updated 1/10/2005 1:47:24 PM ET 2005-01-10T18:47:24

Guest: Robert Go, Gary Haugen

ANNOUNCER:  This is an MSNBC special report, “Tsunami: The World Responds.”  Tonight, incredible new video of nature‘s devastating fury.  The latest from the most ravaged regions of Southeast Asia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s so desolate.  They‘re still finding bodies every day.

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ANNOUNCER:  And one family‘s personal grief.

ERIC RICHARD, GRANDFATHER OF DEAD BABY:  The first wave came in, and Charlie was lying on the beach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  The heart-breaking story of one of the tsunami‘s youngest victims.  Then, from among the ruins, images of hope and worldwide charity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We felt we needed to help.  It was just something that just came naturally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  But are all these donations going to the people most in need?  And the mystery behind Southeast Asia‘s missing children.  Were they victims of the tsunami or another sinister force?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know that he‘s been kidnapped.

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ANNOUNCER:  Plus, profiles of courage, the remarkable survivors that fought nature and won.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m so lucky that I‘m still alive.

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ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, their unforgettable stories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were absolutely certain that we were going to die.

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ANNOUNCER:  From MSNBC world headquarters, Alex Witt.

ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening.  It‘s been 12 days since the tsunami hit, and the death toll keeps going up.  As we move into the second week of aftermath, you‘re going to see some very compelling, very heart-wrenching stories tonight.

But first, the latest.  Reports from the hardest-hit country, Indonesia, that another 7,00 bodies were recovered.  That brings the overall number of people killed to close to 150,000.  But with thousands still missing, that number is expected to increase dramatically.  In the devastated area of Banda Aceh alone, the Indonesian government says more than 15,000 people are still missing.

U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan toured both Indonesia and Sri Lanka today.  He flew over the heavily-damaged town of Meulaboh, Indonesia, near the epicenter of the earthquake.  One third of Meulaboh‘s 120,000 residents were killed.  And thousands of survivors there have yet to receive any relief supplies.  Annan said it was the worst devastation he has ever seen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL:  I have never seen such utter death, utter destruction, mile after mile.  And you wonder, Where are the people?  What‘s happened to them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Yesterday, Annan urged world leaders to follow through on their pledges and get their relief money in.  Dozens of countries have pledged about $4 billion in aid.

And new amateur video of the tsunami today, this from southern India, as a 16-year-old boy on vacation with his family took these pictures of giant 30-foot waves crashing into a concrete retaining wall and across a huge monument.  The boy and his family were waiting for a ferry when the tsunami hit.  They escaped safely.

In Sri Lanka, the relief effort continued to pick up steam, reaching even the most remote areas, where mile upon mile lies in ruins.  Bill Neely of Britain‘s ITV traveled to the eastern coast of Sri Lanka and found that for those who survived, life will never be the same.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NEELY, ITV (voice-over):  This coast will forever be haunted by the tens of thousands who died here.  Even in death, they have no peace.  Ghost towns pepper the coast, their populations dead or gone, cut off now by the broken roads and the sea that took their people.  This is a ghost coast haunted by water.  Along it today, the Royal Navy searched for bridges and roads to repair.  A quick look was enough.  There are hundreds to choose from.  And even with 100 men, they can‘t do much.

There will be no bright, new dawns on this coast.  The bereaved and the broken are everywhere.  Habiba (ph) lost three of her children.  She has one boy left, but Abdul has been brain-damaged by the disaster.  The doctors say he‘ll die and aren‘t treating him anymore.  This 4-month-old boy was found bruised in the debris.  No one knows who he is.  But five couples say he‘s their child.  So much loss, so much desperation on this coast.

Many hospitals are destroyed.  Medical aid is getting through, but like the food and the water, it‘s slow in coming, even as the world‘s donations multiply.  But in some places on this coast, there‘s nowhere left to deliver aid to and few alive to get it.

(on camera):  This was a world turned upside-down in seconds.  It will stay like this for years because it‘s like this for hundreds of miles—boats in the main street, bodies in the rubble left to rot, an unnatural world that will never be rebuilt as it was.

(voice-over):  He‘s lost his family of five.  But everyone here has his own private hell.  They stare at the wreck of their lives.  No one, no donation can ever replace their loss on this haunted shore.

