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CNN NEWSROOM

Americans Anticipate Details of Bush's Iraq Strategy; Democrats Warn About Control in Iraq; Severe Weather in Georgia

Aired January 7, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: From British colonialism we're going to take a little bit of a detour now. We're going to tell you about something happening right here, right now. A tornado threat that's taking place in the Southeast of the United States. We're going to be keeping an eye on this storm for you over the next hour or so.
Also, a warning from Democratic lawmakers, days before President Bush unveils new strategy in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of his actions determined that something might not be correct here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Suspicious activity at the Port of Miami calls out the cavalry, I mean the cavalry. It's a live report. We're going to bring it to you from the NEWSROOM in just a little bit.

Also smacked by a wall of snow that sent them tumbling down a mountainside. You are going to hear for the first time from two people who were buried alive, in their car, one of them only 13 years old.

It is 7:00 p.m. in Atlanta. You are in the NEWSROOM. I'm Rick Sanchez. Let's get you caught up on the headlines now.

Here we go. A scare this afternoon in the nation's capital. A subway train hits a tunnel wall and then slams to a halt. Passengers had to be led through a tunnel one by one. CNN affiliates are reporting at least 16 people were injured. None seriously.

A bomb squad at the Port of Miami has finished looking over that 18 wheeler that raised some serious suspicions today. Two men described as Iraqis, and one described as a Lebanese national, still being detained, by the way. Officials say the initial concerns may have been caused by a miscommunication, but the case is ongoing. We're going to tell you more about that.

Also, no blank check for President Bush on conducting the war in Iraq. That is the word today from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ahead of Mr. Bush's expected announcement on the American troop levels, likely to increase, by the way. We'll be telling you about that. And we'll be analyzing it for you, that story is coming up.

A news photographer freed unharmed in the Gaza. That's Peruvian Jaime Razuri on your right. He was kidnapped Monday by unknown militants today and released today to the Palestinian Authority.

Also gas prices are up over the past three weeks, but only by 3 cents a gallon we're told by the experts. The Lundberg Survey released this afternoon predicts cheaper gas soon, due to the warmish winter and the disarray within OPEC.

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

Let's get right to Iraq. There's going to be a lot of news on that, not just today, but over the next week. Five more Americans have lost their lives in Iraq. Three were killed today in a car bombing in Baghdad. One died Friday of combat wounds sustained in the Anbar Province; and another was shot dead in Baghdad, according to statements released today by the U.S. military.

President Bush's new plan for saving Iraq is expected this week. But today, congressional opposition to the troops increase, grew more insistent. From the White House now, here is CNN's Elaine Quijano.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): President Bush hasn't announced his retooled Iraq plan yet. But Democratic leaders are already warning they could use the power of the purse to hold the president accountable, if he decides to increase the number of U.S. forces in Baghdad.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If the president wants to expand the mission, that's a conversation he has to have with the Congress of the United States. But there's not a carte blanche, you know, a blank check for him to do whatever he wishes there.

QUIJANO: Democrats are seeking to cast a surge as an escalation of the unpopular Iraq war. But a senior Bush administration official says the White House views a potential surge as part of a broader political and economic strategy, a sentiment meant to answer concerns expressed by some skeptical fellow Republicans.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, (R-MI): I want a plan. I want to know how the surge will occur. What will be the numbers? What will they do? What do they hope to achieve?

QUIJANO: Adding to the debate, President Bush's decision to change military leadership in Iraq. Some Democrats charge the president is replacing his generals there, John Abizaid and George Casey because they disagree with him on a troop surge.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D-CA): Looking at it from my perspective, it looks like the president went shopping for a general who agreed with him.

QUIJANO: The White House calls that inaccurate. Some Republicans agree. Saying Lieutenant General David Petraeus is the right man to lead in Iraq.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): General Petraeus represents the best hope of this country to start over. He believes that a surge in troops will be effective and necessary when co-joined with political realignment, and new efforts by the Iraqi government.

QUIJANO (on camera): Though administration officials continue to say President Bush has not made any final decisions yet, the president is still expected to announce changes in a prime-time address to the nation this week. Elaine Quijano, CNN, White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Here's a question. Three would-be terrorists, or three stooges? We're talking about today's security scare at the Port of Miami, and while some may be able to make fun of it now, for awhile there it looked awfully auspicious. Three men detained for questioning, after police say that they tried to breach the facility's security. And Susan Candiotti has been on top of this story all day long.

