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Tropical Storm Alberto; Baghdad Crackdown

Aired June 13, 2006 - 06:29   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.
You're looking at live pictures this morning from Clearwater, Florida. Also, some pictures of Steinhatchee, Florida, as well.

Happening this morning, in fact, Tropical Storm Alberto. And it is bearing down on Florida's Gulf Coast. It's expected to make landfall a little bit later this morning.

More than 20,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. The main threat from the storm, we are told, is heavy rainfall.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

Let's get the latest right now on Tropical Storm Alberto. Our severe weather expert is, of course, Chad Myers. He's at the weather center.

Good morning, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And good morning, Miles.


MYERS: Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Nope, we're just getting started, Chad.

MYERS: This is spring training.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Bring on that dry air, though.


M. O'BRIEN: If we could keep those gulps of dry air coming wouldn't that be nice?

MYERS: No kidding. Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you. Back with you in just a little bit.

Let's get right down to the Gulf Coast now. We start in Cedar Key. That's 100 miles or so north of the Tampa bay area, where a mandatory evacuation order is in place for some low-lying areas. And if you've been to Cedar Key, you know much of it is low-lying.

Rob Marciano is there.

Rob, what's the latest?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Miles, the rain is still coming in phases, but the wind is still blowing, as you can see. High tide was about two hours ago, the beach behind me, and the tide itself is easily four to five feet above what you would typically expect.

Earlier yesterday, before people got out of here, owners of various fishing docks and slips came out here, and they started dismantling the piers, or at least the docks, taking every other piece of wood off, every other board off so that the sea or the Gulf could actually make its way through the dock and not be susceptible to being torn off. But even so, there was -- there was one boat slip that floated away earlier today. So storm surge has done a little bit of damage.

There is no, in what we can see, of the way of power outages here at Cedar Key. And as far as what's going on on the other side of the island, we don't really know. But this -- this is the part of the island that is east and south-facing. So with the south wind, you would expect the strongest storm surge to be in this area. And at worst, we've seen about a four to five, maybe six-foot storm surge here.

So certainly could have been a lot worse -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Rob, over the years, Cedar Key has been very vulnerable to Gulf hurricanes. Last year, how did they fare, and were people pretty prepared this year?

MARCIANO: Well, when Dennis came through last year, I'm told it didn't do too much damage to them. You know, it was really up the road there in Appalachia Bay and St. Marks, where -- where that water was really funneled into the Big Bend area of Florida. We here are south of that area, kind of jut out on an island. So the water actually has the ability to kind of go around, or at the worst case scenario, over the sides of the island. So it doesn't have that -- that funneling and that pinching and that lifting of the water that it would in the Big Bend area.

So, ironically enough, a much stronger storm, albeit a little bit further away, Hurricane Dennis last year didn't do as much damage as far as storm surge is concerned as this storm did. But, you know, with all the storms that rolled through not only last year, but you'll remember '04, it seemed like the panhandle was ground zero for tropical systems. So trees here are pretty storm -- pretty storm- weary and pretty strong.

So, for that reason, we haven't seen a lot of palm fronds down or tree limbs down to take down power lines and utility poles. So I suppose they're pretty tough here in Cedar Key -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Rob Marciano. We appreciate that.

Let's get a little bit further north and go to Steinhatchee, where we find CNN's Dan Lothian, where, if what Rob was saying is true, it should be a little worse.

Although it looks OK there right now -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is pretty good. We haven't had any rain falling here for about 40 minutes or so. The wind, though, does continue. We get these gusts that come through here, so it blows a little while, then it's fairly calm. But in terms of rain, no rainfall here for quite some time.

Now, you've been talking so much about how Florida, really, this is when it gets a lot of its rainfall that it needs. And I have relatives who live in the state of Florida, and they've been talking now for weeks about how "We need the rain." It is so dry. So certainly, they will get some of that relief from this storm.

Now, obviously on the other side of it is that the emergency management officials here in Taylor County say you never really know what will happen when a storm comes until after it happens. So that's why they wanted to be prepared.

They put out the word. They wanted some 2,000 or so folks to be evacuated from those low-lying areas. We don't know how many of those did move out, but we did see some folks getting prepared for that approaching storm.

So a lot of concern about potential water moving up to the area here. During Dennis, they had between eight to 10 feet, so that's their biggest concern right now -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Dan -- Lothian, I should say, in Steinhatchee.

I'm so worry about Steinhatchee, I got your name wrong. Sorry about that.

Let's move about 150 miles south now. Along the coast we go.

Susan Candiotti in Clearwater Beach.

Hello, Susan.


You saw us here yesterday, but today, we are experiencing far stronger winds than we did throughout the day on Monday. This is the back end of the storm where we are located.

First, I want to show you picture of what those high winds did overnight. They helped push, according to authorities, a construction barge off its moorings and slammed it into the Howard Franklin Bridge, which some of you might also know as Route 275 that connects St. Petersburg to the city of Tampa. No injuries, no structural damage to the bridge. But for a time, some of the lanes were closed. Most all of them have reopened now at this hour.

