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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Ariel Sharon Is Now Out Of Surgery; Brown Says He Did Everything Possible To Alert White House To Hurricane Katrina Impact; Woman Searches For Mother After Hurricane Katrina; Former President Bush Upset Over Criticism Aimed At His Son At Coretta Scott King's Funeral; Winter Games Underway In Torino; Iran's President Wants Nuclear Weapons For Peaceful Purposes; Sharon's Condition May Affect Peace Process In Middle East; Small Vermont Town Produces Many Olympians; Year Of Extreme Weather All Across The Globe; Super Bowl Versus Olympics Advertising; First Carnival In Alabama

Aired February 11, 2006 - 07:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone.
We're following breaking news out of Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center, where Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition has worsened. The 77-year-old has been in a coma since a January stroke. Doctors started performing emergency surgery on Sharon just about 90 minutes ago. And a live report is coming up from Jerusalem in just a few minutes.

In Iraq, the abductors of American hostage Jill Carroll reportedly have set a new deadline. It coincides with a new video of the 28-year-old freelance journalist. Here's a freeze frame of the latest video of Carroll.

Sources close to the abductors tell Kuwaiti TV Carroll will be killed on February 26 unless all Iraqi female prisoners are released.

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has given senators a terse three hour summary of the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. Before a Senate panel yesterday, Brown said the Department of Homeland Security created a bureaucratic nightmare for FEMA. Brown also says he's been abandoned by the Bush administration.

More details straight ahead.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, from Mississippi to New England, many of you are waking up to serious winter weather this morning. Heavy rains on the Gulf Coast to the Appalachia snow. A nor'easter storm is prompting weather advisories from Arkansas all the way to Boston.

Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider has your Saturday forecast. She's watching all of this. She'll be up soon with that.

American adventurer Steve Fossett is going for it, as he tries to complete a record-breaking 27,000 mile trek in an experimental plane. Fossett lost fuel during his takeoff Wednesday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. But this morning he has passed the point of no return over the Atlantic. We'll be following that. The 2006 Winter Olympic Games are underway in Italy. And the U.S. skeleton team is without 26-year-old Zach Lund, who was banned from the competition for a year. Now, Lund tested positive for a substance that can mask the use of performance enhancing drugs. But, Tony, it also is used in hair restoration treatment.

HARRIS: Oh.

NGUYEN: Lund will serve a one year suspension.

I knew that would fly with you, Tony.

And from Torino, there was plenty of pomp and circumstance for the Olympic Games' opening ceremonies last night. Did you see it?

HARRIS: Nice. Nice.

NGUYEN: The three hour affair, dotted with song, dance and opera enthralled a crowd of 35,000 people at an estimated cost -- about what Tony makes a year, $34 million.

HARRIS: Nice, yes.

NGUYEN: Well, good morning, everybody.

From the CNN Center in Atlanta, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING, February 11.

I'm Betty Nguyen.

Look who's back!

HARRIS: Those are after tax dollars, right, $34 million?

NGUYEN: Yes, $34 million after tax.

HARRIS: Let's set the record straight.

NGUYEN: You are bringing it home.

HARRIS: Good morning, everyone.

I'm Tony Harris.

7:00 a.m. in Atlanta, 2:00 p.m. in Jerusalem and 1:00 p.m. in Torino, Italy.

Thank you for being with us.

Breaking news this morning -- Ariel Sharon's health. You're looking at live pictures of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. The Israeli prime minister is undergoing emergency surgery and has been for about two-and-a-half hours now after serious damage was found in his digestive track.

Sharon, who's been in a coma since a stroke five weeks ago, had a feeding tube inserted earlier this month.

Let's go now to CNN's Guy Raz live at Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center with the latest -- Guy, good morning.

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony.

A backdrop that will be familiar to many of our viewers around the world. This is the emergency ward at Hadassah Medical Center, just outside of Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been a patient for five weeks.

Now, his condition had been relatively stable for the past five weeks. But this morning, it took a turn for the worse. Doctors have carried out abdominal scans. They determined that the prime minister had suffered extensive damage to his digestive tract, a condition, they believe, that is known as necrosis, something that causes tissues in the intestine to be killed.

Now, about two hours ago, he was admitted to the operating room, a procedure which could last as many as six hours in total. It could be over in about an hour. We should be getting some word from hospital officials within the coming hours. We understand they are carrying out a laparoscopy, which is a procedure where they insert a tube into his body to remove any obstructions.

This now is the fourth major surgery Ariel Sharon has undergone in the past five weeks. He, of course, underwent three procedures to remove blood from his skull, blood that was creating pressure on his skull, between January 4 and January 6, right when he suffered that massive brain hemorrhage, that stroke on the 4th of January.

Altogether, he has now undergone seven surgeries. Doctors are not optimistic about his condition as we speak this afternoon from here in Jerusalem at Hadassah Hospital -- Tony.

HARRIS: CNN's Guy Raz for us in Jerusalem.

Guy, thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, protests and all sorts of implications from Mike Brown on Capitol Hill. The disgraced former FEMA director said he did everything possible to alert the White House about the likely impact of Hurricane Katrina. But, Brown said, he deliberately bypassed his boss at the Department of Homeland Security. He was aggressive in his own defense.

Now listen to this testy exchange between him and Senator Norm Coleman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: I have admitted to mistakes publicly. I have admitted to mistakes in hearings. What more, Senator Coleman, do you want from me?

SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, I think that... BROWN: What do you want from me? I'm asking you.

COLEMAN: I'm saying that, in fact, no leadership makes a difference. You didn't provide the leadership...

BROWN: Now, senator, that's very easy for you to say sitting behind that dais and not being there in the middle of that disaster, watching that human suffering and watching those people dying and trying to deal with the structural dysfunctionalities even within the federal government.

And I absolutely resent you sitting here saying that I lacked the leadership to do that, because I was down there pushing everything that I could. I've admitted to those mistakes and if you want something else from me, put it on the table and you tell me what you want me to admit to.

COLEMAN: A little more candor would suffice. Thank you, Madam Chair.

BROWN: How much more candid -- what more candid -- ask me the question, senator. Ask me the question.

COLEMAN: Thank you, but I think my time is up. Thank you, Madam Chair.

BROWN: Well...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Wow!

NGUYEN: A federal investigation into the failed hurricane response is ongoing.

Now, at the half hour, we will examine the legal fallout that Brown still might face.

While who did what is sorted out in Washington, many people on the Gulf Coast are still trying to sort out where to live and who among their family and friends is still alive. A woman's search for her mother caught the country's attention last month.

We have an update now from CNN's national correspondent, Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A family drives hundreds of miles from their temporary home in Georgia to the home that Katrina forced them to leave, their beloved City of New Orleans.

(on camera): What were you thinking about while you were in the car?

DENISE HERBERT, DAUGHTER OF VICTIM: Mother, I'm coming back.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Denise Herbert is coming back to say good- bye to her mother Ethel. What the Herbert family has gone through has been incredibly painful.

