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Start of Hurricane Season; Day Long Kidnapping Ordeal

Aired June 1, 2006 - 08:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm meteorologist Chad Myers in Atlanta.
It's back -- the hurricane season, 2006.

Are you ready?

We are. I'll have Dr. Gray's forecast coming up.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Susan Candiotti in Miami Shores, Florida for the start of hurricane season.

Are Floridians ready? And what changes is FEMA making to improve matters?

That story coming up live.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sean Callebs in New Orleans. The start of hurricane season means it is nail biting time here. The city is largely still devastated from last year. Expect it be an anxious summer here.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Nine hours of desperation and fear for an Alabama attorney safe and sound after that day long kidnapping ordeal. We have the crime and the rescue on tape.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And creaking bones and aching joints -- it's not just something that older Americans are worried about. We're going to take a look at arthritis in your 30s or your 40s or your 50s.

Those stories and much more on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

It is the dawn of a new hurricane season today. The experts say we should be bracing for a worse than normal season, but hopefully calmer than last year's all time record setter. Of course, CNN remains your hurricane headquarters. Full coverage of the hurricane season coming up. Standing by in Atlanta, severe weather expert Chad Myers, Susan Candiotti in Florida with a look at preparations there and Sean Callebs in New Orleans, where they're working around the clock trying to get the city's levees and floodwalls shored up.

S. O'BRIEN: So let's begin in Florida this morning.

The first day of hurricane season is the last day of the state's special hurricane tax holiday. People there are getting a break on the items they need to be prepared for a hurricane.

Let's get right to CNN's Susan Candiotti.

She's live in Miami Shores this morning -- hey, Susan, good morning.

CANDIOTTI: Good morning, Soledad.

And, yes, they are buying hurricane supplies -- batteries, generators, anything you can possibly think of -- to save on taxes, anyway, so far. But we've got some disturbing statistics for you, Soledad, about how ready people are.

This is taken -- a poll taken by a group called the National Hurricane Survival Initiative. And get these numbers -- 83 percent of those surveyed said they've done nothing to make their homes more hurricane-proof, 68 percent have not put together any hurricane emergency supply kit, 60 percent have no family disaster plan and 13 percent of those polled say they might not leave if ordered to evacuate, and that could mean trouble.

S. O'BRIEN: Those statistics are shocking. I mean what more do people need to see before they actually start responding?

What's the government doing...

CANDIOTTI: Soledad, it happens...

S. O'BRIEN: Go ahead. Go ahead. Because, honestly, I'm just baffled by it. It's like what more do you need...


S. O'BRIEN: ... before you get a hurricane kit together?

What else do you need to see?

CANDIOTTI: Soledad, it happens every year. Every year people are told that they have to be self-sufficient, and, again, authorities are stressing it. They're saying we can only do so much. You have to have food and water supply for at least three to seven days.

But, again -- and it happens every time -- people still don't do it.

However, this time FEMA is saying that it is doing a better job of pre-positioning emergency supplies as needed and they've also made some technical improvements.

Here's the director, David Paulison, as something he told you just about a short time ago.


DAVID PAULISON, FEMA DIRECTOR: In some cases, we've quadrupled and tripled and doubled the number of supplies that we have. For instance, our MREs. Last year, we had 160 truckloads and this year I already have 770 truckloads of MREs ready to move in, ready to pre- position.

We've also purchased over 20,000 GPS units that we're putting on our tractor-trailer trucks. So when they leave our warehouses, we'll know exactly where they are and we can tell the state very clearly what location they're in and when they're going to arrive at their location.


CANDIOTTI: And the governors of various states, as well as FEMA, trying to drive home the point that states have to be ready to take care of themselves and residents have to be ready to take care of themselves, because, again, you can't count too much on authorities trying to save you if there is an emergency -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I've got to tell you, Susan, after I spent that first week in New Orleans, I came back and I created an emergency kit for my family. You know, I've got four small children and we're going to, you know, what are you going to do for the first couple of days when you need water and supplies?

CANDIOTTI: You can't take any chances.

S. O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

All right, Susan, thanks.