Bill Neely, ITV News, on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Now for the very latest on the situation in Thailand, we go to NBC‘s Charles Sabine, live in Phuket, where the sun is now dawning on a new day.  Good morning to you, Charles.

CHARLES SABINE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good morning to you, Alex.

WITT:  And I will explain, our viewers will understand, we are on a bit of a delay.  That‘s the delay in our conversation right there, Charles.  But let‘s talk first of all about Americans.  Have you encountered any Americans so far, Charles, that have come to Thailand looking for missing family members?

SABINE:  Yes, indeed, I have, Alex.  Today I spent the day with a man called Dan Walker from Vero Beach, Florida.  He‘s a 77-year-old ex-Marine whose grandson, who is, in fact, a Swedish national, 12-year-old Kristian Walker, was on the beach in Kao Lak (ph) just north of here when that tsunami struck.  He went missing, along with his mother.

It was thought at one point about a week ago that he may have been abducted from the hospital.  So this poor man who has just been searching the police stations and hospitals for any information about his grandson, is now in a situation where he doesn‘t know if the boy was is alive, if he‘s dead or if he was kidnapped, an unimaginable situation of pain and distress for any relative.

And if you multiply that out by the numbers of people who are here in similar situations, you get an idea of the magnitude of this.  I mean, just look at the Swedes, for example, 1,500 of their people supposed to have died in this, almost certainly have.  And I spoke with a Swedish chaplain here today who said that in a country of seven million people, as Sweden is, there‘s hardly anyone in that country who doesn‘t know someone who either died or was injured in this terrible disaster 12 days ago—Alex.

WITT:  And Charles, that father, grandfather, rather, searching for his grandson—did he indicate to you if either of these horrible possibilities is preferable to him, the thought of his grandson having been kidnapped, perhaps, versus being dead?

SABINE:  Absolutely, he did.  He said that their great hope now, the whole family, what is left of it, which is, of course, his son, who survived, and the grandson, is that his grandson was kidnapped because that at least means that he is alive because he has recognized the possibility that if he wasn‘t kidnapped, he is now certainly dead, probably swept out to sea, or maybe one of those unidentified bodies which are lying along the Buddhist temples that line this coast along southern Thailand—Alex.

WITT:  Charles, can you tell me why it is taking so long to find some of those bodies, and even beyond that, to identify them, at this point?

SABINE:  Well, there are several reasons, Alex.  First of all, the very real possibility that thousands of these missing bodies—there‘s still about 3,000 people missing here.  Many of those may have been swept out to sea and will never be found.

As for those bodies that have been recovered and are being—are still being—going throughout process of DNA matching, well, that is slowing down remarkably, becoming an extremely tedious and tortuous process because they‘re having to get samples of bone now to match DNA because the bones have decomposed in the tropical heat here to an extent that muscle tissue is no longer a good DNA match for them.  So that‘s becoming a very slow process.

And then you‘ve got the sheer numbers involved.  Today, Alex, the World Health Organization said that the task facing the forensic teams here in southern Thailand alone is larger than the entire forensic task from 9/11, all of those people that went missing there.  So you get an idea of the enormity of this task here, and that‘s why it‘s taking so long, Alex.

WITT:  It is absolutely inconceivable.  Charles, what about, though, growing concerns from many tourists that have come to the area and families of tourists that their relatives are being buried in mass graves?  Are they being given any kind of help to identify their loved ones?

SABINE:  Well, people here are being—say that they are adamant that the Thai authorities have done everything that they can and have been extremely efficient and very welcoming to them, everyone I‘ve spoken to.  I have not found a single person who is in any way critical of the Thai authorities.

There have been rumors here or suggestions that people were being prematurely buried without proper identification, but the Thai authorities stress that this is something that they are doing deliberately, but they are intending to, at some point, dig up those graves, to bring back those bodies for further identification.  And all that they‘re doing is, for the moment, putting them underground so that they preserve the DNA structure of them at a temperature underground, which is better than leaving them above, where this kind of tropical heat that we have here decomposes them at a rate which is really very problematic for those forensic teams, Alex.

WITT:  What a thought.  All right, NBC‘s Charles Sabine there in Phuket, Thailand.  Thank you very much, Charles.  We appreciate the live report.

SABINE:  Thanks, Alex.

