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LIVE FROM...

Doctors Expect Most of Mosul Wounded to Survive; Winter Storm Strands Travelers in Midwest; Small Town Copes With Murder, Baby Napping Tragedy

Aired December 23, 2004 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. The snow may be over with, but the travel headaches continue. We'll have a live report from Evansville, Indiana, coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. CARTER HAM, U.S. ARMY: An individual in an Iraqi military uniform, possibly with a vest worn explosive device, was inside the facility and detonated the facility, causing this tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MILES O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: The latest details on that attack in Mosul and the wounded. We'll have that for you straight ahead.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CO-HOST: Forty-three million stolen. Find out how the pre-holiday heist went down in Belfast. Blockbuster bank break-in.

O'BRIEN: And making the season bright. A Santa, a real-life Santa, who's footing the power bill for everyone in his tiny Iowa town. It's his way of saying, merry Christmas.

From the CNN center in Atlanta, I'm Miles O'Brien. It's already Thursday, December 23. If you haven't done your shopping, you're in trouble!

KYRA PHILLIPS, CO-HOST: Stop talking about yourself, Miles.

And I'm Kyra Phillips. CNN's LIVE FROM starts right now.

Only on CNN, the commander of Task Force Olympia, based in Mosul, Iraq, says the bomber of the mass tent at Camp Marez likely wore an Iraqi military uniform.

Within the past hour CNN's John King spoke via satellite with Brigadier General Carter Ham. Here's a bit of that interview.

We apologize for that. We lost that interview. We will work on that and bring it back up.

As you know, in the wake of Tuesday's devastating explosion, in which 14 G.I.s and eight others were killed, U.S. commanders are said to be rethinking access procedures now for Iraqi workers at U.S. bases. At the moment those workers pass through specified checkpoints and show I.D. But they're not always searched nor escorted inside. You can see the rest of John's interview with General Ham in the next hour of LIVE FROM. Until then, here's the beginning of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAM: What we think is likely, but certainly not certain, is that an individual in an -- in an Iraqi military uniform, possibly with a vest-worn explosive device, was inside the facility, and detonated the facility, causing this tragedy.

That's preliminary. We'll find out what the truth is and then take necessary actions as we gain more information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: More than half of the U.S. soldiers hurt in the Mosul attack are already back on duty, so says the Pentagon, while officials at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany say the vast majority of the 35 casualties being treated there are expected to recover.

Here's CNN's Matthew Chance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The authorities here in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southern Germany are saying that they've received 35 injuries from that devastating incident in Mosul when the suicide bomber, of course, attacked the dining facility.

Of those 35, seven are said to be civilian contractors. The rest, U.S. Army troops.

About half of that number of 35 are still in intensive care, and that's an indication of the severity of the injuries incurred by those people who came under attack in that dining facility.

According to doctors here, what's different about the kinds of injuries they've seen is that, in normal battle situations, of course, the troops are wearing helmets, the troops are wearing body armor. But these guys were just sitting at their tables eating their food.

And so the injuries were that much more great to the abdominal injuries -- to the abdominal areas, of course, and to the head, as well. Some of those injuries very grave indeed, half of them still in intensive care.

The doctors here are saying they're optimistic that the vast majority of them will survive, but the implication is that not all of them will.

The commander of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility is Colonel Rhonda Cornum. She's saying that she's doing everything and her staff are doing everything to give those who survived the best possible attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. RHONDA CORNUM, COMMANDER, LANDSTUHL MEDICAL CENTER: We are no doubt fully staffed and prepared. We -- we haven't -- we haven't recalled anybody that was on a trip. We have people that are -- that were supposed to be off in the local area, and we have them on a two- hour recall, in case we had more than we could handle with the staff and the schedule.

But when we saw the Mosul thing unfolding on the news, we knew what was happening next. And so we were prepared for them when they got here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: Well, this is the single biggest influx of casualties from Iraq since the war there began, at least here at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility.

Doctors say their objective is to, as soon as possible, get those injured back on their feet or at least strong enough to be able to ship back home to America. Some have already gone. Others will be here for Christmas.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Landstuhl in southern Germany.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: A year's worth of snow in one day. It's enough to turn those white Christmas dreams into nightmares, especially if you're in a car, stuck in towering drifts on a 30-mile stretch of interstate in southwest Indiana.