Those statistics so disturbing -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Of course, the big question on many minds this morning -- is New Orleans ready for another big storm? Has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made good on a promise to make the city's flood protection system as it was before Katrina?

The short answer is no.

CNN's Sean Callebs live now from New Orleans with details -- hello, Sean.

CALLEBS: Good morning, Miles.

It's interesting to hear Susan talk about the hurricane kits because you know the people in New Orleans are going to take any kind of storm that comes spinning into the Gulf with that counter-clockwise motion very seriously after what happened here.

How much does it cost to have peace of mind?

Well, we know they spent billions of dollars trying to shore up the levee system in and around this area. We spent some time with one of the overnight crews working around the clock to show you what they are doing to make sure this city is as ready as can be.


CALLEBS (voice-over): It's 9:00 at night. John Dassau is three hours into a 12 hour graveyard shift.

JOHN DASSAU, WELDING FOREMAN: Yes, get the men left.

CALLEBS: The foreman leading his team in a race against time to finish the massive floodgates at the 17th Street Canal that could mean life or death for an American city.

DASSAU: This is very important. I mean without something like this, if another Katrina would happen to hit, I could kiss New Orleans good-bye. I've been out here all my life.

CALLEBS: Dassau likes to boast his Louisiana roots stretch back nearly 300 years. This student of history knows if water races down the canals again from Lake Pontchartrain, ripping through levees, it could mean the end of the city he loves.

DASSAU: I've got to do what I've got to do to make it safer for me and to help my family rebuild, you know?

CALLEBS: His crew is working seven days a week, 24 hours a day, part of the round the clock operation. They will admittedly miss the June 1st deadline to wrap up. Now, it's a battle to finish the job before a hurricane hits.

RANDY KEEN, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Since day one, we've worked as fast as we could work, done it as fast as we could.

CALLEBS: Ninety percent of the people working here are locals. Most either lost homes or suffered heavy damage. For the time being, personal loss is pushed aside to focus on the task at hand.

TODD MCALLISTER, SITES SUPERVISOR, NIGHT SHIFT: This is where we live, OK? what we're doing is going to protect and hopefully save the places us and our families live the next time.

FRED FUCHS, PROJECT MANAGER: We actually feel that this is where we're trying to correct what happened to us.

CALLEBS: Engineers say close to 80 percent of the flooding that devastated New Orleans came from two canals, areas where some 10,000 tons of steel are now going into place.

DASSAU: All right, I'm going to hook you up some air. CALLEBS: The night is a constant barrage of noise, sparks and seemingly endless work. Somewhere over the months, Dassau found what he needed to move on.

DASSAU: I feel at peace with it. I mean I don't know, I can't say I'm religious, but things happen for a reason.

CALLEBS: A sense of peace, maybe, but only the harsh reality of another punishing hurricane will decide if the months of work and billions of dollars have been worth it.


CALLEBS: Well, the June 1 deadline is here. It's going to be gone. But expect the crews, the Corps of Engineers and its contractors, to continue working throughout this summer.

But the point here, Miles, they want to make, they say the city is as safe now as it was before Katrina.

But is that good enough for the residents?

M. O'BRIEN: Of course, it's worth pointing out to folks that, really, the most vulnerable of neighborhoods, there aren't a lot of people there right now.

CALLEBS: Exactly. Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: Sean Callebs in New Orleans.

Thank you very much.

Let's check in now with our severe weather expert, Chad Myers -- good morning, Chad.

MYERS: Good morning, Miles.

All day yesterday we were talking about Dr. Gray from Colorado State. His forecast was going to come out yesterday and it did exactly at 10:00.

We're seeing nothing, really, on the horizon in the tropics, at least for today, and probably won't for a while. Just because it's June 1st doesn't mean we're flipping on a switch and there's going to be a storm out there. I just used in reference, back in the early '90s Andrew didn't happen until August. It was the A storm. It was the first storm.

Here's the forecast, though, from Dr. Gray, issued yesterday, updated from April -- 17 named storms, nine hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes. Our average? 9.6, 5.9 and 2.3.

So instead of the 5.9 hurricanes usually, he's forecasting nine hurricanes for this year.

