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Aftermath of Hurricane Charley; National Conference in Baghdad Gets Off to Rocky Start

Aired August 15, 2004 - 09:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm thinking, what are we going to do? How are we going to get any help? What about those people that lost -- you know, all their homes? You know, when do we go back to work? When is the electricity coming on? Phone? It's scary. You know, I've never been through anything like this before.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: The real toll from Hurricane Charley is just beginning to dawn for people across Florida this morning.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is 9:00 a.m. in Port Charlotte, Florida; 3:00 p.m. in Lourdes, France.

NGUYEN: I'm Betty Nguyen here at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

GRIFFIN: And I am Drew Griffin.

Let's get the headlines right now.

In the news, it is a day of clean-up, search and rescue in Florida. Crews are still searching for bodies and survivors two days after Hurricane Charley roared across the state. Slow, dangerous work due to downed power lines and debris there. The storm is blamed for at least 13 deaths in the state of Florida.

Far out in the Atlantic Ocean, two more named storms, Danielle, formed Friday, developed into a hurricane yesterday. It's still several days from any land. Tropical Storm Earl came to life yesterday. It is taking aim now at the Caribbean islands.

A national conference in Baghdad gets off to a rocky start. Insurgents firing mortars near the conference site in Baghdad's protected green zone. Two people killed. The conference intended to shape democracy in Iraq was interrupted by Shiite protesters, demanding an end to the violence in Najaf.

And Pope John Paul II delivered messages against abortion and euthanasia at a mass today, at the shrine to the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France. The 84-year-old pontiff sometimes gasped for breath as he struggled to get through the message.

Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.

NGUYEN: There are tough times ahead for thousands of people in the hurricane-ravaged areas of Florida. Some lost everything in the face of mind-boggling tasks of starting it over again. CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now from Punta Gorda, Florida, where Charley landed a devastating punch.

Good morning to you, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the second day of clean-up here in Punta Gorda, as crews start moving in -- back into the city. There was a curfew overnight, that's been lifted. And you can see what the process is like here cleaning up. This gentleman here, cleaning out just the glass in the middle of the intersection so that the trucks can continue to move through and do what they have to do. Last thing you need is tires getting flat to slow down this process, so one man with a broom cleaning up as thousands of others continue the process, as well.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): About two weeks ago, Kim and Gene Kenel started looking for a new home near Punta Gorda, Florida. They wanted to move closer to Kim's aging parents. Now they find themselves picking up the pieces around the elderly couple's home. And they wonder if they'll ever find a house here so they can be close to family.

This is the emotional aftermath of Hurricane Charley.

GENE KENEL, HURRICANE VICTIM: It's something I've never seen before in my life. This is just -- ain't no words. Ain't no words to explain it.

LAVANDERA: The bruising punishment Hurricane Charley inflicted on Florida's southwest coast has rekindled the nightmares of another hurricane. Ask almost any of the emergency team workers if they've ever seen anything like this, and the word Andrew rises from the past.

WAYNE SALLADE, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIR.: It's our Andrew. It's our Andrew. It may not be, you know, to the level of Andrew, but it's damn close.

LAVANDERA: Hurricane Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history when it struck South Florida 12 years ago. While officials work on calculating the total damage caused by Hurricane Charley, victims like Jeannie Davis are still trying to calm down.

JEANNIE DAVIS, HURRICANE VICTIM: But I'm just kind of numb. I was very emotional afterwards. I could only think the worst.

LAVANDERA: Every once and a while, natural disasters find ways of leaving images that seem to tell the entire story in one picture. Funny how one missing letter can capture the mood of an entire city and what it's been through.


LAVANDERA: Thirteen people in the state of Florida so far, 16 counties in the state have also been declared federal disaster areas, and of course, this city and Fort Myers, as well, expecting a presidential visit today. In a short while, President Bush will take an aerial tour of Fort Myers and will also do a ground tour here in Punta Gorda -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. Thank you. Ed Lavandera -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: President Bush, in fact, should arriving in Florida within the hour, perhaps, to see for himself the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley. CNN's Elaine Quijano was at the White House this morning, when President Bush left -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Drew. This was to have been a quiet day here in Washington for President Bush after a week of intensive campaigning, but earlier this morning the president, as you said, leaving the White House here, heading to Andrews' Air Force Base before going on to Florida.

