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AMERICAN MORNING

Live at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; Update on a Mississippi Girl's Hurricane Experience; Chef Cooks up a Turducken in New Orleans; Security Measures Crucial for Thanksgiving Parade; Looking at Thanksgiving Celebration for Troops in Iraq

Aired November 24, 2005 - 08:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been talking all morning about the folks that we have had the opportunity, really. And in many ways, we have been blessed to meet some of the folks today who are here and they're in town, so we thought we'd spend Thanksgiving Day with them.
We'll give you better introductions in just a little bit. And of course, some of our friends who are joining us from New Orleans, as well.

So, ahead this morning, we're going to be introducing you to our friends here and also giving you a better sense of what we're all here to see, which is really the parade. Come on this way, and I'll show you guys.

I'm just going to move you, just a smidge, because we really, not to brag on us, but we have the best seats in the house. OK, this is Columbus Circle. We've been showing you that shot all morning. Now, there are bleachers right across there. So, there are people already camped out on the bleachers.

You go up that way, that's Central Park West, and this is where -- do you guys know this parade route by heart now? The parade's going to be coming right down here, and then they loop right around there and then head down Broadway and head down toward Macy's and Herald Square.

So we really, literally, have the best seats in the house, or standing room seats in the house, to the point where even people who work in the building have had to get tickets. Yes, you can kind of imagine.

So, a little bit later this morning, Carol, we're going to, of course, take the shots live as the parade finally makes its way through here, because we've been building up to it all day.

And think about it, these balloons that are held by 50, 60, sometimes 70 people, they're going to be so big and right in front of us. He's giving me a thumb's up. I did a good job.

We're, of course, going to have that for you live as well coming up in a little bit. Of course, Carol, the parade is not the only story making news. But, it's the one we really care about this morning. But, we'll throw it back to you for other stories. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Lot of other news of the day, so let's get to it. Far from loved ones this Thanksgiving, the nearly 155,000 men and women in Iraq are still getting a taste of the holiday. The military is treating them to turkey with all the trimmings at their bases.

In the meantime, no let up in violence in Iraq. A car bomb went off about 22 miles south of Baghdad, outside of a hospital this morning. Iraqi police say at least 30 people were killed, nearly two dozen others wounded.

Some of the nation's charities are feeling a slight pinch this Thanksgiving, post-Hurricane Katrina. Food banks across the country are reporting a decline in donations. They say that's because many contributors tell them they've been sending food to the Gulf Coast instead.

Here in New York the city's food bank collected one million fewer pounds of food than last year.

It appears the rumors were true about Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. They are calling it quits after three years of marriage. Their publicist finally confirmed it in a joint release on Wednesday. Simpson and Lachey said they still quote, "have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for each other." They just can't live together.

But there's still apparently a whole lot of love in another star- powered household. We're talking about Tom Cruise and his pregnant fiancee Katie Holmes. Get this, Cruise is expressing his affection by buying Katie her very own sonogram machine. Now the couple can watch as the baby grows.

In case you're wondering, one of those machines costs anywhere from $25,000-to-$200,000. But, we also hear Cruise will donate the equipment to a hospital when the happy couple is done with it. So, there you go. A happy, loving Thanksgiving Day story to end, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It is a nice story. All right. A little strange, but nice story nonetheless. Carol, thank you very much.

The crowd's getting rowdy, man. We've got 30 minutes to go until the parade marches by. We're going to take a moment to introduce you to some of the guests that we have here in our studio.

You may remember this young lady, Lizzie Maloy, is a high school student from Long Beach, Mississippi. You'll remember we spoke to Lizzie and her family as they gave us a tour of the devastation of your home. I mean it was utterly wrecked. But what really broke our hearts was your description of your senior year, utterly ruined for you and your friends, as well.

LIZZIE MALOY, LONG BEACH HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: Well, you don't just say utterly ruined because....

O'BRIEN: Well, you back. At the time though, you thought, and you were in tears. You thought that it was never going to be the same. So, we gave Lizzie a camera and said, "I want you to document this for us."

Tell us what you've done.

MALOY: Well, you did send the camera and I've been talking to friends, and teachers, and my family, and asking them how they've been affected. And just trying to capture, really, the essence of what's going on at home. And it has been rough and that's what I've been trying to do.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALOY (voice-over): Do you all have any plans for Thanksgiving?

ASHLEIGH KELLOGG, LONG BEACH H.S. STUDENT: Normally, of course, we'd, you know, cook a turkey and just have some good home cooking. Have our family come over to our house, but it's really hard for even the three of us to sit it in there. So, that's not going to happen. There's no way to even fit a turkey into a FEMA trailer oven. That's just not happening.

MALOY: Where are you staying now?

JENNIFER JOHNSON, LONG BEACH H.S. STUDENT: We're staying with some family friends that let us move in with them.

MALOY: How are you doing? How have things been?

JOHNSON: It's been rough, but we're doing better now.

MALOY: What are your plans for Thanksgiving?

JOHNSON: Well, since we lost our house, we're going to have Thanksgiving dinner with the people that we're living with right now.