From New Mexico to northern Ohio, winter is coming in like a lion. Twenty-inch snowfalls, freezing rain, bone-chilling winds making spirits dim across the Ohio valley.

CNN's meteorologist Jacqui Jeras, out and about in Evansville, Indiana. That's no small feat.

Are you still at that same truck stop, by the way?

JERAS: Yes. Actually, yes.

O'BRIEN: Probably a good idea to stay put. Right?

JERAS: Yes, it really is. And a lot of people are heeding that advice. They're staying here at this truck stop. In fact, there are workers that have been here more than 48 hours now and truckers that have been here almost that same amount of time.

But we're starting to see a little bit of movement now. Interstate 64 is still closed from the Indiana-Illinois state line to the east of here. It's about a 50-mile stretch. The National Guard has been called out, along with a state of emergency being declared, and they're trying to rescue some stranded motorists-- motorists along Interstate 64. We're starting to see some of these motorists coming to straggle in right now.

In fact, I just ran into a family a short while ago that started their journey in Knoxville, Tennessee, and were on their way to grandmother's house in Missouri when they ran into the trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Snow and ice. And we tried to pull over at one spot, but all the hotels were full. So we kept going and we got behind a jack-knifed diesel and finally got around him. And we got to the next exit down the road here and we went to pull off, and the snow had drifted up, and we were stranded there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JERAS: Michelle is the mother of seven children that were traveling wither in that van, along with her husband. They were in their car for eight hours last night, but they had their winter weather kit with them. They had blankets. They had food. They had water. So they made it out safely.

And thanks to somebody who brought them a shovel, they were actually able to make it out of there. So certainly one of the good stories.

The snow event obviously over and done with. Actually, it's a pretty decent-looking day out here. And you can see the snowdrifts, though, that are starting to add up a little bit.

We have reports of snowdrifts out in the county of about five feet tall. So those are getting very high. And with some of these wind gusts, it's causing the blowing and drifting snow across the highway and the interstates. And that's part of the reason why they're having a hard time getting them clear and getting traffic moving again.

But really, I think, Miles, the big story here has been the people and the generosity and the kindness and just the camaraderie between truckers, who don't even know each other, sharing their stories, trying to make their way home for the holidays and pitching in, also.

I talked to a waitress who's been here since 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon. She was the only one on staff at breakfast this morning. Truckers chipped in. They've been clearing plates. They're pouring coffee. They're helping each other out right near the holidays.

O'BRIEN: All right. Sounds like a country music song: "Christmas at the Truck Stop." There you go.

We hope you get back to the family, Jacqui!

JERAS: You can write it. I'm trying. Hopefully, later today.

O'BRIEN: Do it safely. Don't end up like Dave Hennon (ph) and his family. All right?

JERAS: Did they get stuck?

O'BRIEN: They're stuck. Yes, they got stuck. They phoned in. I didn't know -- I thought you knew.

JERAS: I didn't know.

O'BRIEN: Why don't you listen up, because we'll check in with Orelon. Orelon probably knows what's going on with Dave.

Orelon, Dave phoned in with his family. Where was he stuck?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: He's stuck, actually, just across -- it sounds like he's just across the Georgia-Tennessee line. But he's somewhere south of Paducah and he's with his son.

His wife was smarter. She flew into Chicago yesterday.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

SIDNEY: So she's all nice and warm, but Dave wanted his son to -- get this -- see the snow.

O'BRIEN: Well, he got a little more than he bargained for. But you know, it's interesting. Jacqui was talking about having that winter weather kit in your car. Somebody in that family must have been a Boy Scout. I don't know that many people travel with the blankets and the extra food and all that, do they?

SIDNEY: Well, you certainly need to do that. Especially in the Midwest. I mean, we knew the storm was coming, and we knew people were going to travel. Generally, Wednesday and Thursday this time, right before Christmas, the time most people travel.

Well, I think a lot of folks probably were better prepared than they would have been. But I did talk to a motorist this morning who says they were melting snow for drinking water, because they had no water. They had no food. And they'd been in their car since 4:30 yesterday morning. So almost 24 hours.

They're stranded on Interstate 64 there, north of Evansville.

O'BRIEN: All right. You want to give us a little forecast, as long as you're at it?

SIDNEY: Might as well! We might at well talk about that.

