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A Katrina Showdown Expected on Capitol Hill Today; A Safety Shutdown in West Virginia After Two More Coal Miners Die

Aired February 2, 2006 - 08:00   ET


I'm Soledad O'Brien.

A Katrina showdown is expected on Capitol Hill today. Gulf Coast governors facing questions about their states' response to the country's worst natural disasters. We're live on that story this morning.


A safety shut down in West Virginia after two more coal miners die. How long can the governor keep the coal industry shut down?

S. O'BRIEN: And why are these little puppies now at the center of an international drug ring? We've got the latest on a disturbing new kind of drug smuggling. That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: Good to have you with us this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get to Capitol Hill.

The federal response to hurricane Katrina in the spotlight again today. Senate hearings into those failures are going to focus on testimony from two people who are at the center of the storm.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken on Capitol Hill for us -- hey, Bob, good morning.


And they've been at the center, of course, since the beginning, that being the governors of the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. In particular, the governor of Louisiana has complained for a long time that a big problem was that valuable time, critical time was wasted when there was a turf battle between the federal government and the state governments, particularly the government of Louisiana, that it was really not clear at all who was in charge and there was quite the battle over that.

Well, now comes a report from the General Accounting Office, which is making that same complaint. The head of the GAO complaining that there was no clear chain of command in the administration, that nobody really took over, including Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff.

The Homeland Security Department has responded that that report is premature and that it reflects a serious misunderstanding of the way things work.

Well, the problem is, is that the things did not work down there and we certainly heard that from the mayor yesterday. Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans saying that he had to finally decide on his own to send people to the convention center and the Super Dome. And, of course, we all know what happened there. There was this extended period of time where there was no supplies getting to these people. The federal government claims that the mayor never asked for them.

But, of course, the mayor responds that everybody else knew they were there, except, apparently, the bureaucrats who were running things, or not running things.

In any case, we're going to hear more of the same today. A hearing continues with the governors of the states. They will be telling their story. We've heard it all before. What we have not heard yet is an end to the complaints about what has happened in the wake of Katrina -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm going to guess that the ending of complaints is not going to happen any time soon.

What do you think, in a nutshell, the governors are going to say?

FRANKEN: The governors are going to talk about the fact that there was confusion. I suspect that we're going to hear different accounts. We have the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, who has had more success. He has been a well established Republican in Washington before he went back to Mississippi, and he was established here for a long time. And so he had, perhaps, the better connections.

But there was that terrible turf battle that went on, that we've heard parts of, anyway, between Louisiana and the federal government, with the Democratic governor. I suspect there will be a lot of time spent on that -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, we'll see.

Bob, thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: President Bush on the road again today, trying to sell the ideas he spelled out in the State of the Union speech a few days ago.

Elaine Quijano at the White House -- Elaine, what's the focus today?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

Well, today the message is going to be about American innovation, and specifically, how that fits in with what the White House is calling President Bush's competitiveness agenda.

The president will take his message on the road to visit a 3M plant in Minnesota. And there he is expected to discuss why he feels it's important for Americans to stay in the lead when it comes to innovation.

Now, Wednesday in Nashville, the message was about leadership. The signs behind the president reading, "Americans Win When America Leads."

Now, the president did try to strike an optimistic tone. At the same time, though, he was rather blunt and he acknowledged unease among Americans about the Iraq war and the economy.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I understand there's an anxiety about a time of war. That's natural, it seems like to me. Even though this economy is roaring -- and it's strong, particularly when you think that -- recognize we've overcome a lot. We've over -- this year alone, we've overcome higher energy prices and natural disasters and yet we really are the envy of the world. Our economy is the envy of the world.


QUIJANO: Now, on the issue of Iraq, President Bush said that issue is on his mind every day and he defended, again, his Iraqi policy as a necessary part of the war on terror -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much.

Elaine Quijano at the White House.

Let's check now on the headlines.

Carol Costello with that -- good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Miles.

Good morning to all of you.