We met Denise Herbert in Atlanta.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Hello.

How are you?

TUCHMAN: Where Louisiana's governor was meeting with displaced Louisiana residents.

Denise told us her mother had been missing since two days after Katrina struck.

DENISE HERBERT: I'm very angry. And guess what? Everybody in America got a mom, but where is mine? That's what I want to know today. Where is my mother? And I'm angry with the world. And they can parade around here and talk about Mardi Gras and what they're going to do in New Orleans.

Well, what about these 3,000 and something people missing? And why am I missing my mama?

I'm sick of these people. I really am sick of these people.

TUCHMAN: Her outburst quieted the room and got the attention of the governor. Ethel Herbert's children and grandchildren had been calling government officials, hospitals and morgues for months and had found out nothing.

(on camera): Did you think for a little while that maybe you'd hear something good about her?

DENISE HERBERT: Yes, I did, because my mother was a fighter.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): After our story aired, a CNN viewer called to tell us he'd helped treat Ethel Herbert on an interstate overpass near the Superdome. By chance, this picture was taken of her by a photographer on that overpass.

DAVID LIPIN, RESCUER: We began to assess her. We didn't get very far because some snipers opened up and started shooting at us while we were stopped there. So that sort of interrupted everything that we really wanted to do.

TUCHMAN: After meeting Denise, we called morgue officials, who this week notified Denise Herbert that one of their unidentified bodies was, indeed, her mother.

DENISE HERBERT: For somebody I've been with all my life, I was breaking. It was heartbreaking.

TUCHMAN: And now Denise and her daughter D'Lon are home for the funeral this weekend. It is only the second time they've been back since the hurricane.

Denise lived in an apartment in a unit right next to her mother, a building that is still uninhabitable.

(on camera): And it probably is unbelievable to you that this even happened, isn't it?

D'LON HERBERT, GRANDDAUGHTER OF VICTIM: It's like it's not real. It's not real.

TUCHMAN: Denise was told that her mother died two hours after doctors took her from the overpass and put her on an emergency helicopter. That she didn't suffer anonymously for days or weeks offers some comfort.

DENISE HERBERT: Although the situation is sad, but, you know, her work is finished. So we have to let her go.

TUCHMAN: After the funeral, the Herberts will go back to Atlanta.

(on camera): Do you want to come back to New Orleans some day?

DENISE HERBERT: Oh, I have to. She's here. She's here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NGUYEN: Maybe that family will get some closure with the funeral this weekend.

That was CNN's Gary Tuchman reporting.

Now, the government is giving victims of last year's hurricane a little more time to count their losses. The IRS has extended the deadline to claim hurricane-related losses by an extra six months. Victims can either make their claims on their 2005 tax returns or amend their 2004 returns. The IRS is asking taxpayers to write the name of the hurricane on the top of the returns in red ink.

HARRIS: In other "Stories Across America" this morning, in New Jersey, Vanessa Jackson gets seven years in prison. She's the woman whose four adopted sons were found horribly malnourished in 2003. One son, who weighed just 44 pounds when New Jersey authorities found him, faced Jackson in court. He recounted a life of no food, no sleep and plenty of beatings.

In Southern California, the hunt for illegal aliens ended with a tragic traffic snarling crash in San Diego. A van carrying suspected illegal immigrants was being chased by Border Patrol agents when it tumbled down an embankment. Twenty-one people in the van were injured, eight critically.

A private citizen doing public good -- the private citizen is El Tigre. That's Tiger Woods there.

NGUYEN: El Tigre? HARRIS: Yes, El Tigre.

The Public Good is a new learning center in Anaheim, California. The Tiger opened the new center with former President Bill Clinton at his side. Woods says he decided he needed to give back more after 9/11.

When four U.S. presidents gathered earlier this week, the talk wasn't all polite, Betty.

NGUYEN: It was not.

HARRIS: Now one father is speaking up for his son. That story coming up next.

NGUYEN: And it's been nearly three hours since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon went into surgery. We're going to keep us posted on this breaking news regarding his health condition -- good morning, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Betty, Tony and everyone.

We are getting ready for a big winter storm, already producing some snow in parts of Tennessee. We have two inches of snow on the ground in Nashville, for example.

Take a look at this live picture of Nashville, Tennessee. The snow continues to fall.

Good morning, everyone.

You're waking up to some wintry weather and this is just the beginning. I'll tell you all about this major winter storm that's ahead for much of the Northeast tonight and tomorrow.

That's all coming up next on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Former President Bush says he is upset because of criticism aimed at his son by some speakers at Coretta Scott King's funeral. Now, in a tribute to Mrs. King, the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who you just saw there, took a few jabs at the Bush administration, saying: "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In terms of the political shots at the president, who was sitting right there with his wife, I didn't like it and I thought it was kind of ugly, frankly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NGUYEN: If you missed Coretta Scott King's funeral Tuesday, you'll want to tune in to CNN this afternoon for a replay of some of the highlights. You can catch it at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

HARRIS: Yes, but he didn't say anything at the time. He was there. He didn't say anything -- if he was upset...

NGUYEN: He was there. He showed a little bit of his feelings.

HARRIS: He did.

NGUYEN: But not that much, when he did the score card between Lowery and him when he was in office.

HARRIS: But that was funny.

NGUYEN: Yes. He did it with humor.

HARRIS: Yes, that was funny. Yes.

NGUYEN: But I think once you sit back and he's thinking about it, that he -- he didn't say what he wanted to say at the time.

HARRIS: Betty, we've got a huge storm that's working its way through the South. And then it's going to pick up some intensity, pull some water and some intensity off the Atlantic...

NGUYEN: We might get a big, huge storm.

HARRIS: Oh, I'm sorry.

This is Bonnie's job to do.

NGUYEN: Yes.

HARRIS: Good morning, Bonnie.

NGUYEN: I think we should leave it to the expert -- right, Bonnie?

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

HARRIS: Good morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: You've got nor'easters, you've got back door cold fronts. It's just a ...

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: ... didn't you?

All right, we are going to move on, Bonnie.

SCHNEIDER: All right. NGUYEN: Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you.

HARRIS: Bonnie, thank you.

So, you're over 30 and you don't have a wedding date. Well, you're not alone. In fact, you're part of a growing trend, did you know that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've always been somebody who wanted to know that I could stand on my own two feet before I made a life with somebody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Well, the numbers show that Americans are getting married later in life.

Join us tomorrow just in time for Valentine's Day, as we explore the state of love in America, somewhere near Connecticut, live on CNN SUNDAY MORNING, 9:00 a.m. Eastern time.

NGUYEN: Is that where is it? I'm going to move then to get to the state of love.

HARRIS: And we continue to monitor the news out of Jerusalem, where Israel's prime minister went back into surgery this morning.