WITT:  And perhaps there is nothing sadder than the stories of the children killed in the tsunami.  Estimates put the number of dead children at more than 50,000, including Britain‘s youngest victim, a 2-month-old boy.  More from ITV‘s Paul Davies (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL DAVIES, ITV (voice-over):  Nothing could have prepared Eric Richard for the message waiting on his computer on Boxing Day morning.  He knew nothing about the tsunami at that stage but was hoping to contact his son, who was traveling with his family in Sri Lanka.  Instead, he found this short e-mail which told of a big tidal wave that had claimed the life of the family‘s youngest member.

ERIC RICHARD, GRANDFATHER OF DEAD BABY:  So I got this information before I knew that the world was in such a terrible state.

DAVIES:  Eric‘s grandson, little Charlie, was just 59 days old.  His parents, Eric‘s son, Richard, and his wife, Deirdre, were experienced travelers.  Eric, whose face will be familiar from his acting role in the TV series “The Bill,” told me about the day his family‘s lives were shattered.

RICHARD:  The first wave came in, and Charlie was lying on the beach.  So of course, they picked him up.  Then the second wave comes, and their instincts made them think that this isn‘t quite right.  So the family got themselves up and beyond the beach houses and restaurants and pinned themselves to palm trees, coconut trees.  Then it hit.

DAVIES:  The family, like so many others, were engulfed by the swirling waters.  Eric Richard told of his son‘s desperate battle to hold onto the helpless baby.

RICHARD:  This extraordinary ride where and he Charlie were being battered and smashed and crashed through this extraordinary wave, in and out of houses, banging into trees, being hit by breeze blocks (ph) and chairs and tables and furniture.  And obviously, in the midst of that would have been the blow that would have killed Charlie.

DAVIES:  Because his father refused to surrender Charlie to the tsunami, he was the first British victim to be flown home and will be buried later this month.  Paul Davies, ITV News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Our special report on the tsunami continues.  Still ahead: Billions of dollars of aid is pouring into South Asia, but even with that, thousands of survivors in remote areas wait for relief.  It‘s a race against time to keep them alive.  That‘s when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The tsunami disaster has affected all of us.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  So visit usafreedomcorps.gov to choose a reputable authorized charity to accept your donations directly.

BUSH:  No one can change what happened.

CLINTON:  But we can all change what happens next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton in a newly-released public service announcement encouraging people to donate money to the tsunami relief effort.

A poll from the Associated Press says that almost 3 in 10 Americans say they have donated to victims of the tsunami, and each day, the international community continues to send aid, such as food, water, medical supplies, clothing, blankets and building material.  About $4 billion has been contributed by governments around the world.  And when combining government donations with private donations, Australia has donated the most, just over $900 million, Germany $880 million, Japan $500 million—all from the government, but Japan hasn‘t reported how much private donors have contributed—the United States $470 million, and Norway $242 million.

Sri Lanka, once a popular tourist destination, has been devastated by the tsunami.  It has the second highest death toll at 31,000.  Relief agencies have been working around the clock, distributing aid and trying to reach isolated communities.  But how overwhelming is the work?  And what obstacles are they facing?

Joining me from Colombo, Sri Lanka, is Robert Go, media officer from the relief agency CARE.  Robert, thank you for being with us.  We appreciate your time.

ROBERT GO, CARE:  You‘re welcome.  No problem.

WITT:  I want to ask you, first of all, how long you‘ve been in Sri Lanka?  And where are you focusing your efforts this morning, your time?

GO:  Well, CARE Sri Lanka has been—CARE has been in Sri Lanka since 1966.  And we are now focusing in the north and areas along the eastern coast of the country.

WITT:  So what kind of assistance is needed most, Robert?  And is there a difference between the assistance needed along the coast versus that of the inland communities that have been devastated?

GO:  Well, the damage of the tsunami is pretty much along the coastal areas of Sri Lanka.  And right now, it feels very much a dire emergency.  Organizations like CARE is distributing emergency supplies.  We‘re talking about food, items like rice and sugar and lentil and tinned food and tea, that kind of thing, and as well as non-food items that people might be needing at this point.

People fled their homes, people fled their home regions with nothing, and they need clothing, they need undergarments, bedding material towels, those kinds of items.

