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Massive Tsunami Relief Campaign Underway; Snow Engulfs Sierra Nevada Region

Aired January 3, 2005 - 07:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Help comes to the desperate this morning. A massive humanitarian campaign now gaining momentum even as the death toll from the giant tsunami grows higher still.
Also, the rescuers today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was not like that the day we had him. He was not talking. He was not playing, not -- he was very out of it. So we were really happy to see he looked perfectly normal again.


HEMMER: The stroke of luck that saved a lost Swedish child after the wave. And his heroes, with their own story to tell.

Here in the U.S. six, seven, try eight feet of snow. That huge storm that's becoming too much of a good thing, on this, AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: This is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

HEMMER: Good morning, everybody on a Monday morning. Welcome to our coverage here. Soledad, my partner, reporting today from Phuket Island; We'll talk to Soledad in a moment. First, though, we want to bring you up to date on the very latest out of Southeast Asia.

There are now at least 156,000 people reported dead and tens of thousands still listed as missing. The Secretary of State Colin Powell, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, will tour Thailand, Indonesia and possibly Sri Lanka.

Helicopters off the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln now flying supplies to remote parts of Indonesia, northern end of Sumatra; with 1200 Marines are helping to deliver aid to Sri Lanka and U.N. says about $2 billion in aid, so far has been pledged internationally, $350 million of that from the U.S.

Much more on these stories as we go throughout the morning. As we are waking up today. I want to bring in Heidi Collins, with me as well, bringing in the other headlines.


We do want to get to the rest of the news "Now in the News", this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is said to be safe this hour after an attack near his political headquarters. Officials say a suicide car bomb exploded at a police checkpoint killing at least four people. Several other explosions have been heard in Baghdad this morning. No word yet on damage.

Just days after the U.S. agreed to relax its ban on Canadian cow imports, a case of mad cow disease has been confirmed in a dairy cow in Alberta, Canada. Officials say no part of the animal entered the food chain, the second case of mad cow in Canada in a decade. U.S. health officials say the new case will not change plans to lift the import ban.

I'm going to talk with a critic of the cow industry coming up a little bit later in the show.

The political world mourning two of its pioneers. Shirley Chisholm helped found the Congressional Black Caucus. She was the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm died Sunday at the age of 80.

And Congressman Robert Matsui, the California Democrat became a spokesman for tax and Social Security issues. As a child he spent time in an internment camp for Japanese Americans. The 63 year old Matsui died on Saturday.

Big changes for Delta Air Lines. According to "Time" magazine the carrier planning to cut fares this week. The changes come as Delta works to avoid filing for bankruptcy.

What could this mean for your wallet? Well, Andy Serwer is going to be talking about that in "Minding Your Business", in just a few minutes.

Meanwhile, time for a check of our forecast now. Chad Myers at the CNN Center with the very latest weather update.


HEMMER: It is 7 o'clock in the evening in Thailand. That's where we find my partner, Soledad O'Brien, reporting now from Phuket, Thailand, in the south western part of the country.

Good evening to you, Soledad.


Lots of damage here in Phuket to talk about. The villages north of Phuket as well pretty heavily damaged. We spent a lot of time there yesterday. Relief efforts, though, under way to bring in basic supplies and tents as well.

Numerous people, though, so shell shocked, we're told, they're staying in what's left of their homes, the shells of their homes. Also staying in the mountains, don't want to come down yet from the mountains.

In the Phi Phi Islands, where we were a little earlier today, the recovery effort goes on there as well, the bodies piled on the pier being removed -- wrapped in plastic and then being removed by members of the Royal Thai Air Force, and also the Thai police -- the Royal Army -- excuse me.

Thousands of tourists though are still missing. The prime minister said it would not surprise him if the number of dead actually made it to 8,000. In the Phi Phi islands many bungalows and resorts along the strip of beach. And one of the problems they faced, of course, was the actual geography of that island.