NGUYEN: Plus, it is the Super Bowl versus the Winter Olympics. If you wanted to advertise a product and just one of them, just one, that's all you get, which one is the better buy? We're going to have some answers next when the sports professor -- wait, where is he?

Rick, where are you?

Rick Horrow is who we're talking about.

He's going to join us live as we take you "Beyond The Game."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: If you watched last night's opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, they signaled the start of 17 days of games in the Italian alps. The previous Winter Olympics drew more than two billion viewers. If you compare that to the one billion worldwide viewer estimate from last week's Super Bowl, it begs the question, if you're going to advertise on just one event, where would you put your money?

Let's turn to CNN sports business analyst Rick Horrow, author of "When the Game Is On the Line" -- Rick, good to see you.

Well, you're flaming.

You're absolutely flaming.

RICK HORROW, CNN SPORTS BUSINESS ANALYST: I'm flaming. That's nice.

HARRIS: What is going on here?

HORROW: This is the official U.S. Olympic ski support hat. I'll be in Torino in a week-and-a-half, of course...

HARRIS: You will be?

HORROW: ... and we'll do it live from Torino in a couple of weeks.

HARRIS: OK.

HORROW: And we'll talk about some of that, OK?

But, hey, we've got some unfinished business, don't we?

HARRIS: Yes, yes, yes, we do. But, you know, I have to, for our viewers at home, there was a moment ago when we tried to pop you up live and we were in black, as the expression goes here on the network. And now I understand why. Look at that headdress.

HORROW: Nice. Nice comment.

HARRIS: A nice hat.

HORROW: Don't quite -- don't quit your day job, Tony.

HARRIS: Let me ask you something, I missed you last week.

HORROW: Yes.

HARRIS: And you -- I need to find out where you were on the record with this Super Bowl prediction.

Do we have the tape?

Can we roll the tape?

HORROW: Go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HORROW: Oh, my pick first?

NGUYEN: Go ahead, yes.

HORROW: Pittsburgh by 11.

NGUYEN: Eleven?

HORROW: The first team in the history of NFL Super Bowls to be the last team in the playoffs and win the title. NGUYEN: Oh.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm taking Seattle because I'm a contrarian. Pittsburgh is the media darling ever since they knocked off the other media darling, which was Peyton and Indianapolis.

NGUYEN: Yes.

SANCHEZ: And whenever the media goes one way, I go the other way.

NGUYEN: You go the other way.

SANCHEZ: I'll take Seattle.

NGUYEN: Although you're a part of the media.

HORROW: And, hey, Longhorn, Texas Longhorn, what about you? Who are you going with?

NGUYEN: All right, I would root for the Longhorns, but they don't play in the NFL. So I'/m going to go with Seattle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Betty! Betty! What were you thinking?

NGUYEN: Look, I thought Seattle had it. I really did.

HORROW: Hey, hey...

HARRIS: Good call, Rick. A good call.

NGUYEN: For what, Rick?

For what?

HORROW: What about it -- Betty, remember I told you, Sanchez's pick is irrelevant. But when you put Tony in...

HARRIS: Exactly. Exactly.

HORROW: And I called it and I called the exact numbers...

NGUYEN: You did. Not a point...

HORROW: And you remember Tony two years ago?

NGUYEN: Yes.

HORROW: He picked Atlanta to win the Super Bowl.

NGUYEN: Yes.

HORROW: So -- and they weren't in it.

NGUYEN: Do you ever forget anything? Can you ever just forget these numbers, Rick?

HORROW: I'm ...

NGUYEN: Come on.

HORROW: I'm going to pat myself on the back, except I can't reach.

HARRIS: Maybe you can't reach.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: All right...

HORROW: No one else does it. I might as well have you do it or me do it, right?

NGUYEN: That's true, because you know we won't.

HARRIS: You can't...

HORROW: Thanks for telling me.

You need...

HARRIS: Can we get to the Olympics?

HORROW: Any predictions you need in the future, stock quotes or anything, you just call me.

HARRIS: All right.

Can we talk about the Olympics for just a moment?

HORROW: Yes, let's go.

Let's go.

HARRIS: All right.

So, McDonald's and Visa...

HORROW: Yes?

HARRIS: They opted out of buying ad time in the Super Bowl for the Olympics.

What do you think?

Why did they make that choice?

HORROW: Well, it's a pretty easy choice when you think about it.

First of all, it's cheaper, $700,000 for a 30-second spot for those guys versus $2.6 million.

HARRIS: Ah!

HORROW: Second, the interesting reason is what ad executives call lack of editorial scrutiny, which means in the Olympics they don't wake up the next day and read in the paper which ads made it and which ads don't, because the ads that don't make it end up with fired ad executives, usually, when you think about it.

And, third, you've got the premium buy. You've got two billion people watching the Olympics. About 150 million watching the Super Bowl in the U.S. And 61 percent, according to a Harris poll, like the idea of patriotism, sportsmanship, perseverance as Olympic traits.

Let's just hope, by the way, 17 days from now, we now talked about doping, whining, losing and complaining.

HARRIS: Yes, you know, is it true that we're not as interested in the Winter Games as we are in the Summer Games?

HORROW: Yes...

HARRIS: Is that true, generally, as a rule?

HORROW: Generally as a rule, statistically, that's correct. And, of course, for endorsers, that's the same situation.

HARRIS: Right.

HORROW: They're all excited. Everybody's thinking about Michelle Kwan, for example.

HARRIS: There you go. There you go.

HORROW: They're thinking about Gretchen Bleiler and Lindsey Jacobellis. Snow boarders, six million Americans are doing that today and everybody's talking about Bode Miller, the skier, because he's talking about it himself.

The bottom line is performance, though. If they perform very well, they're media darlings. There's $2 billion of endorsement money from Nike that's available every year for this kind of stuff.

If they don't perform, they go into that heap of failed expectations.

HARRIS: Yes.

HORROW: And, by the way, even if they're celebrities, they'll only be celebrities until the American snow melts.

HARRIS: All right, just a quick one.

You're going over in a couple of weeks and, what, next, next week? Is that when you're going over?

HORROW: I'm going over right after our "Beyond The Game" next Saturday. HARRIS: OK.

HORROW: I'm going to the Daytona race and then going over there and seeing some of the events.

HARRIS: Well, what's the top story, in your mind, the top personality? Is it Kwan? Is it this Gretchen lady that you were just talking about? These -- some of the folks, I mean Bode Miller I know. But the other folks that you mentioned, I don't even know these people.

HORROW: Well, we don't know these people yet. You know, Visa did a big commercial on the snowboards. Kwan we do know.

HARRIS: Yes. Yes.

HORROW: I'll be there for the finals of that. That's a big deal. And, of course, Bode Miller is important because he talks live and he talks a lot and he talks consistently.

HARRIS: Yes.

HORROW: There will be some surprises that come out of these Games, too, endorsement wise. But if there's one dramatic endorser, it'll have to happen on the ice. And then we'll talk about how wonderful he or she is.

