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Disaster Relief Begins for Tsunami Victims

Aired January 1, 2005 - 16:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it was a somber New Year's Eve in many parts of the world. Celebrations turned into vigils in Asia. Some cities observed a minute of silence while others canceled festivities altogether. Keeping you informed, CNN is the most trusted name in news, keeping you informed.
Hello and welcome. I'm Daryn Kagan. You're watching CNN's extended coverage of the tsunami disaster. After days of desperation, people in the affected areas are beginning to see the first arrivals of relief supplies.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Fredericka Whitfield. In addition to updates on relief efforts, we'll have an extended look starting at the bottom of the hour at some amazing stories of survival by people who lived through the disaster.

KAGAN: Plus, CNN has dozens of staffers on the ground across south Asia. We'll have updates from throughout the region during the program.

WHITFIELD: Almost a week after the earthquakes that spawned those deadly tsunamis, some of the first signs of hope for desperate survivors. The first shipments of food and medicine have arrived in some of the most heavily damaged remote regions of Indonesia. Crowds surrounded a U.S. helicopter shortly after it landed carrying relief supplies. CNN's Mike Chinoy was on board one of the first U.S. relief flights. During his trip, he reports he saw large areas where villages once stood, now completely flattened by the tsunami waves.

Meanwhile, new problems for tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, flash floods. Heavy rains washed out refugee camps and makeshift homes. No casualties have been reported, but the water is complicating efforts to deliver aid.

And Japan's prime minister announced today that his country is pledging $500 million to help tsunami victims across the region. Japan had previously offered $30 million. The new offer makes Japan the single largest contributor to relief efforts.

KAGAN: And nowhere are death and devastation more horrific than in Indonesia's Aceh Province near the epicenter of the earthquake that triggered this tsunami disaster. ITV correspondent Dan Rivers has the story.


DAN RIVERS, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost a week on today, the U.S. Navy gave us the most staggering view of this epic tragedy. The 400-foot oil tanker left like driftwood, a cement works deserted, entire valleys have been obliterated. The coast road here, the only sign of lost civilization. Cement built mosques often the only buildings left standing. Rarely we glimpsed camps of survivors, abandoned in this hell. We flew by coordinates. No one's quite sure which village is which anymore. The one we landed at, an island of life, in this ocean of destruction.

Local soldiers helped us unload this meager aid. They were delighted to see us stranded here for six days, just like the villagers. These people think the world has forgotten them. They've been starving to death for seven days but all we can do is leave one pathetic cargo and then we have to go back. They're utterly on their own, living in the ruins of their homes and the bodies of their families.

We were on the ground just a couple of minutes, leaving these people to many more days of isolation. The Indonesian Navy is en route, but more ships are desperately needed. We headed back across mile after mile of oblivion. It's thought these scenes may continue for hundreds of miles. Dan Rivers, ITV News, Aceh.


KAGAN: For a lot of families, the sheer terror of the tsunami has been replaced by the ache of not knowing what happened to their loved ones.

WHITFIELD: CNN's Suhasini Haidar (ph) has the story of one family and their desperate search for two of its members, missing since the wave destroyed their home.


SUHASINI HAIDAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) Kahn (ph) and his wife have no answer when their 5-year-old asks where her sisters are. Their daughters were staying with Kahn's relatives the night the tsunami struck. Kahn rushed his wife and child to safety and they were evacuated to this camp on the main (INAUDIBLE) island. Now there's no news of the girls.

It's so hard to get through each day, cries their mother, I just keep thinking of them. Thousands are missing in this string of island on the Indian Ocean, even as more and more survivors keep turning up at makeshift relief camps on the main island. Kahn says he can't bear to just sit around, so he spends all his time going from one camp to another, in the desperate hope he will see his precious children, aged 3 and just 1 and any other relatives. And then he does. As he finds his sister at a camp, Kahn's tears are unstoppable. She tells him she heard that his daughter could be stuck with other family members in a forest on the far side of their island.