We'll take you back to what he said last year. Last year, he said 15 at this same time, this same date. He updates it as we go on. Fifteen named storms, that's what he said. There was actually 27. Eight hurricanes. There was actually 15. Four major hurricanes, actually seven.

Now, this is not to slam Dr. Gray. He's the best in the business. All you need to see is where the averages are. Are we above average or below average? And, clearly, at this point in time, Dr. Gray is saying above average.

To give you an idea -- and he goes on and on. Now, there are 19 pages in this report. The chance of a category one or one major hurricane making landfall on the U.S. East Coast, 69 percent. The average is 31 percent.

For the entire U.S. coastline, the average, the chance for one major hurricane, 82 percent. The average, 52 percent.

So, what, 60, 70 percent higher numbers than normal from Dr. Gray this year. And it could go up and down from here, but if it goes up, we don't even want to hear about it, like it did yesterday, and like it did last year, rather.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up in just a few moments, we're going to go live to the National Hurricane Center. We'll talk with the director there, Max Mayfield.

Be sure to watch CNN for more on the first day of the hurricane season.

We've got you covered all throughout the day.

And tonight, a special "ANDERSON COOPER 360," live from New Orleans -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A high stakes rescue to tell you about in Alabama.

A woman is now safe, a man in custody, after Birmingham police spent all day yesterday hot on the trail of a suspected kidnapper. It all ended with a very dramatic rescue.

Amanda Rosseter is live for us in Birmingham this morning -- hey, Amanda, good morning.


This all ended in dramatic fashion, as you mentioned. And it happened on the second floor of that hotel just behind me.

This morning that suspect, Dedrick Green (ph), is in the Birmingham City Jail and the victim in this situation is Sandra Eubank Gregory. She survived a terrifying ordeal yesterday. She's a local attorney. She is the single mother of a little girl. And you can add survivor to that list now. She was simply on her way to work yesterday when she was carjacked, kidnapped and then held at gunpoint through most of the day.


ROSSETER (voice-over): A dramatic end to a daylong manhunt as Birmingham police and U.S. Marshals pulled the suspect from this second floor room at the Comfort Inn.

MARTY KEELY, U.S. MARSHAL: It went down very quickly. It went down very quickly. Information was developed quickly and once it was developed, the officers here acted on it.

ROSSETER: They rescued 34-year-old Sandra Eubank Gregory, who was found bound on the hotel room floor. Police say she had no apparent injuries, but was taken to a local hospital to be examined.

KEELY: We did find a weapon in her room and there was not much resistance.

ROSSETER: The ordeal was caught on tape as it began, around 8:30 in the morning. A surveillance camera at a downtown parking lot caught the gunman as he approached Gregory outside her car then forced her in through the passenger side and drove off.

A statewide manhunt ensued as Gregory's ATM card was used at three locations to withdraw cash. Then the suspect checked into the Comfort Inn, showed his I.D. gave a cell phone number, paid with cash and used a coupon.

The hotel manager described the scene to Nancy Grace on CNN'S "HEADLINE NEWS."

VALERIE, COMFORT INN MANAGER: He walked in alone. He came in. He asked for a room. I checked him in, took a copy of his driver's license. I gave him the room key and he left.

ROSSETER: Three to four hours later, a tip to police from a male caller gave the name of the hotel and the room number.


ROSSETER: And, Soledad, that suspect now expected to face three counts of robbery and kidnapping.

I do want to mention that Sandra Gregory does practice family law, but there is no indication that she knew her kidnapper in any way -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: What a bizarre case. And it's so good it ended -- it ended well.

Amanda Rosseter for us this morning.

Thanks, Amanda. Coming up in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to get you some expert advice on how you can protect yourself when you're in a parking garage or in some other dangerous place. I mean it's, you know, information -- it's so unclear why he would target her. But, of course, as you see, someone's focused on getting into their car, you're looking at your keys, you're not paying attention to your surroundings.

Bob Stubart (ph) is an expert in all these things and he always has great, relevant tips on how you can protect yourself.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, you can use your keys like brass knuckles if you put them -- if you use them right in your hand.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: That's one of the tips that they passed along. So we'll get to that a little bit later.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" still causing heat.