The trial of Saddam Hussein, it just gets curiouser and curiouser, and quieter and quieter. Not only Hussein, but his seven fellow defendants, absent from court today. Hussein and four other boycotting the trial. Three more barred from the court for being disorderly. The trial is in adjournment now. It's scheduled to start up again on February 13.

A manhunt now underway in Massachusetts. The suspect accused of wielding a gun, a hatchet and a machete in a possible hate crime at a gay bar. According to the bartender, a man walked into the bar, asked him if it was a gay bar. Then the man started attacking people. Once he was wrestled to the ground, the man pulled out a gun and he started shooting. At least two people were wounded. The suspect is being described as a man in his late teens or early 20s. If you love cute little puppies -- and, frankly, who doesn't -- this will likely upset you. It's about a strange discovery made during a round-up of Colombian drug smugglers. Besides 60 pounds of heroin, agents also found 10 puppies the gang was using to smuggle the drugs. Ultrasound showed six of the little guys had been cut open and then re-stitched with the drugs sewn up inside them. The value of the drugs, worth about $200,000.

In Atlanta, a series of memorial events in honor of the late Coretta Scott King. Last night, about 200 people attended a candlelight vigil at the Atlanta University Center, right in front of a statue of Martin Luther King. A memorial mass for Mrs. King will be held this afternoon. We're still waiting to hear about funeral plans.

That's a look at the headlines this morning.

Let's head back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Carol.

Thank you very much.

Weather now.

Chad's got that for us this morning -- hey, Chad, good morning.


You know, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which means all that more winter, six more weeks. Maybe that would be the only six weeks.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, apparently Chad saw his shadow, too.

Thank you very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Many folks in New Orleans feel the president gave them short shrift in the State of the Union address a few days ago.

Susan Roesgen went to a barber shop to see what people are thinking there.


SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Chill" Wilson has been a New Orleans barber for five years. But for the last few months, his shop has been the parking lot of an abandoned gas station.

WILBERT "CHILL" WILSON, BARBER: You haven't had a hair cut since Katrina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Since Katrina. ROESGEN: Since the hurricane, Wilson's customers have come to socialize, to reconnect and to get the little bit of dignity that comes with feeling they look better even if they've lost everything they own. Although they used to talk a lot about sports, the talk these days is politics and whether Washington is doing enough to help New Orleans.

WILSON: Do you think the president realizes how serious it is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think he do, but, you know, for other political reasons that, you know -- and this is just my opinion -- you know, he just, I don't know, he's just not focused.

ROESGEN: In nine trips to New Orleans since the hurricane, the president has never been to this area and "Chill" Wilson wants to know why.

WILSON: In the African-American community, he hasn't been too visible. He haven't came and talked to any of the people look like me. He haven't talked to any of the businesses that functions like myself, small, small business.

ROESGEN: This is where "Chill's" barber shop used to be, around the corner from the gas station. But after the neighborhood flooded, the landlord locked the door and that was it. Wilson says he has been turned down twice for a small business loan and now the state barber shop association is talking about taking away his license...

WILSON: I can't cut hair out here anymore.

ROESGEN: ... because a tent in a parking lot doesn't meet state codes. But customers keep coming and Wilson says he won't stop until he's forced to.

WILSON: Well, being out here is -- I can't even understand what's going on through the pain I'm feeling. But the pain turns into happiness when my customers smile because I'm needed.

ROESGEN: Susan Roesgen, CNN, New Orleans.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, brutal, you know? And it's such a classic case of what do you do next? I mean he's got the standard. He's just trying to -- a guy trying to make a living and get his business back. And he can't get into his business. It's going to make him lose his license, probably. He can't lose his license, he can't make money. He can't make money, he's going to have to leave. I mean it's, you know, multiply that by, what, you know, a couple hundred thousand people?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a big mess.

M. O'BRIEN: Not a good picture. S. O'BRIEN: All right, much more to tell you about this morning.

We're going to take a short break.

But when we come back, more heartache in West Virginia. The state has now temporarily shut down its coal mines. Two more miners have died in accidents there. What are officials doing to try to prevent any more tragic deaths?

M. O'BRIEN: Also, investigators say there is troubling new evidence Iran may be trying to build nuclear weapons. And now Iran is firing back with some tough talk of its own.

