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Emotions in Gaza; Withdrawal Impact; Jet Crash Mystery; Lessons From 9/11

Aired August 15, 2005 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome. Why is there only one guy commuting this morning? It's 7:30. This is like the height of morning rush hour, isn't it?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: They're still reeling from the thunderstorms last night.

O'BRIEN: Two guys sleeping in. Good morning and welcome. It's just half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING. Miles is on vacation. Carol is helping us out this morning by sitting in.

So a big thank you to you.

COSTELLO: Oh, any time.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, we're going to tell you with about the massive blackout anniversary. Of course, it's been two years since that blackout hit the Northeast. But the question is now: Are we on the verge of another big blackout?

COSTELLO: I know. With all of the record heat across the nation this summer, some are concerned that we're pushing the power grid to the max. We're going to take a look at that.

O'BRIEN: That's ahead. First, though, a look at the other stories making headlines this morning with Kelly Wallace.

Good morning.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Great to see both of you. And good morning, everyone.

"Now in the News."

There has been an explosion at a restaurant in Baghdad. Iraqi police say 20 people have been injured. That blast taking place while Iraqi security forces were dining there, and those Iraqi security forces have been a frequent target of violence.

Meanwhile, 11th-hour talks over Iraq's new constitution are under way. Leaders scrambling to agree on a draft before today's deadline ends. One of the major issues still being worked out: the role of Islam in the new Iraq.

There is word of an apparent murder/suicide at a hospital in Atlanta. According to the Associated Press, officials say a man walked into the hospital, where his wife was a patient earlier, this morning. He then reportedly shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself. No other injuries have been reported. That incident is now under investigation.

And thousands on the East Coast are without power after a series of heavy storms. Up to five inches of rain fell in about three hours near Boston. Flash flood warnings were issued throughout the state. In New Jersey, the storm snapped power lines and knocked down trees. More rains are expected today.

I know you guys have been talking about this, but the thunder last night was incredible.

COSTELLO: It was scary, wasn't it?

WALLACE: It was scary.

O'BRIEN: I was driving in it yesterday. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable.

COSTELLO: You should have pulled over to the side of the road.

O'BRIEN: You know what? I've got a big old truck now. I don't need to pull over. Everybody -- all of the wimpy people are pulling over, and we kept going.

WALLACE: You are safe in your big vehicle.

COSTELLO: Soledad was saying, get out of my way!

O'BRIEN: I even say that when it's not raining. I'm not a very good driver. Get out of my way.

WALLACE: Look out for Soledad on the road.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Kelly.


COSTELLO: Thanks for the warning.

O'BRIEN: It's the very least I could do.

All right, let's get to our other top story this morning, Israeli troops handing out those eviction notices to the resistant settlers in the Gaza Strip. In less than 48 hours, they're going to start removing them forcibly.

John Vause has the story this morning of one couple who are now being forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT VAN SANT: Rivkah and Shlomo Saffer were among the first to move to the Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim 22 years ago. Both are teachers, originally from the U.S. They made a life here, raised seven children. And like so many other Jewish settlers in Gaza, they believe this is their land, promised to them by God.

RIVKAH SAFFER, JEWISH SETTLER: Well, biblically, you just open up the Bible, and Isaac lived here. Gerrara (ph) is what it says is here. But there's no question about that biblically.

VAUSE: But more than that, by living among more than a million Palestinians, they believe they're defending the nation of Israel.

SCHLOMO SAFFER, JEWISH SETTLER: We are saving all the people in Israel Asherlong besheva ashdod (ph). We are stopping the Palestinians, the Arabs, from coming to the other parts of the country.

VAUSE: During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel captured the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan. The land was never annexed, but in the years that followed came the settlements: Jewish communities built on occupied land driven by consecutive Israeli governments, which accelerated under the supervision of then housing Minister Ariel Sharon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is part of the land of Israel, and we are going to stay there forever.

VAUSE: The settlements were strategically located to give Israel a defensive depth, a buffer from Syria, Iraq and Jordan to the east, Egyptians to the south, and the Palestinians in Gaza to the west.

MICHAEL OREN, HISTORIAN: And there was a feeling among Israeli defense thinkers that as long as Israel had a large Palestinian population to its west in the Gaza Strip, essentially it would be in a pinscher position, always surrounded. And therefore, they thought that it was important to establish an Israeli civilian and military presence in Gaza to neutralize that threat.

VAUSE (on camera): Ariel Sharon believed that only when Israelis knew every hilltop, every valley and every stone would they defend their land. He wanted to put men, women and children in front of tanks and soldiers.

(voice over): Men and women like the Saffer family. They believe that even now with peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, Israel still faces a military threat.

