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Aid for Tsunami Victims Now Pouring in For Sri Lanka; Could It Happen Here?

Aired January 3, 2005 - 08:30   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news this morning, Croatian President Stephe Mesach (ph) will face a runoff election in two weeks. The pro-Western fell just short of the majority he needed to win a second term. Mesach says he is confident of victory, and plans to bring Croatia closer to mainstream Europe.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist announced he will sit out some votes. Rehnquist will not vote in a dozen cases heard by the Supreme Court in November, unless these cases end up in a 4-4 tie. The chief justice has been undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. Rehnquist has said he will swear in President Bush at his inauguration on January 20th.

And Finally, Amber Frey says she still thinks about Scott Peterson and wonders if he thinks about her. The revelations come in a book by Peterson's former girlfriend, set for release tomorrow. Frey says she was scared during the investigation when police tapped her phone calls with Peterson, and I actually heard on the radio on the way in today that the book has sort of been out in a couple of different places in California. So some people have probably already read it.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Got it. Thank you, Heidi.

Aid for tsunami victims now pouring in for Sri Lanka, but getting help to the people who need it most is proving extremely difficult due to logistics and politics.

CNN's Stan Grant in a rebel controlled region of northern Sri Lanka. He joins us from a warehouse by way of a videophone where aid is being distributed.

Stan, hello there, and good evening.

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, Bill. You mentioned what you say there is exactly right. This is not just a disaster zone. It's also a war zone. It has been for 20-plus years, as the Tamil Tigers have waged a civil war with the Sri Lankan government in the south. They've carved out very much a stronghold in the north and the east, a de facto state, if you like. And they are demanding that all of the aid come through their own aid relief organization, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization. They say that they have experience in these matters, 20-plus years of war. They know how to get the aid out. They know where to get it to.

The problem is, though, in dealing with this organization, it's listed by the United States still as a terrorist organization. There were some reports earlier during the week that some of the aid trucks in fact were hijacked by members...

HEMMER: All right. To our viewers, have a bit of patience with us here. By videophone there in Sri Lanka, Stan Grant is reporting from an aid distribution center. We clearly lost the signal. Our apologies for that, but if we can get him back we will from the northern part of Sri Lanka, a very difficult part of the world to access, especially given this story.

Also the question this morning, could it happen here? New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone says he will introduce a bill to make sure a system will sound an alarm if a tsunami is headed for the East Coast in the Atlantic. Such a system works now in the Pacific Ocean. The Asian catastrophe will top the agenda when the new Congress comes into session tomorrow.

Here's Ed Henry in Washington.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senior lawmakers are already vowing to sharply increase emergency funds to victims of the tsunami disaster.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The $350 million that President Bush has now asked Congress for I believe will be a floor and not a ceiling.

HENRY: Congressional leaders will pass a resolution on Tuesday, pledging their support for the victims, while the State Department actually delivers the money.

COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: 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.

HENRY: Later this month Congress will repay those accounts with an emergency spending bill that is likely to include even more aid. But lawmakers first want to assess the full extent of the crisis before deciding on an exact figure.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: A lot of people say we're not moving fast enough, we're moving too fast, depending on who you are talking to. We just need to take a measured response, assess, make the diagnosis and respond appropriately.

HENRY: For that diagnosis, Frist is leading a delegation to Sri Lanka on Tuesday. Since he's a heart surgeon, Frist may even operate on victims who need help.

FRIST: To be on the ground as a physician, I do best when I see what's actually happening, see the patients, see the people affected, see the orphans, see if the aid that is coming in is being used effectively and efficiently, and not just piles of supplies over in some building. HENRY (on camera): Lawmakers will also consider a global warning system for tsunamis. Tens of thousands of lives may have been saved if such a system existed in the Indian Ocean.

Ed Henry, CNN, Washington.


HEMMER: Want to take a few more angles on the story now. With us to talk about the U.S. response to the disaster with money and more, from Miami, Democratic consultant Victor Kamber is back with us.

Vic, good morning to you, down there in Florida.


HEMMER: Thank you, and to you as well.

From D.C. Cliff May, former RNC communications director, now with the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies.

Cliff, nice to see you, and Happy New Year's as well.

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: Good morning, Bill.

Good morning, Vic.

HEMMER: Cliff, why don't you start us off, there has been a -- well, let's rephrase that -- is there a valid argument to say the U.S. was slow to respond, or is it accepted that the U.S. was waiting to see how this tragedy unfolded day by day and sometimes hour by hour?