Susan, take us back to the beginning if you would for those viewers who may be just now catching up on this thing?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NAT'L. CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM: Well, we'll go to the beginning by starting at the end, Rick. First of all, it turns out it was almost much ado over nothing. But for several hours today, the Joint Terrorism Task Force tried to figure out exactly what three people in an 18 wheeler were up to.

LT. NANCY GOLDBERG, MIAMI-DADE POLICE: After a thorough investigation, we are here to tell you, that the Port of Miami is safe.

CANDIOTTI: A truck driver without the right port issued ID, threw security into overdrive early Sunday morning. But in the end, the driver, his brother, and another relative, one of the two who carried no identification at all, were cleared by federal homeland security. And their cargo?

GOLDBERG: The contents matched the manifest. The 40-foot container was, in fact, transporting electrical, automotive parts.

CANDIOTTI: Authorities say the driver told a guard at the port's entrance he was alone. But other law enforcement sources say that may have been a miscommunication. Turns out, two other men were in the back of the cab, apparently out of view. The container was X-rayed, checked for radioactivity, and cleared.

Sunday is a busy day for cruise ships coming and going. But none of that traffic was affected, nor were cargo operations thrown off.

In the end, authorities say, their security procedures worked. And it started with catching an improper ID. The men are illegal U.S. residents and live in Dearborn, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: This kind of security, to cargo generally happens every day to only about 10 percent of all containers at every U.S. port. And that's been a thorn in the side of port security critics for years. And apparently, so far, nothing has changed. Back to you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: They certainly checked this one out. You know is interesting, you know that expression, Susan, people always say, don't make a federal case out of it. Boy was this ever a federal case. Tell the viewers just how many agencies were involved in this thing.

CANDIOTTI: Ooh, even I haven't counted them up. But at least a half dozen off the top of my head. And they do say -- they're congratulating themselves, because they all did come together quickly. They say what they accomplished here they were able to do in just a few hours, which, in the olden days, prior to 2001, probably would have taken them several days to sort out.

SANCHEZ: Susan Candiotti in Miami, following that for us throughout the course of the day. We thank you once again.

Stay with CNN day and night as you've come to expect for the most reliable news about your security.

By the way, out west crews are firing artillery at the snow pack in the Colorado Rockies today. They're setting off controlled avalanches. Now yesterday, a stretch of U.S. -40 west of Denver, as I'm sure you know, or probably saw in the papers, or watched us cover yesterday, was closed due to a massive slide, an avalanche. Eight people were safely pulled from the snow.

What do we know today about what caused this avalanche? Well, here's Ronda Sholting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONDA SCHOLTING, CNN CORRESPONDENT, CNN SUNDAY MORNING (voice over): A massive wall of snow cutting three paths down a mountain, and giving motorists below a terrifying ride they'll never forget.

The avalanche buried parts of U.S. 40 with 15 feet of snow and knocked two cars hundreds of feet down a steep slope. At least six people inside, all rescued, some even managed to crawl out on their own.

JORDON COOK, DRIVER: We were driving along, and my passengers, like, hey, look, look, look! And we got nailed by this big old puff of white.

SHOLTING: Experts tell CNN the size of the avalanche was unusual, even for the Rocky Mountains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This avalanche, just to reach the highway, it will run almost 2,000 vertical feet just to get down to the roadway.

SHOLTING: What sent the snow sliding? A string of heavy snow storms over a short period of time, backed by abnormally high winds. There's more snow in the forecast and more wind. On Berthoud Pass, Ronda Sholting, CNN. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: By the way, one of the cars, that was caught in the avalanche, was a black Honda Accord. It was driven by Dave Boone. Also 13-year-old Gary Martinez was a passenger in that vehicle. And we've got an opportunity to talk to them now. It's not every day you get to talk to somebody caught up in something like this.

So let me just thank you ahead of time for all of us here at CNN. Take us, if you would, Mr. Boon, through what it was like at the moment that you were hit with that wall of snow. Put us there, if you would.

DAVE BOON, SURVIVED AVALANCHE: Well, we were heading up to ski at Winter Park, and had just turned the corner to the avalanche area, where there was warning signs that say avalanche area, no stopping.

There was a little bit of a powder that we saw coming down the left-hand side, and then an immediate blast hit our car, knocked us out of control, into the guard rail, and then the avalanche hit us, which was like a freight train, flipped us up and over the guard rail where we started rolling down about a 30 to 40 degree slope.