It's essentially two big mountains with a strip of beach in between, which means they were hit by the tsunami from two different directions. So on one side the tsunami came up and the tourists there, who are on the beach saw the wave coming, turned and ran but essentially ran into the other side of the tsunami which was coming around the back and were trapped. A terrible scene there and they're picking through the devastation.

They're expecting as they continue to clean up there that they will find even more bodies. We have got Mark Larsen with us this evening to talk to; he is the public affairs officer with the U.S. embassy here.

A really busy, busy time and a big job you have. Give me a sense of what exactly you're doing.

MARK LARSEN, PIO, U.S. EMBASSY IN THAILAND: Well, everybody in the embassy and the mission is really seized with, first off, supporting all the American citizens who have been affected or, in some cases, bereaved or injured by this calamity here, and the way it's affected all of us in Thailand.

O'BRIEN: When you say supporting, what does that mean exactly?

LARSEN: All kinds of support. The embassy immediately had officers down here. In fact, we had some officers in this region on vacation who basically went to work within minutes of the tsunami. And its hitting this island and other islands and part of the shoreline along Thailand. Beginning their work of finding Americans and find ways to help the Americans inform -- well, it depends on what they need. Some of the Americans found themselves injured, separated from family members, oftentimes lost all of their possessions.

Sometimes they had not even a passport, not a penny, not a way to get to the U.S., no identification, whatsoever. So our embassy officers have helped in every way they can to reunite family members. And, where necessary, to find medical care for those who need it, to find people who in fact were oftentimes moved unconscious to hospitalization, for the severe injuries they have.

O'BRIEN: There is a huge number of missing. How many of those thousands are Americans?

LARSEN: That's a very good question and we really do not have a clear number of how many Americans we would say are confirmed missing. Right now we're estimating slightly less than 400 are unaccounted for, but that number is really based on the number of e-mails and calls into our hot line that we've gotten from all over the world and certainly from the U.S., where people have reported "I haven't heard from Jim, I heard he was in Thailand, is he OK?" so that made this list of unaccounted for. We're now furiously trying to call back people, answer those e-mails...

O'BRIEN: How big a job is that, looking for a needle in a haystack essentially?

LARSEN: Exactly. That's one of the biggest challenges we have. We never knew, and have no clear records of exactly how many Americans were here. So, therefore, to define how many are not here now, or are injured or, god forbid, dead, it's very hard.

O'BRIEN: How many American families do you have that have come to your doors and said, "I'm looking for someone who I cannot find"?

LARSEN: There have been over 1,000 Americans who have come to American Citizen Services, either here in our facilities we're maintaining in Phuket, or run into our officers out in the field, or come into the embassy, who have asked for assistance of one sort or another.

O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to talk to us and update us on what you're doing. Appreciate it.

LARSEN: My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Mark Larsen, from the embassy.

As you've been hearing there are many amazing stories of survival. We have one of a Seattle couple and the story of a little boy they were able to rescue. Matthew Chance has his story.


RON RUBIN, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: So this is what's left of our hotel room. Our bed was here. And we were sleeping.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're survivors amidst the tragedy. For Ron Rubin and Rebecca Beddall, it was meant to be a dream vacation.

RUBIN: It was an absolute tropical paradise, just miles and miles of perfect sandy beaches, palm trees. Christmas day, families walking on the beach. It was something you'd see on a postcard before the wave.

I was awoken by this crashing noise. It sounded like a landslide, an earthquake, a plane crashing and, a train wreck all at the same time.

CHANCE (on camera): You can see that all along this coastline of Thailand, resort after resort has crushed by the giant tsunami. Thousands of people were killed, Thais and tourists alike, making the story of Ron and Rebecca all the more incredible. But it doesn't end there, because they didn't just save themselves, but one other as well.

REBECCA BEDDALL, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: From the roof point where we had been during the tsunami, we saw up here and we thought this was the highest we could go. So this is where we ended up. And most people had convened here looking for other lost members. Everyone was missing somebody. So this was kind of the place people were trickling in to see if they could find each other.