BETHANY SPAYDE, CALCULUS TEACHER: I was contacted from Port Orange, Florida, to try and set something up for all the students in Long Beach that have lost things or have been displaced, their homes could have been completely destroyed.

And the idea was to try to make sure that they had presents for Christmas and just different things. They have given them two truck loads of just, like board games. So they are trying very hard to get all of the students in Long Beach to have something for Christmas, so they don't have to go without.

MALOY: We've had a bunch of donations come in, Ms. Ward told me to go ahead and check it out. So, I'm about to go in there. Ms. Ward? Who is this from?

VIVIAN WARD, SPEECH AND DEBATE TEACHER: This is from Jacksonville, Florida, and my husband's aunt and cousin. It's amazing what they've done. It's really the sweetest thing, and they gave forensics $390.

MALOY: So what this year are you thankful for?

JOHNSON: I'm thankful to have friends that are kind enough to allow us to move into their home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Wow, that's a lot to be thankful for. That's a nice piece. We've done well by sending you off with a camera, you brought Monica Smith, one of your friends.

Monica, you have sort of, an equally tough story. Your mom's house severely damaged, your dad's house, too. You're in college, your apartment gone.

MONICA SMITH, COLLEGE DESTROYED IN HURRICANE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: How are you doing?

SMITH: Things are getting better every day, they're getting better. I mean it's a tough situation, but, you know, we're just trying to stay hopeful and things just get a little bit better every day.

O'BRIEN: How is it for you Southern girls to be coming up at 40- degrees temperatures here and spending Thanksgiving, seriously in -- away from home? That's got to be tough.

MALOY: No. It's absolutely amazing. It's like, stuff like this makes you forget about how it is back there. We shouldn't forget because we need to help still, but it's just nice to be able to get away and to remember that people like you, who still care are there for us, and are there to help us get through this.

O'BRIEN: Well, you need to know, everybody cares. Even if it feels like sometimes people kind of have forgotten, they have not forgotten, no question about that. Now, you have a job, you work for an insurance company?

SMITH: I do. Since the storm, I got a job at Farm Bureau claims. My mom works there.

O'BRIEN: So all these claims are coming in now. Is it weird to sort of be dealing with your own personal issues with loss and then dealing with everybody else's also?

SMITH: It is. It kind of gets tough because you're trying to deal with your own situation and you're trying to help other people, but it's been a little tough. I'm glad that I can help in some little way.

O'BRIEN: I feel like every time we get another installment from you, the camera, the video diary, people are happier. We definitely see more smiles this time around. Are you seeing that too? MALOY: Moment by moment. It is getting better. We're remembering that it's not always going to be like this, because it's not. It will get better. It has been and it is going to continue to be.

Did it feel hopeless for a while? I mean, you seemed so -- when we first met Lizzie, she seemed so shell-shocked. It was heart breaking to watch.

MALOY: Well, imagine -- your town, your hometown, the place that you love, the people that you love, everything is broken. People's emotions, the actual city itself, it looked like a bomb went off. It was absolutely awful. It was. Yes, I was incredibly shell-shocked.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's been so nice to have you as our guest. Who's this young man who has snuck in? Because he's like, ooh, I have a chance now, to get the best spot.

Hi, handsome. Oh, he's too busy. He's too busy maintaining his -- but truly, look, he was lined up with Columbus Circle.

We're going to be meeting all of our guests here this morning and have a chance to chat with the families and also hear your stories as well. It's nice to see folks away from home, but hopefully enjoying a little bit of our home.

We're really happy to have you. Thank you, Monica, Lizzie, and to all our friends this morning, we certainly appreciate having you.

Hi, handsome, hey, hey. We'll get to that in just a little bit. Let's get right back to Carol now.

There we go. Jacqui Jeras instead. Hey, Jacqui. Well you know, I've got to tell you. From here, it doesn't look so bad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: All right, Jacqui, thanks. Me and my new boyfriend, Kitaj (ph) are just going to take our spot here, because you know, the parade is coming up. How much time? Only about 15, I've got to get in my spot here, Jacqui. We're going to give you more on the parade preps this morning, show you some of the behind-the-scenes pictures, as well.

Cedric (ph), that's right, you were in those shots. That's right, we're going to show that again, too. A short break, we're back in just a moment, on the special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: The anticipation is building. We're about almost 15 minutes away from the start of the big Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Soledad kept saying we have the best seat in the house. Well, I'm like, on the seventh floor of the Time Warner center, out on the balcony, obviously. And I can just look over the edge and there's Columbus Circle, there's Central Park West, and I will see the parade go right on by me. You can see all of the people waiting down here and actually, the weather is not that bad. The rain has stopped, the wind isn't blowing.

Actually, the sun is starting to come out, which is very good news, Jason Carroll, who is somewhere down below me.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am not that far from you. I'm down here with some of my new friends, and they're from Long Island. They come out here every single solitary year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For 17 years.

CARROLL: For 17 years. So, what are you looking forward to this year?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love all the balloons. We're looking forward to Mr. Potato Head.

CARROLL: Mr. Potato, a little old school for me. OK, what about the kids here? We're just 15 minutes away, kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charlie Brown, Garfield, all the old ones, and, Scooby Doo, who is new.