Now, it was two days ago that Mr. Bush declared Florida a major disaster area, freeing up federal funds to help in the recovery and cleanup efforts.

Now Florida, a state where the president's brother, Jeb, sits as governor; together the two will tour the damage and offer support to residents.

Now, yesterday at a campaign rally in Iowa, President Bush said the government is responding quickly, that aid stations are in place, and FEMA officials are on the ground. The president also offered words of comfort, sending prayers to those affected.

Now, the president, as we said, due to arrive there in Florida a short time from now. In addition to surveying the scene, he will also meet with local authorities on the ground and receive a briefing from them on the damage.

Again, Drew, the president set to arrive there in Florida in the next hour.

GRIFFIN: Elaine, this will be a short trip for the president? He'll be back this afternoon?

QUIJANO: That's right. His schedule right now has him coming back this afternoon. This is a chance for him, though, to show that the government is out in force to help the residents of that storm- ravaged region, not only just the FEMA officials that are there, but the president's own presence there certainly a sign to residents, they hope, that will bring them some comfort. Also a sign that support, in terms of financial support is there, as well. The resources, as President Bush said yesterday, in place, he says. The president very anxious to show that he is, in fact, taking a proactive stance on this, trying to offer the comfort and the aid that is needed for the residents of that area -- Drew. GRIFFIN: All right. Elaine Quijano on duty at the White House this morning -- Betty.

NGUYEN: And as the president flies over Florida and the folks on the ground are trying to pick up the pieces from Hurricane Charley, Rob, what's the weather looking like today?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Across Florida and the -- actually in the same spots that had to deal with Charley the past couple of days will see showers and storms pop up, but trust me, they aren't going to be any 145 mile-an-hour winds, that's for sure.

Where's right Charley now? Just -- you know, it's becoming poorly defined now, it's just barely a tropical storm. Probably somewhere right in here, say between Providence and Buzzard's Bay, the center of the circulation. There's Martha's Vineyard, they had some wind gusts in excess of 30 miles-an-hour last hour. And moderate to heavy rainfall being reported from Boston down towards Plymouth and around towards Province Town, and heading out to sea quite rapidly at about 30 miles an hour. So, that's the good news.

Northeasterly movement at 30 miles-an-hour, winds at 40 miles-an- hour, so just barely a tropical storm. It does become a tropical depression, meaning it decreases in intensity. Heads over Nova Scotia and into the Canadian Maritimes and eventually out to sea later on tomorrow, and then tomorrow night and Tuesday we'll just be dealing with some of the shipping lanes out there.

The next order of business is Tropical Storm Earl and Hurricane Danielle. But Hurricane Danielle is probably going to go out to sea. Tropical Storm Earl has been strengthening in the past couple of -- few hours and is expected to continue to strengthen. In about a half an hour, I will have the latest forecast track out of the National Hurricane Center, which brings it on a similar track, at least initially, as the same as Charley.


NGUYEN: Nice looking weather.

MARCIANO: Water a little too chilly. Hurricanes like the warm water. So they stay east.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: You bet.

NGUYEN: President Bush gets a firsthand look at what is facing the folks in Florida. Surviving the hurricane, step one. Now getting through the rebuilding process is the next challenge.

GRIFFIN: Also ahead, big news day in Iraq. We'll go live there where the fight for democracy comes face to face with mortar rounds today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NGUYEN: It's time now for some stories across America today. Wild winds caused devastating destruction. No, it's not Charley in Florida, these are wildfires in California. Almost 500 firefighters are beating back the flames near Redding. The fire has destroyed 20 houses and driven out more than 100 residents.

