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More Details About Tsunami Discussed

Aired January 9, 2005 - 17:00   ET


HUGH RIMINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're with CNN. Welcome back to Beruwala, Sri Lanka. I'm Hugh Rimington. We're coming to you live once again here. In this half hour we will look at more developments from the tsunami's zone, in particular, the cyclone that is brewing in the eastern Indian Ocean. What will be the impact to these devastated coastal areas in Sri Lanka, in India and other countries that have already been so hard hit? We will also have a look at both the religious interpretations and the religious possibilities, perhaps some coming together between the various faiths in this area so rich in different traditions.
But first let's have a reminder of what we've really been talking about, all of this last fortnight. Let's look at the revised death toll from the tsunami, the earthquake that preceded it two weeks ago. On the latest figures that we have as we go around the region, these are conservative figures, the most conservative sure figures that we could find. In Indonesia on figures from the Indonesian health ministry, more than 95,000 people are counted as killed, 77,000 people are still missing.

In Thailand as we stay in the region moving north, 5,300 people are officially counted as dead, 3,500 are still missing. In India, 10,000 dead, about half of that still missing. Most of those recorded as missing are on the Andaman (ph) and Nicobar (ph) Islands and in that island group.

In Sri Lanka where I am, the figure has been revised down. There appear to have been some double counting between the northern tamil- held areas and the Sri Lankan controlled areas of the island, 29,650 people are now counted as killed. There are still just a little under 5,000 recorded as missing.

Overall, more than 140,000 people are officially counted as dead. There are other counts that put it much higher. As I say, those are conservative figures, the best that we can get them at this stage.

Well, from lost souls from this disaster to lost lands, the Maldives is an island group that's scattered over many hundreds of islands. It's a very low-lying group. It was swept not only did many people lose their lives in the Maldives islands but entire islands have, in fact, been wiped out. They have now been declared irrecoverable. The damage is so great, that there is simply no prospect that those populated islands, nine of them, will ever be resettled, according to the government. The Maldives, they will need land reclamation and that is considered to be too expensive. Those islands will now be abandoned to nature. The United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan is in the Maldives, continuing his tour around the tsunami region. Earlier he was in Sri Lanka. CNN's U.N. correspondent Richard Roth filed this report on Kofi Annan's Sri Lankan visit.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kofi Annan is on a tsunami- themed humanitarian journey, but politics is never far from the surface in any country. Sunday morning the U.N. secretary general met with a leader of the tamil tiger autonomy movement, locked in dispute for years with the government. The session came one day after Annan was barred from touring tamil-held parts of northern Sri Lanka. Annan urged U.N. agencies to take advantage of the crisis to ease tensions. Advice from non-government humanitarian organizations brought a warning should the government try to isolate the tamil tigers in relief operations. Annan discussed his inability to go to the north and the disaster with Sri Lanka's president.

CHANDRIKA KUMARATUNGA, SRI LANKAN PRESIDENT: The problem was about one part of the land (ph), which is entirely rebel held and that was the area that we advised the secretary general that it is better that he does not go there.

ROTH: At a news conference the secretary general said the U.N. is not here to take sides.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: We have discussed with the government and we've also met the people on the ground. At this stage, we are dealing with emergency relief as well as recovery.

ROTH: Annan's special tsunami coordinator will go to tamil- controlled areas in the north later this week.

(on-camera): Kofi Annan moved on to another country swamped by the tsunami, the Maldives, left behind in the wake of his visit to Sri Lanka, pleas for the government and tamil opponents to engage for the good of all the people here. Richard Roth, CNN, Colombo, Sri Lanka.


RIMINGTON: We've spoken about the death toll at the start of this hour. Of course, perhaps we need to be reminded constantly of the forces that were unleashed that caused that terrible death toll. We have some new eyewitness video from Banda Aceh as the waves came in. Now this was taken by a man who had gone to Banda Aceh to record, to videotape a wedding.

He says that people had gone out on the streets after the earthquake to observe the damage from the quake when the wave came through. Just look at this. Looking at that, it's hard to imagine that anyone could survive in Banda Aceh. The video cameraman himself said he thought he was going to die. He said he put himself into the hands of God and kept on rolling the videotape. That was the result of that, quite staggering. And you can see that the force that managed to sweep right across the Indian Ocean to reach the coast of east Africa was unleashed so close onto the island of Sumatra along the west coast there, the closest land mass to the epicenter of the quake. Still after two weeks, it is just a stunning thing to have to contemplate.