SANCHEZ: Let me stop you there, if I can. Describe to us what it's like to be in a vehicle that's flipping down the side of a mountain like that?

BOON: Well, the force of the impact was unbelievable. Like I said, it was like a force of a freight train, and then immediately blew out my window, because it hit from the driver's side, left side. The car started filling up with snow and then everything just kind of went black.

We were inside the avalanche, rolling, maybe three or four times, really didn't see any daylight and then we hit something and started spinning from that. Later we found out it was about a 10-inch tree we had sheered off.

SANCHEZ: So the tree is what stopped your motion, or else you would have continued to go down?

BOON: Yeah, I believe so. The car from Iowa, which was headed down Berthoud Pass, we were headed up, went all the way to the bottom of the avalanche, they went least another 150, 200 feet further than us. I really think that tree is what stopped us.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Gary Martinez, you're 13 years old, you think this is going to be a really fun day because you're going to go skiing. Suddenly you're in a car -- and I understand you weren't even able to get out, right? Your seat belt was put in such a way so they had to cut you out of there?

GARY MARTINEZ, SURVIVED AVALANCHE: No, actually, that was Dave's wife that they had to cut out. But once we landed, I was tangled in the seat belt. It like had my leg twisted. And the snow was still in the button, so we couldn't really push the release button to release the seat belt, so I was just hanging upside down when we landed.

SANCHEZ: How much of the car was covered by the snow? In other words how much of the car was visible when you got out to see?

BOON: The only thing sticking out of the snow was the undercarriage and the four tires. They were sticking straight up. We stopped upside down.

SANCHEZ: Can you give us a sense of how big a surprise this was? Because we still really haven't gotten a sense as to whether there were any warnings out. Were you listening to the radio? Were they warning people that there might be some avalanche conditions out? Or were you just totally surprised by this?

BOON: We were totally surprised. From the moment we saw the blast of powder, to when it hit was just a fraction of a second. There was no warning. Nothing we could have done. We had the windows up, the defrosters were on. There was some music playing. We didn't hear anything.

Normally C-DOT, the Colorado Department of Transportation does a really good job of blasting the avalanche chutes and clearing it. They had done it I think earlier in the week, and there had been some additional buildup that was probably unexpected.

SANCHEZ: By the way, Dave, how is your wife doing?

BOON: She's doing fine. She was actually -- her head was wedged between the head rest and the roof of the car, and we dug out the snow around her face and had to call to get someone to bring us down a knife to cut her loose.

But she's doing well today. Gary and I, we're all very grateful -- grateful to be alive. And very grateful that we really had no serious injuries. Just a few cuts and a lot of bruising, and some aches and pains.

SANCHEZ: That is unbelievable. And Gary, I imagine you've got a lot of stories to tell when you go back to school, right? I imagine your friends are already calling you?

MARTINEZ: Some of them. I've called some friends to tell them what happened. Some of them didn't believe me. But now I think they are.

SANCHEZ: If nothing else you can show them the VCR and say look, I was on CNN. Gary Martinez, David Boon, thanks to both of you. We appreciate your time, and I'll tell you what, you survived something that a lot of people have not in the past, so way to go.

BOON: Thank you. We're very grateful.

SANCHEZ: Weighing in on Congress' first 100 hours. What's expected to get done and what is not.

An American who set sail and got stranded, steps on dry land. JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center. Severe weather pounding the Southeast tonight. And a possible tornado on the ground right now in Coweta County, Georgia. The latest on possible tornadoes and any damage coming up, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We're getting word that there's some serious weather that's affecting parts of the Southeastern United States. In fact, not too far from our studio. Let's go over to Jacqui Jeras and try to get a sense of what's going on.

(WEATHER REPORT)

JERAS: We've going to switch gears a little bit tonight, we have a special report we want to bring to you. You may remember him, and you will know him as the face and the voice of calm, in one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. We know him simply as Max; after 34 years at the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield retired this last week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Get into that inner room, with no windows.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.

You need to board up your windows.

Get out. Baton down the hatches.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): Katrina, Andrew, Hugo, not the names of colleagues he will miss, but of the most notorious storms Max Mayfield warned us about in his three-decade career.

MAYFIELD: If you were to ask which season is the most memorable one, that would certainly be the 2005 hurricane season, with all the records that were broken. The one storm that I'll remember more than anything else, obviously, would be Katrina.

