updated 1/12/2005 2:03:09 PM ET 2005-01-12T19:03:09

ANNOUNCER:  This is an MSNBC special report...

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We heard them crying out for help from underneath the debris.  I saw one man who was clawing, trying to get his family pulled out.

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ANNOUNCER:  ... “Nature‘s Fury”—mudslides, flooding, avalanches.  The West Coast takes a pounding from one of the deadliest winter storms in recent memory.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can‘t believe that I saw my friend die today.

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ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, California‘s disaster zone.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s just, you know, jumbled houses all mixed together.

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ANNOUNCER:  And...

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Grab the rope!  Grab it tight!

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ANNOUNCER:  ... the dramatic fight for survival.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I die helping them, hey, you know, it‘s for a good cause.

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ANNOUNCER:  And from Southeast Asia, signs of recovery as people there try to piece together what‘s left of their shattered homes and schools.  Will life ever be normal again for the tsunami‘s youngest victims?

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We don‘t have anything to wear to go to school.

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ANNOUNCER:  Plus, relief and medical help continue to pour into the hardest-hit regions, but how can doctors mend so many broken spirits?

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sometimes you are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of words what to say to them.

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ANNOUNCER:  From MSNBC world headquarters, Alex Witt.

ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening.  From the other side of the world to the western United states, nature is showing her fury.  As the post-tsunami clean-up and relief effort continues in South Asia, nature has dealt another deadly blow, this one to the West Coast, and nowhere more so than in the California coastal community of La Conchita, northwest of Los Angeles.  Rescuers have been working night and day, searching for survivors after yesterday‘s massive mudslide.  NBC‘s George Lewis is in La Conchita.

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GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For rescue workers in La Conchita, it‘s a frantic race against time, looking for possible survivors beneath a wall of mud three stories high.

KATHERINE GREATHOUSE, MUDSLIDE SURVIVOR:  It was like looking at death coming at you.  There‘s nothing you could do.

LEWIS:  The death toll continues to mount, five dead so far, thirteen people missing.  The one piece of good news, the torrential rain stopped.

(on camera):  The return of good weather meant that the search-and-rescue effort could be stepped up, agencies moving more manpower into the scene.

(voice-over):  Anguished survivors with loved ones still in the mud and rubble wait and hope and pray for them to be brought out alive.

BOB ROPER, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPT.:  Listening devices did pick up faint sounds in the rubble pile.  That‘s a positive indicator to us.

LEWIS:  Thomas Cottrill was able to get his two stepdaughters out, but others in the house where they were got trapped in the mudslide.

THOMAS COTTRILL, SURVIVED MUDSLIDE:  They‘re still looking for a mother with three small children, 2, 3 and 6 years old, in the house.  And you know, we‘re all just going crazy.

LEWIS:  This dramatic still photo shows the extent of the devastation, 15 houses destroyed, 5 others damaged.  Monique Sinoqui (ph) captured the mudslide on her camcorder and then realized that her sister and her children were in the path.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Not the babies!  Not the babies!  No!

LEWIS:  Fortunately, the children and their mother were safely evacuated and are all right today.

Elsewhere, communities are still dealing with the aftermath of the huge storms.  In San Diego County, flood waters inundated this subdivision, and commuter trains had to slow down through the water.  In this part of San Juan Capistrano, a raging creek caved in this road.  And in Malibu, crews blew up a 25-ton boulder that rolled onto a canyon highway.  The storm damage extended all the way to St. George, Utah, where this house fell into another flooded creek.

And back in California, the search for possible mudslide survivors continues into the evening.  George Lewis, NBC News, La Conchita, California.

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WITT:  And we have just learned at this hour, one more person has been found dead, bringing the total to six now dead from the mudslide.  NBC‘s Jennifer London is in La Conchita.  She joins us now live with the very latest.  Good evening, Jennifer.  Bring us up to date.

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening, Alex.  As you mentioned, we have just learned moments ago that they have recovered another body, and that does bring the death toll up to six people.  Twelve to thirteen are still unaccounted for at this hour.  We are told three of them are children.