Aid is getting into Banda Aceh now. There are so many flights going in there the airport is getting congested. How much of it is actually getting out into the streets so the people can get to it? CNN's John King went to investigate.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunday morning, the market bustling, Banda Aceh two weeks later. There is nothing normal here anymore but some streets are busy again. (INAUDIBLE) comes for salted fish, some chilies, watercress and with her groceries, carries hope that from disaster, will ultimately come better days.

TRANSLATOR: Let's see what happens after these foreigners come. With the aid coming in, maybe it will become a greater city. There's so much help coming in.

KING: Coming in by the plane load, though at the two-week mark there are still significant problems delivering help to devastated coastal areas to the west of Banda Aceh.

UNKNOWN: For the foreseeable future, there will be no access to the large portions of the coast. It will be by boat and helicopter.

KING: This line near the town center at times run two hours. At the end, cheerful Australian troops and a cherished commodity, drinking water. New video shown on Indonesian television shows the devastation as the tsunami hits Banda Aceh. Ritzi (ph) was on a bridge and saw it coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I run with my friend. I have eight friends and I run. Running, running, you don't think about nothing, don't think about it, just running.

KING: Two weeks later, she still worries it could happen again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't explain it. Trauma. I feel trauma.

KING: When it comes to the daunting clean-up operation, there is heavy equipment and heavy equipment, these elephants off to their next job. A playful scene but a sanitation nightmare, a dirty irrigation canal used for bathing and laundry across from a roadside refugee camp. Zimil (ph) wants a new house but far from the water this time in case the wave comes back.

TRANSLATOR: Lots of people say there will be, but only Allah knows.

KING: She found her two children after three days but says others were taken away from Banda Aceh by the government and two weeks later, their parents know nothing.

TRANSLATOR: There is no information. They should return the kids to their parents. The poor parents there tired of looking.

KING: Look on the roadside and this is an all too familiar scene. Here, three women and a child found Sunday morning in an alley. Banda Aceh still counting its dead two horrible weeks later. John King, CNN, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mexico's search and rescue team suits up for another day at work. Their mission to save lives. But this disaster was so devastating, so fast, it left only the dead to collect. Theirs is the grueling job of excavating the wreckage for bodies. They start at the market, hoping to restore life to what was once the heart of town.

UNKNOWN: This is a really big disaster. We've got thousands of bodies and we can be searching. We got to go where the people in the area. They are our searchers, the job of the people, is very, very important that they tell us where is the bodies, where are the bodies so we go and dig them.

SHUBERT: Within the hour, at least five bodies have been collected. But that morbid task is only half the work of the search and rescue team. They also help the living, especially children. While, his teammates scour the wreckage, Geraldo works the other side of town, among the thousands of displaced children, toting a special teammate. Together they have traveled to some of the world's biggest disaster zones, but never seen anything on this scale.

TRANSLATOR: Each disaster is different, but this is the biggest. In Aceh, everything has been destroyed, people, homes, everything, he says. I hope we can help, if only to make the sadness disappear for a moment. It might be working, the show is so popular, he has difficulty getting away. By late afternoon, the team gathers and compares notes, how many bodies collected, how many children made to smile, a bittersweet end to a hard day's work. Atika Shubert, CNN, Banda Aceh, Indonesia.


RIMINGTON: When we return, how religions are helping each other and trying to make sense of it. This is CNN, stay with us.


RIMINGTON: Coming to you from Sri Lanka, coming to you live on CNN. Let's take a look at some of the religious implications of this tsunami and its aftermath. It has not been a good time, I suppose, for the faithful. Many people have had their faith in their God shaken by the terrible events of this last fortnight. However in other degrees and other aspects, there's been an extraordinary reopening of dialogs between various religions. Harris Whitbeck of CNN found in eastern Sri Lanka that there were Buddhist temples giving sanctuary to tamil Muslims. It had never happened before but it did start to break down old animosities. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Evening prayers around the sacred tree at a small Buddhist monastery in south eastern Sri Lanka. Monks and students pausing for reflection between caring for more than 500 victims from the tsunami who found refuge here, an exercise in charity. For these monks in particular, it is also about redemption. The majority of the refugees in this monastery are tamil and it was tamil separatist rebels who more than 20 years ago massacred the monastery's head monk and 30 of its students in one of the most violent expressions of the ethic strife that has wracked Sri Lanka for decades. At a memorial to the slain monks, the head of the monastery quietly reads off their names and delivers a lesson in forgiveness and, he hopes, reconciliation.

TRANSLATOR: Even though I lost my master and many brothers I wanted to dispel the animosity, he says. I wanted to turn a new chapter and try to get peace for the country. So I opened the doors here for everyone of all ethnic communities.