At the same time, though, two weeks after the disaster, we are moving into—we‘re shifting into another phase.  We‘re beginning to think about longer-term needs.  And CARE International here is definitely formulating a number of proposals to address the medium and longer-term needs of the survivors.

WITT:  And in the short term, Robert, we have talked—or at least, we have heard about reports that there are supplies going to waste, seen spoiling, in terms of food.  Have you seen any evidence of that so far?

GO:  Well, coordination nationwide has been quite good.  CARE Sri Lanka has been focusing on quite a lot of local level coordination.  We‘ve been here for a number of years—decades, actually—and we enjoy very good relationships with various local partners, the government officials in local areas, the local authorities, community groups.  And we‘re coordinating directly with them and asking the survivor communities what exactly is it that they need.  And then as much as possible and as fast as possible, we mobilize the aid.

WITT:  And is what you need just dry food supplies, things like rice, beans in tins, things that can‘t spoil?

GO:  Well, Dry rations are, I think, the best.  And most of the effort is still focused on that right now.  But again, as I said, we are beginning to look into the medium to longer-term needs of the survivor communities.

WITT:  And Robert, how do you do that?

(CROSSTALK)

GO:  ... in Ampara (ph), in the eastern coast—yes?

WITT:  Robert, how do you do that?

GO:  Well, we...

WITT:  When you think long term like this?  I mean, how long are you looking?  Are you foreseeing months?  Are you foreseeing years?

GO:  Well, the reconstruction itself, we—nobody knows for sure how long that‘ll take.  Some people would say years.  In terms of what we‘re doing, what CARE is doing here, we are looking at providing sanitation, toilets and things like that, to survivor communities.  We‘re looking at clean water.  We‘re looking at some psychosocial services.  Some people are depressed.  Some people have nothing to do in the camps right now, and they need some activity that will bring back some semblance of normalcy into their lives at this point.

Another thing that needs to be considered is the lost livelihoods that the disaster has incurred.  People have lost their means of making a living.  Fishermen no longer have boats or fishing nets.  So CARE and other agencies in country are beginning to make proposals, to formulate proposals to address these longer-term concerns.

WITT:  And we are glad for your efforts.  Robert Go, thank you for your time this evening with us here on MSNBC.  Best of luck to you.

And disasters bring out the best in people who unite to help others.  Unfortunately, they also bring out the worst, scams to steal money meant for relief.  The Internet can be a breeding ground for schemes that take advantage of victims.  So how do you know the money you give is going to the victims of the tsunami?  Here‘s NBC‘s Tom Costello.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The fund-raising effort, unprecedented.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Our phones have been ringing off the hooks.

COSTELLO:  From telethons to cash collections, clothing drives and relief supplies, $4 billion pledged globally.  But where‘s the money really going?  Finding that out, the job of several Web sites that rank charities for their ability to channel the money to the people who need it, among them the Better Business Bureau‘s Wise Giving Alliance, Charitynavigator.org and the American Institute of Philanthropy, where the motto is quite simply, Follow the money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re looking at how you efficient they are at raising money.  It shouldn‘t cost them more than $35 to raise $100.

COSTELLO:  Among those charities earning A‘s, Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, Doctors Without Borders, and the American Red Cross with an A-plus, where $92 out of every $100 goes to the tsunami victims.  President Marty Evans says the remaining $8 pays for getting the aid where it needs to go.

MARTY EVANS, PRES., AMERICAN RED CROSS:  But it‘s direct support costs that we‘re taking, not overhead for this building, the lights in this building, the power, things like that.

COSTELLO (on camera):  Not all charities grade quite so well.  They‘re also listed.  Now, with fully half of all donations coming on line, criminals are trying to tap into that generosity, some 3.5 million fraudulent e-mails and links each day urging well-meaning donors for money or bank account information.

PETER BRUST, CYBER CRIMES SECTION CHIEF, FBI:  I can‘t emphasize enough, Do not respond, do not even open an unsolicited e-mail that purports to request money or personal information.

COSTELLO:  The Red Cross promises donations will be spent wisely.

EVANS:  The food needs, the sheltering needs.  We‘ll be addressing medical care needs, disease prevention, water sanitation.