JERAS: Katrina was a defining moment for Mayfield. He had the ear of the president during a time of national crises. And says his team's forecast was right on, amid controversy over the federal response.

MAYFIELD: I think it's admitted by all that there were some failures, and failures at all levels of government.

You don't want the federal government to come in and be a first responder. The locals know the local area better than anybody.

JERAS (voice over): Growing up in stormy Oklahoma, Mayfield was fascinated with the weather. His forecasting career began in 1970 when he joined the Air Force. Two years later, Mayfield took a job at the Hurricane Center, and met the other love of his life, wife Linda was his mentor's daughter.

JERAS: Mayfield says he plans to spend more time fishing after he leaves his post. But quitting his job won't silence his message.

MAYFIELD: We want every individual, every family, every business, and every community to have a hurricane plan that you can execute, and have that plan in place before the hurricane season even gets here. We're just going to have to learn to live with hurricanes. They're not going to stop coming.

JERAS: Jacqui Jeras, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: It's a great story. Those of us who worked in Miami know all too well what a good man he is, outside his job as meteorologist, and the unbelievable work he did during so many hurricanes.

By the way, speaking of severe weather, not a hurricane this time, I woke up this morning noticed incredibly hot outside. People in flip-flops in the middle of winter. Is that part of the explanation for what's going on now with these thunderstorms, these potential tornado that could be forming?

JERAS: Yeah, that's part of it. We do have a couple more warnings, which have been issue. I mentioned the Fayette County one, Rick, also Spalding County that an adjacent county there, is also under the tornado warning. We have very warm, very unstable atmosphere conditions and we have a pretty strong southern jet which is moving into the area.

That's when those winds move in different directions at different levels of the atmosphere, and you get those rotating winds. And that's when tornadoes can be possible. We don't think we're going to see a real significant outbreak, but we may see some occasional tornadoes touching the ground that can cause damage. That may have been the case of about half an hour ago in Coweta County and the town of Moreland.

SANCHEZ: Not far from my house, by the way. We'll be watching.

JERAS: Call your folks.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Jacqui. Yes, I will. Already on the phone with them.

Jacqui we'll get back to you. Let us know if anything else changes on this.

JERAS: You bet.

SANCHEZ: Meanwhile a top U.S. diplomat cancels a planned trip to Africa. We're going to show you why he did that. Also, higher taxes; those words were on the lips of the new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, taxes, straight ahead on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rick Sanchez.

A chaotic scene in Somalia where angry protesters filled the streets of Somalia's capital of Mogadishu. Security concerns forced the top U.S. diplomat to cancel a planned visit to Somalia today, a visit that has been 13 years in the making. CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr reports now from Nairobi, Kenya.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, CNN NEWSROOM (voice over): Mogadishu, often called the most dangerous city in the world, U.S. Diplomats and military officials were going to visit.

Thirteen years after the U.S. military left in the wake of the Black Hawk down disaster. This trip had to be kept a secret. The government was still fighting the Islamic militia. Jendayi Frazer, the highest ranking diplomat for Africa led the team. Rear Admiral Richard Hunt was providing security. CNN was the only television network on the trip.

First, public stops in Ethiopia and Yemen. But behind the scenes, a security nightmare was unfolding. Hunt, the top commander in Africa, carefully chooses his words about the debate that burned up phone lines between Washington and East Africa.

REAR ADM. RICHARD HUNT, CMR., TASK FORCE HORN OF AFRICA: We clearly took a look at the different options, a variety of sources, U.S. sources, our intelligence, our security assessments.

STARR: Gunfire was continuing to erupt across the city. In the U.S., there are long memories of Somalia. The Pentagon was not going to put Americans on the ground without a way to rescue them. The team had cash to pay for the loyalty of local gunmen. But if there was trouble, the proposed rescue plan was a nightmare.

Two F-15s would fly overhead. Rescue helicopters were on standby, and ready to fly again into Mogadishu. Heavily armed U.S. troops would have been there to shoot their way out of town.

But the night before, just as Hunt was saluting the flag at sunset, word leaked.

JENDAYI FRAZER, U.S. ASST. SECY, AFRICAN AFFAIRS: Unfortunately, that plan was fairly, broadly exposed in the newspapers. We had gotten the aircraft necessary to go in, but, again, when you start saying they'll be on the ground for four hours on this day, it just became impossible.