Now to New Jersey. The FBI reportedly is investigating whether a former employee tried to blackmail Governor James McGreevey. Aides say the man accusing McGreevey of sexual harassment has pressured the governor to pay to settle things. Thursday, McGreevey announced he's gay and had an extramarital affair and is resigning.

And in Utah, she's like family to so many, that sentiment from those attending a memorial service for Lori Hacking yesterday. Some 600 came out, including both Lori's and her husband's parents. Police are still searching for Lori's body. She's been missing since July 19. Her husband, Mark Hacking, is charged with her murder.

Stories making headlines at this hour: Florida residents are getting a closer look at the damage left behind by Hurricane Charley. The storm killed at least 13 people. The community of Punta Gorda was perhaps battered the hardest. Charley gutted homes and trailer parks and knocked out power to about two million people statewide. It's been downgraded to a tropical storm as it skirts the New England coast.

Well, residents aren't the only ones getting a look at the damage. President Bush is flying into Florida this hour to see the devastation. Two days ago, the president declared parts of Florida a major disaster area.

So, what's next as Florida faces the daunting task of rebuilding? We'll talk with the Sunshine State's secretary of community affairs. That will happen in about 15 minutes from now. This is CNN.

GRIFFIN: President Bush is set to announce a major troop in reduction and deployment. Pentagon administration sources say most of the troops are now posted in Europe and Asia. The move will not affect troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. An official announcement expected on Monday.

In a conference in Iraq's capital today, focusing on building a new democracy, marred by protesters and mortar attacks. John Vause is in Baghdad with our live update -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Drew. That conference under way right now, but against the backdrop of continuing violence in the city of Najaf. We're receiving conflicting reports about ongoing clashes in the city. According to the governor there, U.S. and Iraqi forces have clashed with the Mehdi Army, or militia rather. But the U.S. military is not confirming whether or not a major assault is under way, only saying a U.S. Marine patrol came under attack from the Mehdi militia.

All of this, of course, as that conference begins here in Baghdad. An hour into the conference, and mortars rocked the green zone where the delegates are meeting. Thick black smoke came from the green zone area. Outside the green zone area, we counted as many as five mortars in that attack.

About an hour later, another three mortars hit close to the green zone, as well. Of that first attack, which landed about half a mile away from the convention center, outside the green zone, Iraqi Health Ministry officials tell us that two Iraqis were killed, 17 others wounded.

Now, inside the conference, it's been far from smooth sailing, as well. A group of Shiite leaders protesting the ongoing violence in Najaf. They interrupted proceedings with a very loud demand that the U.S.-led offensive in Najaf come to an end, and they want the police chief and his police force in Najaf to step down and resign.

Now, this conference is set to -- set down for a couple of days, Drew. They should vote on a 100-person interim assembly, which will advise the interim Iraqi government in the lead-up to elections in January next year -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: John, the negotiations for peace in Najaf, of course, broke off yesterday. Is there any talk at that conference with the political pressure that the peace talks could come back on or is this simply going to be a -- an offensive, basically, to get rid of this militia there?

VAUSE: Well, it's been interesting what's going on inside the conference center right now. There has been continual demands from delegates who saw that protest by Shiite leaders and there have been speaker after speaker who are demanding some kind of resolution to what's happening in Najaf -- a peaceful resolution.

And what we've heard from inside the convention hall is that they've decided to elect a three-person committee to try and find a way to end the violence in Najaf. The effectiveness on this is anyone's guess, really, because it appears, by all accounts, that Iraqi troops backed by the U.S. forces look set to raid that Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, Drew.

GRIFFIN: All right John, we'll continue to follow that with you.

The mounting injuries for soldiers who served in the Iraq war inspired a bartender from Long Island to make a sacrifice of his own. Coming up live, a preview of this man's incredible journey. We're going to find out why he's about to travel 4,000 miles without plane, train, or automobile.

Plus, the legendary swimmer, Mark Spitz, looking over his shoulder or wake, at this man, America's Michael Phelps begins his chase of a record that has stood more than three decades, and he's off to a good start.


