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Search for Shuttle Debris Goes on Over Wide Area

Aired February 4, 2003 - 09:49   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hemphill, Texas right now, live.
BILL TED SMITH, SABINE CO. EMERGENCY COORD.: This morning, we have approximately 600 searchers scheduled in Hemphill, Texas area, and that includes about 300 Texas National Guard troops, firefighters and other emergency personnel, along with around 100 volunteers. We have 25 search crews and 16 response teams will be combing the area for anything from the space shuttle.

In addition, we'll conduct underwater searches at Toledo Bend. Yesterday, we had approximately 300 responders and search strips approximately 1,600 feet wide along the -- Columbia's flight path. We had around 350 finds, including a piece of the space shuttle's nose cone.

We have fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, including two military Apache military helicopters, and one Forest Service helicopter that will be conducting the search. We had volunteers sustain a hip injury who had to be transported to a local hospital, where she was treated and released yesterday. No other injuries reported, although searchers working in extremely thick vegetation area, and it's a very difficult terrain for them.

We still want to remind all of the residents that the material is toxic, and they are potentially toxic, and they should avoid any contact with it at all. If they happen to see any of the debris, please notify the local authorities or 911, and we'll get someone out there to check it out.

So we're hoping today really will be a productive day.

Sheriff, anything to add to that?

SHERIFF TOMMY MADDOX, SABINE CO. TEXAS: Yes, we're concentrating our efforts on several sites today. We've got between 15 and 25 that we're going to, and searching right at the moment. Hopefully these will be very productive also. Again, it's still very, very difficult, and we've been going since daylight this morning.

So, one of the other things there that we did want to stress is that anyone there that does -- we have a lot of volunteers coming from all over the state of Texas, and anyone there in our area that might have a room or places there for these people there to lay down and get a few hours sleep, we would appreciate it if they would call. We have a number that they can call, and that's area code 409-787-2257. That will be out of our tax office here. The ladies there will be taking and compiling that information, anyone that does have a room available or anyone that needs a room, that will be handled through that office.

Pardon me?

QUESTION: I see roads have been blocked off, at what point will you remove the nose cone?

MADDOX: All of this will be done by the EPA. And NASA and the EPA There will be removing this section of the nose cone which has been relayed there that it's approximately four or five foot long. Some of there is buried down in the dirt. At their discretion is when that will be moved.

QUESTION: Do we know where the nose cone and large piece of debris will be taken?

MADDOX: No, ma'am.

It will be taken to the same identical place there that all of the rest of the debris there will be taken.

QUESTION: Have you gentlemen seen the nose cone?

SMITH: I haven't.

MADDOX: We'll do that today. I've seen pictures of it, and...

QUESTION: How is it positioned?

MADDOX: Part of it there is buried in the ground.

QUESTION: You can describe what's there? There have been some reports that there were parts of the actual cockpit there?

MADDOX: No, sir, all that has been found is the front section, first four or five feet of the nose cone.

QUESTION: Can you describe some of the challenges searchers have going through this kind of terrain?

MADDOX: Well, I think the PIO there took several of the news media yesterday out to what we call an e-section (ph) of breyer thick (ph), and I don't think I -- from all accounts there, where they took you, you couldn't even see through it, and the only way there that you can go through, there is only three ways that a human can go through it. Rabbits, and wild hogs are only things that can go through it.

SMITH: If you tried to go through it, you're going to be bloody and scratched up.

MADDOX: There's only three ways you're going to do it, and that's either over, under it, or around it, because you're not going to go through the middle of it.

QUESTION: And the searchers just walking through it?

MADDOX: And they're bulldozing the way through these, and they have done a remarkable job. If any of you seen these searchers after they have come out, it's -- they look bad, I promise you.


MADDOX: Well, the nose cone itself, I don't think it will be that difficult there. It did fall adjacent there to the national forest, so it's in a pretty good location. So I think there that they won't have that much problem there removing it.

QUESTION: Are they going to pull it out today?

MADDOX: Again, all of the is categorized by the EPA and by NASA as to when they will be moving. The EPA came in yesterday afternoon and started there removal there of some of the debris. So whenever they decide there that it's to be moved is when they will move it.

QUESTION: Is there HAZMAT issues related to the nose cone?

MADDOX: All this is considered hazardous material.

SMITH: We have, like I say, the EPA here to deal with the HAZMAT issues, and we have a HAZMAT response unit locally also to take care of any decontamination or whatever is necessary.

QUESTION: Are you confident you're zeroing in on the object in Toledo Bend, or is that a needle in a haystack situation?

SMITH: They are looking in the lakes. They are covering a lot area. We have a lot of specialized equipment that's going to be coming in, and hopefully, they'll have some luck with that.

QUESTION: That water, is that providing drinking water to your community?

MADDOX: Yes, ma'am, it is. Our drinking water there does come from the Toledo Bend Reservoir.

QUESTION: But it's been tested?

MADDOX: Yes, it has been tested there twice, and they gave us the all-clear signal, and this will be continued to monitor for some time to come.

QUESTION: Are they waiting for that equipment before going for the large piece that you talked about a couple of days ago?

MADDOX: They still have not located that large piece that we know of. There's been no indication there that they have. They're still continuing to search for that, and as soon, as the more sophisticated equipment there does come in, hopefully they'll be able to find some of that.

SMITH: We are getting a lot of real specialized crews in, and they are going to be a lot of help in some of those other areas like that, as well as in some of the wilderness areas that we've had to get into to.

MADDOX: The water is somewhere approximately 100 feet deep in that area.

QUESTION: What about what you found yesterday in terms of the human remains, and if there has been any developments today about any more human remains at all?

MADDOX: You know, of course, that's one of the things there that we are searching for. There have been recoveries there made this morning, and again, that's one of the focal points of our searches, along there with locating...

SMITH: That is our priority.

QUESTION: Could you tell us where, more or less?

SMITH: We can't disclose that kind of information?

MADDOX: We're not, we're just not going to disclose those locations, nor are we going to comment on what has been found.

QUESTION: What about number of locations?

MADDOX: Several this morning.

QUESTION: Several this morning?


QUESTION: How about in the area of the nose cone?

MADDOX: No, ma'am. None in the area of the nose cone.

QUESTION: Are you using search dogs to try and find remains?

SMITH: We've got a team called Texas Tasks Force 1 is supposed to be coming in today, and they have dogs and we'll be utilizing them also.

HEMMER: A reminder just how huge and mammoth this job and process is going forward in Texas. We will not leave this story.


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