STARR: Riots and shooting had broken out again in Mogadishu. Ayman al Zawahiri was calling for attacks on foreigners. Hunt knows he would have been the highest-ranking U.S. officer in Mogadishu in over a decade. He is aware of the memories of dead Americans dragged through the streets. But says it's time to help the Somalia of today.

HUNT: They have had 16 years of anarchy in Somalia, and it goes back to the Black Hawk down time frame. And this is the best opportunity that they have had to rise above that.

STARR (on camera): Time does move on. When the trip got cancelled, Somali officials came here to Kenya to meet with the U.S. delegation, in part to ask the Bush administration to send troops to Somalia, in order to help train their security forces. Barbara Starr, CNN, Nairobi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: There's severe weather and a developing story. We're getting more information, remember just awhile ago we were having a conversation with Jacqui Jeras over at the weather center about what's going on with the weather.

She mentioned a place Coweta County. The city there, for those of you familiar with the area, is just southwest of Atlanta, the city there is Newnan, and it's being affected right now by this weather. I'm going to read to you what we've just received now. This is some wire about what's going on there.

It's a tornado that has flattened a number of houses in the west end of Coweta County. This is according to authorities there, by the way. They're saying that there's so much structural damage, several houses have been impacted, and there's even a report, listen to this, a report of a 14-year-old child that's been trapped inside one of these residences, and what makes it worse is that rescue officials are having a tough time getting to this child, and going out there and trying to do what they can, because, so many of the roads are now blocked by the trees that have fallen and the power lines that have fallen. So this is a very severe situation.

Let's go over to Jacqui Jeras and see if she can update us on what's going on here weather-wise. Jacqui, what have you got?

JERAS: Yeah, Rick.

If you look on that map I just put the tornado icon on there of where the possible damage was there in southwestern Coweta County. You can see to the east of there now is where we have tornado warnings still in effect. Now this is the same cell which has pulled up to the north and the east. So there you can see Fayette County, also Spalding County are under tornado warnings.

So that same storm may still be producing a tornado at this time. If you live in those counties you need to be seeking shelter immediately. Get to the lowest level of your house. A basement if you have one, away from doors and windows.

This storm is moving pretty quickly up to the north and to the east at about 35, 40 miles per hour. We've got a very strong to severe line of thunderstorms, which really begins down along the Gulf Coast, along the Panhandle of Florida, and moves just to the north of the Atlanta metro area before things begin to quiet down a little bit.

We also have some very strong winds with these storms moving through the Atlanta metro at this time. Through town on the east side, you can see wind gusts as strong as 50, maybe even 60 miles per hour. So anywhere across the Atlanta area, especially to the south and east of the city is where we have the worst of the weather going on.

Now, the front end of this line is where the biggest punch of the storm is going to be. Right along here. There's where the heaviest line of storms is going to be moving through back in this area as we head towards Alabama. Conditions a little bit calmer and we do have a tornado watch in effect across the area until 10:00 tonight. Rick?

SANCHEZ: So this thing tends to go from southwest to northeast. Almost in that -- in an angular direction, right? That means anybody who is, what, at this point northeast of Atlanta needs to be concerned about what they could get in the next couple of hours?

JERAS: That's right. Certainly along the eastern perimeter up into this area, into eastern Fulton and over into DeKalb Counties. Over here I think Alpharetta looks like it's going to be OK. But we could see additional development until that front moves on through. And so everybody in the area is under the watch and needs to listen for the sirens tonight and keep it tuned for the latest.

SANCHEZ: Speaking of sirens, Jacqui, we understand now we have one of the officials from Coweta County, we have Jay Jones on the line. He's with Coweta County Fire Department. He may be able to add to some of what we've been reporting.

Mr. Jones, thanks so much for taking time to talk to us. Fill us in. What do you know about your area right now and what are you dealing with?

CHIEF JAY JONES, COWETA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: Right now it's mainly hitting the southeastern part of our county. It's down in the Corinth area, Blaylock Lake. I'm not sure if you have a map up at this time but ...

SANCHEZ: You said the southeast part of the county. How far from you from Newnan where this happened?

JONES: Probably about five miles southeast of town. Corinth Road area, Blaylock Lake. We had several reports of homes damaged, power lines, and trees down all over the place. We have had reports of people being injured. We do have reports of someone being trapped, a 14-year-old trapped in his closet, seeking shelter there.