HARRIS: Yes.

Rick Horrow, good to see you.

HORROW: Yes.

See you next week.

HARRIS: But I had Pittsburgh, too. And what was Sanchez thinking?

HORROW: Who cares?

HARRIS: Yes?

HORROW: You know, it was good -- it was good to see you on the regular rotation. We'll put you back on the shelf for another year and then anybody who wants any predictions can

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: All right, we've got to go. All right, Rick, see you next week.

HARRIS: Betty.

NGUYEN: Funny. He just keeps that ...

(CROSSTALK) HARRIS: I know. It's insane.

NGUYEN: He won't stop it. But I will call him for some stock picks.

Rick, calling you. Answer the phone.

All right, we'll have some more on the Olympics we will take you live to Italy right after this break.

Plus, former FEMA Director Michael Brown named names and pointed fingers and he did not hold back. So what now?

We go to the nation's capital to find out.

Plus, we continue to follow the breaking news out of Jerusalem. The news isn't good for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his health. We're going to bring you the latest.

Stay with us.

You're watching CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: We continue to monitor the situation in Jerusalem, where Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is undergoing emergency surgery right now. A hospital spokesman says a test on Sharon's stomach this morning indicated serious damage to his digestive tract. Sharon has been in a coma since suffering a massive stroke last month.

There is a new video and new deadline for the release of an American journalist kidnapped in Iraq. Jill Carroll was abducted in Baghdad back on January 7th. Yesterday, her captors told a Kuwaiti television station that Carroll will die on February 26th unless all female Iraqi prisoners are released.

Former President Bush says some of the political jabs aimed at his son during Coretta Scott King's funeral were "kind of ugly." In one case, Reverend Joseph Lowery made reference to the Bush administration not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

CNN will replay parts of King's funeral this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

NGUYEN: Well, Tony, a bizarre discovery at a Florida airport. A Haitian woman was stopped in Customs in Fort Lauderdale after agents discovered a human skull in her luggage. That's right. The woman has been charged with smuggling a human head, failing to declare it to Customs and transporting a hazardous material. She could get five years for each charge if convicted.

Now, just over an hour ago, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett passed the point of no return as he heads out over the Atlantic in an experimental plane. He continues his record-breaking flight attempt despite facing little opportunity to land if the plane runs out of fuel. He is due to land in England later today, completing a 27,000 mile odyssey.

And in Mobile, Alabama, it is time to toss the trinkets and beads. You know what I'm talking about. It is Mardi Gras. The annual celebration began last night, and lasts until Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 28th this year. While New Orleans gets more attention, historians say the first carnival in the U.S. was celebrated in Mobile.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it does not reflect the official use of the agency or the...

BROWN: Congressman, first and foremost, I alerted headquarters as to those reports and asked them to get in contact with Marty to confirm those reports. And I also put a...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: Hung out to dry by the White House. That is how disgraced former FEMA Director Mike Brown describes his situation.

But our guest legal expert says Brown should mind his Ps and Qs in talking about the hurricane disaster.

That person is Stanley Brand, one of Washington's top attorneys. He is known for specializing in cases where politics and criminal behavior cross paths.

And he joins us now from Washington.

Good morning to you.

STANLEY BRAND, LEGAL EXPERT: Good morning.

NGUYEN: We took a listen to that testimony yesterday, at times, some of it very testy.

What do you think about it?

Did Brown help or hurt himself?

BRAND: I don't think he hurt himself. I think he's firing back. That's always a problematic exercise where you have the government of the United States, in the form of the White House, sort of distancing themselves from him and trying, in some sense, to place blame on him for most of what went wrong.

NGUYEN: Now, in Brown's testimony, he says he made the White House fully aware of the impact of Katrina. Yet there was some kind of disconnect.

Did he really fully explore that argument? Did he make any headway, any ground in what he was trying to say on that? Or did it just open it up to more questions about why didn't the information get to the people who needed it in time to help the people who were in desperate need of getting out of harm's way?

BRAND: Well, as we say, hindsight is 20-20. And it's easier to criticize after the fact. And, of course, this is, you know, this is a well known Washington exercise, the public flogging of officials after a disaster, all the way back to the sinking of the Titanic.

Congress jumps in and they want to hang somebody or scalp somebody for what went on.

Here, there's a large record of e-mails and correspondence back and forth, some of which the White House has held back on claims of privilege. But they have not allowed or cared about whether Mr. Brown claims any privilege and they let him go testify.

NGUYEN: Let's talk about those claims of privilege, because the White House is withholding evidence, saying that it really can't provide all of that information because it would prevent presidential advisers from speaking freely.

Do you buy that?

BRAND: No, I don't buy it. It's, again, an age old tactic by White Houses of both political parties. Congress has oversight responsibility. They pass the laws, they appropriate the money and they should be able to see how the government executed its strategy using those funds and those authorities.

NGUYEN: And in a situation like this, when so many lives were put in danger, when so many people were killed, a natural disaster of this kind of impact, that information, do you believe, should be made public?

BRAND: Well, it should be made available to the Congress and the Congress, in its wisdom, should make that part of it public which is important to its deliberations.

I think given what you say, the size of this disaster, the loss of life, the loss of property and the aftermath of the storm, which we're still feeling the effects of, makes it a very important policy debate inside the Congress.

NGUYEN: Here's a question that I have about this, because Mike Brown issued this study, per se, before Katrina hit, because he saw some flaws within the system, basically, so many people were in charge, but no one was in charge. But even after that study -- and it found that there was so many areas where there could be improvement, yet nothing was made -- who's held accountable for that?

BRAND: Well, there were several studies. There was the Corps of Engineers' study on the levees. There have been other studies. And the General Accounting Office, the congressional accountability office, has already found that there were early warning signs that weren't heeded and that the government as a whole failed to anticipate and take appropriate action where the record indicates they should have.

NGUYEN: And, quickly...

BRAND: So I think there's plenty of blame to go around.

NGUYEN: And speaking of that blame, quickly, do you agree with Brown that he's being hung out to dry? Is he the scapegoat here?

BRAND: Sure. And as I say, it's, you know, it's a sport in Washington to take the official, the highest ranking official you can get, and push him out front as the one who is responsible.

NGUYEN: Stanley Brand, we appreciate your time and insight this morning.

Thank you so much.

BRAND: You're welcome.

NGUYEN: Tony.

HARRIS: A lot of fanfare there. Let the games begin. The Winter Olympics are officially underway in Torino, Italy, after last night's dramatic opening ceremony.

Larry Smith, our man in Torino, joins us now live -- all right, Larry, let's see, $34 million spent on the opening ceremonies.

How was it? How was it?

LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, $34 million also, the closing ceremonies, too. It's like a two-for-one

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: OK. Got you. Got you.

SMITH: Yes, absolutely.