Since the slide occurred yesterday, they were able to pull out 10 survivors, although they have not found any survivors today.  We are being told that 10 people have been injured.  Now, this number has been varying all day long.  We‘ve been getting conflicting reports.  What I can tell you, the latest numbers they‘re giving us, 10 people injured.  We are told 15 homes were destroyed.  Another 16 homes have been threatened.

Now, this is a massive search operation that continues at this hour, even after the sun has set.  Six hundred people from 20 agencies are on the scene.  We have seen them bring in floodlights and some heavy equipment, all to help with the search as it continues into the night.  Now, the reason they are continuing this search around the clock, and despite the fact that they have recovered two bodies today and they have not found any survivors, is because they believe that there are survivors.  They say they are very hopeful they will find somebody alive beneath the mud and the debris.  In fact, authorities say they have consulted with medical experts who say, depending on the circumstances, someone may be able to survive a situation like this from anywhere from three days up to a week.  So that is really what is driving this massive search operation.

Now, La Conchita is still under a mandatory evacuation, although we are told some people simply do not want to leave.  They spent the night here last night, and we believe some will stay here tonight, as well.  When the mudslide occurred yesterday, there was not a mandatory evacuation.  There wasn‘t even a voluntary evacuation.  And Alex, we‘ are told that is simply because the authorities had no way to know that this mountain was going to come down.

WITT:  Jennifer, can you tell us what‘s going on behind you?  Because I see some large heavy equipment.  It looks like they‘re trying to remove things.  But my question is, when the mud comes on a house, doesn‘t the weight of it usually crush a roof, or can it leave pockets there around in which the people are surviving?

LONDON:  Well, Alex, what happened with regard to this particular slide, the mountain gave way from the top, so you had this huge velocity of a lot of mud and debris sliding down very, very quickly on top of these houses.  And what we‘re told happened is it hit the houses that were first in the line, and then it hit the other houses and the other houses, and houses are stacked up on top of each other, which is one of the problems that they‘re having with regard to the search effort.

Now, they do believe there may be pockets of air that the survivors may be able to be breathing. and that‘s why they think that there could be survivors.  But the impact of the mud, Alex, was so strong that they believe some houses may have been forced as far as another street.  So that‘s also another problem they‘re encountering, is where are the houses?

WITT:  I imagine that‘s what residents have been helping, pointing out the areas in which houses previously stood.

LONDON:  Yes.  There has been some confusion today about whether or not residents have actually been helping with the search.  And what we are being told is that, No, residents are not allowed to help with the search simply because of safety issues.  What they are helping with is, one, to identify the bodies, and two, to help the rescue teams know just where to look, to give an idea of where houses used to be, and then they can say, Well, maybe this is where they are now, given the impact of the slide.

WITT:  Those safety concerns a top priority.  Thank you very much, NBC‘s Jennifer London there in La Conchita.

Well, as the mud slid down in La Conchita, the water was rising in much of southern California, and several dramatic rescues were caught on tape.  One man‘s car skidded off the freeway into a storm drain, and he was carried two miles town stream.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get ready to grab the rope.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hold on!  Hold on!

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WITT:  Well, after he fell back into that water, as you just saw, the man was eventually pulled to safety by another group of rescuers.

And then some terrifying moments for rescuers who saved a mother and her 2-month-old baby from frigid waters in the Angeles National Forest.  One rescuer was pushed over by the current.  Then the other grabbed the infant and carried him to safety.

I‘m joined by one of the members of that rescue team, Captain Sam Maldonado.  Good evening, Captain.  Good to speak with you this evening.  Thank you for joining us.

CAPT. SAM MALDONADO, U.S. FOREST SERVICE:  Good evening, Alex.

WITT:  Captain, I want to you tell me, blow by blow, how did this unfold?  What did you witness?  And then when did you jump in?

MALDONADO:  Well, we were preparing to do an evacuation of some resident that were up in the canyon.  I got a call over the radio that we had people in the water.  Immediately, with myself and an engine crew, scampered over the edge, tried to get over as soon as possible.  We spotted the woman and her child moving quickly downstream, so we moved down as fast as we could.

I had one of the firemen grab some rope, whatever he could find.  He found some hose.  We were able to stream that out as far as we could.  But then I started just leaping across, trying to get over to her, along with a couple of other search-and-rescue firemen.  We were able to reach her.  One of the firemen immediately grabbed the baby.  I went to the mom.  The mom was—she was struggling and trying to get up.