MAY: Yes, the U.S. is guilty the terrible sin of not perceiving a natural disaster as a public-relations opportunity. Here's "The Washington Times" from last Tuesday. If you see, it says 22, 500 dead. That's still a tremendous number. But of course it's many, many times that. And of course our contribution is many times that. What we have done is we have assessed and we've watched the terrible numbers growing. And now we are doing more, as usual, than any country in the world. We have the biggest military effort out there since the Vietnam War, aircraft carriers, helicopters. We're doing what only the U.S. is capable of doing.

I will say this. Now that we're doing this, we should let the world know what we're doing. I think it's important to communicate that, and I hope the administration has a plan to communicate it.

HEMMER: Let me get down to Miami and Victor, same question. Is there an argument here?

KAMBER: I think the president was late getting out there to show the concern for the American public, but this isn't about George Bush and politics. It really is about the victims there. And the fact that what Cliff says is correct. This country's outpouring its heart, its hair, its head, its prayers, are with these victims. We're doing enormous -- I care less really right now about the public-relations effort than I do about relief. There will be a lot of credit to be given out in months to come. There will be blame also, certainly. Let's hope we're at that credit level because we've done everything we can do.

HEMMER: Excellent. Let's move to another topic now, Iraq. We already have at least two bombings today in around Baghdad. There may have been a third earlier today. Some Iraqi leaders are saying these elections should be postponed, now slated for the 30th of January. Cliff, start us off. Should they be postponed to make sure the environment is more secure?

MAY: Bill, I don't think so. It's very difficult to stop people who want to strap themselves with bombs or fill a car trunk with bombs and crash them into something. If we had any reason to believe that in three or four months the situation would be under control in the sense that we would have defeated all those who think that by blowing up innocent people they're going to get 72 virgins in heaven, that's fine. But I don't think that's true.

And we know -- I think we know the Iraqi people are looking forward to this, eager for this. People should go to Iraq, the model. It's an Iraqi blog. It's in English, and it will tell you a lot from the Iraqi perspective that people want these elections held. They want a chance to vote. They're very excited about this.

HEMMER: Victor.

KAMBER: I've been consistent that the only purpose for the election on this set date is George Bush and his own election. Well, his election is over; he's convinced the American public he has got things under control. He doesn't. The country is not stable. If our goal is to help bring about democracy, we need greater stabilization. We've lost more lives in the last month, more wounded in the last months than three preceding months. The Sunnis have pulled out of the election process. There are four to five provinces not able to vote in this process.

The only purpose to have this election is for Americans to beat their chest and say we have an election. I'd rather wait and see that the country is more stable for the election, so real democracy can take place.

MAY: Let me just add this -- most of the provinces are fairly stable. You do have terrorists. You have Abu Musab Zarqawi. He represents al Qaeda. You have the remnants of the Baath regime. We have to fight these people until we defeat them, but you cannot let them decide when we're going to have elections, when the Iraqis are going to have elections. If you let them make the decision, there never will be elections in that...

HEMMER: Last word.

KAMBER: The election was an artificial date. There is no magic to this date. MAY: All of them are artificial dates. There is no magic to any date Vic, but you tell me when. And if three months from now if the violence is worse, would you say, well, let's postpone it one more time?

KAMBER: When 9/11 happened in this country, we postponed an election in the mayoral's office and moved on. This is the equivalent of 9/11 for Iraq.

MAY: And in 1864, a lot of states couldn't vote, Lincoln was still elected, the system worked fine.

HEMMER: We've got to run. Gentleman, thanks, Victor Kamber, Clifford May in Miami and D.C. this morning. Thanks to both you gentlemen. Happy New Year all right.

MAY: Happy New Year to you guys.

HEMMER: OK, Secretary Powell set to arrive next hour in Bangkok, Thailand. Coverage of the tsunami all day here on CNN. Later tonight, 7:00 Eastern, a special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360." He is live in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Anderson later tonight, 7:00 Eastern here on CNN.


HEMMER: Wall Street getting ready to ring in the new year. Andy tells us what to look out for this morning. We'll get to Andy in a moment on that.

HEIDI COLLINS: And next, while everyone else was running away, one man dove directly into deadly waters. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the story of a hero who refused to let children die. Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Sri Lanka is one of the countries that bore the brunt of last week's deadly tsunamis. More than 47,000 fatalities. But as CNN's Satinder Bindra tells us, for many it will take more than a killer wave to kill the spirit of the people.


SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their families are dead, their homes have been smashed and their livelihoods destroyed. But it will take more than a killer wave to shatter the spirit of many people in Galle. They team up to bring their fishing boats back to the edge of the sea. For all it's destroyed and the people it's consumed, the ocean here is still rich in fish and these fishermen realize they must get back to work or they'll starve.