What will they have eaten, he asks? My girls must be so hungry. Tomorrow Kahn says he will go to beg relief officials to try and look for them. But he knows it will be hard. So much of this island has been devastated, roads broken and (INAUDIBLE) washed away. Even so, Kahn and his wife say they won't give up trying. They have lost every belonging in the world. But it won't mean a thing says Kahn if only his beloved daughters are found. Suhasini Haidar, CNN, Fort Blair (ph) in the Indian Ocean.


WHITFIELD: And we know that many people were doing the most ordinary of things when the tsunami slammed ashore nearly a week ago. Afterward, we're learning the most extraordinary survival stories. CNN's Ryan Chicot has details about two Russian brothers who were simply waiting for a taxi when the tsunami hit.


RYAN CHICOT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) and his brother had just enjoyed a two-week vacation in Phuket. They were waiting for a cab to the airport when the water came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (through translator): We never felt that it was a tsunami. It was a big tide. They had big tides there every day. While it came and went and everybody calmed down and came back to look at the damage, find their loved ones. That's when the second wave came.

An elderly lady was stuck in the side of a balcony, and she was lying in the water on her back with her head just barely above water. Chairs and benches and all sorts of junk were piling up on her and crushing her. Her elderly husband couldn't help her, but two other guys came running up and five of us pulled her out of there.

CHICOT: Then their hotel started creaking. They jumped off the balcony and started grabbing what they could to rescue themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through Translator): We got a football and stuck it on our backpack to make the backpack floatable. We also caught a motorcycle helmet which I put on my head to protect myself and swam with it.

CHICOT: Their big break came when they made it to this palm tree. When the final wave came, they rode it to dry land. Later, they returned to the Kamala Beach Hotel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My main thoughts were about the people who died. Nothing was clear. We figured some had been taken to sea. We were in an enormous dump with all these abandoned buildings, cars on their backs, computer parts, toys, parts of buildings, everything was in one big pile.

CHICOT: The next day, they drove to Bangkok and got a passing glimpse that others had not been as lucky. Ryan Chicot, CNN, Moscow.


WHITFIELD: The Brits dig deep for aid to tsunami survivors. We'll take a look at their one-stop shopping approach to charity coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: With the New Year comes a sharp increase in government money to help tsunami survivors. Japan leads with half a billion dollars, then it's the United States with $350 million.

KAGAN: And then in the UK, the public response for private contributions was larger than the government contribution at one point. We're going to get details on that from CNN's Robyn Curnow in London.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can make an impact if we act together and fast. We do have the power to prevent more deaths.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A British television appeal, a campaign run on behalf of the UK's 12 major aid agencies by the disaster's emergency committee, which is headed up by Brendan Gormley.

BRENDAN GORMLEY, DISASTER EMERGENCY CMTE: Our little team creates a one-stop shop for the concerned British public. They don't have to choose between charities.

CURNOW: A British public that's dug deep into their pockets. Since the TV appeal, they've donated nearly $2 million an hour to charities, topping $70 million by the fifth day of the disaster. At one stage, British charitable donations far exceeded the government's response.

After making its own assessment of the damage and following calls that the government should be more generous, Westminster upped its pledge to just under $100 million U.S. and that's not all. They'll also foot the bill for all British aid flights into Asia. Hillary Benn is the minister in charge of international development.

HILLARY BENN, INTL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: The British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has authorized the use of British military resources. We're sending two ships and an aircraft to transport relief supplies.

CURNOW: The international response is gathering momentum after a slow start. Some of the first direct flights into Aceh, Indonesia, left from Spain Friday. Denmark and Sweden have both increased their financial support as well as mobilizing medical care for the thousands of injured Scandinavians in Asia. And here in London, on conference call after conference call, Brendan Gormley and his disaster relief committee continue to coordinate Britain's aid relief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, hi. We are up and running in India and Sri Lanka, and we are still looking at possibilities in Thailand and Indonesia.

CURNOW: Robyn Curnow, CNN, London.


KAGAN: Log on to our website for the very latest on the relief efforts in south Asia. And there you can find ways to donate as well as emergency flight schedules you can get and you can also retrieve hotline numbers. There's also a place for people who experienced the disaster firsthand to post their eyewitness accounts.