At one point, she started moving back to the water.  And I asked her, You need to calm down.  I was able to get her to calm down, and we proceeded to get her, evacuate her after that.

WITT:  Captain, what did you think when you saw this tiny baby?  Our viewers are looking at this video.  It is incredibly dramatic.  This baby is so tiny.  Did you think the baby even had a prayer?

MALDONADO:  Well, at one point, when they were going downstream, the mom and the baby were going under the water and getting caught up.  And well, my heart just sank for them, and I knew, like, instinctively that we had to do something at that point.  Thank God they got caught up on some higher ground.  At that point, I knew that we had a chance to get them.  And we weren‘t going to leave until we got them out of there.

WITT:  Was there any kind of evacuation warning for these people?  Did they know what was coming their way?

MALDONADO:  I‘m not sure if they knew that this was going to be the outcome, but they were warned 24 hours to 48 hours prior to the incident.  And I‘m not sure what the details are, but from what I understand, they were asked to leave.

WITT:  But do you know, typically, Captain, how that warning would come back about?  Would it be via phone calls, via deputies at the door or a loudspeaker system through a patrol car driving by?  Do you understand how that might happen?

MALDONADO:  It could be any one of those.  I‘m not sure how it went about that particular day, but  Typically, it could be any one of those mechanisms of either calling or going door by door.  It‘s hard to tell.

WITT:  All right, Captain Sam Maldonado, job well done.  Certainly, the understatement of the evening.  We thank you for your time here.  Thank you.

MALDONADO:  Sure.

WITT:  When we come back, we‘re going to be joined by the father of that 2-month-old baby rescued from the flood.  Jeffrey Henderson remains inside his mud-swept house with the couple‘s other child.  Did he and his wife do all they could to protect their children?  State officials say maybe not.  The family has a different story when we return.  Then, the latest on the tsunami aftermath in South Asia.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Severe other kinds of illnesses...

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ANNOUNCER:  But can they heal the emotional scars of nature‘s fury?

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There are very few who really want to talk about it.

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ANNOUNCER:  Southeast Asia‘s unrelenting pain when Alex Witt returns.

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WITT:  Now more on the story of the mother and baby rescued from flood waters in the Angeles National Forest.  These dramatic pictures of the 2-month-old baby being brought to safety by a courageous rescuer who risked his own life.  Both the mother, Erica (ph) Henderson, and baby William are OK.  But there is a question about whether the parents did everything they could to protect their children, and they say they fear they could lose custody of both their kids.

joining me now on the phone is Erica‘s husband, Jeffrey Henderson, who‘s inside their mud-swept cabin right now in San Dimas Canyon.  Good evening, Jeffrey.  Can you hear me?

JEFFREY HENDERSON, TRAPPED IN CABIN WITH DAUGHTER:  Yes, I can.

WITT:  All right.  First of all, most importantly, give me an update on your wife and on William and also on you and your 19-month-old daughter, Abigail Rose.

HENDERSON:  I talked to my wife less than 30 minutes ago, at the top of the hour, and I told her to call me back because you were calling.  And she‘s fine.  She feels a lot better.  She‘s still a little scratched up from the trees that she tried to grab on the way down.  But William‘s doing really well.  He‘s doing fine.  And at the time, she was nursing him in the pediatric ward of the hospital.

WITT:  And I understand that she will be staying there in the hospital with him until he is released?

HENDERSON:  That‘s right.  Her mother‘s there, Mary Jo (ph), along with her father.

WITT:  And Jeffrey, tell me how things are going right now where you are with your 19-month-old daughter.  What‘s your house like?  What‘s its condition?

HENDERSON:  We have a pretty big mudslide downstream of us, which is not—it‘s affecting the structural integrity of my house, but it is one of the many mudslides that have reshaped the whole canyon.  And getting out of the canyon is really—it‘s really not possible right now.

WITT:  Is that why you haven‘t left, Jeffrey?  Because isn‘t there at some time a point where you thought you were in danger there in your house?