GRIFFIN: We're going to continue with our Hurricane Charley coverage. On the phone with us now is the city manager of Punta Gorda, Willard Beck, a town that really has been devastated by this.

Mr. Beck, can you tell us what the status is of the people of your town? How many need help? How many need housing?

WILLARD BECK, PUNTA GORDA CITY MANAGER: I can't give you those assessments, but we are out there now going door to door with people. We have our first-in teams, and we have them going through all the doors, all the houses. We're going to places that -- the condos, places like that, where we feel that there's been some destruction to the buildings and we're just simply, if we don't find people, we just knock the door down and go in and find them.

GRIFFIN: And do you have an idea of when you will be complete with that first phase, which is trying to find anybody who is hurt or worse?

BECK: I can't tell you right now. We're waiting for a report. We just got the whole process started. We have a whole bunch of mobile home parks here in the city, and they're all -- they're all leveled. We don't know how -- we don't know if people were in them or not.

GRIFFIN: And any estimates as to rebuilding? We know the president is about to tour...

BECK: Oh, he is? I hope he brings some money with him.

GRIFFIN: What else do you need, sir? Are you getting the immediate help you need?

BECK: Right now we are. We have quite a few people here that's come in. We have a lot of the police forces and the fire departments come from all over the state. We have the states coming in with their help. The military has come in with the -- to conduct some martial law, you know, help us out with that.

GRIFFIN: Yeah, Mr. Beck, we are watching President Bush actually arriving, getting ready to step off of Air Force One, and apparently is going to bring whatever help the federal government can or is already bringing to you. But I'm really interested in the immediate housing needs of so many people. I mean, you can only keep them in those shelters for so long.

BECK: Oh, I know. We got some real problems, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not only us but the county as a whole will have a lot of problems. Charlotte County is -- which is outside the city, a lot of the houses have been destroyed outside.

GRIFFIN: And what kind of strain is this on your staff, who have to deal with not only handling the city and its residents' needs, but I'm sure many who have had devastation in their own personal lives?

BECK: Well, we have to -- I'm over here, I'm ignoring my house, OK? My job's here, and I think that's where everybody else, that attitude that people who are here doing. Some of our folks lost house -- lost housing and stuff like that, but they stayed. People are dedicated, and they're dedicated to the job, and that's what's important. What is also important is when you get a telephone call from another jurisdiction that says we're rolling fire equipment and rolling manpower.

GRIFFIN: We're looking over video of your city this morning, sir, and I guess the big question for you guys is where to begin.

BECK: That's what we are doing now. We're clearing all the roads. We have a contractor in who has brought in all the equipment he needs. We're going to try to get water and supplies and things to people. We have no power, and our water system has been hit by the hurricane, and also we had a lot of houses hooked on to our water supply, which we had to kill the meters to those so they won't be leaking water. We'll hopefully get our water restored very shortly.

GRIFFIN: Well, Mr. Beck, President Bush is about to step down on to Florida's soil, and hopefully he will be near your town very soon, promising some help there. We're watching live pictures of the president meeting his brother, the governor, and I believe both will take an aerial tour, at least, of your area.

BECK: I hope so. I met the governor yesterday, he had his entire team and the director of FEMA at the Washington level. And they've all offered help. We appreciate each and every bit of it.

GRIFFIN: Mr. Beck, we thank you for joining us. We also wish you the best of luck in the recovery efforts there, and hope, at least, the emergencies, the physical emergencies are over with, and that you will not make any unpleasant discoveries this morning as your crews go door to door. Thank you for joining us.

BECK: We certainly hope so. Thanks for you interest in it.

GRIFFIN: Thank you, sir, and we'll be right back with more of CNN SUNDAY MORNING after this.


NGUYEN: Chris Carney, a bartender and rugby player from Long Island begins a 4,200 mile cross-country bicycle trip on Tuesday. Carney plans to pedal from New York all the way to San Diego, and it's not just for fun. He'll be raising both awareness and money for Soldier Ride and the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps American soldiers wounded in action. And he joins us now from New York this morning.