WHITBECK: 20-year-old Heab (ph) a tamil Muslim, has been living in the monastery for the last two weeks. He helps the monks prepare meals working side by side with those his people considered enemies. He says he has learned a lot about them and about himself. Now that we've been interacting, he says, I've learned who Buddhists are and what they're about. They've helped us a lot. Whatever animosity that was there before has disappeared.

The head monk says the tsunami created an opportunity for redemption by bringing tamils and Buddhists together, he says, it washed away the blood of his slain brethren. The tsunami was a blessing in disguise because it's uniting everybody, he says. It's a good lesson for everyone because people have to learn to live together. People from all walks of life have to unite to help each other. It is time we learned that great lesson. The lesson is being applied in this small monastery in the ravaged southeast of Sri Lanka, a small enclave of hope where despair is so rampant. Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Anpara (ph), Sri Lanka.


RIMINGTON: In a region that's so rich in a variety of faiths, what are the issues? What are the implications of this tsunami disaster and its aftermath? Let's go to the experts. In New York we are joined by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of the American Sufi Muslim Association, from London, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. He runs the synagogue at Mill Hill in north London and from Washington, Father Headley of Catholic Relief Services. Gentlemen, if I could start I suppose with a negative that has emerged in the last couple of days, there are reports, apparently confirmed reports out of Indonesia of some faith-based aid organizations refusing to give aid to individuals unless they're willing to convert to a particular faith. It's been said of those being required to convert to Islam and also those to Christianity. If I can start with you, Imam Rauf in New York, what are the ethics and do you believe that they are generally held to on the business of giving aid? IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, AL FARRAH MOSQUE: Well, the Koran, which is our scripture, is quite explicit on the fact that there shall be no compulsion in religion. We have to be charitable and loving and compassionate to all people. The Koran also tells us, the prophet himself also teaches us in one of his most important teachings that none of you is a believer until your love for your brother, meaning your fellow human being, what you love for yourself.

RIMINGTON: Father Headley, this has been a complaint, this one about no food without conversion that has existed in the Christian churches in a number of different regions over the years. Do you believe that it is solidly understood across the Christian-based aid agencies that there can be no linkage between aid and religious faith?

REVEREND WILLIAM HEADLEY, CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES: I'm sure there are exceptions. Different groups may feel differently about this. I would say that the mainstream of the aid organizations that are faith-based that I'm familiar with, including our own Catholic Relief Services, it's very strongly impregnated into our staff that this is not acceptable. This is not a time for evangelization. It's time if anything for Christian witness, that if your faith means something, that you're to serve people, then this is a wonderful opportunity to do this. Your brothers and sisters are in great need and this is an opportunity to do something about that.

RIMINGTON: We saw in Harris Whitbeck's report just a short time ago about that Buddhist temple giving succor to tamil Muslims. There have been other examples that we have seen. A Muslim elder said to us that this tsunami for the first time brought a Buddhist monk into his mosque. What are the possibilities for a greater understanding between different faiths? What is the degree to which that might be extended not just in this region, Rabbi Schochet? Do you have any view on that?

RABBI YITZCHAK SCHOCHET, MILL HILL UNITED SYNAGOGUE: Yeah, I think that to exploit religion under the circumstances is really a tragic circumstance of events. Ultimately to be a man of God means to recognize that every human was created in the image of God and that when you are dealing with creatures of God, you are effectively dealing with God himself. Hence, when physical barriers have come so devastatingly crashing down there remains only the essence of the spirit which reflects the commonality of humanity to effectively showing through. There were no faiths being discriminated against in the eyes of the waves themselves and hence, there should be no discrimination between the varied religions now when it comes to offering aid, support and love as well. We are all ultimately as creatures of God in this together.

RIMINGTON: Hasn't the global response in a way reinforced that, whether it's come from a religious instinct or just from a personal humanitarian instinct? The outpouring of compassion around the world, the donations that have come from so many sources seem to reinforce that. I'm wondering whether there might be some deepening of a sense of commonality, of humanity, that might say even the Middle East bring some sort of greater possibilities for common understanding or is that just being a little bit too idealistic, Rabbi? SCHOCHET: I think it's difficult to start trying to speculate how individual regions are going to react. Sadly, we will have witnessed over the past week that it did not make a whole lot of difference in Iraq, per se. But there is movement, certainly very much today in the Middle East with regard to the Palestinian elections. There is now a development of democracy there. It is certainly hoped that other Arab nations will follow in that line of democracy and perhaps if nothing else, at least now as a result of this tsunami, reflecting on our vulnerability should enable us to have a greater mutual respect and understanding of one another to be able to indeed build toward a more peaceful tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I might interrupt there --

RIMINGTON: Imam Rauf, how do we harness -- sorry. Yes?