COSTELLO:  A disaster that could require billions more.  Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And GE, the parent company of MSNBC, is donating a 75-ton water purification system to Banda Aceh, Indonesia.  It will be flown from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to Banda Aceh and will provide drinkable water to 110,000 people per day.  GE says the system should be up and running by next weekend.

While so many are giving to the victims, others may be plotting to victimize them again.  When we come back, what‘s being done to help the children in the region safe from child predators.  That‘s next on this MSNBC special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM ERELI, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN:  We have seen, as have you, reports of rape, sexual abuse, kidnapping and trafficking in persons in the countries devastated by the tsunami.  We are appalled by these reports, and horrified that thousands of children orphaned by this disaster are vulnerable to exploitation by criminal elements who seek to profit from their misery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  And that was State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli talking about human trafficking in the wake of last month‘s tsunami.

The toll from the devastating waves isn‘t just measured in lives lost but in lives ruined.  Thousands of children have been injured and orphaned, and many face more danger.  Interpol is searching for a 3-year-old Danish boy they fear may have been kidnapped.  Oliver Persson was swept from his mother‘s arms when those waves hit.  Later, a child named Oliver was reported in a nearby hospital, but hospital employees say he was discharged to three foreigners who said they were taking him to Bangkok.  Now there are fears that he may have fallen prey to child traffickers.  That‘s as UNICEF reported the first confirmed case of trafficking when a 4-year-old boy was taken out of Banda Aceh by a couple claiming to be his parents.  The agency warns countries in the region to be on high alert for kidnappers.

Joining me now is Gary Haugen, the president and CEO of International Justice Mission.  That is a human rights agency that works to rescue victims from the international sex trade.  He‘s also the author “Terrify No More,” which tells the story of an undercover investigation and rescue operation to save dozens of school-age girls from being sold to pedophiles in Cambodia. 

Thank you for being here, Gary. 

What a subject to talk about, but we‘re going to get into it right now.

What‘s your take on this story that we were talking about, this 3-year-old little Danish boy.  Do you think it‘s possible, plausible, that he was kidnapped? 

GARY HAUGEN, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE MISSION:  Well, I think it‘s certainly possible. 

You have to think about the way you feel when you lose your child in a grocery store in your own neighborhood for five or 10 minutes.  There‘s a sense of vulnerability for that child.  And now we have thousands of children that we know have been separated from their parents in this region.  And we also need to take into account the fact that this is a region where hundreds of thousands of children under the best of conditions are swept up into the sex trafficking trade every single year. 

Now, I do think that the Asian children indigenous to these countries are going to be more vulnerable than the Western children, but any child separated from their parents under these conditions is vulnerable and in trouble. 

WITT:  When you talk about being vulnerable, do you think this could become a widespread problem, given the history there in the region? 

HAUGEN:  Well, I think we have to start by understanding that this already is a widespread problem.  There are a million children a year that are taken into forced prostitution new every year and hundreds of thousands come from this particular region.  So these children are at risk. 

And certainly at International Justice Mission, we‘ve already dispatched investigators to the region to begin to confirm whether these reports are true and where the serious problems are, so that we can begin on do the work of rescue and of also bringing some of these perpetrators to justice. 

WITT:  Now, you saw the State Department deputy spokesman, Adam Ereli, leading in to you.  And the State Department indeed has called for the following measures to be taken to help prevent child trafficking.  We‘re going to go through them here.

Register people who come to camps is the first camps.  Ensure proper security for residents.  Make camp workers aware of trafficking concerns. 

In addition to that, Gary, what else can be done? 

HAUGEN:  Well, we have to remember that this is not only a situation that aid groups and humanitarian assistance need to look at carefully, but this really is a serious law enforcement problem.  So, we need to provide assistance, support, encouragement to law enforcement both nationally and internationally to make it clear right away that there‘ll be zero tolerance for this, especially when there‘s any complicity with local police in any of this trafficking. 

It almost always flourishes only in laces where it‘s tolerated and supported by local law enforcement.  So, right away, these governments need to make a very clear statement that any police that are at all connected with any of these trafficking efforts and covering them up or in any way connected to them will go immediately. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  But, Gary, how do you enforce such a statement if the police in these regions are already involved, if they‘re corrupt? 

HAUGEN:  Well, police work within a chain of command.  And it‘s the leadership that sends the signal down right away that, if you‘re anywhere near these places, you‘re going to go.  And all you need to do is fire a few of these complicit police, as is rarely ever done, and you‘ll see police straighten up and fly right. 