S. O'BRIEN: Then later, Martha Stewart's brush with the law, well, that was well publicized. Now, though, there's word her daughter could be in legal trouble, too. We'll take a look ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Concerns over lack of safety forced a shut down of mines in West Virginia. The order comes after two more accidents pushed this year's death toll to four times what it was in all of last year.


GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I can confirm that we have had accidents at three separate coal mines, two underground mines and one surface mine, that have resulted in two deaths today. As a result of these three incidents, all of which occurred within just the last few hours, I am calling on the industry to cease production activities immediately and go into a mine safety stand-down.


S. O'BRIEN: Chris Hamilton is the senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Nice to see you, sir.

Thank you very much for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: You've heard what the governor has requested.

Are you going to comply with his request?

HAMILTON: Oh, we absolutely are. We share the governor's concern. It's a very serious matter. We've been working with the governor and his administration and his top mine safety officials and we are working hand in hand to try to find solutions to these problems that we're facing.

S. O'BRIEN: Overall, how long will the mines be shut down for and what'll happen while they're being shut down?

HAMILTON: Well, it's really -- it's really not a shut down, per se. It's more of a stand-down. And the governor has asked that the industry comply with his request just to take a pause in the action, to visit each and every miner, to call the miners together in a general assembly, talk about some of these issues, engage the miners, you know, try to solicit their ideas and their recommendations, as well as just to take the opportunity to go over the mining plans, safe work instructions, safe work procedures and habits and kind of bring everybody up to date over these -- refreshing everybody on these accidents and the causes.

S. O'BRIEN: So how long do you think these mines could be standing down for?

HAMILTON: Well, as we understand it today, what we're going -- what we are going to do and the instruction that we've provided to our mining operations and our member companies is to call the miners together in between shifts, before they start their shift. Gather them all up in the bath house. Take as much time as you need to take here between shifts and provide the overviews and the safety refreshers necessary to address the local issues at those operations.

S. O'BRIEN: When you look at...

HAMILTON: It's also being done...

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, I'm sorry.

Go ahead.

HAMILTON: Yes, it's...

S. O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interpreting you there.

HAMILTON: Now, I was going to say, it's also -- it's also being done on shift as well as in between shifts, trying to catch as many people as possible before the miners enter the mine -- mining operations. And then during the shifts, for the follow-up, the general safety meeting with individual contacts.

S. O'BRIEN: When you look at some of the accidents that have happened, really, since just the second of the year, you know -- and we're only in just the beginning of February -- it seems to me that sometimes these accidents are less about safety refresher courses or even safety than more about things that are already in place to save lives when an accident does happen -- getting a rescue mission started immediately, places where injured miners could so somewhere inside the mine.

How come -- it doesn't seem like our nation is leading the forefront on making things safer for miners.

HAMILTON: Well, actually, just the opposite. Truly, countries are coming to the United States -- every single country, in fact, have visited the United States -- and in particular here in West Virginia, where we are leading the nation, leading the world in new mining technologies, some of the more sophisticated extractive techniques. And, quite frankly, our overall safety performance record is second than none.

S. O'BRIEN: I guess I'm not talking about extraction techniques. I guess I'm really referring to what we saw in Canada, where there were 72 miners -- and I know you're familiar with this story -- 72 miners who were trapped. And they brought them into safe rooms. And that story, as we followed it, is just a complete 180 degree contrast to the stories that we've unfortunately been following here in the United States.

Why are there -- why did the mines that you deal with, why don't they have safe rooms for miners, where they can go, hang out, sit down, sit in a bed, lie down, sit in a chair, have oxygen, have food? Why don't we have that?

HAMILTON: Well, that's a fair question. And some of the -- some of the more progressive operations in the state and around the country do have some rescue chambers, some safe rooms, some areas, you know, that have been identified as general places for people to assemble in the event of a mine emergency operation. And I think what we're seeing right now is that the entire industry is reassessing its rescue operations, its rescue capabilities. We are -- we are providing greater amounts of oxygen and self-contained breathing apparatuses underground. We're generally upgrading the firefighting equipment. We're also upgrading the training and revisiting all protocols and procedures for mine emergency operations.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, it struck me...