SANCHEZ: You keep saying reports. Do you not know? Is there any way ...

JONES: We have units on the scene right now and yes, we have, you know, confirmation that we do have trees down and lines down. The injuries is not what I've -- just listening to, radio traffic is what I've not been able to finalize anything on that.

SANCHEZ: So it sounds like you're saying all these things seem to be confirmed. It's just perhaps some of the specifics haven't been given to you yet by some of the folks on the scene?

JONES: That's correct. We've -- our 911 dispatch has been dispatching calls left and right of homes damaged and people trapped and trees down. And things of that nature.

SANCHEZ: Jacqui wanted to get in, too. She wanted to ask you a couple of questions from a meteorological standpoint. But I also wanted to ask you about this 14-year-old. Have you been able to nail down if that's the situation and whether he is still trapped or she is trapped?

JONES: I haven't heard any confirmed reports either way. That's just what was dispatched with all the radio traffic and trying to listen to that.

SANCHEZ: And that would obviously be a situation where one of the houses has actually fallen on itself and there may be people inside.

JONES: Yes. We have had a report of that, that the house did have its roof collapse and we've had several other homes damaged where trees are on their homes. And we have mobile homes in the area, as well. And like I said, we're just getting reports all over in that general area.

JERAS: And chief, this is Jacqui Jeras. I just wanted to ask you. Are you guys having trouble getting to the scene because of some of the trees down? Are they blocking the roads?

JONES: Yes, some of our vehicles, emergency vehicles are encountering downed trees and downed lines as they've taken the different access roads to get to those locations.

JERAS: And did you guys feel like you had adequate warning? Were the sirens going off in town?

JONES: Yeah, we've had warning. Just watching the radar and things of that nature, we knew it was coming. You know, we got hit with it on Friday. And we were prepared for it. You know, I spoke with some of our personnel earlier today about that same situation, and we were prepared for it. It's just a matter of -- our job is to react after it happens for things like that.

SANCHEZ: Do we know, was this, did someone actually see the tornado touch down or ...

JONES: I haven't heard any reports of that. We've just gotten calls that you know, of trees down and lines down once it happened. Now Friday we did have reports that, you know, the funnel cloud being spotted. But as far as this evening we haven't heard anything like that.

SANCHEZ: What's your best guess, Jacqui, given from the damage reports that we're hearing?

JERAS: I'd have to see the damage. Really if I could say whether or not it was a tornado. But I've been following the storm itself. It had a nice hooked signature on it which is indicative on radar of possible rotation moving through the area. There are a couple of reports of people possibly seeing a tornado. And yeah, now we're getting the damage.

But we've also seen this line kind of bow out as we call it a little bit, Rich, which is also very indicative of some damaging winds. So it's a possibility that it could have been straight line winds. Of course the National Weather Service I'm sure will be out there tomorrow assessing the damage. You have to actually look at this. Any twisting or what directions maybe the trees fell in really to be able to determine if it's a tornado unless somebody saw it.

SANCHEZ: Hey, Chief Jones, what are you doing to try and get out there to these folks now? You and Jacqui were having a conversation about a lot of debris on the roadway. Do you have crews trying to move it? Are you waiting for the ...

JONES: We have all of our engines equipped with chain saws. And we have extra gas and things of that nature to try to cut the trees out of the roadways. We also have our Public Works Department. We have them out also and they're helping to assist cleaning the roadways. We have some machinery that we need to move it out of the way with and we can do that, as well.

SANCHEZ: That's great. Hey, Chief, do us a favor. We'll be checking back with you. But if you get anything else on this will you give us a call? We want to share it with as many people as we possibly can.

JONES: OK.

SANCHEZ: And say hello to my good friend Sheriff Yeager (ph) out there.

JONES: OK. I'll do that.

SANCHEZ: Jacqui, we'll get back to you as well. Meanwhile the to-do list for Democrats, your pocketbook and lots more. That's ahead from the CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: In Washington today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is saying that she's not ruling out a tax increase on America's highest incomes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) SPEAKER: What we're saying is Democrats proposed tax cuts for middle-income families. And we want to have "pay go", no new deficit spending. We're not going to start with tax -- repealing tax cuts. But they certainly are not off the table for people making over half a million dollars a year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Pelosi said that the new Democratic Congress is going to target waste, fraud and abuse in the federal budget. And invest in things like education, and health care.