O'BRIEN: Lay a little forecast on us. For Dave and everybody -- of course, Dave, unless he has XM Radio and a battery -- because you don't want to burn much gas while you're sitting there in the snow.

SIDNEY: That's very -- that's correct. O'BRIEN: If you're listening, Dave, this is for you.

SIDNEY: This is for you.

O'BRIEN: And all the others out there.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Thirteen below. We're not talking wind chill numbers here.

SIDNEY: That's not wind chill. The wind chill is actually, I think, 31 below.

O'BRIEN: Yes. The folks in Nashville, you know, that guy with the pickup truck, first of all, he needs to go out and get him some Quikrete or bags of sand for the back there.

SIDNEY: That helps a lot.

O'BRIEN: But don't just step on the gas. Right? I mean...

SIDNEY: It doesn't do any good at all. It's a frictionless surface, almost frictionless. So you can spin your wheels. You're just not going to get anywhere. You need some sand or some kitty litter or something for traction.

O'BRIEN: Kitty litter! Good idea.

SIDNEY: It works well.

O'BRIEN: All right, Orelon Sidney. You know, I learn something every time I listen to you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

SIDNEY: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Now don't you blame the snow if you're waiting in Dallas right now for a family flying in from Richmond, Virginia. You probably already know it by now, but American Airlines Flight 1259, Richmond to Dallas -- that was the idea -- axle deep in mud this hour. There you see some pictures.

More than four hours after its expected takeoff, it's off the side of the runway there. An Air Force spokesman says the pilot apparently underestimated the turning radius of the MD-80 there. He is at the junction of two main runways.

The passengers were taken off about two hours later. Last we heard, however, the plane was still stuck. Apparently, they don't have the right equipment there in Richmond to move it. And thus, the runways are closed to incoming flights, and that particular flight is not going anywhere -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. An update to a story that we brought you yesterday. Airport screeners' hands are now officially off the merchandise. The new rules, a "CNN Security Watch," just ahead. And these party animals don't just rock around the Christmas tree. They get their kicks dragging it around and gnawing on it. Get more of the video of the day by enjoying LIVE FROM today in its entirety. You have nothing better to do, right? We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching LIVE FROM on CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: One week ago, relatively few people had heard of Lisa Montgomery. Today she stood before a judge in Kansas City, charged with killing a pregnant woman and stealing her unborn child.

Montgomery waived her right to a preliminary hearing this morning in a brief appearance. She appears in a federal courtroom next week.

Authorities believe that Montgomery strangled Mary Jo (sic) Stinnett last Thursday and cut her near term baby out of her womb. The baby was found and is safe and healthy.

One week is not nearly enough time, though, for the people of a small Kansas town to recover from these horrific type of events involving one of their own.

CNN Jonathan Freed in Melvern, Kansas, met people unaccustomed to the publicity and this level of heartbreak.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Melvern, Kansas, is one of those smaller dots on the map. A very small dot. Fewer than 500 people live here, but federal charges of kidnapping resulting in death against one of their own have changed this place.

GARY DESKINS, GENERAL STORE OWNER: Pop's over here. And we just sell a little bit of everything in here.

FREED: Gary Deskins owns the general store.

DESKINS: It's about the worst tragedy that's ever happened here, and people are not used to that sort of tragedy. Not here. Everywhere but here.

FREED: Lisa Montgomery is accused of strangling Bobbie Jo Stinnett last Thursday, cutting her unborn child from her womb and abducting the baby girl. The alleged crimes happened in Skidmore, Missouri, 170 miles away.

On Friday, Montgomery toured Melvern, allegedly with the baby she identified as her own, stopping at this cafe, a bank and going to see her pastor.

Then word started spreading that the police had moved in, and the town's heart skipped a beat. DESKINS: People kept coming in and mentioning, finally I seen her picture and finally, it dawned on me. How could I not know that name? I did know her name but it just didn't register. I guess I just couldn't think. Maybe my mind didn't want to accept the fact that that's who it was.

FREED: The town is juggling its emotions about what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, somebody will tell you one thing, somebody will tell you something else. I don't know.

FREED: People are trying to balance the desire to help both the Stinnett family in Missouri and support Montgomery's husband and children here in Kansas, while she stands trial.

DESKINS: All donations are appreciated here.