WITT:  All right, but, Gary, this is a rather nebulous world that we‘re delving do right now.  In the midst of this huge emergency that‘s so tangible, so out there for all of us to see, how much do you think the focus is going to be on this problem, given what we know is out there? 

HAUGEN:  Well, I think there tends to be a ready appreciation of the needs for food, for medicine, for shelter. 

But we need to understand that poor children not only are subject to those vulnerabilities, but they are also vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.  That‘s why there needs to be right now a deployment of criminal investigative expertise to this region to be able to assess the problem and begin to assist local nations in dealing with it. 

This is a specialized challenge for crime-fighting.  And the world needs to apply itself to that challenge. 

WITT:  Gary, we heard earlier about a grandfather from Vero Beach, Florida.  And he was out searching for his grandson, who is Swedish, 4-year-old little boy.  And he doesn‘t know if his grandson is dead or if his grandson has been picked up by child traffickers and kidnapped. 

In your experience, when you talk to families that deal with a situation like this, an either/or proposal, what‘s the worst scenario, because they‘re both pretty bad? 

HAUGEN:  Well, certainly, but if it were my child, I would be hoping that the child was stay alive.  I would be hoping and praying that law enforcement would be doing the work that it can do to try to infiltrate sex trafficking rings and be aware of where they are, so they can find these children? 

WITT:  All right.  But, Gary, how successful are they at finding those children ultimately? 

HAUGEN:  It‘s amazing how successful law enforcement can be when they have support of the community. 

And one of the things that these Westerners have in their favor is that they‘re going to be conspicuous.  And so if everybody has their eyes open for them, then they‘re going to be easier to find.  I can‘t say that being the same for these Asian children who are going to blend in.  And we need to be as vigorous, I believe, in supporting the protection of those children as we do for the Western children. 

WITT:  A sobering interview.  Gary Haugen, thank you for your time. 

HAUGEN:  Great to be with you. 

WITT:  When we come back, amid the death and destruction caused by the tsunami, there are countless stories of survival.  You‘re going to hear some of them next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  When the tsunami hit, thousands of tourists were visiting South Asia, many celebrating the Christmas holiday or a few blissful days of sun and relaxation.  But then came the killer waves. 

“NBC DATELINE”‘s Hoda Kotb in Phuket, Thailand, found remarkable people with some unforgettable stories. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HODA KOTB, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  This beach resort is a getaway for everybody from supermodels and movie stars to well-to-do vacationers and backpackers.  They all call came here because of the luxurious beaches, not to mention all the snorkeling and scuba diving.  And, remember, this was peak tourist season.  People from all over the world came here to escape the cold. 

But just look at it now, many hotels destroyed, others washed away at sea.  What took just an instant to wipe out will take years to rebuild.  And the force that did that seemed to come out of nowhere. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were absolutely certain that we were going to die. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m so lucky that I‘m still alive.

KOTB (voice-over):  And even if you have heard or seen 100 unbelievable stories, you come across a dozen more every day, like what happened to Bruno Hansen, a 33-year-old yachtsman from South Africa who was moored in shallow water off Phuket. 

BRUNO HANSEN, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR:  Beautiful morning.  It was full moon, nearly full moon.

KOTB:  But something strange started to happen that sparkling morning.  Bruno‘s 50-foot catamaran suddenly dropped 10 feet and started spinning out of control.  He didn‘t understand what was happening until he turned his head and there it was, a monster wave. 

HANSEN:  And it was horrific.  I just sat there.  I didn‘t know what to do. 

KOTB:  It is hard to imagine being in a more helples situation, but he was.  Bruno Hanson, who was alone on his boat, is paralyzed from the waist down, this after a car accident six years ago left him in a wheelchair. 

HANSEN:  I was in the chair now.  I jump on to my seat, where I sit, where I control everything.  And that‘s when I noticed the (INAUDIBLE) and then I lost my grip off the wheelchair.  At first, I forgot.  I think I tried to jump and run.  I hit the floor and just crawled. 

KOTB:  Now, all he could do was watch in awe as the wave swallowed up the coastline and nearly everything in its path. 

HANSEN:  Bodies (INAUDIBLE) and cars getting flipped and just people screaming and then bodies just getting washed everywhere. 

