Search for the Missing

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST: Thirty-six Americans are confirmed or presumed killed by the South Asia tsunamis (search). And the State Department is working on thousands of cases of Americans who are still unaccounted for.

Heather Nauert is here with more on the search for the missing.


Well, the U.S. officials are over there looking for Americans in hospitals, hotels, and they're even going to morgues. And some families are flying in to look for their family members on their own. Now, others have hired private companies that are there searching for them.

Joining us now is Elaine Carey. She's director of investigations for Control Risks Group, and her company is currently looking for foreigners over there in the region.

Elaine, there are reports of thousands of Americans missing. How does your company go about trying to find them amidst all of this destruction?

ELAINE CAREY, CONTROL RISKS GROUP: We've had teams on the ground both in Sri Lanka (search) and Thailand for some time now. And they are doing exactly what you mentioned before, they're going to the morgues, they're going to the hospitals, they're liaising with local authorities, with the governments of those countries, and with all the embassies and sort of set up a network.

And in some cases they're using various military forces to help as well, whether it be the Australians, the Americans, or the British that are also on the ground.

NAUERT: Well, we know that our U.S. State Department, through its embassy over there, is apparently doing a lot to try to find these reports of missing Americans or at least investigate phone calls that the State Department has gotten. They've got to just have their hands full. How are you all coordinating with them to try to get your job done?

CAREY: We're using all the various sources of information that are available, which include numerous Web sites and all these local centers where they, as I said, they've set up both morgues and information centers.

The problem is that a lot of information that gets fed in is not accurate. For instance, in the Web sites, people can go on those Web sites and inadvertently change information or put in incorrect information, so that even if you see a name of a loved one pop up, you can't rely on that information. You really have to go, then, maybe to one or two morgue sites to actually check to see if that body is there, even though the Web site has said it is there, so it's very distressing.

NAUERT: How much of an issue is language on the Web sites, for example, or even the communication problems, because not all the phones are back up and running then, and computers, I would imagine, are pretty tied up there.

CAREY: Yes, the Web sites, particularly the one that the Thai government is trying to set up, runs very slowly, and it's not cross-referenced with the other Web sites, so that makes the information less reliable.

The other factor is, is that the Thai government and some of the people on the ground doing the rescue are documenting the bodies they find, et cetera, but it's all obviously being done in the local language. And there is a delay in translating that into English or whatever language they maybe think that it would be appropriate to put it into.

So there is a delay in that. But it's not because people aren't trying, it's just the enormity of the disaster.

NAUERT: What actually brings someone to pick up the phone and call a private company or, in the case, and it sounds sensationalist to say so, but Oprah, we all know who Oprah is, she hired a group of retired Marines, apparently, to go over there and look for a friend of someone who is frequently on her show who happens to be missing.

So what brings somebody to call in your firm or to call in these ex- Marines, for example?

CAREY: Well, obviously, it's a very distressing time of desperation for families, and they are absolutely desperate to find -- in this case, we're to the point that we're, you know, people are just going to find bodies.

But they are just truly desperate for some sort of help, and to feel like they're doing something for their loved ones. It's a very difficult situation, particularly now, since basically this is going to be resolved by DNA matching. The bodies are beyond a state in which you could identify them.

NAUERT: Do you believe, you know, we've heard these reports that thousands of people may be missing, or at least that the State Department has gotten many, many phone calls about people. Your gut reaction, you're talking with your colleagues all the time. Are these people likely to be dead?

CAREY: I would think at this point, yes, they would be. Because, I mean, I think anyone who was just traveling generally in the region, and, say, they had decided to go to another country, but hadn't told their family members, would certainly have checked in by now.

So I think at this point, the idea that you're going to find survivors is probably virtually impossible. The idea that you can even identify a body at this point in time is almost impossible.

NAUERT: And Elaine, just briefly, for those Americans or other who have yet to find their loved ones, is our government or other foreign governments able to adequately handle just the masses of people to try to find those missing folks?

CAREY: Yes, I think they're doing a very credible job, and they're getting more organized by the day. The beset thing families can do if they are missing someone is get that loved one's DNA together and liaise with the American government, because at this point, even if a body is found and identified, particularly, say, in Thailand, where they're taking out a collarbone and teeth, and documenting that, the loved ones will not be able to claim that body until DNA testing has been done.

And they're working on, all foreign governments along with the local governments, are working on setting up a DNA library, so that over time, you can then identify your loved one, and eventually bring the body back, if you wish.

NAUERT: Elaine, you and your colleagues have a heck of a job ahead of you, so we wish you the best of luck, and thank you for all your efforts on behalf of everybody who's missing out there.

CAREY: You're most welcome.

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