HENDERSON:  Well, at one time, me and my wife made the decision to try and leave the house before it got any worse.  We were not told by any authorities that any of this was going to happen.  This was all very sudden.  We had no 24-hour notice, which they usually do give us.  But somebody, you know, just dropped the ball on it this time.

WITT:  Yes.  Jeffrey, you know that directly contradicts that which we were told right prior to coming on and speaking with you by Captain Sam Maldonado, who said you were given 24 hours notice.  Is it possible that you were not in the area to hear the 24-hour notice?  Or better yet, Jeffrey, can you tell me how you‘ve received it before?

HENDERSON:  Before, they come door to door.  There‘s only 13 people in the canyon up here, and we‘re less than a mile away from the ranger station.  And they come door to door, and they‘ll knock on the door, and if no one‘s there, they‘ll leave a message on the door.  And that didn‘t happen for anybody in this canyon.  And everybody else up here, they‘ll say the same thing.

It‘s not that they did anything wrong.  It‘s just that 24 hours notice from this incident happening would have—hang on, Abigail, Daddy‘s on the phone—would have been—it would have been absolutely impossible for anybody to do that because they couldn‘t get across that stream.  This rain has been really hitting southern California for over a week now, and it‘s just—the stream just gets deeper and deeper.

WITT:  All right.  Well, Jeffrey, we can hear Abigail Rose there, clamoring to be with her daddy, and we certainly understand...

HENDERSON:  She‘s playing right now.

WITT:  ... her wanting to be with you.  And we‘re glad she‘s playing, considering the circumstances right there.  Jeffrey, thank you very much for speaking with us tonight.  We very much appreciate it.

HENDERSON:  Thank you so much for having me.

WITT:  Good luck to you in your family becoming reunited.

HENDERSON:  Thank you.

WITT:  Thank you.

Now to the tsunami disaster in South Asia and dramatic new amateur video, recorded as the killer waves hit shore.  These pictures were taken by a scuba diver in Thailand working his a first day as an instructor.  And what a day it was.  He stepped on to the shore moments before the tsunami hit.  At first, you can see the water receding out right there just before the waves strike.  Then the tidal wave comes sweeping in, sweeping away everything in its path, as people desperately try to get away.  Only one person was killed on this beach.

And then in Sri Lanka, this amateur video moments after the tsunami hit in the town of Kalmunai.  People who lost everything waded through waist-high water.  In fact, the cameraman who shot these pictures was at home when the waves hit.  About 2,800 people died in this town alone.

Among the survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami are the battered communities on the west coast of the Aceh province in Indonesia.  They are the most desperate.  Cut off by roads that have disappeared, they are in dire need of a lifeline.  And now some people finally have one.  Here‘s James Mates of Britain‘s ITV News.

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JAMES MATES, ITV NEWS (voice-over):  It is a lifeline without which the people of Aceh would be suffering not just flood and disease but starvation, too.  The Americans alone have already carried more than a million pounds a day.  The Indonesian air force as much again.  This morning, we joined the air lift, flying for an hour down the coast of Sumatra, every mile wearing the same ugly brown scar that it‘s carried since Boxing Day, this at the speed of a helicopter for an hour.  And that wasn‘t remotely half of it.

For all the tens of thousands of who died, there are as many survives.  Those who lived through the tsunami in the village Lok Guet (ph) cannot be evacuated, and anyway prefer even this to life in a refugee camp.

(on camera):  There will be no immediate let-up in the need for these aid flights.  Flying over here, you could see just how destroyed the road infrastructure is, even after all this time.  Vast swathes of this coastline are still only accessible by helicopter.

(voice-over):  With the massive international effort of the last two weeks, the warehouses are filling fast.  But it‘s less of a problem now getting the aid in than getting it out again.  There are so few serviceable roads around Banda Aceh that traffic clogs every inch, great heaps of debris simply scraped to one side to clear space.  Even the army, committed now entirely to relief work, struggles to get through.

(on camera):  I‘m only about 10 miles outside of the city of Banda Aceh, and this is as far as the road goes.  Aid workers, rescue workers, members of the Indonesian army, they‘re having to resort to this makeshift raft, not nearly strong enough to carry any supplies.  And as for the bridge, well, you can see what the tsunami did to that.