CARROLL: There you go, I promise to get you on, partner. How about you? Who are you looking forward to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More like Snoopy.

CARROLL: Scooby? Oh, Snoopy, did you say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Snoopy.

CARROLL: Snoopy, Snoopy. How about you, Charlie Brown fans in here, anywhere?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course.

CARROLL: Oh, that's right. I promised to get England in here. Step forward very quickly. I know that you're looking forward to this parade in many ways. What are you looking forward to seeing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just want to experience it all. I came last year and we missed it. But, we've come this year with my husband and two boys, all the way from London.

CARROLL: I'm glad you were able to make it out this year and celebrate Thanksgiving with the rest of us, 15 minutes away. Everything is a go, so far.

The weather is cooperating. Everyone waiting for the parade to make its way down this way. These people are waiting -- wonderful people, of course, of course wonderful people. Getting ready for the parade to start, we're going to stand by. Getting ready for it to head our way. Can't wait for it to happen, back to you.

COSTELLO: Can't wait for it to happen. Of course, this parade came famous in the movie "Miracle on 34th Street", remember that? That old movie? And I think took place in 1947.

And then in 1948, NBC decided to televise the parade, and the rest is history. That's why it's become such a big deal. And then of course, after the parade, everybody kind of eats and watches football games all day, which sounds excellent to me.

In fact, I understand there's some turkey inside the Time Warner center, with a whole lot of special guests and Soledad O'Brien. Hey, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You're absolutely right. You can see here, our chef, who's in New Orleans is -- a live picture there of him -- doing the preparations. That's John Besh, our chef de jour. And he's doing -- hey, John.

He's doing his preparations. Here, we're working on a little something, as well, food-wise, because frankly, Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, and the food, and the parade. So, we'll check in with him in just a moment. See how he's doing, how it's coming along, and we'll introduce you to some of our guests here, as well in New York.

A short break. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Welcome back, and happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone. I'm getting excited up here. Take a look down below me. I'm on the seventh floor of the Time Warner building and in just about 10 minutes, the parade will start. Actually, Tom Turkey leads the parade, that huge, gigantic balloon. Tom Turkey's like, way up there, about 20 blocks. And he's just waiting to start the parade at 9:00 Eastern time.

Right now, though, we have to talk about the kind of turkey that's going to be on your dinner table later this afternoon. I want to head down to New Orleans and check in with Chef John Besh, who owns the famous August Restaurant in New Orleans. Hey, Chef Besh.

JOHN BESH, CHEF, RESTAURANT AUGUST: Hello, how are you? Happy Thanksgiving.

COSTELLO: Happy Thanksgiving to you. I wish I could see what you're cooking, but I cannot. Are we taking a shot of the turducken?

BESH: The turducken is ready, beautiful. You should smell it. I wish we had smell-avision.

COSTELLO: Me too, because I would love to have smell-avision, now. OK, explain to me where the idea of turducken came from and exactly what it is.

BESH: Actually, the idea of it came -- it's an old French recipe that was brought here by the early creoles, about 200 years ago. Then about 30 years ago, Corinne Dunbar here in New Orleans, the famed Dunbar Eatery, decided, "let's stuff a duck, a chicken, into a duck, into a turkey."

Later, that evolved into the turducken, which was named turducken by a cajun butcher down in Maurice, Louisiana, at Hebert's butcher shop and it is a good thing.

COSTELLO: It's turkey and duck. Does it taste like chicken?

BESH: Yep. We have a little chicken, inside a duck, inside a turkey, and we have a little bit of stuffing surrounding each one. It is fantastic. Little cornbread dressing, we call stuffing dressing here.

COSTELLO: Actually, we call it dressing out in the Midwest too, so I'm with you, chef. Right now let's talk about -- talk about exactly what you're doing.

You have your employees in your restaurant and you're cooking Thanksgiving Day dinner for them. Now, there's a big reason why your restaurant was able to reopen. Tell us about that.

BESH: Well, I tell you, just after the hurricane, days after the hurricane, several of us got together. We were able to raise enough red beans and rice to start feeding the people. Then we started feeding all the evacuees and refugees, then we started feeding the police officers, sheriff's deputies. And that eventually evolved into feeding them on a regular basis.

Now, we're actually doing this for money and that's able to keep our -- we're able to keep our restaurant open, just because of this. Today we're having a little celebration. We have a lot to be thankful for. Most of us have lost our -- physically lost our homes and everything else.

But we have each other, we have our families and we have our jobs. Frankly, we're excited about it, so we have all the employees here today. They're all helping out, doing one thing or another. Just preparing for the feast that we're about to have, come noontime.

COSTELLO: OK, well we're going to get back to you. In fact, we're going to check back with you throughout the morning, so you can give our viewers tips and tell us more about the special dishes you're preparing for your employees down there in New Orleans. We'll see you a little bit, Chef Besh.

BESH: Have fun at the parade, thank you.

COSTELLO: Oh, believe me, I'm going to. Let's go back inside the Time Warner center to check out our own Thanksgiving Day feast with Soledad. O'BRIEN: Before we get to the feast and before we unveil, I have been cooking all night, Carol, as you can imagine, as always. Before we get to that, though, I want to take a moment to introduce you to some of our friends right here.