The island of Sri Lanka not very big, but they lost more than 45,000 people to the tsunamis.

WHITFIELD: And for those who survived the massive waves were just the beginning of their hardships. A look at the bleak situation coming up next.


KAGAN: Much needed aid is arriving to areas hit by the tsunami, but survivors are still finding it difficult to adjust to their new reality.

WHITFIELD: In Sri Lanka, people look for ways to cope with life after they've lost so much. Hugh Rimington explains.


HUGH RIMINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Come with us for a short drive down the Sri Lankan coastline where some aid is starting to arrive. The Dutch-funded agency involved here says the desperation is getting greater rather than less. Livelihoods are gone in this village, as well as lives.

UNIDENTIFIED VILLAGE ELDER: So many people along the road they have got washed off and still the bodies are not found, and sometimes in certain families, two or three people.

RIMINGTON: Here not even the wild monkeys are safe. The trees still standing are dying. They have been poisoned by the salt water surge.

VILLAGE ELDER: I'm afraid this whole place will become a desert.

RIMINGTON: Down the road, we find a police inspector using vital drinking water to clean up his house. He admits there's no safe water in the area, but he doesn't seem too much concerned even if people nearby are reduced to beseeching passing traffic for food and drink. The further we go, the worse it gets. The search for bodies continues under awful and unhygienic conditions.

(on-camera): Even now as you can see behind me, bodies are unidentified and still unburied, although an earth-moving piece of equipment has just been brought in. There's no ceremony. A hole is being dug in the sand and that is where these people will be interred.

The bodies are being pulled from the train that was wiped out with 1,000 dead. Richmond Wilesekeba looks at everybody but still finds no sign of his brother and his wife. RICHMOND WILESEKEBA, SURVIVOR: We can't identify them because they are so damaged. So I saw some -- about 1,000 bodies that are buried by bulldozers.

RIMINGTON: The bodies that are recovered will rest near the sea that claimed them. On Sri Lanka's national day of mourning, it is hard to imagine a bleaker end. Hugh Remington, CNN, southern Sri Lanka.


WHITFIELD: Throughout the next 24 minutes, you'll meet some lucky people lucky enough and strong enough to actually survive and live through modern history's horrific event.

KAGAN: We're going to get to that in a bit. In case you've been missing any of our coverage or tsunami or haven't seen as much as you would have liked, we're going to try to change that. Coming up in a half hour, commercial free survivor stories in their own words. If you only see one program on the disaster, this is the one you must see.


WHITFIELD: Throughout the next 24 minutes, you'll meet some people now counting their blessings, having lived through one of modern history's most horrific natural disasters.

KAGAN: Now without commercial interruption, tsunami survivors' stories in their own words.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! Oh, [ bleep ]!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wave hit, and we have big waves in the channel. It wasn't a wave. It was -- the wave that hit, but it was just a wall, and it just kept coming. Nothing was going to stop that wave. It was just the biggest wave I've ever seen. That wave is a good 15, 20 feet tall, easy. Get in! Get in! Get in!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first indications we had was the vibrations which came through probably at about 8:00, or 9:00 in the morning. And then I was in my bed at the time. First I heard a crashing sound coming through from the front of the building. We were lucky because the hotel we were in had an underground car park which took a large part of the impact. But the wave came through on the first floor. I heard the crashing and banging and screaming sounds. I rushed out to find people basically leaving everywhere, broken bones, people thrown into, out of windows, debris everywhere. We were under about 10 feet of water at the time and the situation was terrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way any person can tell you what emotion you feel when you see a wall of water one story high fill up the lobby of a hotel, park three cars in the back of the lobby and you see people swirling around in that, and you don't know what you can do to get them out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were having coffee, and the woman in the coffee shop said to us, the water is too high. She kept saying that. We said, "what does that mean?" not a minute later, she screamed "run!" And we all started running, and the water came really quickly, so we started jogging through the streets just trying to get to the mountain. And my friend and I just started running. And every time we turned a corner, we thought we lost -- or the water had stopped. But when we'd come to a through street, the water would be there. So we ran for about several streets with the water right at our heels. Then when we got to behind several buildings and streets, we got to the base of the mountain, and it was like a mass exodus out of the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't judge how fast it was moving because it was behind me. We were just running. But you know, it was carrying -- everything that it hit, it destroyed on its way in, was carrying it on its way out. So there was furniture and buildings and pieces of everything.