KOTB:  Not only did this disabled sailor ride out the tremendous wave, he reached out to save someone else. 

HANSEN:  He was floating on this boat, on this jet ski and not knowing what to do.  And so I drove past him.  I whistled.  I went up to him and tied a rope on his jet ski.  And he was like going no, no, no.  I‘m going --  so he stayed on the boat with me for like eight hours. 

KOTB:  While the sea was allowing some people to escape, it was snatching others from their hotel rooms, like Steve Fitzgerald‘s two daughters, 21-year-old Kate and 23-year-old Anna, from South Africa.  They were on vacation and hunkered down together in a bathroom just before the wave hit. 

STEVE FITZGERALD, FATHER:  I think you are always talking life about something that happens that is going to change your life completely.  And sort of at that moment, we knew that our lives had changed. 

KOTB:  Steve flew in from Africa as soon as he could; 18 agonizing hours after the tsunami hit, he got the news.  His younger daughter, Kate, had survived and was in the hospital.  But there was no word on Anna, a business student in her final year of college. 

FITZGERALD:  You can‘t have the luxury of thinking about your past with your daughter or contemplation of your life or lack of life going forward.  You just deal with, what can you do to try to find your daughter? 

KOTB:  They may have been reason to be optimistic.  An aid worker told Steve he saw Anna‘s name on a hospital log.  Another said more survivors had been found.  Steve went to work.  He put up fliers, searched every hospital and every morgue. 

FITZGERALD:  We mean to look at every single body that‘s come ashore.  That‘s really what we‘ve been doing mainly. 

KOTB (on camera):  That must be the most wrenching experience. 

FITZGERALD:  Not good. 

KOTB (voice-over):  But after days and days passed, Steve realized, he had lost Anna. 

FITZGERALD:  I said at her 21st birthday recently, I didn‘t know of any parent who could say that, after 21 years, they hadn‘t given their parents one single moment of problem.  But that was my child. 

KOTB:  As broken as he is, Steve knows the pain could have been even worse. 

FITZGERALD:  Probably the biggest problem we‘ll have will be the emotional state of the daughter that lives, who is trying to rationalize why she‘s the one and not the other. 

KOTB:  There are so many stories of loss, mothers, fathers, children, told in so many languages at this world-famous vacation paradise, Swedes and Germans and Americans united by incomprehensible tragedies; 59-year-old Ed Muesch of Toms River, New Jersey, had been living a love story, he his wife, Helen, of 33 years. 

ED MUESCH, HUSBAND OF HELEN:  We do everything together.  We‘re never apart. 

KOTB:  Just as they were on a ‘round-the-world boating trip that brought them to a small island off Phuket.  One minute, the couple was walking back to their boat.  The next, they were chased by angry white water. 

E. MUESCH:  We held hands and really we started running fast. 

KOTB (on camera):  How big was it? 

E. MUESCH:  The funny thing was, it wasn‘t like it was that tall, but it was this foaming froth of white foam.  And I didn‘t realize how big it was until, as we were running, I looked over my shoulder and I said to Helen, stop running.  We can‘t run.  We‘re just going to bear hug each other. 

KOTB (voice-over):  Along with thousands of others fighting for their lives, Ed and Helen were forced under water gasping for breath with a ceiling of debris and bodies above them. 

E. MUESCH:  I realized suddenly I was on the other side of the island and we were going out to sea.  And I got—and then I knew we were really in trouble. 

KOTB:  The waves battered again and again.  Helen lost consciousness. 

E. MUESCH:  And I held onto Helen.  I tried to get up.  And she slipped away from me.  And then my hand grabbed a reached a pipe.  And I was able to pull my head above water.  And then I saw Helen‘s head below.  And I brought her up and her face was pure white.  She—she was barely breathing. 

KOTB:  Somehow, amid all the chaos, Ed managed to hoist his wife onto a nearby boat. 

E. MUESCH:  I just kept screaming at her, you know, we have made it.  You just to breathe. 

KOTB (on camera):  Hang in there.

E. MUESCH:  Just breathe.

KOTB (voice-over):  But Ed still wouldn‘t let go of Helen, not even for a second, not even when others called for his help. 