(voice-over):  When an aid truck does make it through to a refugee camp, there can be no doubt about the need.  These truly are people who have nothing, many having escaped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.  This delivery is of clothing, towels, plastic buckets.  That they are so desperate for such basic items leaves little doubt about how much longer this aid effort is going to have to be maintained.

James Mates, ITV News outside Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

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WITT:  And relief is pouring into the tsunami-devastated region.  Coming up, you‘ll see how so many nations have managed to move relief supplies and personnel so quickly.

You‘re watching an MSNBC special, “Nature‘s Fury,” and we‘ll be right back.

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WITT:  Back to this MSNBC special report, “Nature‘s Fury.”

It has been more than two weeks since the tsunami struck South Asia.  Since then, much has been done to help the victims, but it‘s only a start, especially in remote and hard-hit areas like Banda Aceh, Indonesia.  “DATELINE” NBC‘s Keith Morrison has the story of one relief worker who also happens to be a former “DATELINE” colleague.

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KEITH MORRISON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today came the witness, the video, here the awful, eerie image of the tsunami two weeks ago, almost as if in weird slow motion, surging, rushing, tearing through Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the picture from Indonesian TV of a city of perhaps 400,000 brought down in one terrible moment.

(on camera):  Now the relief effort is at full stride, and so is the clean-up, though just to cut up that old 50-ton fishing boat and haul it six miles to the sea will take weeks or months.

(voice-over):  And all the while, the smell of death is stuck in your nose, and the people of Banda Aceh count their loss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For this—my grandfather.  And this is my aunt. 

MORRISON:  The wall of the missing tended by relatives unable yet to give up hope that their loved ones might somehow appear.  A young woman tells how she saw the wave and grabbed her baby and ran up the hill and then turned around to see her husband, her mother, her father, siblings swallowed up, one more of the thousands of stories in the place the locals have taken to calling City of Ghosts. 

And then there, in all that trouble, you find a very familiar face. 

MARGARET LARSON, MERCY CORPS:  They‘re OK with clean water, right? 

MORRISON:  Margaret Larson, the same Margaret Larson who reported stories on this very program not so long ago, or more recently, telling the news on King-TV in Seattle, a life of privilege, really, a mother of a young son, a glamorous globe-trotting success story.  But then there was this moment, years ago now, covering women and children victimized by war in Kurdish Iraq. 

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LARSON:  If these children don‘t get something else to eat, something besides just break and that sort of thing, what will happen to them? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They are going to die. 

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MORRISON:  And it grew like a seed inside until, in 2002, she simply quit, gave it up for a life devoted to the least privileged places on earth. 

LARSON:  Having a child, having a boy, I see him in every kid I see, and that‘s changed the way I see the world. 

Are we doing the soap distribution? 

MORRISON:  She has gone all over the world for a Portland-based relief organization called Mercy Corps.  Why? 

LARSON:  I saw people suffering things that were indescribable.  I wanted to roll up my sleeves personally and do something. 

MORRISON:  And now she is here in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the world‘s most dreadful disaster zone, to be greeted by horrors almost beyond imagination. 

(on camera):  Out here, this is not an empty field. 

LARSON:  No.  This was a place where people lived and did business. 

There‘s a fishing area, a fishing village this way and a busy market area. 

This was a heavily populated focal point for the town, and it‘s gone. 

MORRISON (on camera):  To be here is to understand that even pictures don‘t properly transcribe the scale of this.  One is numbed by the size of destruction, the obscenity of bits and pieces of people‘s lives strewn about for mile after mile after mile, corpses dumped where the water left them, now to be picked up by the volunteers.  One is reminded of Hiroshima.  Words seem puny. 

LARSON:  People have asked me since I‘ve been here, Is this what you expected?  And I said, Even here, I can‘t comprehend it, I can‘t believe it. 

MORRISON (voice-over):  Nor is this the extent of it.  Only now are military from the U.S. and other countries uncovering the scope of the damage in remote coastal towns, offshore islands, some places at least partly spared, others simply gone.  Estimates of the death toll around Banda Aceh and down the coast hover close to 100,000.  But what is it really?  No one knows.  Experts say it could be a quarter of a million. 

