Matthew Chance is a London-based CNN correspondent and a member of the international network's team reporting the aftermath of the Asian tsunami.
Matthew Chance is a London-based CNN correspondent and a member of the international network's team reporting the aftermath of the Asian tsunami.

'When the Asian tsunami hit, many of us suspected it would be a far greater tragedy than the initial casualty figures suggested.

This is not the first time I've witnessed and reported human catastrophe. As we touched down in Phuket, the holiday paradise turned scene of disaster, I couldn't help thinking of Bam, the Iranian city destroyed by an earthquake a year earlier to the day.

The devastation we found then was almost too much to bear. Whole families, communities, and an entire city was wiped out.

I remember meeting a 15-year-old boy who was pacing the debris, screaming with grief. His family, friends, neighbours, everyone he knew lay dead beneath the rubble. These are the kind of scenes you know await you.

We carried videophones because we knew it would be days before the logistics of bringing in a satellite dish would be resolved. So among the debris we found a place and set up our telephones. The image quality has greatly improved since the early days, and is getting better. The technology could soon replace traditional satellite dishes, we're told. But for me this is still live television which would not have been possible here before.

Across southern Thailand, coastal and island resorts such as Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Krabi were wrecked and thousands of Thais killed. But the hotels strung along the palm-fringed beaches were crowded with tourists when waves towering 40 feet or more hit.

Along one stretch of white sand, in the popular tourist resort of Khao Lak, as many as 20,000 visitors were on a Christmas break. Every hotel we visited there was crushed.

It is never easy to broadcast from these places, sometimes even getting there can be hard. The roads to Khao Lak were gridlocked with anxious families looking for loved ones, and even sightseers fascinated by the grisly disaster zone. It took us hours to reach.

Littering the sand, we found photographs and personal belongings of the holidaymakers - poignant reminders of what had happened. At the town hall in Phuket, ghostly pictures of the missing have been pinned to noticeboards by loved ones desperate for information or even a body to take home.

When we were in Iran it was winter, we had no food or water and worked constantly until fresh teams arrived with supplies.

Thailand is hot, perhaps 35 degrees in the shade, if you can find any. The stench of rotting flesh is sickening and can make you ill. But compared with the victims and survivors of either disaster, we were in good shape. And, of course, we will eventually leave.

By far the biggest challenge, I believe, is to report these tragic events with sensitivity and respect for the victims and their families.

There are some who argue we should show everything, and I agree we must be careful not to pull any punches in a story such as this. We can't escape the death.

Videophones have given us opportunities to show the world what is happening with an immediacy that was not possible before. But the question of how much is enough is one with which we are all forced to grapple.'

A half-hour special on the impact the tsunami has had on children, Saving the Children, airs on CNN at 10am on Friday 7 January.