I think when you look at people who have really, truly, in some cases lost absolutely everything, a tough question is, what are you grateful for? I wanted to pose that question to some of our visitors.

Celine (ph) and I spent the day checking out the balloons yesterday along with her brother, Cedric (ph). So, what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?

CELINE, GUEST: I'm grateful for being alive and having my family together.

O'BRIEN: That's something nice to be grateful from.

What's your name and where are you from, and where are you now?

ALICIA SAUSETO (ph), GUEST: My name is Alicia. I am from New Orleans in Gentilly. My -- I'm living with my uncle Stephen and my aunt Janice.

O'BRIEN: In Brooklyn.

SAUSETO: In Brooklyn, and I'm grateful for e-mail, because I have been able to contact everybody, as well as my family and friends.

O'BRIEN: God bless e-mail, we all agree with you on that.

Let's come over here, hi, there. Give me your name and where you're from, and where you're now, and what you're grateful for?

CHRISTINA HAMILTON (ph), GUEST: I'm Christina Hamilton, this is my husband Brandon Hamilton (ph) and our son Jaylen Hamilton (ph). I'm actually from Mississippi, he's from New Orleans. And I'm thankful for the fact that, for family, for the many blessings we've received from all the American people that have helped us. Thank you very much. Oh, and this is my father.

O'BRIEN: Hi, dad. Well, thank you. We're going to chat with all of our friends that have come out to visit us today. A short break, first, though. We're back in just a moment. You're watching a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This Saturday night at 8 p.m., a special look at some of the sound byes or quotes that truly have changed our lives over the past 25 years. Here's a little preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA STEWART, TALK SHOW HOST: Today is a shameful day. It's shameful for me, and for my family, and for my beloved company.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS ANALYST: I was standing on the steps of the courthouse, just a few feet away from Martha when she made that statement. hand the words that still ring with me are, "my beloved company."

CARRIE LEE, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: I think she was very sincere and over 200 people losing their jobs, of course, a lot of people lost money, as far as her shareholders are concerned.

CATHERINE CRIER, ANCHOR, COURT TV: She chose the moment, I think to present arrogance, rather than humility.

KIM COLES, ACTRESS, COMEDIENNE: She's actually back and better than ever, which is fabulous. She has a little twinkle in her eye, and now she's M. Diddy.

JIM MORET, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, INSIDE EDITION: She came to be a symbol for the government, as well, saying: no one is too big, no one is too important. If you do something wrong we'll get you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're taking a look at a live picture of the crowd that is out there for the 79th annual Macy's Day Thanksgiving Day parade. The weather, not so bad. In fact, they got the official thumbs up to begin the parade, just about an hour ago.

The winds look like they're not going to be too bad. And we're coming to you live this morning from right above Columbus Circle. That's what you're looking at, right here. What a beautiful shot, what a beautiful view for us.

Welcome back, back inside our fourth floor newsroom which we've turned into a little bit of a party central. We've invited some of our good friends that we have made in the wake of the devastating hurricane that hit New Orleans and Mississippi and really wrecked a lot of the Gulf Coast.

So we've made friends along the way in our coverage, and we've asked some of those friends who've relocated here to the Northeast, in many cases, to come and spend a little bit of their Thanksgiving Day with us. And for that we are very grateful.

It's nice to have you all. Thank you.

One of the reasons we're here, though, not so much chit-chat, but for the view.

Come this way, guys. I want to show you. We'll part the seas a little bit if we can.

Take a look at our view. Seriously, those people out there, they've been waiting for hours and hours. Not us. We just snuck right in to have the best view in the house. Now, if you go up that way, that's Central Park west right up there. And you can -- actually, see those flashing lights? I bet that's the start of the parade, because really they're going to be coming and probably have already gotten going right down Central Park west, making their way to Columbus Circle, right around this little circle here, and they continue right down that way.

So we really have absolutely terrific seats to watch the parade.

Remember these balloons and the floats. It's going to take about 15 minutes for the entire parade to pass by.

So we're really excited about what we're going to get to see today. You know, the weather is a little bit inclement. So while those people out there are freezing in 40-degree temperatures, we're not. We're nice and toasty here.

Carol, also, is up a few floors, and she has a terrific view as well.

Hey, Carol.

COSTELLO: Oh, hello, Soledad.

You know, there are a number of taxis going by, and they're actually dropping people off. I'm still stunned that that many taxicab drivers are working on Thanksgiving Day. Usually you can't catch one anywhere around here, but they're dropping people off.

And just in case, I have a little trivia for you.

Did you ever wonder how many cheerleaders are in the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Day Parade? I keep saying that wrong. It's the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Eight hundred cheerleaders, 800 clowns, 14 giant balloons, 10 marching bands, 27 floats, 10,000 participants in all. And as you said, Soledad, all that goes by in 15 minutes.

That is truly amazing.

Let's go down seven floors to Columbus Circle. That's where Jason Carroll is standing by.

Hello, Jason.

CARROLL: Good morning to you. And Happy Thanksgiving.

