John Hollenhorst ReportingUtah's Governor-elect predicted today the death toll from the Asian Tsunami will climb far higher, perhaps to the range of a half-million or so. And he announced plans to raise funds for the relief effort as part of his inaugural festivities this week.
Jon Huntsman, Jr. served as US Ambassador to Singapore and later as the U.S. Trade Ambassador. He knows the region. He's personally visited all the Asian nations devastated by the catastrophe. So it's particularly disturbing to hear him predict the death toll will rise drastically.
The devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami has claimed at least 125,000 lives, according to the latest estimates. But the enormous sea waves literally wiped away towns and villages no one has heard from. Governor-elect Huntsman says the news will likely get much worse.
Jon Huntsman, Jr, Governor-Elect: "When they discover villages of 10 and 20,000 people, who they haven't even had any chance to communicate with, all of whom are discovered dead in the last couple of days, I think we're going to continue to see more and more of this. I think a lot of people are truly holding their breath right now, because when the accounting is done, I think the numbers are going to be well beyond 125,000. I think you're going to see 400 to 500,000, which is absolutely staggering and of biblical proportion."
The disaster has directly affected Huntsman's inaugural plans. Because of his 20 years of diplomatic service in the region, numerous Asian ambassadors and senior government officials had been planning to attend the Utah ceremonies.
Jon Huntsman, Jr.: “Of course they’re all pulled into this thing, and many of them have had to cancel.
Now, Huntsman plans to use a Black-Tie Inaugural Dance and Dinner to raise funds for the Tsunami relief effort.
Jon Huntsman, Jr.: “And I want people to know that some of what we’re raising and some of what we’re doing is going to be funneled to a cause that’s a lot more important than a temporary dinner.”
That fund-raiser was originally intended to help retire Huntman's campaign debt. Now, an unspecified percentage will go to Asia. The location of that dinner-dance is up in the air right now It's drawing so much interest, it's outgrown the original venue at the Union Pacific Depot.