And you can see how those winds have now pushed -- obviously high tide is coming later on this afternoon. But the waves are really kicking up out now. But the sun is out, it looks like it's going to be a lovely day. We might get some showers from time to time, but a couple hours ago they were getting heavy rains in downtown Tampa. But they said they were moving through at a clip of around 30 miles an hour.

Back to you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Susan Candiotti, Clearwater Beach.

Thank you very much.

Be sure to stay tuned to CNN for more on Tropical Storm Alberto. And as always, CNN is your hurricane headquarters for the very latest forecast and information -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We've got breaking news to get to out of Iraq today. A massive crackdown is going into effect.

Let's get right to CNN's John Vause. He's live in Baghdad for us.

Hey, John. Good morning.


We're being told by an official within the interior ministry that at least 70,000 troops will deploy on the streets of Baghdad in less than 16 hours from now. It begins at 6:00 a.m. local time, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

We're told two brigades of Iraqi police, two brigades of Iraqi commandos, two brigades from the Iraqi army, as well as the emergency police, as well as coalition forces, will be involved in this massive security crackdown. They will call in air support if needed. The largest operation, we're told, since the U.S. handed back sovereignty to the Iraqis in June 2004.

Roads in and out of Baghdad will be secured. There will be a ban on carrying weapons. Also, a curfew will be put into place from 9:00 p.m. tonight local time until 6:00 a.m. in the morning.

Special uniforms will be issued to the security forces to distinguish them between the insurgents who may be wearing those fake or counterfeit uniforms. We've seen a lot of that over the last couple of months.

Raids will be stepped up against suspected insurgent hideouts. Officials here say they expect clashes, especially in the Sunni- dominated neighborhoods. The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will decide when this crackdown will end. He's having a video hook-up with President Bush today. He's at Camp David, where they're expected to discuss the details of this security crackdown -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk for a moment, John, about what's been going on in Kirkuk. Lots of violence and car bombs. What can you tell us?

VAUSE: Well, in Kirkuk, there was a string of five explosions today, killing at least -- what we understand, at least 14 people were killed up in the Kirkuk area. One of them targeting the local police chief. He survived, but two policemen were killed in that.

Also, it was the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. That's a political party founded by Jalal Talabani. He's the current Iraqi president.

And also, the reason for this crackdown that we're having in Baghdad is because of the ongoing violence here. In Baghdad alone, a policeman was killed by a roadside bomb today. Six bodies were found, apparently the victims of torture. And there was a string of roadside bombs in open-air marketplaces last night here in Baghdad killing at least nine people -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: John Vause in Baghdad for us.

John, thanks for the update on both fronts -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, authorities say he is a terrorist, and yet he is about to get out of jail. Still to come, why the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings will be set free today.

S. O'BRIEN: Then Wal-Mart to the rescue. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business" with details of the retailer's disaster relief plan.

M. O'BRIEN: And the pride of Pittsburgh. NFL star Ben Roethlisberger injured in a motorcycle crash. We'll tell you why some of his friends are shaking their heads this morning on this one.

But first, nothing. We'll be back with more in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: You're looking at live pictures from Cedar Key in Florida, where we are tracking Tropical Storm Alberto this morning. You can see the rough seas and also that palm tree blowing there.

High winds a big problem there this morning. Cedar Key about 130 miles north of Tampa. We've got reporters up and down the Gulf Coast. We're going to check in with them all morning.

Another news this morning.

A suspected terrorist leader is being set free today. That tops our look at stories that CNN correspondents around the world are covering.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dan Rivers in central Java, Indonesia, where supporters of the radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir are awaiting his imminent release. He's just finishing a two- year jail sentence for his part in the Bali bombings four years ago which left 202 people dead. In a matter of hours, he will be free once again.



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance in Moscow. And amid a surge in racist violence across Russia, one of the U.N.'s top human rights investigators has arrived in the country to meet with Kremlin officials and to gather firsthand information about the problem.

So far this year, human rights groups say there have been more than 100 racist attacks and at least 18 racially motivated killings across Russia. The Kremlin has repeatedly spoken against racism, but critics accuse the authorities of not doing enough to curb extremism and hate crimes. It will be a six-day visit, which comes, of course, as Russia prepares to host the G8 summit of leading powers next month.



MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Morgan Neill in Havana. A U.S. diplomatic mission here says it's the subject of intensifying harassment by Cuba's government. They say they've had their power cut for the last week and that some diplomats' homes have even been broken into.



SOHN JIE-AE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Sohn Jie-Ae in Seoul, and this is Seoul City Plaza, World Cup party central. South Korea is gearing up for its first match against the African team, Togo. More than a million South Koreans donned in red, the deemed color expected to fill the streets, auditoriums, restaurants and bars, anywhere that has a wide screen TV to root for their home team.

Four years ago, South Korea surprised everyone by advancing to the semifinals. And judging from this crowd, South Korea wants to do it again.


S. O'BRIEN: I bet they do.

For more on this story, those stories, or any of our top stories, go right to our Web site at -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, we're tracking Alberto. Our live reporters standing by live. And we like live reporters, definitely. They're much more useful to us when they're that way. Standing up and down the Florida coast with live transmission capability. The latest on the season's first tropical storm.