Well, some news this morning right now that may not be quite as good for the American figure skating fans. Michelle Kwan, the nine time U.S. champion, five time world figure skating champion, did not complete her practice. She cut about 15 minutes short after struggling in many of her jumps and did not run her short program run- through, as expected.

Now, Kwan, you remember, called last month, was given a medical exemption to join the U.S. team after she missed the Nationals due to a groin injury. And so right now you wonder right now how healthy is she to compete in these games as she tries to get that first ever Olympic gold medal after coming up short so many times in what has been an illustrious career for the 25-year-old Michelle Kwan.

She's expected to talk to the media here in about an hour. And we'll keep you posted in terms of what her future holds for these games.

Speaking of last night's Olympic ceremony, the opening ceremony, it was spectacular. $17 million worth? Yes, sure. Why not? It included even human snowflakes, fireworks all over the place; also, 35,000 in attendance. More than 2,500 athletes taking part in this as they celebrated the 20th Olympic -- 20th Winter Olympic Games, I should say.

As we saw at the end, it was Alberto Tomba, the great Italian skier, who brought the flame, the Olympic Torch, into the stadium. And later the Italian cross country great Stefania Belmondo lit the torch to open these games. And we are now here in our first day of competition -- Tony, let's go back to you.

HARRIS: Hey, Larry, just very quickly, this is big news on Michelle Kwan.

Is there a chance she may not compete?

SMITH: Well, that's the thing that right now we're not sure.

Again, if her -- is she healthy enough?

HARRIS: Yes.

SMITH: That groin injury -- this was her first public practice. Well, she did -- she worked out before last week. It was in a closed situation in front of only committee members. And so we'll see. That's the question right now, is she healthy enough to compete in this? We don't know.

HARRIS: And the alternate is the Hughes girl, is that correct?

SMITH: Yes. That's right. Yes.

HARRIS: OK.

SMITH: She was bumped off. She would have been the third person, but she was bumped back when Michelle Kwan was put on the team. She would be the first alternate and would take her place if Kwan can't go.

HARRIS: And, Larry, I understand one event has been completed, the Nordic combined, which, all right, the Nordic combined combines cross country skiing, shooting, the hammer throw and, I understand, a tire pull, is that correct?

I don't know what...

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: A tire pull.

SMITH: There are four gold medal events today. That's one of them.

HARRIS: OK.

NGUYEN: A tire pull.

HARRIS: Larry Smith in Torino for us.

Larry, appreciate it.

Thank you.

SMITH: Only you, Tony.

Only you.

We'll see u.

HARRIS: We're going to take a break and come back with more of CNN SATURDAY MORNING right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: Bonnie, I am cold just thinking about it.

All right, thank you.

We want to check our top stories right now.

Doctors say the life of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is in danger this morning. He was rushed into emergency surgery after a C.T. scan showed severe damage to his digestive tract.

Former President Bush says he didn't appreciate the political shots taken at his son during Coretta Scott King's funeral. He called it "kind of ugly." In one case, Reverend Joseph Lowery made reference to the Bush administration not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And Steve Fossett is staring danger down and continuing his record-breaking flight in an experimental plane. The millionaire adventurer has passed the point of no return, as they call it, and he has a tight fuel supply. But Fossett thinks that he has enough fuel to finish the trip in England and break a non-stop distance record.

Fossett's going global, we're going to go global.

HARRIS: Yes.

NGUYEN: Today, we're going to be talking about Iran's president. He again is taking a defiant stance regarding his country's nuclear ambitions.

HARRIS: Betty, again, he is blasting his Western critics.

For more on the growing crisis, we turn to our Brenda Bernard at the International Desk -- Brenda, good morning. BRENDA BERNARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony.

That's right, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has issued a veiled threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He was speaking before a massive crowd of tens of thousands of Iranians who had gathered in the capital to celebrate the 27th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

In his speech, the hard line leader rejected Western pressure to freeze his country's nuclear program. He also said that the real Holocaust is happening right now in the Palestinian Territories and in Iraq.

In other news, oil and alternative energy sources are the focus of this weekend's meeting of finance ministers from the world's wealthiest nations. They're gathered in Russia, which is beginning its chairmanship of the Group of Eight nations. The ministers are laying the groundwork for a meeting of world leaders at the G8 summit, which will be held in Russia this summer.

And Egypt's famed Valley of the Kings has yielded an extraordinary find -- a tomb with five mummies, untouched, near King Tut's grave. An American team from the University of Memphis made the discovery. They even found jars used by ancient Egyptians to store food and drink for the afterlife.

Amazing, isn't it, Tony?

HARRIS: Yes, look at that. That is amazing.

BERNARD: Yes. It's been hidden for 3,000 years.

HARRIS: Wow!

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: A long time.

Yes, thanks, Brenda.

We'll see you later.

HARRIS: We'll talk to you next ...

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: And coming up, finding a way to cash in on Valentine's Day. Hint, hint, Tony. We'll get some ways to keep your sweetheart's gift in the present.

HARRIS: And there are many twists and turns in the alleged plot to blow up a Los Angeles skyscraper. We're watching your security next on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NGUYEN: In our "Security Watch" this morning, President Bush has released new details about a foiled al Qaeda terror plot four years ago.

Meantime, anti-terror officials tell CNN that one of the suspected plotters claims he had no intention of taking part in it. The man was allegedly recruited to fly a plane into a Los Angeles skyscraper.

Now, in a speech Thursday, the president says the plot was organized by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of 9/11.

Now on Capitol Hill, Democratic and Republican leaders are supporting legislation that clears the way for renewing the Patriot Act. The move comes a day after Senate Republicans and the White House worked out a compromise on the anti-terror bill. The compromise plan gives greater protections to civil liberties.

And finally, four years and $130 million later, the Transportation Security Administration wants to make changes to the way it operates. The changes affect how airline passengers are checked against terrorist watch lists. TSA officials say privacy issues plague the program and are a major reason for the big change.

You can stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

HARRIS: The clock is ticking. Valentine's Day is less than 36 hours away.

Our Veronica De La Cruz is here from the Dot-Com Desk with a few gift ideas that you can find online.

I really need your help on this. I keep waiting for some kind of inspiration as we get to the hour and sometimes it doesn't happen.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm telling you, have a plan. Just make sure you have a plan.

HARRIS: Is that the beat? Just have some kind of a plan?

DE LA CRUZ: Have a plan. It doesn't have to be a big plan...

HARRIS: Right.

DE LA CRUZ: ... but have a plan.

HARRIS: OK.

DE LA CRUZ: And this Valentine's, cnnmoney.com is actually asking you to think differently.

HARRIS: OK, great.

DE LA CRUZ: Instead of thinking red, Tony...

HARRIS: Yes?

DE LA CRUZ: Think green.

You want to invest in your relationship this year by investing in the stock market.

HARRIS: What?

DE LA CRUZ: Yes. Invest in the stock market.