"I'm willing to borrow money at 15 percent or 20 percent interest to rebuild my boat," says this fisherman, "But I have to go back." Elsewhere in the city, bridges are being rebuilt. Everyone realizes without them, relief efforts will fail and many more Sri Lankans will die.

Last Sunday, this city was flattened by a tsunami. This eyewitness video shows the scale of destruction. One week after...

(on camera) ... The city is slowly trying to get back on its feet. It's trying to blot out the pain of the past and to secure a future.

(voice-over): But for all their efforts, some residents fall back into a sea of depression. They seek the company of others. Collective grief somehow seems less painful.

"If my mother was alive, I could do everything," says resident Don Vitarana. "Now that my mother has gone, I can't do anything." Eight members of Don Vitarana's family died here. Two bodies still haven't been recovered.

His business, too, has been wiped out and he's now moved to a shelter. "I think it will take all of Sri Lankans," he says, "At least 20 years to recover." Just a few yards away from Vitarana's home, his neighbors try to get on with their lives. With their tears slowly drying up, they believe it's time for Galle to move on.

Satinder Bindra, CNN, Galle, southern Sri Lanka.


COLLINS: And so much work ahead. But good to hear from Satinder that people are starting to talk about rebuilding and moving forward very, very slowly, I'm sure.

HEMMER: How many times this morning have we said thousands and thousands and thousands of more stories that we'll hear every day for weeks, if not months to come. There was videotape over the weekend taken by German tourists that showed the water ebb away from the beach.

COLLINS: Yes. Like a suction.

HEMMER: Yes, just completely gone. And most of the tourists at the time, they weren't from Thailand. They were probably from Europe. I think they were German tourists and Swedish tourists -- would wander out on the sand, wondering what was going on here. And there were some locals apparently who started screaming tsunami because they knew the sense when the water went out like that, sucked out, as you said, like a suction -- what was about to come on the other side of it.

COLLINS: And those were the ones who really got caught.

HEMMER: Oh, yes. For sure. Sanjay's on assignment. He's in Sri Lanka as well for our tsunami coverage this morning. He has the story about one man who displayed courage in the face of disastrous odds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) THUSAL GONAWARDENA, SUNSHINE WATER SPORTS: We jump (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we are very, very fast and jump and first of all we save these two kids.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You're actually jumping in the water in the middle of the tsunami to try and save the kids.

(voice-over) Thusal Gonawardena has lived on these waters his entire life. Like most people he had never seen a tsunami. But he was one of the first to know something was wrong.

(on camera): What did it look like on that day? I mean, the water -- everyone keeps saying the water was rising. What happened?

GONAWARDENA: You could see suddenly, it goes -- the water level goes up like this.

GUPTA: Really?

GONAWARDENA: And then goes down like that.

GUPTA: All along this beach?

GONAWARDENA: All along this, everything.

GUPTA: How high did it get?

GONAWARDENA: It got here about up to about my size, about six foot.

GUPTA (voice-over): And so as most people ran desperately from the tsunami, Thusal and the rest of the village boys dove into it to save the lives of others.

GONAWARDENA: We needed to help our people so that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- when we are also running away, and who's going to help us? No police were there, no army was there, no rescue teams there because no time to come because it happened in one minute.

GUPTA: On that day, Thusal saved at least two lives.

GONAWARDENA: Most of the people was getting panicked and I said my team, you know, we have to get together and send the womans and the children away because -- screaming at them, go away, go away, run to the main road.

GUPTA: A fisherman's son, Thusal today owns a water sports business. He sees and feels the destruction of the tsunami firsthand. Most people see it from the land. Thusal sees it from the water. In a place where tourism and fishing are the only livelihoods, it will be a long time before this town recovers from the tsunami. But for Thusal, the recovery is just the beginning.

GONAWARDENA: I have a few customers who water ski.

GUPTA: Are you surprised that you have guests for water skiing?

GONAWARDENA: Yes, the normal life start to go on now, so good news already.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Sri Lanka.


HEMMER: Oh, so many to mention today. Today was to be the launch of our "New You Revolution" series, but with Sanjay on assignment in South Asia covering the tragedy, we are postponing the start of that series. We'll start the "New You Revolution" on Monday, the 17th of January, two weeks from today.

Break here in a moment as Mexico actually encouraging its people to cross the border illegally. Jack has that in the file in a moment here when we continue after this.


HEMMER: All right. Welcome back, everybody.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Topping the business agenda at this hour, a deal struck to bring Chinese cars to America. Andy Serwer has that and other stuff. He's here "Minding Your Business."

Good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning to you. I bet your chomping at the bit on that, saving money up right now.

CAFFERTY: Yes, they're probably little cars, right?