Complicating the business is that no one seems to know how many people actually lived along the water here.  A year ago, in the midst of a fierce rebellion—now in a pause, at least—the few Westerners left or were expelled. 

LARSON:  Did you get some clothes across the street? 

MORRISON:  After the tsunami, says Margaret, aid workers worried about the sort of reception they‘d find here.  They needn‘t have. 

LARSON:  We‘ve been so interested because this was such a conservative area, closed to foreigners.  People have been friendly, open, grateful. 

MORRISON:  And everywhere, stories of stunning heartbreak, walking bundles of grief. 

(on camera):  How many children do you have? 

(voice-over):  The fisherman who held onto his wife and daughter until the tsunami hit a tree and it hit them.  He and many others wander the wasteland near the vacant places their homes once stood. 

This man lost his wife and three of his children. 

(on camera):  Did you search for your family? 

(voice-over):  This man is practically catatonic, carrying everywhere his list of names, family members.  There isn‘t even a picture now.  And here, wedding photos, no one to admire them now. 

Weeks after the disaster, small fishing boats still lean on buildings six miles from the shore.  Downtown stores wait for demolition.  There‘s no saving these.  And still the ever-present body bags. 

Yet for all the horror, the expected refugee crisis did not materialize.  The Acehnese, as they call themselves, are digging out.  And they‘ve given their international helpers lessons about genuine humanity.  U.S. soldiers delivering relief beam at their sudden popularity here.  Mercy Corps, says Margaret, has hired a team of locals, paying them to help distribute tons of food to 45,000 people, but also a warehouse full of basic stuff:  shoes, mats, jerry cans for water.  But mainly, she says, they‘re hoping to inject a little seed money, a financial boost so that the Acehnese can make the recovery their own. 

LARSON:  This place is great because it‘s been very easy to find community leaders, very easy to find people coming together and solving their own problems.  And that‘s where we go to offer some assistance. 

MORRISON:  And now, today, on this sweltering afternoon in the half of Banda Aceh the tsunami didn‘t reach, local produce markets are back in business.  Restaurants are open.  Roads are once again full of traffic.  What a change from the day she came, says Margaret, surrounded then by so much death. 

LARSON:  The air was thick and hot, and it smelled like death.  But I look around now, and I see people cleaning up and getting back to work and, with a little bit of help, getting going again.  And you can feel it, the life coming back to this city. 

MORRISON:  And Margaret Larson, former TV celebrity, is convinced that her career change was exactly the right thing to do. 

LARSON:  For me, it was something I felt compelled to do and just felt like I needed to be at the end of my life able to look my son in the eye and say, I did the best I could to hand the world off to you in a better shape than I found it. 

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WITT:  Well done.  That was “Dateline NBC”‘s Keith Morrison reporting from Banda Aceh, Indonesia. 

When we come back, U.S. Marines in action delivering aid, plus, the grim task of identifying people who didn‘t survive. 

We‘ll be right back.

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WITT:  Thousands of families of those missing in the tsunami are still awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones.  Up next, a look at how scientists are trying to find answers.

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WITT:  More dramatic pictures tonight from Indonesia, U.S. Marines delivering aid to one of the most remote islands hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami. 

People swarmed a helicopter on island 60 miles southwest of Sumatra.  Because the island is so remote, Indonesian officials don‘t know the death toll, but suspect thousands are homeless. 

And in the Indonesian town of Meulaboh, U.S. troops from the USS Bonhomme are using hovercraft to deliver emergency aid.  More than 2,000 Marines aboard amphibious assault ships are off the coast of Indonesia right now.  They were diverted from duty in Iraq to help the tsunami victims. 

It could be months or even a year before the families of those who are presumed dead might learn the truth about their loved ones‘ fate. 

From Phuket, Thailand, Shiulie Ghosh of Britain‘s ITV News reports on new efforts to trace the dead. 

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SHIULIE GHOSH, ITN REPORTER (voice-over):  This is the largest missing persons investigation in the world.  And now at last, a central database has been set up to help identify the thousands of foreign nationals lost in the tsunami. 

Postmortem details from victims such as dental structure and DNA samples are being fed into the computer.  It is the same system that was used in the aftermath of 9/11.  But it‘s had to be adapted to cope with the sheer scale of the operation. 