R. SAFFER: You remember the peace treaty with Hitler and England all those peace treaties? It's a piece of paper.

VAUSE: The Palestinians claim Gaza and the West Bank for a future Palestinian state. It's not long now before they get Gaza. But if this Israeli government has its way, it's unlikely the Palestinians will get all of the West Bank, home to an estimated 250,000 Jewish settlers and more than 100 Jewish settlements.

John Vause, CNN, Jerusalem. (END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: What does the withdrawal mean for the peace process? Martin Indyk is with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and was assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs under President Clinton. He joins us from our Washington bureau this morning.

Nice to see you. Thank you for being with us.

Thank you.

O'BRIEN: When you just look at the numbers, 80 percent of the settlers are still there right now, 5,000 activists have come in. The Palestinians have 7,500 police and security forces. The Israelis have 55,000 soldiers and another 8,000 police. The numbers alone portent big violence, or potentially big violence.

MARTIN INDYK, SABAN CENTER AT BROOKINGS: Well, I think there will be clashes. We've already seen that starting last night. The 5,000 that have infiltrated are mainly young people who are determined to make a protest.

So, there will be confrontations. But I don't think that it's going to disrupt the evacuation in any significant way.

The army has been preparing for this a long time, and they have various pre-emptive tactics that I think we'll see them deploy in the next few days. And as a result, what we're going to see on the television screen for sure is clashes between Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers. I think the greater violence will be verbal than physical, but it's not going to be a simple time.

O'BRIEN: Lots of opportunities here. Lots to risk as well. Let's talk about some of the major players. The Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, he is staking his political future on this being a success, is he not?

INDYK: Yes, he is. He's challenged now by his rival in the Likud Party, Binyamin Netanyahu, who resigned as finance minister last week, arguing that what Sharon was doing was going to create a Hamastan (ph), a kind of Palestinian failed terror state in Gaza. And if that is, in fact, what happens as a result of the evacuation, then Sharon will be weakened. Sharon is in many ways dependent on Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to be able to establish order there, so that he can show that as a result of his withdrawal Israel is, in fact, better off, particularly in terms of terrorism.

O'BRIEN: Which brings you right to Abu Mazen, or Mahmoud Abbas. Essentially, he now is in a position where he has to prove that he can control the Palestinian Authority and control the violence there. So he has got a lot to risk, too.

INDYK: Yes, he has. And he has made the argument -- he was, in fact, elected on the platform of a non-violent solution. He wants to enter negotiations with Israel and solve the problem that way.

But in Gaza, where he has moved his seat of government over the last few weeks, he faces a really big challenge, because Gaza is basically ruled by a ragtag group of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and warlords and gangs and security chiefs. And the Palestinian Authority is one of the weaker forces there.

So, he has really got a big challenge to establish order in a way that will create the sense, on the Israeli side, that as a result of this evacuation, they have a responsible, capable partner on the Palestinian side that they can then enter into negotiations for the resolution of the rest of the conflict.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like it's between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So what should the role of the United States be?

INDYK: Well, since both Sharon and Abu Mazen are facing big challenges here, the critical role for the United States is to get behind them. Both of them are taking risks. Sharon, in the first instance, a very big risk in terms of this unilateral withdrawal, and Abu Mazen, in terms of telling Hamas and its supporters that non- violence and negotiation is the way to liberate Palestinian territory.

So, the United States has to get behind them, support them, provide a safety net for them.

The other thing to remember, Soledad, is that after four years of the most horrendous violence and terrorism, the people on both sides -- Israelis and Palestinians alike -- are exhausted. They support -- the majority of them support these two leaders in trying to find a peaceful way out of this. The United States has to get in there and help them as they take risks for peace, because in that process we too will benefit.

O'BRIEN: Big risks, but maybe worth it in the end if, in fact, peace does come out of it. Martin Indyk of the Saban Center, thank you very much for talking with us this morning.

INDYK: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Carol.

O'BRIEN: Officials today are working to identify the bodies of the 121 people killed on board a Cypriot plane that crashed in Greece. Helios Airways Flight 522 was on its way from Cyprus to Prague in the Czech Republic. The plane crashed in Greece about 25 miles east of Athens. That's where it was scheduled to make a stop.

Chris Burns now joins us from there.

Chris -- what happened?


What happened is really what they're trying to find out. Over my shoulder, an incredible backdrop of the beautiful Aegean Sea. But in the foreground, we're seeing the smoldering, the still smoldering wreckage of that crash. Sometimes it's overpowering, that smell from the smoke. And that search goes on.

They have found the two black boxes, both the voice and the data recorders. They hope to get more information from that as to what caused the crash.