HAMILTON: So I think you'll find...

S. O'BRIEN: Go ahead.

HAMILTON: Go ahead.

Excuse me.

S. O'BRIEN: I was just going to say, well, it struck...

HAMILTON: And I think you'll find that the industry...

S. O'BRIEN: The two of us, this is like, I would hate to see us dancing together, sir. It would be just a mess.

Let me jump in because we don't -- we're out of time.

I do have a final question.


S. O'BRIEN: One of the things that struck me about these miners was that they would describe -- they said that they weren't panicked at all while they were waiting for help. And it just, you know, it breaks your heart when you read the details of what has happened to these miners here in the United States who died.

Do you predict, not just upgrades and reassessing, but do you predict that one day, in fact, there will be a radical move and have safe rooms in all the mines in the United States to better protect miners?

HAMILTON: Well, that's our goal. Our goal is truly to have the safest mining operations not just in the country, but in the world. And we've been real close to that mark over the last couple of years. It's so unfortunate because we have come off the safest year in the state's mining industry, one of the safest in the country's industry.

But we all realize that we can't be complacent with that. There's much more work to be done and a particular emphasis is being placed on our whole mine rescue procedure. We're looking at safe rooms. We're looking at, you know, upgrading the escape facilities that we have in underground mines. And I think you'll find in very short order that the entire industry has upgraded and revised its mine emergency operations.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, we sure hope so.

Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Thank you for talking with us this morning.

We sure appreciate it.

HAMILTON: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: And sorry for stepping on you a little bit there.

My apologies.

HAMILTON: That's all right. Those are fair questions.

Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, who said Judge Samuel Alito was too conservative? We'll tell you why Alito broke ranks with conservatives on day one of his new job.

And next, we'll meet a high school basketball player who makes Kobe Bryant's 81-point game look like nothing. She just scored 113 points in a single game. Of course, that's a record now. Her story is next on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: An epiphany from the basketball gods. Seventeen- year-old Epiphanny Prince broke the all time women's high school basketball scoring record, held by Cheryl Miller for 24 years. She notched no less than 113 points. Count them, 113 points, as her Murry Bergtraum Lady Blazers beat Brandeis here. Well, beat is probably too kind a term -- crushed them in Manhattan last night. The final score, 137-32.

Joining us now, the high scorer herself, Epiphanny Prince, and her coach, Ed Grezinsky.

Good morning to you both.

Congratulations, Epiphanny.


M. O'BRIEN: Did you have any idea that you were going to be that hot?

PRINCE: No, not really. As the game started, my team was just fine. And we opened, and opened spots on the court and was I just going and making the baskets.

M. O'BRIEN: Just feeding you the ball?


M. O'BRIEN: And you just -- it was one of those nights you couldn't miss, could you?


M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Your -- I think your percentage was, from the field, was in the mid-90s, isn't that right? Or 90 percent plus?

PRINCE: Oh, I'm not sure.

M. O'BRIEN: You don't know. All you know is you couldn't miss.


M. O'BRIEN: What was it like? I mean did you -- was the crowd going nuts? What were you thinking as this was all unfolding?

PRINCE: Like, I got the feeling, I'm like it doesn't -- it just hit me today like when I went for breakfast, like I couldn't eat this morning. Like I was, I guess it just came to me. I was so excited today.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

PRINCE: It didn't really hit me yesterday.

M. O'BRIEN: It was a bit of a rout. Obviously, a lopsided contest.

I mean, was it, in a way, kind of a bore for you to do it? Or was it still a challenge?

PRINCE: In those kind of games, I usually get bored. So like yesterday I was just kind of trying to charge myself to like, to play hard for the whole game. M. O'BRIEN: I see. So you stayed focused?


M. O'BRIEN: And didn't get bored. And, thus, 113 points.

You've beaten a record held by Cheryl Miller, a great big name in women's basketball.

That must have been nice, huh?

PRINCE: Yes. She was like one of the best players to play.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

PRINCE: So like it's a great feeling.