TRANSLATOR: Suddenly there were huge waves that hit the sea shore, and people started running helter skelter. A lot of women were trapped because they couldn't run and a lot of children were also trapped. About 60 people are supposed to have died. We have never seen anything like this before, and we are very really very scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I lost everyone and everything, says this 30- year-old Yusni Ati (ph). My four children and my husband are gone, gone. I was holding my 8-month-old in the waters, but the waves pulled us apart.

TRANSLATOR: We've never seen anything like this. We were fishing normally in the sea when we were shocked by the huge waves. We fled for shore and prayed for Allah to save our lives.

TRANSLATOR: I was alone and shouted for help, but no one was here. Everything got washed away, including boat and net. Nothing is left in any house. All our belongings are gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I thought, OK, it's going to stop. It's going to hit our ankles. My youngest daughter dropped her journal, and I went to pick it up. When I picked it up, I heard this sound that could only be described as perhaps a jet engine bearing down on us, and trees starting to break. And then what looked like a wave that was 10 to 15 feet, not in the traditional sense of a wave, but water, massive water rushing at us, closing a gap. I don't think I've ever run that fast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water just came up like a gigantic wave and took the water bungalow, took all of the deck. The deck came flying in through the windows, and I said, "let's get out of here!"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Started off being able to stand up in it, and then cupboards and chairs and mattresses started coming at you. And I got out of the way and ended up on some sort of light pier going out to sea. There was people from the beach in the early morning just being washed out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We climbed up this tree while the water was still breaking right at our feet, the waves. We head up the tree and went higher and higher until we arrived at the top. And we couldn't go any higher. We just waited until the water level eventually dropped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the wave came in, there was a massive undertow. And in 15 to 30 seconds, something like 200 yards -- I'm sorry, 2,000 yards of water just got sucked right out to sea. And anybody who was in the water at that point up to their knees or so got yanked right out. There was just no hope for those people. People described seeing literally, you know, thousands of people on the beach in one minute and the next minute, those people were gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suddenly we saw the water advanced. Just afterwards we thought it was just the sea really just getting a little angry. Then the second wave was a lot stronger and we rushed upstairs. It happened a few times with about an hour in between. And the third wave that hit the hotel devastated the bottom half, the lower floors and so on and we were trapped on the third floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The children were playing on the beach when I came running down to find them and my wife, Libby. The sea off (INAUDIBLE) was a flat cam but with one big exception. A 20-foot wave was coming in shore very quickly, indeed. Five-year-old Peter was staring at the wave, mesmerized. I lurched forward and grabbed him. Obviously, with the wave pursuing us pretty rapidly, Peter and I were moving rather more quickly than we are this morning.