Tuesday the Democrats begin their reign on Capitol Hill as some would call it. And it gave some very definitive ideas about what it is that they want to accomplish. Specifically, CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider is good enough to join us now. Hey, Bill, student loans, ethics and minimum wage. Why issues like that?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN ANALYST: Because those issues are pretty popular, they have broad public support, minimum wage gets a lot of Republican support. A lot of Republican support student loans. These are things that ought to pass the House pretty easily. Of course they still have to go through the Senate, have to get the president's signature. The Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate, even if they pass the House they're a long way from becoming law. But the Democrats have picked this list very carefully. These are things a lot of Americans want, including a lot of Republicans.

SANCHEZ: Are these like I dare you issues? I call them that because you could almost say I dare you to go stand in front of a camera and say you're against something like minimum wage.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. That's exactly what they are. But the Republicans are likely to insist that if they vote for minimum wage, it's got to include some tax breaks for small business, because their argument is increasing the minimum wage could hurt a lot of small businesses, which generate a lot of jobs, low-paying jobs, but jobs in the United States. So they're going to want some conditions for supporting these measures.

SANCHEZ: You heard that report we just shared a moment ago with our viewers about Nancy Pelosi using the "t" word, something people in Washington are always afraid to talk about. But she actually said, she said taxes. Of course she's talking about trying to tax the rich, I suppose, even though she didn't use those words. Dangerous ground nonetheless, though?

SCHNEIDER: It is dangerous, because people are always nervous about Democrats taxing and spending. You notice she said they're going to end deficit spending. They're going to put an end to some of the earmark abuses in spending in the federal budget and when they talk about a tax increase, she said specifically the highest income people. I heard the figure people who earn over half a million dollars a year. Not many taxpayers, but an awful lot of taxes in that category.

But it still makes people nervous. But they say if they're going to start with the wealthy, where are they going to stop?

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about the big issue now and, of course, that's Iraq. And the president this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday, may announce that according to "The New York Times" he may boost troop level by something like 20,000. What is this Congress now, with Democrats in control, going to say? How will they react? What are you expecting?

SCHNEIDER: If that is what he does. And we don't know for certain. If he calls for a buildup of U.S. forces the reaction is likely to be very strong, very swift, and very critical.

The Democrats are already laying down their markers, Harry Reid, the leader in the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Bush in which they warned the president that an increase in forces is a failed strategy and should not be tried again. They recommended an alternative Democratic approach. The Speaker Pelosi told the president he knows he has -- does not have a blank check from Congress.

She issued something like a veiled threat. She said Congress has oversight responsibility, and they are starting hearings in the Senate this month, and it has appropriating and funding responsibility, meaning that they just might be willing to go so far as to cut off some spending for the Iraq enterprise if the president calls for more troops.

SANCHEZ: How would they actually do that, though? Viewers probably have been watching this situation develop over the last couple of years and it's usually a lot of conversation, and the president gets what he wants. How will it be different this time?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they're of course angrier this time. And they may try to do it very carefully, of course. They don't want to lay themselves open to the charge that they're cutting off funds for American troops. That would be politically devastating.

But they could talk about limiting some of the spending, and demanding more oversight on any new forces that go over there. They could impose some conditions, and of course they will be holding hearings. But the bottom line here is this is an ongoing military operation. It is very difficult for Congress to control that kind of operation, but they have told the president in no uncertain terms, you build up forces in Iraq, and we will not be friendly or cooperative on that or on anything else.

It's kind of a warning. And by the way, Ted Kennedy, one of the senior Democrats in the Senate is giving a major speech articulating some of those themes, warning the president, once again, Tuesday at the National Press Club.

SANCHEZ: It's going to be fun to watch this week.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

SANCHEZ: I'm sure our viewers share this sentiment, though, Bill. But it's always great to listen to you talk about these topics. Appreciate it, my friend.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Rick. SANCHEZ: CNN is going to be keeping a close eye over the next 100 hours as it's being described. Will this new Congress accomplish anything meaningful? What will be the impact on you? On me? On all of us, as they tackle these issues? Stay tuned to CNN as we keep track of those first 100 hours. The best political team on television will be all over it.

Up next, an update on that severe weather that we've been telling you about in the Southeast, including the situation with a 14-year-old possibly trapped in a home. We're getting everything we can on that.

Also, if you see severe weather happening, send us an I-Report. We'd like to know. Go to cnn.com and just click on the I-Report. Or type ireport@cnn.com on your cell phone.