And there is a team of Americans headed over here from Boeing, because it was a Boeing 737 that went down, hoping to answer a lot of unanswered questions.


BURNS (voice over): The wreckage was scattered wide in the hills north of Athens. All that was left intact was the tail section. No survivors to be found. The Helios Airlines Boeing 737 filled with vacationers was on a flight from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Athens, when the pilot reportedly radioed about a problem with the plane's air conditioning. Minutes later, air traffic controllers lost communication with the plane. The Greek Air Force scrambled two F- 16s, whose pilots saw a chilling sight.

MAKIS CONSTANTINIDES, GREEK CYPRIOT OFFICIAL: They were on the aircraft, and it seemed that the aircraft was without any control. I mean, the pilots were not there.

BURNS: Officials say the F-16s also saw the Boeing's co-pilot slumped over and oxygen masks hanging, indications of a catastrophic loss of cabin pressure.

One relative reported receiving a text message from one of the passengers, saying -- quote -- "The pilot has turned blue in the face. Cousin, farewell. We're all freezing."

DR. MARC SIEGEL, NYU MEDICAL SCHOOL: Over minutes, that would occur. You actually would suffocate. The blue color is from lack of oxygen in the tissues.

BURNS: Greek authorities confirmed they have found at least one of the plane's two black box voice recorders, which could offer clues to the cause of the crash.

In the meantime, relatives must go through the agonizing task of identifying their loved ones among the dead.


Hovering over our heads, flying over our heads, a couple of Candid (ph) airplanes. They have been dropping extra water because of that smoldering wreckage down there, trying to put out any possible fires breaking out.

Now, among the dead have been found both the co-pilot and a stewardess nearby. And this is the theory. According to one senior government official here, it does appear that a stewardess was among two people that those F-16 pilots saw inside the cockpit of the Boeing plane desperately trying to get a hold of the controls and prevent the plane from crashing. They found the body of the stewardess next to the co-pilot that was slumped over. And that is what the indication is, that they think that's exactly what happened. Frantic last moments before that plane went down -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Chris Burns live in Greece this morning. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: It's time to take a look at the weather this morning.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, if you want an extension or you requested one on your income taxes, guess what? It's over. Time is up. We're going to explain what you can do now, and there's still time. That's ahead.

COSTELLO: Besides pray.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

COSTELLO: And next, newly-released tapes shed light on what happened inside the twin towers on 9/11. We'll look at whether firefighters are better prepared now for an attack. Stay with us on this AMERICAN MORNING.


COSTELLO: Dramatic recordings of radio communications on 9/11 are shedding light on how firefighters responded to the World Trade Center attacks. What do they say about what went right that day and what went wrong? And have enough changes been made since 9/11?

Dave Rosensweig is president of the Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association, and he joins us live now.

Good morning.


COSTELLO: You know, when you listen to these tapes, you get the sense of how chaotic it was. And the radios didn't work. Firefighters and emergency crews were trying to get a hold of their supervisors and couldn't. They were trying to call back to the dispatcher and couldn't.

Listen to one dispatch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not answering. I just want to know where's the nearest triage. We've got an ambulance full of people, and we're being bombarded with so many we can't handle.


COSTELLO: How frustrating and how frightening. You don't know what to do. Have some of those problems been solved?

ROSENSWEIG: Well, the answer to that is yes. I think a tremendous effort has been made to improve the system that we're using right now.

COSTELLO: Specifically what?

ROSENSWEIG: Well, we have new radios. We have new handy-talkies since that day. We've spent a tremendous amount of money in trying to upgrade the system. We realize, basically, some of our short fallings, and we know that we have to go ahead and make the necessary improvements.

COSTELLO: So new walkie-talkies, new handheld units.

ROSENSWEIG: And new handy-talkies, yes.

COSTELLO: And then as far as the transmitters, because those weren't working, like, in that area that day.

ROSENSWEIG: That is correct. The plane knocked out the repeaters that normally worked in that building. We've trained and have done drills in that building hundreds of times where the repeaters have worked. And unfortunately, that particular day, they didn't work the way we would have liked to have them work. But in actuality, that really did not impact on the mission. I mean, the mission was for us to go in there and save people. And we saved a lot of people. We saved over 25,000 people.

COSTELLO: Oh, absolutely. Before we get to that, though, you know, in talking about replacing this very important equipment, I want to you listen to a retired firefighter and what he had to say, because he thinks things are moving too slowly still.


CAPT. AL FUENTES, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: We were dead men walking on 9/11. And unless we fix what's wrong, we're dead men walking now. It's not if, it's when.


COSTELLO: So what is he talking about?

ROSENSWEIG: Well, I'll be perfectly honest with you. I really don't know. I mean, I know the gentleman that just spoke. If anything, communications worked great for him that day. We found him. He was buried, and he had a radio. His radio worked. And we were able to dig him out and save his life.