And NFL star Ben Roethlisberger's terrifying motorcycle crash. We'll have the latest on his condition this morning.

The big question, though, where was his helmet? Even if he wore his football helmet, he probably would have been better off.

Stay with us.


Welcome back, everybody.

Some live pictures there on the bottom of the screen. Those are coming to us from Clearwater, Florida. It's where Susan Candiotti is reporting to us from there today. A little rain, she says.

They're watching it very closely. We are, too.

Happening this morning, in fact, is a hurricane warning from Tampa Bay to Tallahassee as Tropical Storm Alberto is closing in on Florida's Gulf Coast. The storm is expected to make landfall later this morning. And Governor Jeb Bush las issued a mandatory evacuation order for low-lying counties that are in the storm's path.

Let's get right to Chad this morning. He's tracking Alberto from the CNN Center.

Hey, Chad. Good morning.

MYERS: Good morning, Soledad.


S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad. Thanks. Thanks for watching it. We'll continue to watch it with you -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

Andy Serwer is here with a preview.

Good morning.

ANDY SERWER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FORTUNE": Good morning to you, Miles.

We don't know if FEMA or even the Red Cross is ready for hurricane season, but Wal-Mart sure is.

Plus, in this environment, would employers be hiring? We'll answer that question coming up.

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

Also ahead, judging safety in the courtroom. It's a story we've heard one too many times, a judge is shot, a suspect on the loose. What can we do to protect their safety?

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Our coverage of Tropical Storm Alberto continues. Take a look at these screens. Upper left, Cedar Key, lower left, Steinhatchee, Florida. Middle screen, Clearwater, Florida.

There you see the radar, as well. Sixty-mile-an-hour gusts as this tropical storm almost at hurricane levels but not going to make it, as Chad Myers explained. A lot of dry air defeated plans for it to rise to those levels. But nevertheless, people are being told to evacuate all along the Gulf Coast. Some 20,000 of them, if they heeded the calls, are outside of their homes this morning.

We're watching it for you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Other stories we're watching, as well.

President Bush's war council will teleconference with members of the Iraqi cabinet this morning. Al Qaeda naming a new chief to replace Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A family court judge shot and wounded at a courthouse in Reno.

A new lawsuit claims that most sunscreens will not protect you from skin cancer.

And heavy rain and wind now lashing Florida, as Miles just told you. Tropical Storm Alberto is creeping towards the northwest coast, where we've got full team coverage this morning. We're watching it all up and down that coast -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, Wal-Mart is certainly getting ready. And Andy Serwer is always ready.


M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you.

SERWER: Good morning to you guys.

We're talking about Tropical Storm Alberto approaching the north central Florida Gulf Coast. And Wal-Mart is prepared.

You remember probably last year, when the company won kudos for its relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, beating out federal agencies. And this time around, they are ahead of the curve, too, it appears. They're working with government agencies, the Red Cross, and even competitors, right now stocking up food, water and emergency supplies at eight warehouses in the Southeast.

And, you know, you guys, I was surprised to hear that they actually have a person with a title of emergency management director right now, a guy named Jason Jackson, who is coordinating these efforts. And there was a lot that the government could learn, many pages they could take from Wal-Mart's playbook, I think, after last year. Don't you?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Wal-Mart, you're doing a heck of a job. We're glad.

SERWER: Other companies as well, like Home Depot in there. We should mention that.

Now, with the stock market swooning, and fears of higher interest rates and a weakening economy abounding, you might not think that employers would be out there looking to hire new employees. But they are. Let's check this out.

Some new numbers out projecting hiring in the third quarter. And it's looking pretty good.

Thirty-one percent expected to add jobs. Fifty-seven percent expecting no change. Maybe that's not so good.

But the real salient point here is to compare the 31 percent that expect to add. This is 16,000 companies, by the way, that expect to add new jobs, versus only six percent that are expected to cut jobs.

And so with all this talking, Miles, about the economy weakening and concerns about where things are headed, apparently, at least for the moment, employers at big companies and small companies all across the country are looking to hire, as we head into the summer and the fall.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting bit of economic news. Thank you, Andy Serwer.

SERWER: Indeed. You're welcome, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. We're getting some news right into CNN.

It turns out that Karl Rove will not be charged, in fact. The prosecutor in the CIA leak case has now advised that Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, will not be charged with any wrongdoing in the case that looked into who exactly leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative.

It ends now a nearly three-year-long criminal investigation. At times, that investigation had focused very intensely on the president's senior adviser. Karl Rove, in fact, had testified some five times before the federal grand jury about his involvement in -- in the case. But it turns out, we're getting word, that, in fact, Karl Rove will not be charged with any wrongdoing. He will not be indicted in the CIA leak case.

We'll continue to watch this story for you.

We are going to continue with our next hour of AMERICAN MORNING, as well.

A state of emergency. The season's first big storm, Alberto, closing in this morning on Florida's Gulf Coast.


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