My wife, Libby and my daughter, Elizabeth, headed for our bungalow over there, but I knew myself and the little fellow here simply wouldn't make it. We listened to the wave breaking on the beach. There was a big bang as it came through those trees. I supposed we had reached about here before we were washed away. We were then carried about 40 yards. The wave carried us both through this little gap between these two bungalows. All the time I was acutely aware of all the debris that the wave had picked up on its journey. Peter and I ended up actually down there in this field. Here are some of the tree trunks and other bits of debris the wave carried with us. Fortunately, they missed us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rooms filled up within 30 seconds, first of all, to about 3 foot. Then we all got out of the rooms and one of our friends is at a hospital. We couldn't get out of the room. He woke up and was asleep on his bed, woke up in water. Threw the TV through the window to climb out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Turned around and all of a sudden there was a 25 or 30-foot wall of water rushing towards you, probably at about 40 miles an hour. And you had little time to try and get to higher ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having stood in the water literally within two seconds, from ankle high, it came to shoulder high. You usually imagine tidal waves much like those you see in the movies, the big crest and wave. Waves that hit Phuket and certainly from the reports I've had from other resorts, they all came in very hard and fast. It was a bit like watching a bath run to the top.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was this terrible roaring noise. We looked through the glass doors and this torrent of mighty water just came down the steps and through the doors and washed me away (INAUDIBLE) and glass doors were smashed by the water, and I just couldn't keep my footing. I was very frightened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard a little girl crying all we heard was a whimpering. So we went in there, dragged her out. She ended up going to a hospital and we found out today that she didn't make it either. But four others in that hut, all of them perished yesterday. And this is a small village, about 800 people, and we lost five right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Children are less able to run away from this kind of a flood. They're less able to hang on to a tree. They're less able to swim for their lives. So we're afraid that, in fact, children were disproportionately affected, especially those who were caught in the raging currents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm searching for my mother. She's from Holland. She's 52 years old. She's missing from the Kow Luc Merlin (ph) Beach resort. We have still hope, and we are not going to leave without her. Strange said, but dead or alive, but we have to find her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had three false alarms already. Last night we found someone (INAUDIBLE), Symon, spelled with a "Y" rather than an "I" (INAUDIBLE) and when we managed to track him down at midnight, it was just someone completely different from England who was on holiday. So you have lots of leads which you follow and you get excited and then you find some information which sort of takes you off that trail. But you have to remain positive. You know, miracles do happen. If you start to believe that the worst has happened, you start to crumble. So you just remain positive all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Horrible. There is -- sounded like a jet engine just right maybe five feet behind you, people screaming as maybe the water hit them. It was trees cracking, houses exploding. It was just so horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I was in the water in the middle of the sea. And I didn't have anything with me. My pants were gone, washed off in the water. I had only my top on. I was tired of swimming, and I had the God-given gift, my father's given gift of swimming. I have to swim. I started swimming with lots and lots of force (ph) that I may find somebody, my father, my family might be waiting for me. I still have hopes that my parents are alive, searching for me (INAUDIBLE). I'm all right, poppa and mama. Please come back again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then it came in again. I could hear my wife scream. I knew where she was and I was hiding behind a wall. And I went around to get her. And then just all hell broke loose. That was the last time I saw her. TRANSLATOR: I was at work when some people came to me and told me that huge waves were lashing the shore and my family was in danger. I rushed home and managed to rescue my mother. I took her to the hospital. By the time I returned, I realized my daughter was missing. I looked up hospitals for her but could not find her. After three days, I found her body in the debris of my house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We left paradise. It was a beautiful island. And we came back to just hell.

TRANSLATOR: We never felt that it was a tsunami. It was a big tide. They had big tides there every day. Well, it came and went, and everybody calmed down and came back to look at the damage, find their loved ones. That's when the second wave came. An elderly lady was stuck in the side of a balcony, and she was lying in the water on her back with her head just barely above water. Chairs and benches and all sorts of junk were piling up on her and crushing her. Her elderly husband couldn't help her. But two other guys came running up and five of us pulled her out of there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot of panic, you know, a lot of people were hysterical. A lot of the children were grabbing hold of me, and people around. Like a lot of the mothers of children who -- there was one particular mother who had about three or four children around her. Obviously, she didn't have enough arms to hold her children and she was imploring me to grab hold of her children and look after her children, which I did. So I was trying to grab hold of as many people as possible as well as secure myself on the train for when the second wave hit. There was like a sea of dead bodies, children and women, mainly. The majority of them were children. I had to clear a path through the water by pushing these people away and heading as inland as possible. So it just a case of survival.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Better to be here and sitting home and seeing it on the television. So we have to be here and see what we can do, if we can find her or figure out what happened to her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since it happened on Boxing Day, just sat by the phone, 24/7. I haven't heard from him. So now took the bull by the horns and flying out tomorrow to Thailand myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've sent pictures out. There's posters all around the hospitals. Everybody is trying their best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many regions still untouched by medical hands. My personal opinion, having seen the destruction, is that based (INAUDIBLE) based on the body counts, only a small fraction of the final death toll what it's likely to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perhaps the biggest challenge now is the water and the sanitation and the emergency food and the emergency shelter for hundreds of thousands of homeless.