CHANCE: And is this the exact place where you found Hannes?

BEDDALL: Yes, exactly.

CHANCE: You didn't know his name was Hannes, did you?

BEDDALL: No, of course not. He was laying over in about that spot right there.

CHANCE (voice over): They picked up little Hannes Bergstroem, in shock and half drowned, and took him to the hospital, where we first filmed him. A few days later he was reunited with at least some of his Swedish family.

RUBIN: It was very emotional to see that the father was alive and the grandmother was alive. And it's a tragedy that the mother died, but we were just -- we were so happy for him when we ...

BEDDALL: And he was playing normally, just like a normal kid. He had a toy and he kept squeezing it and he was talking. I mean, he was not like that the day we had him. He was not talking. He was not playing, not -- he was very out of it. So we were really happy to see he looked perfectly normal again.

CHANCE: But the joy is mixed with sadness, too. That only a few lucky ones could survive, when so many perished.

BEDDALL: It's too much luck that we both survived. We didn't lose one another. We have no injuries. It's -- and that's just not the case for the majority of the people that were staying in Khao Lak, so there's really no words to describe how we feel.

RUBIN: It's just a miracle to be alive.


CHANCE: A miracle, indeed. And so many more thousands of people, of course, in Khao Lak and all over Thailand were so much less fortunate than them.

I think it's worth remembering the casualty figures as they stand right now in Thailand, which is by no means the country most affected by this Asian tsunami disaster; 5,000 people according to official figures now, confirmed as dead. Another 6,500 still missing. So anybody who walked away from that tsunami, extremely lucky, indeed.

O'BRIEN: Incredibly lucky.

How is that family doing? They sound like they feel so lucky for themselves and blessed to have saved a child but, also, at the same time, it's got to be incredibly difficult for them.

CHANCE: It is incredibly difficult. This is a couple in fact who have been to Thailand on four or five different occasions. They really, really love coming here. And now they were saying to me they may think again about coming back to this place. That was at least their initial reaction, although they did say they've been treated so well by the Thai government and received a lot of support.

O'BRIEN: We've heard that as well. Many people, Bill, actually saying they've been so grateful for all the kindness they have experienced at the hands of the Thai government, and also the Thai people themselves.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Soledad, quickly, when did you arrive? And how much have you been able to see in Thailand so far?

O'BRIEN: We've been able to see a tremendous amount. We basically landed and have hit the road for the last couple of days. The stretch of a couple hours' drive up and down the countryside, where you see some of the hardest hill villages, just decimated.

One of the things that I think is most amazing to see, is when you look at the distance from the water how far that water made its way into the coast, a kilometer in some locations. It really pretty much clarifies for you the strength of that water.

When we went to the Phi Phi Islands, just see the sheer strength of the bungalows ripped off their foundations. Many people I should say, did not drown in this. They -- when you take a look at some of the bodies that have been recovered, they're bashed in and were battered by the debris and flotsam that hit them as the water rushed through -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad. Thanks, live in Phuket, Thailand. Talk to you next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Also a reminder to our viewers, Heidi, we'll speak with Mike Chinoy at the half hour. He's in northern part of Indonesia, on the island of Sumatra. Wait till you see the devastation they have found there. Literally, stacked up on these bridges, on these roads and it goes for miles. We'll talk to Mike a bit later this hour.

Also more from this country here in a moment; here a wicked winter storm out West. Some folks finding crafty ways to get around, but could it get worse? And it is piling up by the feet out there, too.

COLLINS: Is that Alaska?

Also, CNN "Security Watch": Another jet gets hit by a laser. Is it time for passengers to start worrying?

HEMMER: Also a bit later, Indonesia's miracle man. More than a week after the tsunamis, one fisherman proves why you can never give up.

