Interview: AmeriCares CEO Curt Welling

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Dec. 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, GUEST HOST: A grim task that seems without end: grave diggers working feverishly in South Asia, burying the tens of thousands who were killed in Sunday's tsunami. Today President Bush spoke publicly about the disaster and his commitment to help the devastated countries.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States will continue to stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims. We will stand with them as they start to rebuild their communities. And together, the world will cope with their loss. We will prevail over this destruction.


GIBSON: We began our coverage with FOX News Channel's Adam Housley in Phuket (search), Thailand. And from Stamford, Connecticut, Curt Welling, the president and CEO of AmeriCares , which is embarking on its biggest relief effort ever.

Adam, you first. This death toll seems to be mounting by the minute. Is it unreasonable to be talking about 100,000?

ADAM HOUSLEY, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Not at all, John. In fact, this morning-- early on this morning, the Red Cross or Red Crescent Society here in this region of the world came out with their report. They are estimating that the death toll will be more than 100,000 just from the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis. And that's not counting the possibility of disease. And several different diseases have already been detected. So those numbers are expected to reach the 100,000 plateau.

GIBSON: What stage are they in there? And by the way, Adam, we're looking at an incredible piece of home video that came in today, which shows the water just surging ashore. And what's really strange about this video, you may or may not have seen it, is that it's taken from the second floor. And as it goes on, the water rises up to this second floor. And pretty soon you see it's just--it's washing people away from the swimming pool and--anyway, what's going on today in terms of trying to find the thousands of bodies buried in the debris?

HOUSLEY: John, there's a number of things going on. First of all, one of the biggest problems is that the bodies that have been found is how to take care of them. In some places, they're piled up. They've been piled up and are rotting out in the open air. There aren't enough refrigeration trucks to properly care of many of the bodies.

The hospitals are inundated. They've got literally billboards of pictures of people, of dead bodies. And children--and many of them are also people that are elderly.--trying to get identities on these people, too. If you might know of anybody, they're asking people to look at them when they go to town squares and town centers here in Phuket.

GIBSON: Adam, stand by for just a second. Let me turn to Curt Welling, CEO of AmeriCares.

Curt, this video is just unbelievable. And that is just one instance, this happened all over south Asia. AmeriCares is launching your biggest relief effort ever, I guess. But next to the size of the disaster, what can you really do?

CURTIS WELLING, AMERICARES: Well, John, it's--Americares has been responding to natural disasters for 22 years. And you're right, this is unprecedented in that period of time.

It's not uncommon to have a natural catastrophe which results in the death of tens of thousands of people. But what's so difficult and makes this response so challenging is the geographic area over which it's spread.

We're looking at very significant impacts on countries which are thousands of miles apart. And so what you in fact have is a need to respond to a series of individual disasters, which were all caused by the same original earthquake.

GIBSON: Well, how do you do that? How do you take care of Sri Lanka (search), Indonesia (search), Thailand, India, you know, places where we're talking about, I mean, places like the Maldives Islands where...


GIBSON: ...there be nobody left.


GIBSON: How do you do that?

WELLING: Well, I think--it all starts with information and assessment. And we're getting better quality information out of some places than others. And we have a team of people which has been on the ground in Sri Lanka for 48 hours. We actually, as you and I are sitting here, we have an airplane which is on its way to Colombo [Sri Lanka] with 30 tons of emergency medicines, water purification products, and so on. And we expect to replicate that in Indonesia and India and other areas of the region in the coming days.

But the response that's going to be required from the humanitarian community is unprecedented. And it's not going to be done by any one entity or any one country, but literally thousands of medical professionals, humanitarian aid workers working together to deal with a disaster of this scale.

GIBSON: Curt, everybody's talking about what the Norwegians said a day or so ago. I mean, we're going to talk about it more later, but let me just ask you: Do you think the United States has been chintzy, stingy in its efforts to help?

WELLING: Yes, I've certainly heard and read all those things. And year in and year out, disaster in and disaster out, the U.S. government and the U.S. people have demonstrated that they are the biggest hearted, most generous people on the face of the earth.

And I'm 100 percent sure that will be the case in this catastrophe as well. So I think it's a little premature to characterize the American response as anything but very substantial. And I'm sure it will grow in coming days and weeks.

GIBSON: Curt, don't go anywhere.

Adam Housley, I know you can still hear me, or I hope so. We just saw a picture a moment ago of a big kind of courtyard, a school yard with bodies stacked up there. And I know people are trying to identify bodies, but is that going to be possible? Or are people going to be put in mass graves or burned before they are ever identified?

HOUSLEY: John, there already are reports of mass graves in certain parts of this country, of Thailand. At the same time, forensic teams are coming in from several nations, including Australia, to try to help identify some of the bodies. Right now, some of the Western nations and some of the European nations are encouraging the Thai people not to bury foreigners. If they're going to bury people in mass graves, just do the people from their specific country, because they want to be able to identify the people and bring them home.

And one of the other concerns, John, too, with the humanitarian work, i.e. the bodies being piled up and having to dispose and put them away properly, however you might term it, depending on how it's taken care of here in this country, is the sanitary conditions. I mean, you have people like yesterday digging from a hotel, right over here down the street from where I'm standing, digging through mud that's three and four feet deep with their bare hands. And there's raw sewage in there. There are potentially more bodies in there. It's a situation that humanitarian workers and people that live here, that are facing the threat now of the possibility of disease on top of it all, John?

GIBSON: Adam Housley, thanks. Curt Welling, before I leave you, how long is this going to go on?

WELLING: Well, it's going to go on for weeks and probably months. It goes through stages. And the initial phase here where we're trying to respond to the emergency trauma situation, the immediate risk of epidemic, and the kind of thing that Adam was talking about in that period will certainly last a number of weeks. There will then be the whole question of reconstruction and restoring some semblance of clean water, sanitation and healthcare facilities to a part of the world which in many cases didn't have very robust infrastructure to begin with...

GIBSON: Adam Housley out in Thailand, thank you. Mr. Welling, thank you. Appreciate your efforts and I know you'll work hard in the new year.

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