HEADLEY: I was going to suggest --

RIMINGTON: There's a slight delay on the satellite. Please go ahead.

HEADLEY: Sure. This is Father Bill Headley responding. To say that I had a wonderful example of this just the other day when we were told from our representatives in Sri Lanka that the person that had been with most of the day represented a Jewish organization that was there and deeply concerned about this areas and wanted to cooperate with us who in our very title are called Catholic Relief Services. I was very impressed with that.

RIMINGTON: Imam Rauf, how do you believe that this goodwill can be harnessed, perhaps be made to extend into other regions of - areas of human life?

RAUF: Well, I think that religious leaders and thinkers should amplify the common message to all of our faith traditions and those of us from within the Muslim tradition need to point out that we believe, as Muslims, that God did send the truth to every other faith tradition. There's not a community to whom God did not reveal the same principles of the absolute truth and the absoluteness of God that God is the God of all of humanity and that we are to treat each other as we want ourselves to be treated. These principles are -- underlie all of the faith traditions, not only -- I mean all the major ones, the Abrahamic, even the non-Abrahamic faith traditions and the social, the global social contract today of the fundamental commandments of especially the Abrahamic faith traditions to love God with all of the components of one's being, with all of one's heart and mind and soul and strength and to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves, defines really the global social contract that we have to -- that we have to build together.

RIMINGTON: Certainly, gentlemen, it will be interesting if after so many lives and faiths have been shaken in the last fortnight, if out of it some greater faith was to emerge, a greater personal sense. Thank you very much all three of you for joining us for this discussion, brief as it is.


RIMINGTON: When we return, on CNN, let's look at the weather, a cyclone brewing in the eastern Indian Ocean. What does it portend? Stay with us here on CNN.


RIMINGTON: In Sri Lanka I can tell you and I imagine in India as well, there is a lot of discussion at the moment about some bad weather brewing in the eastern Indian Ocean. Let's see where it's heading, what it's likely to bring in the weather center, Lola Martinez. Lola.

LOLA MARTINEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENTS: Hello there Hugh. You said it indeed. It's not good news for the region. We do have a tropical cyclone just brewing there and it is actually lingering across - actually east of Colombo, Sri Lanka, tracking to the north, north east. Now that's going to be short lived as in the next 12 hours or so it will make a slight turn to the west in the direction of southern portions there of Sri Lanka.

So in the next day or so, we will see the impact of this system, the showers mainly, and it is definitely going to be a rain maker, which will produce tremendous flooding across southern portions. We can actually see the changes and development of this system, increasing for the next day or so. Once again, the area of concern for the next 12 to 24 hours will be towards the south once again. Increasing showers across the southern coast and major concern will be the flooding across the region.

Southern portions of India looking fine and dry, but the major showers will be concentrated once again here in Sri Lanka. We will keep you up in date in terms of what to expect and the latest information from the joint typhoon warning center.

Now, going to Europe, another major story has been the very windy conditions across the region over 120 kilometer per hour winds, gusting much over that in so regions affecting parts of the U.K., the low countries, Germany, also into Scandinavia. We are seeing a mix of rain, sleet and snow. That's going to continue pretty much for the beginning of the week, even into mid portions of the week, northwestern parts of Russia as well, quite unsettled. A few showers into central parts of Europe, so if you're looking for a little bit more pleasant weather, the south is definitely where you're going to find that.

Lots of sunshine, high pressure system there into parts of Portugal, Spain, Italy. Fine and dry also into northern parts of Africa, with the exception of coastal parts of Egypt. We will see some showers lingering on and off. Nigeria also have been seeing some very unsettled weather conditions. More tropical downpours across central and southern parts of Madagascar, Mozambique. We'll see possibility of more showers that could produce also some severe flooding across the region and very windy conditions towards the south into Durban (ph) and Johannesburg, a few showers also are possible. From showers, we go to heat and it's been extremely hot across northern and central parts of Argentina. Buenos Aires reaching temperatures nearly around 40 degrees. That's going to continue for the next coming days. High pressure system pretty much across the region, quite nice into northern Chile. That's it here. Hugh.

RIMINGTON: That's all we have time for coming to you live from Sri Lanka. I'm Hugh Rimington. Thanks for joining us. Stay with CNN. Our coverage continues.


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