Coming up, we'll talk to -- we'll tell you why the filmmaker, Michael Moore, is getting sued by one of the people depicted in the anti-war documentary.

S. O'BRIEN: also this morning, osteoarthritis -- it sounds like it's a problem for the elderly. But not the case. We're going to meet a woman this morning. She got it in her 30s. We'll tell you how you can protect your joints if you're in your 30s or your 40s or your 50s.

M. O'BRIEN: And forecasts predict another doozy of a hurricane season.

How do they know, though?

We'll ask an expert.


M. O'BRIEN: The predictions are in. The experts are convinced the 2006 hurricane season will be worse than normal, though hopefully less than the record-setter last year.

Here are the numbers from the National Hurricane Center.

There will be 13 to 16 named storms, according to this organization; 8 to 10 hurricanes and four to six major hurricanes. Still, of course, no idea of where or whether they will make landfall and cause serious damage.

Here to explain the predictions, how it all comes to be, is Max Mayfield, who is director of the Center.

Max, I have a feeling this is the first of many meetings we will have over the next several months. Good to have you back with us.

We hope you got some rest in the off season.

First of all, let's talk about some of the factors that go into these predictions.

I know one of them is, believe it or not, the temperature of the water in the Pacific, the el nino or la nina effect.

Explain how that bears out on hurricanes in the Atlantic.


And good morning.

First of all, I want to make it really clear that there was a team effort within NOAA, the Climate Prediction Center, the Hurricane Resource Division and also here at the National Hurricane Center, a group of folks who get together every year to crank out this seasonal outlook.

The response to the question there in the Pacific, the el nino or la nina that is one of the correlations, one of the many things that we look at. And typically if we have an el nino that decreases the hurricane activity. And the reason for that is that if you have the warmer water temperatures in the tropical and Pacific, you tend to have more thunderstorms in those areas. The outflow from some of those thunderstorms goes downstream over the Caribbean and the deep tropical Atlantic. And that inhibits development.

The opposite of that, la nina, favors hurricane activity. We don't have either of those in place this season, so we really don't think that's going to be a factor.

I might add that last year, we did not have la nina or el nino in place, either.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, so it's kind of a push on Pacific, but the same as it was last year, worth pointing out.

Now, wind shear is a key thing. And help -- help people understand, we're talking about high level winds versus lower level winds. And they have a way of breaking up hurricane systems, right?

MAYFIELD: That's right. And you can think of it like this. In order to get a hurricane to develop, you need to allow the heat to become concentrated for that pressure to drop. So as these disturbances come off the coast of Africa, if you have strong westerly winds, that will tend to blow the tops off the thunderstorms, remove that heat and inhibit development.

But during the peak of the season, that wind shear typically goes away and that's why we have more hurricanes August through October.

M. O'BRIEN: And you think this year there won't be a lot of wind shear, is that your concern?

MAYFIELD: That's one of the concerns, that's correct.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. And, of course, the big one here is the sea surface temperature. The fuel for a hurricane is that warm water. And right now, those temperatures are a little bit high, aren't they?

MAYFIELD: Well, they are in the tropical Atlantic. You know, we've had a few cold fronts come through the Gulf of Mexico-and the Gulf, at least the surface temperature, has cooled off here temporarily. It will, indeed, warm up here as we get into the hurricane season.

So, you know, you can think of that as high octane fuel. When a hurricane moves over the warm ocean, it, you know, can develop if the upper level environment is also favorable.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Max, this is the big question. We've been talking about this all morning. We've been talking about Dr. Gray's prediction, your predictions. They pretty much synch up. But they also were sort of similar last year, and, of course, we had 28 named storms.

Who, you know, who would have predicted that, right?

But the question is, how accurate do you think you are this time around?

MAYFIELD: Well, we'll find out here by the end of November. And I think the main message here is that all of the seasonal forecasts, at least that I know of, are indicating that it's going to be above average activity. We certainly do have a track record of being on the right side of, you know, average. And when everybody is saying it's going to be above average, people need to sit up and take notice. And the message is, you know, very consistent -- prepare, prepare, prepare.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad Myers has a question for you -- Chad.