TRANSLATOR: We are trying to provide people what they require the most at this time, like food, utensils, water, clothing, et cetera. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's all water and sanitation equipment, water tanks, pumps, taps, and latrine slabs so basically toilet facilities. There's 27 tons going on the plane. And what it will do it bring clean water to at least 175,000 people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're collecting money. Yesterday as well we sent some money from the temple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are bringing everything, clothes, food, materials and medicine, syringes, bandages, whatever that are needed, they are bringing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be a huge operation. Clearly we're four days out from this event already. Bodies are lying un- refrigerated, deteriorating rapidly. The Thai authorities have done a quite excellent job, I think, in quite extraordinary difficult circumstances. This would challenge the most developed country in the world, the scale of this problem.

TRANSLATOR: The sea is like a mother of the land, a father, he says. We love the sea and respect it like God. But now we are wary. We are petrified, he says. We wonder now, can we continue our livelihood on the high seas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were so generous, they were missing villages. They were missing families and they brought up food and supplies and we all sort of camped out on top of this jungle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was speaking with people who have lost their homes and a number of fishermen that lost their livelihoods. To be able to get on a plane and get away from it left me with a very unsettling feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no villages left standing between Malago (ph) and Chalan (ph), which is about 100 kilometers north of Malago. It's like a nuclear blast has hit the area and has completely leveled everything except just for a few structures. We're seeing nothing at all of the ones who were built out of wood and thatched roofs and that constitutes probably the most.

TRANSLATOR: Entire families have been wiped away. Children have been separated from their parents. There are dead bodies all over. We are more worried about the people who are in the forest and are injured because no aid reached them yet. I hope the government can do something for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My boat is somewhere out there, he says. I don't know where my family is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water was rising and the sea was coming. We ran for our lives, but it caught us, and the water almost came up to our necks. We managed to escape from the first wave, which destroyed our house. The second wave came and took us by surprise. There was just so much water, I didn't know what to do. When the second wave came, we were looking for our son, and my husband went out to search for him and found him in a tree. He rescued him and both of them were running for their lives. Later, my son was found alive, but my husband was missing. He had been drowned. We don't know what to do next. Right now we don't have a source of income. We'll need to look for jobs. But they are scarce.

TRANSLATOR: My main thoughts were about the people who died. Nothing was clear. We figured some had been taken to sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But my friend here did die. I have not found the dead body. I have been searching, but nothing less.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I saw him, it was really exciting for me. When you see what happened, you see the carnage and you realize that how lucky we are as a family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They called him the miracle boy. And today there was one more miracle waiting for little Hanis Bergstrom (ph), his father. The 20-month-old was separated from his parents when the tsunami hit Phuket. An American family found him unconscious, wrapped in blankets at the top of a hill. No one knew if he'd even survive. But he did. His father, recovering from his injuries in another hospital, wondered if he'd ever see his little boy again. His prayers were answered.

TRANSLATOR: I was frightened. I did not think I would survive. The rescue team found my son in the mangrove, not me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I knew I had to let go of one of them, and I just let go of the one that's the oldest. And (INAUDIBLE) grabbed hold of him for a moment, but she said she had to let him go, because she was going under. And I was screaming, trying to find him. And we thought he was dead. And I'm just so thankful that I've still got my two kids with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't imagine that if you had just lost your entire worldly possessions and perhaps more, parents, children, that you would turn around and offer kindness. One man went down to the village or whatever was left of it, I don't know how he did it, and brought up rice and some of the best tasting rice we've ever had. And he didn't have to do that. I don't know why he did it. I think it's a testament to the Thai people, the generosity of spirit, just a magical group.

WHITFIELD: The tsunami caught thousands of tourists off guard. But imagine scuba diving as the tsunami roars overhead. CNN's Miguel Marquez talked with a couple of divers who were caught in that exact situation.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How to survive a tsunami. For one lucky couple, it was scuba diving directly in its path.