I'm standing not too far from where the parade should be inching its way forward. You have got Chloe the Holiday Clown there in position, the Macy's star balloons in position as well. A giant pumpkin back there as well.

And I've upgraded just a little bit, Carol. You know, a little earlier I was across the street where people were just lining up, grabbing whatever piece of sidewalk where they could. Now I'm in the reserved seating section. These are the lucky folks who actually have a place to sit down and bleachers and all that kind of good stuff.

You were telling me earlier you won the seat in an auction, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did last year in Washington, D.C., at the Fannie Mae Foundation. We were fortunate enough to auction -- to win an auction and get tickets for this year.

CARROLL: Perfect. Terrific. Terrific. You brought your whole family, though she's too young to give an opinion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.

CARROLL: How about you over here? Who are you looking forward to seeing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, we're looking forward to seeing, who, Madeline (ph), Dora?

CARROLL: She was crying just a few minutes ago. I know she's going to...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's too excited. She still wants to see Dora. She's just waiting.

CARROLL: Dora. Dora. It looks like Dora will make it this year.

Ten months old. I think you're a little too young to give me an opinion, aren't you? That's what I thought. That's what I thought.

Well, let me move up here to some of our local people.

Way back here, lady, stand up so we can see you on camera over there. Yes, there you go.

Who are you looking forward to seeing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: SpongeBob.

CARROLL: SpongeBob.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I look forward to seeing Scooby-Doo.

CARROLL: Scooby-Doo, that's one of my favorites as well. Our anchor Carol, though, she really likes -- who was it, Carol? I think it was...

COSTELLO: Mr. Healthy Potato Head.

CARROLL: Oh, I'm sorry, Carol. Mr. Healthy Potato Head.

What do you think, girls?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. CARROLL: That's what I said. I said OK, you know, whatever. Mr. Healthy Potato Head. It's old school, but -- why are you waving? What do you want to say?

Quickly. We're live. What do you have to say? Who are you looking forward to seeing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.

CARROLL: Hi? You know, what? She called me over here to say hello. I'm glad you got a chance to say hello.

Who are you looking forward to, sweetie? Anyone in particular?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Um...

CARROLL: Um. Um. Um.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to see the Click Five play their songs.

CARROLL: Oh, Click Five. OK. Boy band people out there. Boy band, in case you didn't know, for all those teeny boppers out there.

Well, as -- oh, look, the parade moving its way forward. Those flashing lights means it's coming this way. We're going to be out here all morning. I guess I'm just as excited as everyone else.

Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: I'm with you, because I can see those flashing lights where I am, too. And, of course, you know, the big turkey leads the parade.

It's amazing to me, though, nobody's excited to see Santa Claus, because, of course, he winds up the parade and kicks off the Christmas season officially. Everyone's more interested in those big balloons. And fortunately, those big balloons should be flying during the parade because the winds have really died down this morning, and that's a good thing.

Let's head to the forecast center in Atlanta to check in with Jacqui Jeras.

Happy Thanksgiving.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Thanks, Carol. You, too.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Here in the studio we've been joined by some of our friends who have come in from many places, many from the Gulf Coast originally, now celebrating the holiday here.

Today all of the focus was on the wind because, of course, there were concerns that the balloons might be scuttled because of the wind, although the police really -- not really watching the wind, really watching security measures.

Ray Kelly is the man who's in charge. He of course is the New York City police commissioner.

Nice to see you, as always, sir. Thank you.

COMM. RAY KELLY, NYC POLICE: Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: What's the strategy when you have 2.5 million people who are essentially lined, you know, down this path down the middle of the city?

KELLY: Lots of police officers, mostly in uniform, some in plain clothes. We put in what we call counterterrorism overlay, a lot of rooftop posts. Our aviation units are in place. All this week we used our Nexus unit to work the stores and the merchants along the route.

O'BRIEN: Describe that in more depth, if you will. Nexus is sort of a strategy to utilize the local merchants.

KELLY: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: And I guess use their intelligence, if you will.

KELLY: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: What do you...

KELLY: It's an outreach program. We ask people to be alert, to be vigilant, to look through the prism of 9/11, we say. If you see anything of a suspicious nature, give us a call. And they're tremendously cooperative. It's worked very well for us.

O'BRIEN: The parade, as you know, is now starting because we can hear the sirens going.

KELLY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: We can actually -- if you kind of peek down, you can get a little look through, you know, one of the buildings, some of the lights as well in just a little bit. I understand that because of concerns about the balloons, which are so big and really can, as we've seen historically, get out of control and can cause some damage, there's now a police sergeant assigned to each balloon? Is that right?

KELLY: Yes. Each balloon has a police sergeant who has gone to school and knows about the navigation of the balloon. Each of the balloons is tethered to a vehicle.

Many years ago, I was an employee of Macy's in high school, and I held a balloon. Believe me, it's much more sophisticated, much more involved now. A lot more management oversight of the process now.

O'BRIEN: It seems like more people, too. Some of these balloons have 80 people who are navigating them down the street.

KELLY: Right, exactly. They practiced. The managers have gotten a lot of training, the managers of each balloon. There are wind meters at each of the balloons. So we're very much concerned about it, and I think it's going to be a safe and very peaceful day.