We're hopefully being able to reach out to some of the people around in the Newnan area in Coweta County where we've been talking about. Share your photos, your video with us so we can share them with everyone else. You're watching CNN. We're the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JERAS: I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras in the CNN severe weather center.

The tornado warnings which were issued just in the last half an hour or so have now expired across parts of central Georgia around the Atlanta metro area, so no warnings in effect at this time. The threat or the immediate threat has expired. But a watch remains in effect across the entire area. Be aware of that.

It was over here in Coweta County where we have a possible tornado, which touched down, did cause some damage across the area. We talked to the fire chief there. There's a possibility that there's a 14-year-old trapped in one of the houses. Some trees are down over the roads and blocking the way for the emergency crews to be able to get there. So some big problems.

The storm tracked up to the north and to the east, and has weakened now, but you can still see this line here off to the east side of town. The worst is to the south of I-20 and kind of around the I-75 corridor here. And we could see some strong winds could cause a little damage. Could knock down some significant size tree limbs here. Maybe some 30, 40, 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts could be possible.

Down here in the orange, this is Meriwether County, a severe thunderstorm warning is in effect there with winds expected to gust beyond 60 miles per hour. You could see with our live lightning tracker a couple of little lightning spots there.

So tornado watch across the area until 10:00 tonight. Be aware of that ongoing threat. We think the worst of the weather is going to be along this leading edge, moving towards the town of Griffin as we speak. A big weather story for tomorrow, Rick, the severe weather dies out. But big travel problems up and down the Eastern Seaboard because of the front.

And very strong Santa Ana winds. We've got a new fire burning. We're going to talk more about that tonight at 10:00.

SANCHEZ: All right, Jacqui. We appreciate it. Meanwhile Iraq and the possibility of increasing troops, the topic of the morning talk shows once again as you may have seen. That's next.

And "In Case You Missed It," we're going to share some more of it with you. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back, this is the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rick Sanchez. And "In Case You Missed It," here are some of the highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows. Iraq, of course, dominated the discussions. Specifically the president's new war strategy, which he plans to announce midweek, expected to call for a substantial boost in U.S. troops. On CNN's LATE EDITION, this reaction from Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) OH: I believe the best way to support the troops is to bring them home. Wolf, there's money there right now that we can use to start the process of bringing our troops home. And money that can be used to start the process of bringing in an international security force.

But we have to make a determination that we're not going to let this war to continue. If the congress were to go ahead and approve the supplemental that's due in the spring, this war would continue through the end of Bush's term. I don't think the American people want that. I think the American people in November put in a Democratic Congress so that we, as Democrats, would take a new direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Ohio's Dennis Kucinich. Meanwhile on ABC, former national security adviser to the first President Bush, Brent Snowcroft - or Scowcroft, pardon me, warned an increase in troops in Iraq could backfire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What I worry about, unless there's something we can accomplish that is visible, and demonstrable, more troops, after a couple of months, people will say well look the situation hasn't changed, you've got more troops, that demonstrates it's hopeless, and the pressure to get out will increase.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Now let's take you to NBC, two top senators from different sides of the aisle expressing decidedly different opinions on how to proceed in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) DE: My view is, we have one chance to not lose Iraq. And it rests in not repeating the mistakes we've made. It made sense to surge 60, 70, 100,000 troops before there was a civil war. There is now a civil war. You need a political solution before you can get a physical solution.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SC: We are not winning, and if you're not winning you're losing. And now is the time to come up with a strategy to win. The reason President Bush is going to do this, because he understands that we have to win in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: And there's still much more right here on CNN. Up next, CNN PRESENTS, "No Survivors, Why TWA 800 Could Happen Again."

CNN investigates what's really going on in the air and why passengers could still be at risk. David Mattingly has been working diligently on this report. It's his finding. This is a two-hour presentation that you'll be seeing right here tonight on CNN as we continue to follow the latest news for you, as well. And what's going on with that severe weather pattern that we've been telling you about in Coweta County.

At 10:00 Eastern tonight, a controversy surrounding a medical procedure to keep a young girl from growing. That's the way her parents would like to keep her. Her parents say it was unnecessary, they want her to stay that way. Not everyone agrees. That's at 10:00 Eastern here on CNN.

We're keeping an eye on all that severe weather for you, again it's moving in a different direction now. The latest from Jacqui Jeras. We'll see you throughout the night as news breaks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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