DAVID TADD, BRITISH POLICE FORENSIC TEAM:  In actual fact, the process that‘s been used or adopted here is the process that what we use every day to identify bodies.  It is just the sheer scales of it that makes it difficult and the international dimensions. 

GHOSH (on camera):  This state-of-the-art technology is now the best chance that relatives have of getting their missing loved ones identified.  But, of course, the method isn‘t foolproof.  There will still be those bodies that can‘t be named and those bodies that can‘t be found. 

(voice-over):  Relatives have given DNA samples such as cheek swabs and nails clippings to help forensic teams search for a match.  But the operation has been badly hampered by the way bodies were handled in the initial chaos.  There were no proper procedures.  Dental checks and other tests simply were not carried out.  Now pathologists have been forced to reexamine hundred of bodies, setting back the I.D. process by up to a year.

Even when bodies are identified, red tape can get in the way.  John Pemberton (ph) has arrived in Phuket to collect the body of his friend, Louise Wilgrass (ph).  Though she was positively identified on the day she died, it has taken until now for her remains to be released. 

JOHN PEMBERTON, FRIEND OF TSUNAMI VICTIM:  It is difficult that we have to come and make this trip, when we really would have hoped, with what heard gone on so early on, the identification of Louise so early on day one, that she wasn‘t home within two or three days. 

GHOSH:  Preparations are now under way to build a repatriation center, the place to where bodies released by the authorities will come before beginning their final journey home. 

Experts from 30 countries are working around the clock to return the missing to their loved ones.  But for those families waiting and hoping, that will be an agonizingly long process. 

Shiulie Ghosh, ITV News, Phuket. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  The networks of NBC Universal are joining together for a relief benefit, “Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope.”  It will air this Saturday, January 15, at 8:00 p.m. on all of the networks of NBC Universal, including MSNBC.  Be sure to tune in. 

When we come back, NBC‘s Ann Curry reports on the delivery of some of the most needed aid, medical help to one of the hardest hit areas, plus, a man who survived 15 days at sea—when this MSNBC special report continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WITT:  As unforgiving as the tsunami was, the wave of despair that has followed is just as relentless.  Doctors have come from around the world ready to deliver medicine and mend broken bones.  But how do you heal a nation filled with patients who have lost spouses, children, homes, an entire way of life?  That is the challenge doctors are facing. 

Here‘s “NBC Dateline”‘s Ann Curry. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANN CURRY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  These are Sri Lanka‘s faces of grief. 

(on camera):  How deep is the wound in the heart of Sri Lanka?

AMALIE DE SILVA, SRI LANKAN RESIDENT:  You really can‘t say how deep it is really because, the acute situation has gone away, but still the suffering is there.

CURRY:  The enormity of the suffering drew This 27-year-old pediatrician, Amalie De Silva, from  the nation‘s capital to her grandmother‘s village, to help care for the crush of refugees who came after the tsunami swallowed the coast.

DE SILVA:  There was this gentleman, he has lost all his family members, his wife, his kids, everybody.  Now he says he wants to commit suicide.

CURRY:  Everyone is so sad, their stories so tragic, the doctor struggles to find ways to console them.

DE SILVA:  Sometimes you are at a loss of words what to say to them, really.

CURRY:  Twelve days after the disaster claimed homes and loved ones, the survivors are haunted by the unspeakably painful images.  A group of schoolgirls dragged away by the water as it cascaded back to the sea, a man confronting another to prevent him from stealing jewelry off the body of a drowned woman, the horrendous sight of bodies arriving at southern Sri Lanka‘s largest hospital immediately after the tsunami struck, wave after wave of people rushed into the hospital, more than 800 injured, overwhelming doctors and nurses scrambling to keep up, most of all, the unbearable sight of the children, so many children lost. 

(on camera):  Sri Lanka suffered the highest death rate per capita of any country hit by the tsunami, 30,000 people killed within minutes.  And the tragedy wasn‘t limited to a single area .  More than 70 percent of this island nation‘s coastline was slammed by the deadly waves.