COSTELLO: But many other firefighters in the emergency, their radios didn't work. They didn't even hear the evacuation order when people realized that the building was going to collapse. They couldn't get out in time, because they couldn't get a transmission.

ROSENSWEIG: You are correct. We did have problems. We have not actually said that we weren't prepared to face these problems. We did it by replacing the radios, getting newer type radios, drilling with the new type radios to learn how to use them that much better.

COSTELLO: And I know you wanted to concentrate on what went right that day, because you've listened to these tapes, you've told me, every single day since that day.

ROSENSWEIG: That's correct.

COSTELLO: What went right?

ROSENSWEIG: Well, first of all, we saved an awful lot of people. Second thing that went right that day is the communications. We had 60 percent of all of our resources were at one particular incident, and we still were able to maintain the five-minute response time citywide, which is a real accomplishment for the communication professionals in New York City, the fire alarm dispatchers. They did a phenomenal job.

The other phenomenal job they did was, is unfortunately the buildings came down, but they were talking to those people. And if you got to hear the tapes, you would see the level of professionalism and the job that they really did. Those people were confident that we were coming and that we were going to save them right up until the last second. And that comes from a lot of training and really a good amount of dedication.

COSTELLO: And courage.

ROSENSWEIG: And courage from the firefighters point of view.

The other thing that I should tell you is that, when those firefighters got off the apparatus, when they arrived, and they went into that building with no elevators, and it's 80 stories high, the effort that they made was absolutely phenomenal. It isn't like they didn't know that it was going to be a phenomenal effort. Climbing up 80 flights of steps with all of that equipment on your back, if anything, would destroy you physically. And they were willing, literally from the moment they put a foot inside those buildings, to put everything on the line to save people.

COSTELLO: Thank you for coming in this morning. We appreciate it. It's Dave Rosensweig of the Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association. I want to get your organization right. That's a tough one. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

ROSENSWEIG: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

COSTELLO: Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, today is tax day, if you filed an extension back in April. Still need more time? We've got advice ahead as we mind your business. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Today is the day that millions of taxpayers are dreading. No, you don't have to look at the calendar. It is not April 15.

Ali Velshi is filling in for Andy Serwer, who's off today. And he's "Minding Your Business."

I am one of the millions.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so am I actually. August 15, this is the day that if you extended your tax filing deadline in April, you have to file by today or at least ask for another extension.

O'BRIEN: It went by so fast.

VELSHI: I know. And nothing's been done.

COSTELLO: It just seems like yesterday it was April 15.

VELSHI: Nothing has been done. Yes, exactly. Because it's not like you figure it out on April 15 and figure, I'd better start doing this now. People just let this roll. But the first time they let you just go for nothing. You just get to say, I would like an extension. This time you actually have to fill out the form, which I've got here. And it's not very complicated. Only the top part is what you fill out. My Social Security number is not on here. And you can hardly see there, but I've written my excuse in, because you have to write something. And I don't think they reject...

COSTELLO: Oh, I like yours, because I'm too much of a fat head to get it done on time.


COSTELLO: That was your excuse to Mr. IRS?

VELSHI: That's my excuse. This one is probably not going in, because my accountant, who may well be watching this, is not going to allow that.

O'BRIEN: But in all seriousness, do you have to put an excuse -- I mean, can they ding you if they don't like the excuse?

VELSHI: I don't know who they don't let go, but, yes, you should put a little thought into it so it doesn't just sound like I never got around to it. I don't think that one is going in yet. If anybody from the IRS is watching...

COSTELLO: Forget it.

VELSHI: ... tune out.

COSTELLO: No, but if you owe money to the government, don't they charge you interest? VELSHI: Yes, yes, even the first time. If you send an extension, that does not absolve you of what you owe. And if you don't pay what you think you owe, you'll...

O'BRIEN: You pay. We've all paid.

VELSHI: Yes, you're not getting off with that.

O'BRIEN: It's the paperwork that's getting us.

VELSHI: That one we haven't figured out yet.


VELSHI: But if you need to pay, the markets might do well for you today. Right now the expectations are for a strong open on the Dow or the Nasdaq. You've got a Dow at 10600 and a Nasdaq at 2156, and oil prices seem to be easing back a smidgen today. A few minutes ago it was at $66.66, oil of the devil.

COSTELLO: That makes me feel better.

VELSHI: Good to see you guys.

O'BRIEN: When AMERICAN MORNING is back in just a moment, some new questions about the safety of U.S. troops in Iraq. Are they getting the life-saving body armor they need? We've got a live report from the Pentagon just ahead. Stay with us.


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