O'BRIEN: From the security perspective, exactly what you want to hear.

KELLY: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: A safe and peaceful day.

Now, certainly -- I mean, New York City, we host a ton of events. The marathon not too long ago at the beginning of the month. And then of course you had -- Cedrick (ph), honey, I'm going to ask you to keep your hand down. Our little boyfriend back here is seeing himself on TV.

He's got a question for you, Commissioner. You can talk to him when I'm done, Cedrick (ph).

But of course you also have the New Year's celebrations going on. Give me a sense of what's the toughest one? I mean, how does this rate? How does this rank?

KELLY: You know, we do so many of them, it's hard to rate them. But obviously, New Year's Eve, you have a lot of people concentrated in a fairly small area. Here, the parade route is 77th Street to 34th Street.

O'BRIEN: So that's more manageable when they're concentrated or less manageable?

KELLY: It means more resources as far as the parade route is concerned. But in terms of, I guess, concerns, the threat, you might say, is spread out a little bit more.

They each have their -- their challenges, but we have a big experienced department and the cops just do a fantastic job and they handle it very well.

O'BRIEN: Gauge for me the level of risk for those of us who ride the subways each and every day. Certainly we saw an increased police presence. I've had my bags checked every once in a while as you go through.

I mean, do you feel that that's in control? Not only for those of us who live here, but for visitors as well?

KELLY: Yes, I think we're doing everything we reasonably can do to protect the city and protect the subway system. We saw the events that happened in London over the summer of the July 7 bombings, the July 21 attempted bombings. That's when we put our bag search regimen in place.

So we're doing more than any other city.

Is there a risk? Yes, there's risk in the post-9/11 world.

We're in a city that's been attacked twice successfully in the last 12 years. So we have to live with the realistic threat. But we're doing everything that we, I think, can possibly do to protect the city. And people should feel safe and should have a level of comfort here.

O'BRIEN: Commissioner Ray Kelly, nice to have you. Thank you very much, sir.

And I know that your goal is for a nice boring parade.

KELLY: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Isn't it? As the parade is already at 75th Street. They've made a little bit of progress since they're just getting started.

Nice to have you. We certainly appreciate it.

KELLY: Happy Thanksgiving.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. And likewise, back to you and your family, too.

Let's get right back to Carol. She's up a few flights -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, I'm up on the seventh floor of the Time Warner Center. And you can see that siren -- you can hear the siren going off behind me. I don't quite know why, but there's been a roar from the crowd. So they're expecting the parade to come their way very, very soon. It's only 20 blocks away from here, as you said, Soledad.

You know, I know there are some way that our men and women in Iraq can watch this parade, either on the satellite, perhaps, or perhaps on their computers.

Let's head to Iraq right now and Baghdad and Aneesh Raman to find out how the soldiers are celebrating Thanksgiving in a -- in a very kind of depressing place. It is a depressing place.

Good morning, Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol, good morning to you. Happy Thanksgiving.

It is the holidays, of course, and they're the hardest to be away from home, especially for our U.S. troops who are out here still fighting this war in Iraq. The holiday has, in some sense, come to them by virtue of the Thanksgiving Day meal.

We were at the mess hall earlier today. There's plenty of turkey, there's stuffing, there's everything you can imagine, including a turkey mascot, which doesn't usually appear at people's dinner tables.

Joining me now though are two soldiers, Specialist Seth Barmack from Enfield, Connecticut, and Specialist Daniel Lagana from Alexandria, Virginia.

Specialist Barmack, this is your second Thanksgiving in Iraq. You were in Kosovo as well for the holidays back then. How difficult is it to be away from home during the holidays? And how do you guys cope with it?

SPC. SETH BARMACK, ENFIELD, CONNECTICUT: It's not easy. We'd much rather be home with our families and loved ones. However, this time around we do have e-mail and a lot of pictures that help me get through the holidays. And we also rely on each other to help us get through those tough moments.

RAMAN: And Specialist Lagana, there have been a lot of people in recent weeks talking about how soldiers feel, that morale is up, morale is down. You as a soldier here on the ground, what is morale in terms of what you can see?

SPC. DANIEL LAGANA, ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA: Well, what I can see in terms of morale is how we perform our duties on a day-to-day basis. And I think that every day, every soldier in our unit goes out and he does his best. And we perform our duties to the utmost professionalism that we can. And I think that speaks for morale in itself.

RAMAN: Great. Anyone you guys want to say hi to back home?

BARMACK: Yes. To my family, to my wife, April, my kids, Jimmy, Laureli (ph), and my newborn baby, Hannah (ph), I wish you all happy holidays.

And honey, I love you more.

LAGANA: My mom, my dad, my friends, my brother, of course, and everybody in 5th Section 2nd Platoon Howitzer Battery 3rd Squadron 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, I'd like to say hello, too.

RAMAN: Well, thank you guys both for what you do.

And I should mention, Carol, that it is Thanksgiving, but not a day off. It's just another Thursday for these guys. They're been out on patrols and continue to do so. The fight goes on here -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. What about you, Aneesh? Are you going to get some turkey today?