SERWER: They're little. We'll talk about in a second.

Let's review what happened last year in the markets. You know, on average the stock market goes up about 8 percent or 9 percent a year. Look at that. Look at the S&P 500, which is your broadest measure, most representative measure of the market we have on the screen. The Dow, as we've said time and again dragged down by Pfizer and Merck. Don't be surprised, though, Jack, if those are the two stocks that do best in 2005, the dogs of the Dow theory that we've seen true and time again. This morning futures are up sharply, I think a lot of optimism we even made it through '04. That and oil prices down sharply this morning. So could be a good start.

CAFFERTY: Is this what we need, American automobile manufacturers getting more competition from overseas? They're not doing all that well right now with the playing field the way it is.

SERWER: That's right, but it's going to happen. I mean, the Chinese are making more and more cars. It's just a matter of time before they are brought to the United States. In fact, a couple of months ago we talked about an Arizona car dealer looking to bring a car named the Gigli (ph) from China. Remember that, Jack. We had a lot of fun with that story. Well, this guy is really -- here's another one; this one looks more real. A guy named Malcolm Bricklin (ph), you may remember this gentleman. He was the guy who brought us the Subaru, a big success, but also the Yugo. Thank you. He had another -- there is a Yugo. Look at the lines on that car. Oh, stunner.

He also had his own car that he manufactured in Canada called the Bricklin which is a gold wing kind of deal. Anyway, he signed a deal with a company called Cherry. They're going to bring cars from China into the United States in 2007, 250,000 cars they say. Some of the car names are the Crossover -- the Crossover.

CAFFERTY: That's not bad.

SERWER: Another one is called Oriental son, S-O-N. Cherry is the only the eighth-largest carmaker in China. It's just a very small player. But this guy car Bricklin, you know, he's one of these entrepreneurs who you can't count out, and it's going to happen, and this guy might be the guy to do it.

CAFFERTY: We shall see. Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: Indeed. You're welcome.

CAFFERTY: Time for the File. Retitle the song, "There She Goes Miss America," once one of the highest rated, most anticipated programs on television, nobody's watching anymore. The pageant is falling on hard times. ABC has had the thing the last seven years, won't carry it anymore. Pageant officials got their shorts in a knot when the network said they want to cut the show back to two hours and kill the talent competition. Two actually very good ideas.

According to broadcast and cable not a single major network has expressed any interest in the Miss America Pageant. The last time they aired it, it was only 9.8 million people tuned in. In 1960, by contract, the Miss America Pageant was watched by 85 million folks. So sayonara.

Here's a list of words we can do without next year, according to Michigan's Lake Superior State University. Now there's a school.

SERWER: Haven't been there.

CAFFERTY: Lake Superior State University thinks that these words ought to be banished from the queen's English for misuse, overuse and general uselessness, which is why they belong in the File. Wardrobe malfunction, that Janet Jackson thing.

Izzle, which is a phrase I use a lot. It's a sort of Rap-Latin suffix as in fo shizzle, which means for sure. I knew that. Used initially in rap songs, it's variations can now be found everywhere.

Flip-flop, according used by the Republicans to describe John Kerry. The school up there in Lake Superior thinks it ought to be confined to the beach, not political dialogue.

What's next? Move ahead I guess. There we go -- pockets of resistance, the military phrase about Iraqi insurgents. The list nominators say it sounds like somebody having trouble pulling their hands out of their pants.

And Donald Trump's phrase you're fired, which deserves a ban, along with almost all the other things Donald Trump says.

And finally, Mexico's foreign ministry, no joke here, publishing a guide to assist Mexican's crossing the border illegally into the United States. "The Guide for the Mexican Migrant" is being distributed as a free supplement to a popular cowboy comic book. It offers safety information, a primer on legal rights and advice on living unobtrusively here in the United States. It includes the following tips: If caught by the Border Patrol, quote, "Don't throw stones or objects at the officer or patrol vehicles, because this is considered a provocation. And when crossing a river, quote, "thick clothing increases your weight when wet, and this makes it difficult to swim, or float," unquote.

The guide contains no information on how to obtain a visa to come to this country legally.

SERWER: Just don't throw rocks and wear a bathing suit, right?

CAFFERTY: It's a joke. It's just unbelievable.

SERWER: That's a government thing. It's from the government.

CAFFERTY: Five states in Mexico you can get this thing. It comes as a supplement to that comic book.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

Let's get a break here in a moment. Top stories the top of the hour. We'll go back to Soledad live in Thailand, and thousands of Americans still missing in the tsunami aftermath. What's being done to locate them. We'll hear from the U.S. embassy in Thailand, still to come here on AMERICAN MORNING.


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