYA SANDERS, DAYLAN'S SISTER: It's been incomprehensible and just, you know, mind-blowing. But we are so, so thankful and grateful to God that they were saved so miraculously.

MESERVE: Daylan's family and friends in Maryland immediately set about raising the estimated $400,000 it will take to rebuild the orphanage. Two newspaper stories have helped generate a torrent of calls...

(UNKNOWN): Samaritan Home Relief, how can I help you?

MESERVE: ... and contributions.

DIYANA SANDERS: $1,500. Amazing. "My sympathy to you and to your fellow countrymen from Sri Lanka. I hope this gift will help toward building the orphanage."

MESERVE: An orphanage that Sri Lanka needs now more than ever before.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, the special challenge and the emotional impact on journalists covering such an enormous disaster. I'll be joined by Washington Post media critic and the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" Howard Kurtz right after this quick message. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Also following this enormous story, The Washington Post media critic, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz. Howie is joining us live.

Howie, a news story doesn't get any bigger than this. HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: It's huge, particularly in the traditionally slow holiday period, Wolf, and so understandably this has just dominated the news worldwide. In fact, let's take a brief look at some of the coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): Largest earthquake in 40 years has devastated large parts of southern Asia.

(UNKNOWN): Any particular stories that will stay with you?

(UNKNOWN): The one that has been seared into my mind already and will probably stay there forever is the body of a small child.

(UNKNOWN): I've seen some terrible, awful sights today, but this is by far the worst. They're burying bodies by the lorry loads here in mass graves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But what about the personal difficulties of journalists covering the story? Earlier I spoke with CNN's Mike Chinoy in Indonesia and asked him what kind of toll this was taking on him personally to cover death and destruction on this kind of scale.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHINOY: It's really tough, Howie, on several levels. On the most elementary level, it's just hard to do the story. The conditions are very tough. When we arrived a few days ago, we flew up here, we got off the plane, we had no place to stay, we had no transport.

This town, Banda Aceh, is completely devastated. The first thing we did is we talked somebody into driving us around, and within a few minutes, we found a mass grave, where there were a thousand bloated bodies being shoveled into a pit, and I talked to a 30-year-old woman who had lost her entire family. All her family members were missing, and presumed dead, and she had found the body of her 3-year-old in the street and had brought it to this horrible pit of death, to give it to the people to throw in there.

Scenes like that just churn you up inside. And you have to wear a mask because the smell is so bad.

Eventually, we found accommodation. We were sleeping on the floor in a, kind of, an old, unused hall, but one night this week, we had three big aftershocks, we all had to run outside, and so I'm now sleeping outside in a sleeping bag. We're using a generator to power our equipment. And literally everywhere you go there are decomposing bodies in the streets and rubble and devastation on the scale I've never seen.

KURTZ: But aside from the very difficult...

CHINOY: So it's tough personally to see it, and it's -- and... KURTZ: And on that point, is it also difficult to keep your feelings out of it? I mean, you're reporting on this mass devastation, destruction, death, children. I mean, how do you keep your eye on the ball and provide the information without just feeling emotionally overwhelmed?

CHINOY: Well, you know, you just, kind of, have to bite your lip and say, "This is the job. We have to do it."

I think there's a reckoning that will come, and it will probably come later. We've all been pretty upset, and physically nauseated and emotionally very upset by a lot of what we've seen, but it's a job and the focus on the job, I think, is a way that you manage emotionally to keep going.

But it's harder than anything I've ever dealt with in my career. And my producer and my cameraman, who have been with me for years and years, all over the third world, all over Asia, feel the same way.

KURTZ: Just briefly, with so many tens of thousands of people having perished, how do you try to illustrate the story, kind of bring it to a human level?

CHINOY: Well, you go out on the street and you see this, kind of, macro level, everything is wrecked. But then almost anybody you stop has an unbelievably compelling story. I've heard about, you know, people who were in boats, who were tossed around by the tidal waves and managed to survive, people who lost everything.