And here, actually, is a list of five stocks that your sweet will fall in love with.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DE LA CRUZ: This stock selection represents a cross-section of the economy. When it comes to serious commitment, analysts say your best bet is to woo companies like Apple and Abercrombie. For earning growth, as much as 47 percent is anticipated this fiscal year. You can read more about this year's selection and take a look at the picks from years past.

And if stocks aren't your style and your sweetie has a soft spot for the sweet stuff, here's a list of "Fortune" magazine's best new chocolates from small businesses, from pretty dark and milk chocolate blends to fashion fruit caramels, this link shows you sweet offerings from small companies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DE LA CRUZ: And you can find it all online at cnnmoney.com.

And the chocolate, that's always a good idea.

HARRIS: Yes.

DE LA CRUZ: The stocks, as far as the romance factor is...

HARRIS: It seems a little bit impractical and it seems a little bit impersonal, but, OK.

DE LA CRUZ: I'm -- here's a caveat...

HARRIS: In you I trust.

Right?

DE LA CRUZ: The caveat, at least for me, is the stocks, as far as the romance factor is concerned.

HARRIS: Right.

DE LA CRUZ: I don't know about stocks. I don't know if I want to get a bunch of stocks for my sweetheart on Valentine's Day.

HARRIS: Exactly. Exactly. NGUYEN: Well, passionate stocks...

DE LA CRUZ: It's practical, but...

NGUYEN: And buy something nice for yourself. That's the way you do it.

DE LA CRUZ: OK.

HARRIS: I think they worked it out.

NGUYEN: There's always a way.

DE LA CRUZ: If you want to look at it that way. I don't think, I just don't think love and money, you know.

NGUYEN: Oh, love and money, they all go hand in hand.

DE LA CRUZ: But the chocolate...

NGUYEN: Don't go -- all right, we're going to get on to some serious news this morning.

HARRIS: Veronica, thank you.

DE LA CRUZ: All right.

NGUYEN: We do have some breaking news to tell you about.

We have learned that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of surgery this morning. We learned a little bit earlier that because of a C.T. scan, doctors found that there were some problems in his digestive tract. He suffered some serious damage. That's why he underwent surgery about 4:30 this morning Eastern time.

That surgery was said to last between three and six hours. And as of now, we understand, Ariel Sharon is out of surgery. Part of his intestines did have to be removed, but so far we know that the results are good, at this point. We don't have a condition just yet. But the good news that he is out of surgery, although part of his intestine has been removed.

And we're going to stay on top of this and bring you the latest as we hear more from the doctors as to exactly what happened in the surgery and how the prime minister fared.

So stay with CNN for that throughout the morning.

You're watching CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: OK, Bonnie, thank you.

See you next hour.

NGUYEN: Yes.

And speaking of that next hour, the next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING begins right now.

We do have some breaking news out of Israel right now.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of emergency surgery. This is Sharon's seventh surgery since he had a stroke in early January.

We have a live report on that straight ahead.

HARRIS: Iran's president is threatening to walk away from nuclear talks. In a speech to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, he said Iran has a right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and he repeated his claim that the Holocaust was a hoax.

NGUYEN: Italy reports its first cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. Italy's health minister says the virus was found in swans in southern Italy and Sicily. Also, Greece reports a wild goose and three swans of being tested positive for the deadly strain.

HARRIS: A tunnel used for smuggling along the border between Egypt and Gaza collapsed late Friday, killing one person and trapping others. Israel believes Palestinians used the tunnel to smuggle in contraband.

NGUYEN: Former president George Bush says he's upset about political shots taken at his son during Coretta Scott King's funeral. He called it, quote, "kind of ugly." In one case, the Reverend Joseph Lowery mentioned the Bush administration not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

And CNN will replay parts of King's funeral this afternoon at 2:00 Eastern.

HARRIS: The Winter Olympics are officially under way in Torino, Italy. At last night's opening ceremonies, athletes arrived to a disco beat of "YMCA" and "I Will Survive. Actress Susan Sarandon was one of eight women chosen to carry the Olympic flag.

CNN Sports' Larry Smith will join us live from Torino in just a couple of minutes.

NGUYEN: Steve Fossett is pushing forward in his record flight around the world, despite a fuel leak in his experimental plane. He has now passed the point of no return over the Atlantic. Now, if he runs out of fuel, he doesn't have a lot of opportunity to land. So if all goes well, he does touch down this afternoon in England. We'll be watching.

From the CNN Center, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING, February 11, 8:00 a.m. here at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, 3:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, where we are going to give you an update on Ariel Sharon's condition. But in the meantime, good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HARRIS: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. Thank you for being with us.

After the warmest January on record, the snow will be flying and the wind will be blowing as the snowstorm heads northeast from the Mississippi Valley. We'll talk about weather extremes with a leading long-range forecaster. That's coming up in 20 minutes.

Also, when it comes to fitness, are you a victim of that six-week itch to quit? Well, don't despair, help is on the way in our top five tips to pump up your resolve. That's in our next hour.

And a former Green Bay Packer is out of the locker and between the covers of a new tell-all book about being gay in the NFL. We'll talk to him in our 10:00 a.m. Eastern hour.

NGUYEN: Well, we want to get you more now on that breaking news out of Israel. Ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon now out of surgery.

CNN's Guy Raz is in Jerusalem with the latest on this. And Guy, the latest that we have heard from aides there at the hospital saying the results were good, but did not explain. Have you heard any more? What exactly does that mean? What is his condition?

RAZ: It's quite extraordinary, if, in fact, his condition is good. And that's what we are hearing from the prime minister's aides.

He essentially underwent three and a half hours of surgery, surgery to remove part of his intestine. This, after doctors determined earlier this morning that there was extensive damage to his digestive tract, a condition known as necrosis, which causes intestinal tissue to die.

The prime minister, as I say, underwent three and a half hours of surgery here at the Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital. He was brought to the operating room. That procedure is now over. He is in the intensive care ward right now. And he is recovering, we understand.

In about two hours' time from now, we will hear from hospital officials and get more details on his condition. This now five weeks after he was admitted to this hospital after suffering an enormous cerebral hemorrhage, a brain stroke, on the 4th of January. He underwent three major invasive procedures at that time.

This is the fourth major procedure he has undergone in the past five weeks. And it should be said, over the past five weeks, Ariel Sharon has been in a coma, a coma from which he has not awakened yet, Betty.

NGUYEN: Guy, as we wait to hear word on the condition and how he fared in that surgery, besides what we've learned so far, that it went well, we're hearing a lot of commotion behind you. This being the Sabbath, are Israelis just now learning about what has happened with Ariel Sharon? RAZ: Well, about a fifth of the country still won't know about this news, because there are people in the country who observe the Jewish Sabbath. They won't be watching television. They won't be listening to the radio. They don't use electricity. So simply put, they will not be aware of this until sundown, in about three hours' time from now.