RAMAN: Yes, I got some. You know, there are two meals. There's turkey for lunch and dinner, depending on when the guys go out. So for those of us who are here embedded, we actually get both. So I'm getting twice my Thanksgiving fill today.

COSTELLO: OK. I'm glad to hear that.

Aneesh Raman, reporting live from Baghdad.

Oh, Soledad, the excitement is building. In fact, people are tossing beach balls around in the bleachers waiting for the parade to come their way. And I can hear the roar of the crowd as the parade comes closer and closer to this spot.

O'BRIEN: And you know they're tossing the beach balls because they're trying to convince themselves that it's warm and balmy where you are.

COSTELLO: I don't think...

O'BRIEN: We're going to continue to monitor the progress of the parade.

Also on this Thanksgiving Day, we'll take you back to New Orleans. Julia Reed is going to talk to us about what folks there are doing for celebrating, and also what folks there are grateful for on this holiday.

A short break and we're back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade has begun. It's just about three blocks away from where the Time Warner Center is on Columbus Circle. You can hear the crowd beginning to roar.

I wish I could see it. I can see the motorcycle cops leading the parade route for safety reasons, but the Trump Tower is right in my way.

So we want to head downstairs to see if Jason Carroll has seen Tom Turkey yet.

CARROLL: Oh, yes, we saw Tom Turkey. Not just Tom Turkey, but we also saw Scooby-Doo, we saw Big Bird go by.

Take a look at these Weebles wobbling but they don't fall down. They're sort of coming our way as well.

The parade already making its way through here. A very excited crowd, and excited kids here, too.

Who did you guys see so far that you guys liked?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I liked Sesame Street. It was kind of cool.

CARROLL: That was kind of cool.

Who liked Scooby-Doo, though? That was my favorite.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I liked Scooby-Doo.

CARROLL: Scooby-Doo. I liked him, too. How about you back there, partner?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I liked the floating pumpkins.

CARROLL: The floating pumpkins. Wow. How unusual. They were OK. I liked the floating pumpkins.

But of course a lot of people looking forward to seeing Dora.

And who's this right here, kids?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi Hi Puffy Ami.

CARROLL: Of course, of course, from the Cartoon Network.

Turn around, Fred. Let's get this on right here.

Cartoon Network, very popular cartoon.

Tell us who this is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi Hi Puffy Ami.

CARROLL: Hi Hi Puffy Ami. Hi Hi Puffy Ami.

So the parade making its way through. Everyone here having a lot of fun. These are the primo seats here, right people?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh, yes!

CARROLL: How did you guys manage to get these?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We knew somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we knew somebody.

(LAUGHTER)

CARROLL: I wish I knew somebody.

All right. So we're going to keep you posted as the parade comes by.

We've got Barney making his way down right now. I think this is going to be definitely a crowd favorite as Barney makes his way down.

We'll keep you posted as more of the floats come down, and of course the much-anticipated Dora explores her way past us.

Back to you.

COSTELLO: Wow. I mean, the excitement must be building for Dora, I'm telling you. But you know I'm into Mr. Potato Head. Mr. Healthy Potato Head this year.

I just wonder, Jason, what the security is like along the parade route. Can you really see the police officers out in force?

CARROLL: Carol, I can't hear you. You've got a siren going on back there.

COSTELLO: I think the parade is hitting me. Now I can see the float, and it's very cool, let me tell you.

Let me ask you again. I was asking you about security, if you can see the presence there.

CARROLL: Absolutely. If you take a look right over here you can see New York's finest. They are all up and down the parade route.

There are thousands of officers that are out here in full force. They are accustomed to handling large-scale events such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

And in addition to them lining the parade route there, also you've got a police officer stationed with each one of the giant helium balloons. If the wind does happen to kick up, they can also be there, be on hand as a safety precaution to make the determination as to whether or not the balloon can keep flying.

So lots of police presence out here as well.

COSTELLO: Yes. I see the marching bands, too, the high school bands. There are some 10 high school marching bands from across the country in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

And things are getting pretty loud over here. But you can see all the crowds (ph) leading the parade route, and of course the giant balloons coming down past Columbus Circle now.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be back with much more on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: There it is. The Thanksgiving Day Parade now under way. And we're having a chance to look right out our window and see some of the amazing balloons that have gone by. And the wind not so bad, so you can see the pilots and the navigators of these balloons aren't having too tough a time today.

Look at that shot. Wow. That -- I think that's Scooby-Doo there right behind Tom the Turkey. Yes, it sure is. We are so excited as they make their way right to where we are, which is Columbus Circle this morning.

What a great shot.

Welcome back, everybody.

We want to take you to New Orleans now, because nobody knows New Orleans like Julia Reed. The senior writer at "Vogue" and the contributing editor at "Newsweek" has also been working pretty much as our roving reporter for New Orleans. And she joins us on this Thanksgiving Day.

Hey, Julia. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

JULIA REED, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you so much. How are you spending the day today, Julia?

REED: Well, I'm getting -- as soon as I leave here I'm going to put three turkeys in the oven, and I'm feeding about 25 folks at my house. Everybody's back in town, finally. My block is not as lonely as it was last week.