And they all have a story, and they're all individuals, and they seem very willing to talk about it, in spite of the trauma. And so the focus on the individual illustrates the broader disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: CNN's Mike Chinoy.

Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, the amazing thing about this story is that so many people's lives were affected. Normally, as you well know, Howie, Americans -- if it happens in the United States, they get deeply involved. But halfway around the world, they don't get deeply involved. But this past week, I've sensed that Americans are deeply involved in what's happening in South Asia.

KURTZ: It is all too easy sometimes for those of us here in America, Wolf, to just tune out when it's an isolated earthquake or flood or something like that. There's usually so much going on here politically.

But this has just swamped, if I may use that word, every other concern, because of the huge numbers, because of the death and destruction, because of the suffering that we're seeing on the front pages and on our television screens. There's just no way to tune this one out. BLITZER: This past week here at CNN, we've basically been wall- to-wall on this enormous disaster.

Are we going too far? Is there such a thing as too much coverage on a story like this?

KURTZ: It's probably impossible, Wolf, to overcover a story like this. Although I do worry a little bit about other important stories, for example the continuing violence in Iraq getting completely and totally overshadowed.

I think it's admirable that news organizations, and CNN -- this plays to CNN's strengths. I mean, on the one hand, disasters are good for the news business because they sometimes produce ratings, but CNN has a global staff and so there's no secret that it's doing more than the other cable networks on this story.

I'll tell you one thing, though: For all of the fine efforts by Chinoy and the whole CNN staff in many countries around the world, I've talked to a lot of people who say it's hard to watch a lot of the coverage, just because it is depressing.

I think the story has taken a turn now toward the aid and distribution of food and water and equipment. That's a more hopeful story than we had in the first days, when it was basically just grappling with the magnitude of this death toll.

BLITZER: Numbers that we can't even comprehend right now when we think about it.

The role of the Internet in this story, have you seen anything special unfold?

KURTZ: Absolutely fascinating. All of these blogs, these online commentaries, these sites, have sprung up seemingly out of nowhere, and they are offering firsthand accounts from people who understand the culture there, they are offering video, they are offering information for victims and their relatives. They are offering aid and information on how to get aid to the people who need it most.

This is something we have not seen in past disasters on this kind of scale, and I think it is a welcome contribution to that traditionally played by the big news organizations.

BLITZER: And what you pointed out excellently with Mike Chinoy is a lot of our viewers don't necessarily appreciate the personal risks, the dangers that these journalists take in going to a region. We spoke with Dr. Sanjay Gupta earlier today, and he said mosquitoes were flying all around him, and God forbid they're carrying bad things with them.

KURTZ: It reminds me of what war correspondents go through, and I've interviewed many of them. But here, of course, the danger is not bullets and bombs. Here it's the fury of Mother Nature. And there are aftershocks, there is disease, there are the flooding conditions. And so I don't think the journalists should apply for any medals here, this is their job. And it's interesting that the real admirable work here is being done not by many of the big-name anchors who have been on vacation this week, but by the front-line troops, the grunts, so to speak.

But it's not easy, and I thought it was worth taking a moment just to say, where does he sleep? How does he get around? What do you do in these kinds of conditions?

BLITZER: It's an amazing, amazing challenge that all of us have faced and will continue to face.

Howard Kurtz, thanks very much.

KURTZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. More of our special coverage when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And that's it for our special "LATE EDITION: The Tsunami Disaster." Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We leave you now with some of the haunting images and sound of this incredible story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These past few days have brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension.

(UNKNOWN): There are no words in human speech to describe what we saw.

(UNKNOWN): We were standing by each other and watching the wave that was coming in. We didn't understand what (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(UNKNOWN): This is an unprecedented disaster.

(UNKNOWN): It just demolished everything that stood in its path. It came with such force.

(UNKNOWN): It's also the absolute horror of what has happened.

(UNKNOWN): We should also not forget the survivors.

BUSH: Together, the world will cope with the loss. We'll prevail over the destruction.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 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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