But obviously, many people in the country have already been made aware of this. As I say, the Sabbath is generally a day when offices close down, restaurants and shops are shut, the government obviously shut down.

In fact, earlier this morning, even as this news was breaking, the television and radio networks here in Israel continued to air their preprogram programming, essentially music programs, light entertainment programs, just breaking into it now and again, although that has changed, and the local media here in Israel covering the story now very closely, as people eye this hospital ward, waiting to hear news on whether the prime minister will survive this latest procedure.

NGUYEN: And people around the world, no doubt, are watching as well, including all of us here at CNN. Guy Raz in Jerusalem. Guy, thank you for that update.

HARRIS: Well, for years now, Ariel Sharon has worked closely with President Bush on efforts for peace in the Middle East. Now that he's gravely ill, how will those efforts play out?

Kathleen Koch is at the White House with more. And Kathleen, it's a question we have really been asking since Sharon's major stroke last month.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We certainly have, Tony.

And it's a question, obviously, that they've been grappling with here at the White House. First of all, do want to say, at this point, no official reaction yet from the White House to this sudden downturn in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health this morning. Obviously, though, the White House is watching the situation very, very carefully and with great interest.

Now, back in January, some five weeks ago, when Sharon had that massive stroke, President Bush did speak out, saying that he and all Americans were praying for Sharon's recovery and saying it -- calling it that Sharon at that time, quote, "a good man, a strong man, a man who cared deeply about the security of the Israeli people and a man who had a vision for peace."

Of course, as you pointed out, he has been a very critical partner in President Bush's quest to end the violence and the turmoil in the region. The two men met for the first time, it was back in 1998, when Mr. Bush was then governor of Texas, and made a visit to Israel. But the two leaders really didn't become well acquainted until their first years as prime minister and as president back in 2001, because, remember, Sharon became Israeli prime minister just 17 days before President Bush took office.

So he is -- Sharon, that is -- literally the only Israel leader that Mr. Bush has dealt with since taking office. And the two have not always agreed on every point, and Ariel Sharon, in many cases, distrusting Palestinian leaders, having little enthusiasm for peace negotiations or complete faith in President Bush's so-called road map to peace.

But still, the two men did work together. The two men did trust one another. And, again, obviously, though, since January, the White House has been facing the reality that is approaching, that eventually someone else will be filling this vital role that Ariel Sharon has, or those election in Israel coming up next month.

And Israeli -- administration officials have said throughout, though, that they do expect the peace process to continue, despite Sharon's grave illness and despite his absence, though, of course, certainly, last month's victory in the Palestinian elections by the Hamas Party, Tony, has greatly complicated President Bush's quest for Middle East peace and his hopes for a peaceful Palestinian state.

HARRIS: Yes, it really has. Kathleen Koch for us at the White House this morning. Kathleen, thank you.

KOCH: You bet.

NGUYEN: Now for a check of stories making news across America this morning.

What Katrina victims need is a break, and they're getting one from an unusual place, the IRS. Yes, that's right, the IRS is giving victims in parts of Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas another six months to decide how they want to claim their losses.

Another example of alleged Katrina fraud. It comes from our CNN affiliate in New Orleans. WWL reports FEMA removed dozens of trailers from a park, claiming many of the people living in them were doing so illegally, because they're not Katrina evacuees. According to the report, some of those evicted were from Michigan and Kansas.

Now to New Jersey. A young man who weighed just 44 pounds in 2003 appeared at the sentencing of a woman convicted of starving him and his three brothers. The adoptive mother, Vanessa Jackson, got seven years in jail. The other boys reported their accounts of a life of no food, no sleep, but plenty of beatings.

And in Indiana, this house, take a look at it, take a good look at it, it was wrongly valued at $400 million. Yes, that was $400 million. And that's not all. The Porte County budget was set with the presumption that the county would get $8 million in taxes from that property that you see right there. The house is actually valued at just under $122,000, not even close to a million.

Its tax bill, just under $1,500. Porter County may now have to lay off workers due to a budget shortfall. Hmm, got some calculation problems there, wouldn't you say?

HARRIS: Oil in the ground under that house.

NGUYEN: It must be sitting on a gold mine for that to be $400 million.

HARRIS: Four hundred million.

NGUYEN: Can you believe it?

HARRIS: Wow ...

(CROSSTALK)

NGUYEN: Yes.

HARRIS: The Olympic Games are officially under way. And one small town in Vermont is bursting with pride. Coming up, their claim to fame, when we go live to Torino, Italy.

NGUYEN: And in January, you know, we pretty much considered it a fair-weather friend, with the warmest temperatures on the record. January was pretty good to us. But like all good things, it must come to an end. We'll tell you about this cold front, this nor'easter, as we're calling it. Hi, Bonnie.

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: The 2006 Winter Olympics are underway after last night's opening ceremonies in Torino, Italy.

But the games are already over for a 26-year-old American skeleton competitor Zack Lund. Call it a hair-raising experience for him. He was banned from the Olympics after testing positive for a substance found in his hair-growth pills. Officials say it can mask steroids.

Joining us live from Torino is the well-coifed, let's take a look, oh, there he is, Larry Smith, who is profiling a small Vermont town that's pretty big when it comes to the Olympics.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: Good to see you, Larry.

SMITH: Good to see you, Tony.

Yes, it's storied free (ph) report right here, I guarantee you that much so far.

You know, four gold medals they awarded today as we begin the first day of competition here at the 20th Winter Games. One of them in freestyle skiing, women's mogul freestyle skiing. Now, the 2005 World Cup champion is a woman named Hannah Kearney. She's only 19 years old, and she's from Norwich, Vermont, a small New England town, population 3,600. But incredibly, it has produced 10 Olympians throughout its history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL KEARNEY, HANNAH'S MOTHER: Hannah grew up in Norwich, Vermont. It is the quintessential Vermont town. It is the ideal place to raise a child. It's just gorgeous.

This is a very small town, basically. Dan and Whit's is our only big, big store.

LISA HOLLY, HANNAH'S FORMER TEACHER: It's a very healthy community. But we have our own ice rink out front. That's a well- known fact. When you move into town, that's mentioned that there's a skating rink on the green.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a great town to grow up in. It has a number of Olympians that are posted in Tracey Hall. So she's actually going to get to have her picture on the wall, since she's going to the Olympics. That's the criteria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we don't find it surprising at all. We expect it. That's opportunity is there. You just got to grab a hold of it. And she's done that.

JEFF HASTINGS, 1984 U.S. SKI JUMPING TEAM: I was at the first one of these in 1984, and it seems like every year since then, we've been sending somebody else off. And PEOPLE have always asked me, How does Norwich do it? It's the water.

HANNAH KEARNEY, 2006 U.S. SKI TEAM: Coming from a small town, I think, makes the support mean that much more. They're behind you 100 percent because, you know, you're kind of the focus of the town. And, you know, there's not much to do in the winter, such a small town like this, except for, you know, ski or skate. So we produce a lot of winter athletes. I don't think we have any summer Olympians.