M. O'BRIEN: I suspect you'll be hearing from her pretty soon.

Ed, the other coach was a little upset with this. He felt you kind of ran up the score on him and should have taken Epiphanny out.

What do you think about that?


First of all, she was fine after the game. She said let's go out and have some drinks and congratulations to Epiphanny. So this is news to me.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, really?


M. O'BRIEN: Oh, I'm sorry. She was quoted in the paper as saying -- I mean, what do you think about that, though? Did you think about taking her out?


M. O'BRIEN: Or did you feel like she was having such a good night it was...

GREZINSKY: Well, you know, when you -- first of all, we didn't go into the game with any preconceived ideas to break any records. But I always tell the kids, whoever we play, play as hard as you can for as long as you can. At half time, we realized she had 58 points and we realized it was something special. And at that point I felt the obligation to let her continue and whatever record there was to break we weren't even -- I wasn't even aware of it at the time. I said let her go for it.

M. O'BRIEN: Just let it go.

And what was it like as a coach watching that unfold? That must have been a lot of fun for you, too. GREZINSKY: Well, Epiphanny is a once in a lifetime player, you know? We've had great players before, but we've never had anybody like her. And we never will have anybody like her again. And when she has an opportunity to go for a record, I say go for it.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

Epiphanny, you're headed off to Rutgers. A great team. You could probably go right to the pros if you wanted.

Tell me what your plans are.

We're going to see a lot more of you, aren't we?

PRINCE: Yes. I'm looking forward to going to Rutgers next year.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. You don't want to -- you're not tempted to go play pro ball right this moment?

PRINCE: No. I'm not on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on that because like something special is about to go on at Rutgers and I want to be a part of it.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, education is a good thing, too, right?


M. O'BRIEN: Well, congratulations on an amazing night, an amazing record. I'm sure it'll stay in the record books for probably another 44 years or so, until the next one comes along.

But congratulations to you both.

PRINCE: Thank you.

GREZINSKY: Thank you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And I hope you have a good rest of the season.

PRINCE: Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: That's Epiphanny Prince and her coach, Ed Grezinsky, here on AMERICAN MORNING -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Miles.

Coming up this morning, more legal trouble for Martha Stewart's family. This time it's her daughter who is involved. We'll bring you that story.

Then coming up next, a really close call for a Florida cop and it's all caught on tape. We're going to show you this dramatic videotape and tell you how it turned out, as well. Oh, take a look at that. That's coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: What happened to the AMERICAN MORNING pigeons?

S. O'BRIEN: We've moved on to the AMERICAN MORNING parked cars in Columbus Circle. This show is always growing and changing.

M. O'BRIEN: They look like O.J. mobiles out there.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: But they're not.

All right, intuition. I have a hunch. I have a hunch you'll be interested in that segment on intuition.

S. O'BRIEN: I will be. I'm interested in intuition.

M. O'BRIEN: We talked to -- it's an interesting mix of people. We talked to a New York police detective about this whole notion of following your gut. And what got us interested in this story was that amazing story of the woman in Georgia and Alabama -- actually, just across the line in Alabama -- who saw that little girl...

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: ... with that terrible vacant look on her face in that convenience store. She followed her gut...

S. O'BRIEN: And followed it and followed it and followed it...

M. O'BRIEN: ... and was persistent as she could be.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: And ultimately, two people are in jail now on child molestation charges. The girl is in safe hands.

So what about intuition? You know, do you ever get that gut feeling, not follow it?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, I do.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, that kind of thing. So there's actually a scientific basis for all of this.

And we'll ask the real important question -- who has better intuition, men or women?

S. O'BRIEN: Women.

M. O'BRIEN: No, that is not true.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm guessing.

M. O'BRIEN: Not true.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm just guessing.

M. O'BRIEN: No, it's not true.

S. O'BRIEN: Pete's agreeing with me.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, there's some debate on this. But I have not seen the scientific studies to prove it. We'll find out.

S. O'BRIEN: That was a question without an answer. That's what you're telling me.

M. O'BRIEN: Basically, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Anyway...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, basically.

S. O'BRIEN: That's ahead this morning.


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