FREED: The first money collected, though, is going to the victim's family, across the state line, in another small dot on the map, also rocked by tragedy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: Jonathan Freed there, reporting from Lisa Montgomery's hometown of Melvern, Kansas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Next, 'tis the season for giving. We'll talk with an Iowa man who has given his entire town a powerful gift.

And later...

O'BRIEN: Let's go get some space station food. Shall we?

PHILLIPS: Eating like an astronaut. Our own space geek, Miles O'Brien opinion, tries the space station diet on terra firma and finds it oddly disturbing.

And we got game! Maybe they're bolt the chairs to the floor this time. The basket brawlers face-off for the first time since the big brouhaha. And Kobe versus Shaq. We'll preview the big games and the big names tomorrow on LIVE FROM.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: All right. Want a jolt of Christmas spirit? Well, plug into this next interview.

We take you to the tiny town of Anthon, northwestern Iowa, where the slogan is, "My kind of town." And after this, you'll wish it were.

Folks in Anthon are enjoying a one-month respite from paying their power bills. One couple, Richard and Donna Hamann paid each and every December electric bill for their neighbors. The total cost, about $25,000.

With us now on the line from his home in Anthon, where today it is five degrees, but folks are not worried about dialing the thermostat down because of this man, Richard Hamann.

Mr. Hamann, good to have you with us.

RICHARD HAMANN, PAID TOWN'S ELECTRIC BILLS: Thank you, sir.

O'BRIEN: All right. I know you wanted to initially to put a wind turban on a hill on your property and just sort of give the electricity free away to the town. The power company gave you a bunch of red tape on that. And so you came up with this idea.

What's been the reaction like? Have you had -- I know everybody in town knows you already anyway. They certainly know you now.

HAMANN: Well, many, many thank you cards. We've got, actually, in the hundreds of cards of thanks that have been written to me as well as personal thanks.

O'BRIEN: And so when you walk through town, everybody comes up to you. You're a celebrity, I guess. Do you feel that you've done the right thing and this is a great gesture for your neighbors, and if so, why?

HAMANN: Well, the Lord has been good to me and my wife, and so has the community, and I felt this is a way we could do something in return.

That's why we started on the wind turbine thing. And when that didn't work out, why, we thought, this would be an alternate thing, while it's not nearly as expensive as a wind turbine would be. But nevertheless, it's a help that everyone enjoys as well as the library that we intend to build for the city next year.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Tell us a little about this library. I know the wind turbine was upwards of $1 million. You were going to just turn it on and let the electricity flow into the grid and provide it for free, but the power company didn't like that one little bit. That's too bad. That's a whole different story, the fact that they blocked that.

But this library idea, that's a nice lasting gift, isn't it?

HAMANN: Well, it should be. Yes, I mean, we -- it will increase the size of their present library by about three or four times and they'll have something that's modern and up to date.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this: have you ever given a gift that has given you more -- been your gratifying than this one?

HAMANN: Well, not one that's given me more publicity than this. I expected the little local newspaper might have an article about it. But it's been on every national headline in every paper all over the United States and all the television stations, and CNN and FOX and NBC and MSNBC. And I've had calls from Texas, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Louisiana. Everywhere you can think of.

O'BRIEN: All right. So it is better to give than receive, I guess?

HAMANN: There's no doubt about that. You can't out give the Lord. I'll guarantee you that.

O'BRIEN: Merry Christmas, Richard Hamann. You and your wife have done a good thing out there. And I'm sure everybody in the town of Anthon is happy to have you as a neighbor. We wish you well.

HAMANN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right. You're welcome. Thank you -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Well, many of us haven't finished our holiday shopping yet. But last minute shopping could be dangerous for bank accounts. We all know that.

Jennifer Westhoven, live from the New York Stock Exchange. Jennifer, have you hit the danger zone yet?

JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, thank you, Kyra. Yes. It's really bad. And it's not just me, right? Holidays can be very tough for all of us who are tempted to buy things on impulse.

You see the long lines. You know you're running out of time. So you might be tempted to spend more than you normally would or buy more things.

A lot of people are in this boat. The National Retail Federation says that 18 percent of us have left at least some shopping for these very last few days before Christmas.

So financial experts are warning holiday impulse buying can end up throwing your carefully planned budget out of whack. So when you see those last-minute stocking stuffers there or you're online, you might just want to take that extra second to remember your savings account -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Yes. Forgot about that. Seems to dwindle this time of year. How's Wall Street looking?

(STOCK REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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