JILL KEARNEY: When she was two years old, and we got her out skiing, I hooked her up with the lead lines that we had for the horses. She caught on extremely quickly, and both she and my son, Denny, we had, they were skiing, you know, the black diamonds when they were, like, five years old.

It's just sort of like a dream come true that she is getting to go to the Olympics. And it was a goal of hers. And she's achieved it, and so proud of her.

HANNAH KEARNEY: I remember standing up here playing the National Anthem for a sendoff for our other Norwich Olympians. So any one of you guys can be going to the Olympics. And I will be back here to cheer for you.

I've traveled the world, I've seen a lot of places, and New England is by far my favorite. So I'd like to end up back here. I have this picture of my ideal life down the road, and it involves having some animals and some land. Kind of this dream I have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SMITH: And perhaps as well, the first Olympic gold for any U.S. athlete in these games is, again, the -- Heather Kearney, or Hannah Kearney -- I'm sorry -- will compete later on today in the women's mogul.

So let's go back to you.

HARRIS: OK. Larry, quick question. You mentioned last hour that there might be some issues with Michelle Kwan, and that perhaps she may not compete.

SMITH: Well, what, yes, what happened was, we mentioned before that she cut her practice, her practice short today, her first public practice since getting here to Torino. The past half-hour, she did speak to the media and said she is not going to withdraw from these games.

HARRIS: Oh, good.

SMITH: And she would not rule out and not say 100 percent that she will compete but said that the one question that she was asked, If you feel on the day of the competition the way you feel today, will you back out? And she said no. So Michelle Kwan, the five-time world champion, nine-time U.S. champion, still plans on trying to get that elusive Olympic gold medal here at these games.

HARRIS: OK, Larry Smith in Torino, Italy, of course. Larry, good to see you. Thanks.

SMITH: OK, all right.

NGUYEN: Well, Tony, from sunny skies and record highs to heavy snow and bitter cold. We're not joking. What is going on with this extreme weather? What is happening out there?

Up next, your weather forecast, and what you can expect in the months ahead. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Bonnie Schneider is here now to help us understand these wacky extremes that we get from time to time in the weather. Good morning, Bonnie.

(WEATHER REPORT)

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's been a year of extreme weather all across the globe. While the U.S. had the warmest January on record, parts of Europe and Asia were battered by bitter cold, and it's only February.

So will the warm weather in the U.S. continue? Or should we dig out the snow shovels and expect a big freeze? Joining us now from New York is Michael Schlacter, chief meteorologist for Weather 2000. And Michael specializes in long-range forecasting.

Michael, when we saw the pictures of Russia and the bitter cold temperatures well below zero, in contrast to this warm weather in January, a lot of folks are wondering, what's going on? How do these two weather extremes relate to one another?

MICHAEL SCHLACTER, CHIEF METEOROLOGIST, WEATHER 2000: Well, basically, during winters where we have La Nina developing, like we've had since early autumn, you get volatility. And sometimes that volatility is week-to-week temperature swings across the globe. Other times, like this year, it's month to month.

And if you ask viewers in the Northeast or Midwest how the winter was going in December, they would have said, Wow, it's extremely harsh and cold and snowy. Then January was very mild. Eastern Europe and Russia got the brunt of it. And now things are coming back here in the United States.

SCHNEIDER: Did they ever. When you look back at this record- breaking warm weather we had in January, and then compare it to the record cold in Russia, we have a graphic to show you the difference in the extreme. Do they ones, these two events kind of complement each other, what happens on one side of the world happens the opposite on the other side of the world?

SCHLACTER: Sometimes yes, and particularly this year, that's the case. You had a tremendous amount of arctic and polar air trapped up in the polar regions. And they're basically dams, and that dam basically busted open in Russia and Eastern Europe, as you see in your graphic.

And Pacific flow pretty much dominated the U.S. IN January, but that was quite the opposite in the U.S. for the first three weeks in December.

Now in February, it looks like we're getting our share. And ironically, in Torino, where the Olympics are going on, they're dealing with 30s. But by the end of the week, they may have 50s. So they're dealing with a little bit of a mild spell, like we have in January.

SCHNEIDER: And after we get through with this nor'easter, it'll just reinforce some of that really cold air we'll be seeing in February.

What can we expect for the rest of the winter? I know you're a lot more reliable than our groundhog, of course, that did predict six more weeks of winter. So looking ahead, what can we expect until we get to March and spring arrives?

SCHLACTER: Well, Punxsutawney Phil might have been right for the wrong reasons. Essentially, if you remove the deep South and Gulf Coast, which looks to have kind of a milder, almost spring like climate developing, the majority of the northern three-quarters of the U.S. should see a lot of volatility, cold and snowstorms. And I would not pack away your shovels just yet.

We even deal with Easter snowstorms with these types of patterns. So for the next good 10 weeks, people should be vigilant on the roads, as well as your weather forecasts.

SCHNEIDER: We're looking at some of the coldest winters we had in 1979. Now, is there relation between a cold winter, a warm winter, and then what's ahead for summer? What can -- can you look forward towards the summer and tell us, is it going to be a hot summer?

SCHLACTER: Well, they're pretty much mutually exclusive. But the winter, and particularly the late winter and springtime, will give us an enormous amount of clues that will help us with the summer forecast.

For example, there's a lot of drought, severe drought emerging across Texas and the Southwest, even Southern California. That could really lead to some heat waves and heat spikes. If we get a lot of snows and storminess, let's say, in the mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and Northeast, that could lead to some muggier conditions in the summer, because the ground and the soil moisture so saturated.

So we're starting to get a few clues, but the next two or three months could make a big difference.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. And we'll be watching that, of course, and of -- and as we get closer to hurricane season, we'll be watching that as well.

Still so much to do, so much going on in weather. And the main concern right now is the nor'easter that's headed for the Northeast. And that will occur later tonight into tomorrow.

Thank you, Michael Schlacter, for joining us.

SCHLACTER: My pleasure.

SCHNEIDER: And let's go back to Betty and Tony now. And...

HARRIS: That's tough.

SCHNEIDER: ... are you ready for snow and cold weather?

NGUYEN: Oh, crank up the heat.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

HARRIS: That looks like it's shaping up to be a real mess.

All right, Bonnie, thank you.

Up next, "HOUSE CALL" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks.

Coming up at 8:30, we're going to look inside the lives of people living with rare diseases, from a little girl who must stay in the dark to a teenager whose mother and father were forced to become their daughter's medical experts.

We're taking your questions on how to make sure you're getting the right diagnosis, and what to do if you can't find any help.

That's coming up on "HOUSE CALL" at 8:30.

NGUYEN: And at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, maybe your New Year's resolution to lose weight hasn't exactly kicked off to an Olympic start? But there is still hope. We'll have some tips on how to ditch the six-week itch.

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