Good morning to you, Chris.

CHRIS CARNEY, BICYCLIST FOR SOLDIER RIDE: Good morning. How are you doing?

NGUYEN: I'm doing great. The question is how are you doing? Are you ready for this -- this trip? Four-thousand miles, have you even planned for something like this before?

CARNEY: No, this is pretty much -- we're all going through this, everyone who's helping out, we're kind of piecing it together as we go.

NGUYEN: What sparked your interest in doing such a daunting task?

CARNEY: I was invited down to Walter Reed Memorial Hospital. We had raised some -- had some benefit concerts for some locals, wounded servicemen on Long Island. And once we -- once we visited Walter Reed, we all knew we had to do something and -- something to just to try to raise awareness for these guys. They're so -- they're down there, and everyone says that their thoughts and prayers are with them when they're overseas, but they are back here, and there's actually guys and there's people that can help out right now. I feel like most people just don't know how to help -- how to help.

NGUYEN: Exactly, you are hoping to raise $1 million. Tell us where that money is going to do.

CARNEY: The Wounded Warrior Project pretty much assists in three different ways -- assists soldiers in three different ways. The first is it greets them with a backpack as soon as they get into the hospital. The backpack is filled with comfort items, stuff that they normally would go without. It's amazing some of the stuff that they don't have. They come in just with the bloody shirts that they had on when they got wounded, and until someone actually shows up and gives them a pair of shorts of a t-shirt or a calling card or -- you know, a Walkman or something like that, they just sit there in the hospital by themselves, just waiting for someone to give them something.

NGUYEN: And it also provides job placement services, as well?

CARNEY: Well, we're hoping to do that. Right now the funds -- you know, we're struggling just to provide them with the backpacks, as well as assisting in transportation and lodging costs for family members. The government currently only pays for one family member to visit one time every six months. So, that's hardly optimal for someone who's going through such a traumatic injury. You know, if you lose a leg, you're going to be in the hospital, you're going to be going through at least a year-long rehabilitation. So, our goal is to provide them with constant support.

My idea, what I would like to see happen, is I would like to see us have computer labs set up so these guys, while they're in the hospital, they can be taking courses towards what they want to do outside of the military. Most of these guys' life plans are forever altered, and they don't want to live off of benefits. I mean, their benefits are absurdly low as it is, but the reality is that they don't want to live off of benefits. They want to go on, they want to have a successful life. And we just want to help them think about the future and show them that they still do have a future.

NGUYEN: You strike an interesting point here, because it's more than just the money and the project, it's also about awareness. What kind of message do you want to send?

CARNEY: Well, I'd like to let people know that they're not being taken care of. And I mean, they receive great treatment, I don't want to -- you know, downplay that, but everyone says their thoughts and prayers are with them, and that's about it. You can do more than thoughts and prayers. There are kids without legs, without arms, that are wondering what they're going to do with the rest of their life, sitting in the hospital. And if we as Americans all -- you know, stuck together, if every sports stadium that flew a flag or played the national anthem contributed, if every Major League team contributed, if every -- you know, corporate America stepped up, celebrities, I mean, I have to ride my bike to California to raise awareness to make somebody say "what's he doing it for?" All a celebrity or -- you know, corporate America has do is just show up, step up to the plate, and we can take care of these guys.

This isn't a charity, it's not like the cure is right around the corner. It's in our pockets, and we can take care of them.

NGUYEN: OK, so for folks who want to help, what should they do?

CARNEY: They can go right to, that's our Web site. Fox News radio is going to be following me across the country, giving updates of where we're going through.

The original idea is that as I went through these towns, we'd be contacting all the local VFWs and American Legions and stuff like that, so that local -- local people could take care of their own, you know, to put a local face on it. I don't think you have to look too far in this country to find someone nearby who's been affected by the -- by the war.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. Chris Carney with Soldier Ride, we thank you, and best of luck to you.

CARNEY: Thank you very much.


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