Back in a moment, on this Monday edition of AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Northern California's Sierra Nevada region is beginning the new year snowed in. Days of heavy snowfall have brought at least nine feet in some parts, with more expected today. CNN's Ted Rowlands has more.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For thousands of holiday travelers across the country, getting home has been a nightmare. In the Northern California Sierra Mountains, they're used to snow, but not like this.

In the mountain town of Soda Springs, where more than eight feet of snow has fallen since Wednesday, parked cars are completely buried and everywhere in the region, highway traffic is treacherous and slow.

SGT. JON DIETRICH, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: This certainly is the most significant series of storms that I've experienced here. It's pretty much been non-stop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been snowed in since Wednesday, so we're coming up to get some food and supplies.

ROWLANDS: The Maas family lives two miles off the beaten path. They put their two children on a dog sled to get through the snow.

DEANNE MAAS, SODA SPRINGS RESIDENT: It's so deep and little kids can't walk two miles in this kind of snow.

ROWLANDS: For ski resorts, the snow means the best conditions in years. But for some spots, it's actually been too much of a good thing because it is so difficult to get here.

GREG MURTHA, SUGAR BOWL SKI RESORT: It's the busiest week of the year in the ski business and we were hoping for a little bit of a break. Didn't happen.

ROWLANDS: Even many of those that make a living off the snow, like the Maas family, they charter dog sled trips, say it's time for a break.

(on camera): And there is still more snow expected. A winter storm warning, which was issued last Wednesday, is still in effect. Ted Rowlands, CNN, Soda Springs, California.


COLLINS: Last week, the main highways that Californians use to and from Lake Tahoe, which is Interstate 80 and Highway 50, were closed from time to time. But this morning both are said to be operating normally without restrictions.

HEMMER: Almost 19 minutes past the hour.

Heidi, it has happened again, another laser beam, another commercial airliner. Laser danger is the topic of our CNN "Security Watch" this morning.

The most recent incident happened on Sunday for a United Airlines flight out of Nashville, Tennessee, bound for Chicago's O'Hare airport. And the "USA Today", this morning, front-page story indicates that investigators now determine there is no terrorism involved here. It just happens to be the work of a prankster on the ground or maybe more than one prankster. Aviation Security Expert Rafi Ron is with us now from D.C., to talk about this.

And good morning to you and welcome here to AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: First, your reaction to Sunday. What's going on out there?

RON: Well, the FBI said, I think, it doesn't make a lot of sense that what we're witnessing has anything to do with terrorism. Those that are familiar with the military use of lasers know that this type of application that has been reported is not an extremely effective way to use lasers, if what you have on your mind is to disturb the flight or destroy the aircraft.

HEMMER: So you believe it's the work of a prankster too, then, right?

RON: Yes, I strongly believe that's the case.

HEMMER: If that's the case, though, how difficult, or how easy is it to blast a laser inside a cockpit upon landing or takeoff?

RON: When we speak about those -- the laser pointers, that we're all familiar with, the type of pointers used in presentations, these are very limited in terms of range and power. They -- and would not exceed about 1,000 feet. So all these reports that they mention higher altitude are probably not related to this. But there are on the market commercial stronger laser sources that can reach up to two or even three miles in range. And they're a little bit more powerful and could be a little more dangerous.

HEMMER: Is there any danger -- sorry for the interruption. Is there any danger to the pilot if that's happening? RON: Well, the probably of the beam hitting the pupil of the eye of a pilot during landing is not extremely high, but you cannot rule it out altogether. So as a matter of public safety, I think the issue has to be investigated and those irresponsible people that are using lasers against aircraft, should be dealt with. But it's certainly not the -- not an issue of terrorism here.

HEMMER: Rafi Ron, thanks for your time there, down there in D.C.

RON: You're welcome.

HEMMER: And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security. We'll have it for you when it happens here on CNN.

Andy also has some airline news in a moment. This time about a major carrier slashing fares. Andy is up in a moment. Jack, too, right after this on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everybody.