O'BRIEN: So people have really come in for Thanksgiving, specifically for Thanksgiving, or are you talking about people who just kind of come in as things change slowly in the city?

REED: Well, I think a lot of people are finally back. I mean, you know, as you know, the schools have not been open. And so people with children haven't been able to come back to town. And now they've got a Thanksgiving break.

A lot of folks are coming to see their house for the first time. Some of the private schools and Catholic schools have opened, so the re-population is starting now. And I think with Christmas time it will be more complete.

Until now, there have been about 100,000 people in the city, and now there are a lot more folks. I mean, like I said, the night before last there were maybe -- we were the only house on our block, and now we've got about five folks there. So...

O'BRIEN: Wow. That's got to feel pretty good, yes.

So how has it been? Because on one hand, you know, certainly it's got to be hard for people who aren't able to be with their complete family on this day, even if they get to come home and see their home.

REED: No, I know. Well, I mean, like some of the folks coming to my house, I mean, I've got -- one of my neighbors is coming over, and his wife and children were evacuated to Virginia, where they still are. But he has to wait for his roofer who may or may not show up this week. So it was too risky to go be with his family.

I mean, you have a lot of funny stories like that. And then, of course, a lot of sad stories of people who won't ever be reunited with their loved ones.

But I think that, you know, it's a particularly poignant Thanksgiving because we all -- all of us who are still here have so much to be grateful for. And it's a good day to remember that.

I mean, you know, the first couple of weeks after the hurricane, it was sort of you're thankful, A, to be alive, and B, I was incredibly grateful that I still had a house to come home to. And then as the weeks go by, you want to kill your roofer, you want to kill your insurance adjuster, so you quit being grateful and you start being grumpy again.

So it's a good day to be reminded that, you know, hey, we're still here, the city's still here. You know, it's a great time to be alive.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I think you're right. I think, you know, every so often you have to have a little -- someone has to kind of give you a shake and say, remember, there's lots to be grateful for.

Tell me about your house.

REED: Oh, my goodness.

O'BRIEN: I know you've been in the process of fixing -- obviously you want to kill your roofer and your contractor. That I know. But how is it -- seriously, how's it going?

REED: It's going to be a slow comeback. But you know, I drove around St. Bernard Parish with some -- with some friends that wanted to see some of the worst destruction last weekend, and I -- you know, I can't complain about anything.

I mean, you go just a few miles and the destruction is so utterly unbelievable that, you know, when you come back to where I'm sitting right now and you kind of look around and say, whoa, there might have been a bad storm here, but that was about it.

So you don't have to drive very far to be reminded that, you know, we're incredibly blessed. I mean, my house may or may not have a roof on it sometime soon, but that's -- you know, it's nothing like what so many people here are going through. So, you know, like I said, when I want to kill the contractor, I just get in the car and drive a few blocks.

O'BRIEN: No, you're right. You know, it really is all relative.

You know, sometimes when we talk, Julia, you sound really down to me, and then other times you sound really hopeful and up. And I'm trying to figure out, where are you today on that? Are you feeling good about the city and the...

REED: Well, no. I'm -- like I said, I'm pretty hopeful. I mean, I'm not very -- you know, I don't think our legislature displayed remarkable leadership qualities in this special session that just -- just got through. I mean, you know, there was a measure to combine all the many, many levee boards into one thing.

I mean, what we were finding out is that one of the reasons that the levee broke is not just because the storm came, because it was badly built, it was badly kept up. And there are so many different bureaucracies looking after it. And there was a bill to sort of streamline that and be responsible, and of course the legislature didn't want to do that because they wanted to protect their (INAUDIBLE).

So that made me angry. But somebody yesterday said, you know, are people still really angry about what happened? There's nothing we can do about what happened. There's no point in directing anger at any level of the government agencies that were, you know, sort of maybe fell down on the job.

The thing to do is have sort of positive anger now, I think. As more and more people come in, I hope that they take responsibility for their city and really get involved.

It's the first time that I think people can feel like they can make a difference now. And I hope that's what happens.

I mean, I'm optimistic because I don't have a choice. And I really think, like I said, it's an incredibly interesting time to be alive in New Orleans. And those of us who are here ought to be, you know, very, very grateful that we are.

O'BRIEN: Sometimes being...

REED: And -- but I also hope that that gratitude develops into civic responsibility, which has not been a trait that a lot of us have shown in this city until now.

O'BRIEN: No. I think you said it perfectly well. Sometimes you've just got to be grateful because there's no other option, right?

Well, Julia, good luck with your three turkeys. I hope they come out perfectly.

REED: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

REED: So do the 25 people coming.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. And other people are invested in that.

Nice to chat with you and check in with you, Julia. Have a great Thanksgiving, all right?

REED: Thank you so much, Soledad. You, too. Bye-bye.

O'BRIEN: And we're also going to check in on our friend, Chef Besh. Remember, he is making the traditional feast. Ooh! It's looking so good.

We're going to find out how he's doing, what kind of progress he's making.

And then we've got our own little surprise for our guests here as well. We'll reveal that just ahead.

Stay with us, everybody. A short break. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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