(voice-over):  Dazed survivors stare at pictures of the dead day after day, half-hoping to recognize a missing relative and also hoping not to, like these two sisters searching for their younger brother, the breadwinner of the family.  Another brings a photo of his own of a friend who was riding this doomed train on a church trip. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I could remember the people, mostly fathers from the children.  They cried out in pain. 

Hambantota, a fishing village on the southern coast was devastated, more than 4,000 dead, among them, more than 1,000 mothers, in an instant, a generation of women wiped out.  So many widowers and orphans.  How will they go on?  It‘s a question Dr. De Silva is trying to comprehend.

DE SILVA:  Post traumatic stress—which we should take into consideration very much in this kind of situation.  Because most people have lost their whole families.  And the children, children have lost their parents.  It‘s very sad.

CURRY (on camera):  One thing I‘ve come to notice is the Sri Lankan people can be described as stoic, keeping the emotions in.

DE SILVA:  There are very few who really want to talk about it.

CURRY (voice-over):  Dr. De Silva says it‘s a tradition here for parents to do everything they can to shield their children from heartbreak.

DE SILVA:  In Sri Lanka, they don‘t expose the children to so much tragedy.

CURRY:  Even when a family member dies.

DE SILVA:  Small children, sometimes, their relatives won‘t tell them. 

Breaking bad news can be very, very hard.

CURRY:  Two little girls haven‘t seen their mother since the tsunami struck.  For their aunt, the news may be too hard to tell the children or herself. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Maybe I think in order—this mother is still alive.

CURRY:  Now when her two nieces, 7 and 9, ask about their mother, she tells them she‘s away in another country with a new job.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No need anything.  I need my (INAUDIBLE) God help us.

CURRY:  Across Sri Lanka, caregivers and spiritual counselors have stepped in to offer psychological and spiritual comfort.  And aid organizations are sending experts in post-traumatic stress to help, but even the most experienced are challenged by the conditions they find.

MICHAEL FINNEGAN, PSYCHOLOGIST:  Hi, Mia (ph).  I‘m Dr. Finnegan.

CURRY:  Michael Finnegan is the psychologist for the Maryland State Police and a volunteer for Catholic Relief Services. 

FINNEGAN:  It is so important for us to be able to recognize what we have lost. 

CURRY:  He‘s here to help train caregivers, hoping to give them the tools to cope with both the enormous pain they are seeing and the stress they themselves are feeling.

FINNEGAN:  You see people here that have seen hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of individuals die, walking past the bodies not being able to rescue people that were being swept out to sea.  These individuals are suffering psychological scars.

CURRY:  He gave a clinic for the doctors and nurses at the hospital that had to deal with more than 1,200 corpses, some of the victims, relatives and neighbors of staff members.  How long will the mental scars last after the physical scars have healed?

DE SILVA:  There was a child who was only child in the family and she has seen both her parents being washed away.  That traumatic situation will haunt her life forever.

CURRY:  What does she tell the children who have suffered so much? 

Can they ever be normal and happy again?

DE SILVA:  I told her, now you had a second chance in your life, which a person rarely gets.  Life is very precious.  While you live, you do good as much as you can, so that, at the end of it, you will have something to look back to.

CURRY:  Dr. Amalie De Silva is working to help every child and grieving parent to start again, and in the process she‘s helping heal her island nation.

DE SILVA:  Sri Lanka is surrounded by sea, which was a blessing earlier.  And now we want to make it a blessing again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  That was NBC‘s Ann Curry reporting from Galle, Sri Lanka.

On Thursday night at 9:00, Ann Curry will be here on NBC to tell her story of what it was like being surrounded by all that devastation. 

We‘ll be right back with an amazing tsunami survival story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Just when you think you have heard the most amazing story out of the tsunami devastation, another one even more astounding.

This time, an Indonesian man swept out to sea is found floating alive in the ocean 15 days after the tsunami hit.  He told reporters he clung to a piece of lumber for an entire day, then found a small fishing boat that had been washed out to sea.  He says he ate coconuts that were floating in the water.  A passing boat rescued him and dropped him off in Malaysia.  And he is said to be dehydrated, but otherwise OK. 

I‘m Alex Witt.  Thanks for watching. 

Tomorrow night, could an earthquake cause a tsunami to hit the United States?  Tune in to find out, but, coming up next, Joe Scarborough and “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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