This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," December 28, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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UMA PEMMARAJU, GUEST HOST: In the midst of what's being called the biggest relief effort the world has ever seen, thousands of helpless children remain separated from their parents. Of course, the stories of survival from the survivors have been riveting, as we hear from those who struggled to stay alive.
Our next guest was vacationing in Phuket, Thailand, when the tsunami struck. Joining us now on the phone from Hong Kong, Michael Elliot, Time magazine's Asia bureau chief. Michael, thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL ELLIOTT, TIME MAGAZINE: Hi, Uma. How are you?
PEMMARAJU: Let me begin by asking you what you witnessed as this catastrophe unfolded.
ELLIOTT: Well, I was never in any danger. I was 300 yards back from the beach. I was actually playing golf, in one of those kind of ironic little touches. And one of the extraordinary things about this whole event is that if you were just a couple of hundred yards away, which is all that I was, you really had no idea that anything was happening. I was playing golf, and kids came running onto the golf course very upset, very agitated, said that something had happened down on the beach.
PEMMARAJU: When you went to the beach, you checked and saw for yourself firsthand.
ELLIOTT: Yes. First, I checked that my wife and daughters were OK, then I went down to the beach. And the first beach that I went to, which is the one closest to my hotel, was protected a tiny little bit by a kind of ridge about eight foot high behind the beach. Everything that was on the beach itself had been completely destroyed. You know, the restaurants, the souvenir stores, the shops and everything had just been kind of completely wiped out. And the sea was this kind of muddy brown. It was kind of full of debris.
It was when I went to the next beach along, just kind of five minutes away, that one could kind of really see the whole extent of the devastation because on that beach. There was a village immediately back from the beach that had just been hammered.
PEMMARAJU: What are you seeing right now? We're hearing stories of corpses literally lining the beach and being strewn about in the midst of the debris in these different villages.
ELLIOTT: I think the key thing now, the key thing for everyone to keep their eye on now is Indonesia, which, of course, was actually closest to the epicenter of the earthquake, but which was very, very difficult to get into for the first 24-36 hours. So in that first day or so, we had body counts from Thailand, from Sri Lanka, from India, but we had very, very little from Indonesia. What we in Asia are starting to pick up now is that the devastation in northern Sumatra and in Aceh, which is the area right at the tip of Sumatra, is truly devastating, whole villages wiped out.
PEMMARAJU: We're hearing that in some parts of Sumatra, that one in ten people are right now missing.
ELLIOTT: I've heard similar reports. I've heard reports of mass graves with hundreds of bodies buried. I've heard reports of whole villages wiped out. And the numbers of casualties and deaths in Sumatra have only really been kind of tagged onto the figures of this catastrophe in the last few hours. So when we start to get kind of really accurate counts from there and from places that we also haven't heard much from, like the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands, I very much fear that the casualty and death toll is going to go way, way up.
PEMMARAJU: And right now, of course, the big concern for the survivors and the people who are left homeless, the big health concern, the concern is about widespread disease.
ELLIOTT: That was true even in Thailand on Monday. I left Thailand on Monday, late Monday afternoon, and even in Phuket, which is probably the most developed place that has been severely damaged by this tsunami — but even there, if you walked along villages that had been wrecked, you know, there was already a stench in the air because, of course, sewage — sewage lines had been broken, food had been spilled everywhere. So even in Thailand, which, as I say, you know, by comparison to some of these places, it's relatively well developed and has relatively well emergency services, I was already very, very conscious by Monday of the possibility of waterborne diseases.
This is always the real killer in an event like this. It's malaria, it's diarrheal diseases, it's dysentery, it's anything that you can catch because you don't have clean water supplies. So that's — you know, if there's a focus for listeners to this program to kind of — who want to do something, it's any organization that is concentrating on clean water, on electrolytes for kids, so that if they have diarrhea or dysentery, they can be re-hydrated. Those, I'm absolutely convinced, are going to be the kind of key humanitarian challenges in the week ahead.
PEMMARAJU: Well, certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the people who are there on the front lines, the stories of survivors, obviously, getting through a very tough situation. Michael, thank you very much for bringing us your perspective.
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