MYERS: Max, I know you've done a lot of off season research.

How did we have so many storms last year?

What was the -- what were the number of factors that put this to make such a perfect season, if you will, meteorologically, for these storms to develop?

MAYFIELD: Well, actually, Chad, Miles has mentioned the two big factors -- very warm sea surface temperatures, much warmer than normal. They were -- the little bit of good news, the Atlantic was, indeed, warmer last year. The anomalies higher than they are right now. And the lack of vertical wind shear. Those are the two biggest factors.

M. O'BRIEN: Max Mayfield, Chad Myers, thank you both.

And we'll be seeing both of you a lot over the next coming...


Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: ... over the coming months, unfortunately.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh, I hope not too much, you know?

M. O'BRIEN: All right, nothing personal to Max there. I don't mean it that way, of course. But we understand we're talking about some serious stuff here.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: During hurricane season it would be good to see very little of Max Mayfield this year.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: And we say that with love.

M. O'BRIEN: With love. Yes, exactly.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, fighting stress in the heat of a war. We're going to meet a doctor who is training troops' emotional wounds on the battlefield.

And then, you might think that osteoarthritis is a problem just for the elderly. But take a look at this woman here. She got it in her 30s. And she's not alone. We've got some tips on what you should be doing in your 30s and your 40s and your 50s to protect your joints.

Those stories ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Nearly 66 million Americans suffer from arthritis. In fact, it's the leading cause of disability for people over the age of 15.

Well, now there's a greater risk. It's called osteoarthritis.

Elizabeth Cohen reports on what you need to know about this condition as you age.

It's part of our series for those of us in our 30s and our 40s and our 50s.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Roberta Hagen says she's always uncomfortable. Since her late 30s, she's suffered from osteoarthritis, a deterioration of the joints. It causes swelling, stiffness and lots of pain.

ROBERTA HAGEN, OSTEOARTHRITIS PATIENT: It's a dull, constant, aching pain. It never goes away.

COHEN: Osteoarthritis was once thought of as a condition of the elderly. But physicians are now seeing it in younger patients. The skyrocketing rate of obesity is one big reason why.

DR. LEE ANN RHODES, WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: People who are obese have four times as high a rate of knee pain than those who aren't obese.

COHEN: If you have osteoarthritis in your 30s, chances are your weight, lack of exercise or genetics play a role. The pain is usually in the knees, back, hips, feet or hands. Doctors say taking a holistic approach is best at this age.

RHODES: There's exercise, weight loss where applicable, and medication management to all the alternative therapies, as well -- acupuncture, meditation.

COHEN: In your 40s, wear and tear of the joints takes its toll, especially in athletes. In severe cases, surgery is an option. NFL quarterback Joe Namath developed osteoarthritis in his early 40s. Granted, Namath was abusing his knees every Sunday for 13 years in the NFL, but doctors say even weekend athletes in their 40s can suffer from osteoarthritis if they don't take the time to warm up and then try to do too much.

RHODES: We're trying to fit in high impact, high intensity sports on the weekend, when it fits our schedule, instead of what's best for our body.

COHEN: More than 20 million Americans have osteoarthritis now and as you approach your 50s, age is the biggest risk factor. Before age 55, more men are likely to develop the disease. After age 55, women are at higher risk, according to the Arthritis Foundation. For people in their 50s, risk factors include joints, excess weight and the couch potato syndrome.

Some doctors recommend light weight training, swimming or meditation for mild cases. But people like Roberta Hagen, who suffer constantly, may need prescription pain medication.

There's no cure for osteoarthritis. Doctors say staying active in your early years and keeping off the pounds can help prevent the condition later in life.

Elizabeth Cohen, Atlanta.


S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, another lawmaker caught up in an ethics controversy. It turns out there are some rules about ethics in Congress, but they're anything but simple. This morning, we take a look at Congressional Ethics 101, like this one -- you can accept that free meal, but only if you eat it standing up.

That and much more ahead.

Plus, filmmaker Michael Moore sued for $85 million by an Iraqi war vet.

We'll tell you why ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.



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