E. MUESCH:  A woman reached toward me with a long board.  And I tried to grab it, but it was too short.  And I couldn‘t let go of Helen.  I said, if I jump in, she‘ll die.  But I can‘t jump in, because if I leave Helen, she‘ll die.  And I made the choice not to go in the water. 

KOTB:  After making that gut-wrenching decision, it was a race to the hospital, Ed not knowing if his wife had any chance of surviving.  Two days in intensive care, pneumonia and a heart infection, but she pulled through.  And Helen knows, if it weren‘t for the love of her life? 

HELEN MUESCH, WIFE OF ED:  I‘d be drowned.  I probably would be out at sea right now.  Yes, for sure.  So, he has to take care of me for the rest of my life, because that‘s the rule, right?  If you save somebody‘s life, you‘re responsible. 

KOTB:  But in a tragedy of this magnitude, even love can‘t conquer all.  Ed is haunted by the faces and voices of those he might have helped. 

(on camera):  What do you think you lost that day? 

E. MUESCH:  What I lost? 

KOTB:  Yes. 

E. MUESCH:  Well, in one word, I would say self-respect.  I just wanted one person to hear my story and really understand.  I didn‘t need anyone to forgive me, because the people that had to forgive me are gone. 

KOTB (on camera):  It is all so heartbreaking.  It seemed that every hour we were here, we heard another story of tragedy or heroism.  They‘re all so difficult to comprehend, but they all really happened right here on this island paradise. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And that was NBC‘s Hoda Kotb in Thailand. 

When we come back, what‘s left for the fishermen and the farmers if there are no tourists to buy what they have to sell?

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  The tsunami didn‘t just wipe out thousands of lives.  It also destroyed the livelihood of thousands of survivors, devastating the region‘s economy.  So what now? 

That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  For the people who managed to survive the wave and its aftermath, there‘s another looming question.  What will they do for work, to make a living when their entire communities have been wiped out?  Here‘s

Here‘s NBC‘s John Seigenthaler in Sri Lanka. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The coast of Sri Lanka, once a tropical paradise, now looks like a war zone.  The beaches are deserted.  The locals won‘t even step into the water anymore. 

(on camera):  There used to be a wall here, right?

SEIGENTHALER:  Sumit Wibson (ph) owes a diving shop on this stretch of sand that caters to foreign tourists. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All gone.  If it was just down to the beach—it was many, many restaurant and guest houses, all destroyed. 

SEIGENTHALER:  The tsunami ripped the wall right off the side of his shop, flattening everything around it.  Sumit fears that tourists won‘t come back. 

(on camera):  It‘s not just tourism.  The fishing industry was affected as well.  When the tsunami hit, it tossed fishing boats out of the water like they were toys, leaving more than 100,000 fishermen out of work in Sri Lanka alone. 

(voice-over):  Back-breaking work, hour after hour, but, at the moment, it‘s the only work these men have until they can pull their fishing boat out. 

There‘s another problem.  Even if they can get back out to sea, fishermen like Arke Shandra Somo say (ph) say right now no one will buy their fish. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lot of bodies went to the sea.  And fish eat the dead body.  And people now don‘t eat. 

SEIGENTHALER (on camera):  They don‘t want to eat the fish? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. 

SEIGENTHALER (voice-over):  Two of his four boats sank.  The other two were severely damaged.  He wonders how he will keep paying his workers and support his large family.  There‘s a lot of uncertainty, but everyone here knows that, if there isn‘t help soon to get back to work, what was once a paradise could be lost for a long time. 

John Seigenthaler, NBC News, Galle, Sri Lanka. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And we‘ll be right back with more on how you can help the victims of the tsunami. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Here‘s how you can help the victims of the tsunami.  Contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-HELP-NOW or at RedCross.org.  There are others, such as CARE USA, Mercy Corps, and the American Refugee Committee.  And you can find all of this information on our Web Page, MSNBC.com. 

Also, the networks of NBC Universal are joining together for a relief benefit.  It will air next Saturday.  That‘s January 15 at 8:00 p.m. on all of the networks of NBC Universal, including MSNBC, CNBC and Telemundo.  Be sure to tune in. 

Thanks for watching this MSNBC special report.  I‘m Alex Witt.  I‘ll be back tomorrow morning. 

But, right now, it‘s time for “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”  Good night, everyone.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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