One airline slashing fares and execs at another trying to figure out how thousands were stranded just about a week ago. Andy Serwer, first check of "Minding Your Business" this morning. Happy New Year's.

ANDY SERWER, COLUMNIST, "FORTUNE": Happy New Year to you, Bill. Good to see you back. Heard you had some fun traveling over the holidays.

HEMMER: I'll tell you what, thousands and thousands of suitcases just about everywhere you could look and no people to match.

SERWER: That's right. We'll talk about that in a second.

First of all "Time" magazine is reporting that Delta Air Lines will be chopping fares dramatically, this to remain competitive, particularly with the low-cost carriers and also to avert bankruptcy.

Let's break it down for you a little bit here. As much as 60 percent off on fares. This is what you call a new fare structure in the business. And ending the Saturday night stay. Was there any business that imposed that on customers? You had to stay -- you want to have a competitive fare, you have to stay over Saturday night. What was this? The ticket change price going down from $100 to $50.

Meanwhile, let's talk about what's going on here at US Airways. We told you last week that they called for volunteers. They sent out a message saying, who wants to work for free for this company over New Year's? And believe it or not, they got 100 people to do it. A lot of them flew into the troubled Philadelphia hub. And they did it. They did manage to avert another meltdown like they had at Christmas over there. And, you know, truly a remarkable showing there by those employees. HEMMER: Thank goodness for that.

COLLINS: Did they have to pay their own airfare to get in, as well?

SERWER: No word on that, but probably. Why not? I mean it would be in the spirit of things, right? You pay your way, bring your own lunch.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN COMMENTATOR: You'd do the same thing for CNN, if they asked you or "Fortune" magazine.


SERWER: That's right.

Tomorrow we're going to have be for free here, I think. You think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: No, I'm busy tomorrow. I'm going out and buy a comb.

COLLINS: Good morning, Jack. Nice to see you back.

CAFFERTY: Hello, Heidi. Thank you. It is wonderful to be back. I didn't realize how much I missed being here until I came back in this morning.

What to do with suspected terrorists the United States doesn't want to release or turn over to the courts. There is a story in "The Washington Post" that there are plans for indefinitely imprisoning these people, perhaps for a lifetime.

One Defense Department proposal under review is the transfer of these detainees to a new $25 million, 200 bed-prison for suspected terrorists, who are unlikely to ever go to court because of lack of evidence against them.

No public hearings in Congress have been held on CIA detention practices. Congressional officials say CIA briefings on the subject have been too limited. Both Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar and Senator Carl Levin, of Michigan, the top democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee criticized the indefinite detention as unconstitutional.

Here's the question. How should the United States handle terrorist suspects it's unwilling to release or turn over to the courts? E-mail us to at

SERWER: I like the fact they'll be held indefinitely, but not enough evidence to bring to trial. That kind of makes you think a little bit, doesn't it?

HEMMER: That is what we're going to try to figure out, aren't we? We have two and a half hours to do it, too.

Thank you, Jack. Happy New Year. CAFFERTY: Well, thank you, Bill.

HEMMER: Cheerio!

COLLINS: Well, here is the first 90-second pop of 2005. Let's look into the future.


COLLINS: The poppers dust off the crystal ball. Million dollar baby could be this year's Oscar heavyweight. But will another film knock out the competition? Plus, which celebrity will achieve pop culture nirvana in 2005? The secrets revealed on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Good morning, everybody, on a Monday morning, 7:30 here in New York. Good to have you along with us.

My partner, Soledad, is in Thailand today covering the devastation from the tsunami, from that location. And we'll hear from Soledad at the top of our next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Also, in a moment here, the agonizing difficulties in bringing relief to parts of Indonesia, that country hardest hit by the tsunami. More than 94,000 are dead there. The amazing story, in a moment, of one fisherman rescued yesterday. We'll find out how he made it through the storm.


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