FAYE LINDA WACHE, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: We were sucked down to 40 meters very quickly, which is deeper than you want to be diving with an open-water certification. MARQUEZ: Faye Linda Wache and her husband Gene Kim were exploring a shipwreck about seven miles off Thailand's he Phi Phi islands when the tsunami swept past them.

GENE KIM, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: I consider myself a novice to intermediate diver. This is the first time I had to do an emergency ascent under unusual and harsh circumstances. So it was terrifying.

MARQUEZ: They attempted to surface by inflating their life vests, but the massive current of water racing toward Thailand's shore pulled them into deeper water.

KIM: I was getting tossed around. I bumped up a couple times against the wreck itself and swam up as hard as I could, looked at my gauge, and I was still dropping.

MARQUEZ: They had just survived a tsunami. Only hours later when they headed for their hotel did they realize it.

WACHE: The island is essentially gone. We left paradise. It was a beautiful island and we came back to just hell.

MARQUEZ: They helped rescue and care for the injured. With all their belongings swept out to sea, they returned home, wearing only swimsuits still counting themselves as lucky. Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


WHITFIELD: Well, you've seen examples of how this year ended with an unfathomable humanitarian disaster in south Asia.

KAGAN: CNN's Wolf Blitzer looks back at how 2004 will be remembered.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 2004 was a year for record highs, a year of traveling to new heights, a year of monuments opening their doors again and a year of curses being broken.

But the one story dominating the headlines -- war. U.S. forces battled a hidden enemy as a brazen insurgency emerged in Iraq. With elections only 30 days away, more than 150,000 troops will begin the New Year trying to bring stability to an increasingly unstable country.

At home, weather was the enemy for Florida. Four hurricanes battered the state and its neighbors in quick succession. Charley, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne, taking more than 100 lives and causing billions of dollars worth of damage.

And it was an election year. The political season began with nine Democrats vying for the chance to challenge President George W. Bush. But over exuberance toppled the front-runner late in the game.

HOWARD DEAN: And then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! Yeah!

BLITZER: And John Kerry won the nomination setting the stage for an intense race for the White House. Hot topics ranged from the candidate's military service 30 years ago, 9/11 intelligence reforms, Iraq and moral issues, including the definition of marriage. Like 2000, this year's election came down to one state, this time Ohio. But unlike four years ago, it took only one day for a concession. With 51 percent of the popular vote and 286 electoral votes, George W. Bush won a second term.

The year's legal headlines included Martha Stewart's conviction for lying about a stock trade. She's spending New Year's in prison as is Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering pregnant wife, Laci. He'll have to wait until February to find out whether he'll die for the crime.

And deja vu for Michael Jackson, spending another year battling child molestation allegations. Hollywood turned out some unlikely and controversial blockbusters, including "The Passion of the Christ," and "Fahrenheit 9/11." On the small screen, we said good-bye to the ladies of "Sex and the City." Far more difficult good-byes this year to some of our favorites, including superman, Christopher Reeve, jazz genius Ray Charles, and the godfather, Marlon Brando.

We also said good-bye to a former actor who went on to become president. A week of tributes culminated in a moving sunset ceremony in which Ronald Reagan was laid to rest in his beloved California.

Now we say good-bye to another year, a year of highs and lows, of comings and goings, surprises and scandals, hope and heartbreak, the year that was, 2004.


KAGAN: And that was our colleague, Wolf Blitzer, summing up the news in review for 2004.

WHITFIELD: Our tsunami coverage continues. Ahead in the 5:00 hour, from huge helicopters piloted by the U.S. military to tiny beat- up planes organized by a husband and wife team, we'll show you some of the ways aid is finding its way into the tsunami-battered areas.


KAGAN: It is just about 5:00 p.m. on the east coast and 5:00 a.m. in Thailand. I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN's global headquarters.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We continue this hour with CNN's extensive coverage of the tsunami disaster with our unmatched worldwide resources.

KAGAN: CNN has dozens of staffers on the ground in south Asia, covering the still-growing aftermath of the tsunami disaster and amid the growing tragedy, there are


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