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THE SITUATION ROOM

Storm Emergencies on Two Coasts; New Warning About Civil War in Iraq

Aired September 1, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters from across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

Happening now, storm emergencies on two coasts.

It's 7:00 p.m. here in the eastern United States, where Ernesto is on a drenching, damaging tear north.

And Hurricane John is nearing landfall in Mexico, a dangerous nightmare for tourists.

We're tracking the damage and the forecasts.

Also this hour, Hurricane Katrina keeps whipping up controversy. The mayor of New Orleans tells New Yorkers he's sorry. And Houston tells Katrina transplants go home.

Plus, a new warning about civil war in Iraq. The Pentagon delivers a grim report on insurgent attacks and where they might lead. And some Democrats are saying told you so.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, Tropical Depression Ernesto is on the move and officials along the East Coast warn people's lives are on the line. At least four deaths are being blamed on the storm. Flash flood warnings are in effect in several Eastern states right now.

Many Americans spending the holiday weekend at resorts in Mexico- are in the eye of another storm, too. Hurricane John nearing landfall in Baja, California. It's packing pounding rains and top winds near 110 miles an hour.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is standing by at our hurricane headquarters. Abbi Tatton is following the storm online.

But first, let's go to CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano.

He's on the very wet Virginia coast -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Very wet, indeed, John.

This storm came into North Carolina with winds almost to hurricane strength. But the big story certainly had been the rains. At one point, this neighborhood here in eastern Virginia up to my waist in water and cars were not allowed to come down here. You pretty much needed a boat.

But now the water has receded. Either way, with power out, not so much the wind with Ernesto, but there's a tremendous amount of rain.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MARCIANO (voice-over): It's wet, it's ugly and it's dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flooding, wind, trash cans everywhere, limbs.

MARCIANO: Ernesto is drenching the East Coast, leaving a trail of floodwater and more than 300,000 people without power. North Carolina is soaked, with more than eight inches of rain. The ground sinking under the weight of the water.

Here in Virginia, hundreds have fled homes on streets turned into rivers and officials warn the flooding could get worse in the days ahead.

GOVERNOR. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: And, you know, nobody is relaxing until long after the storm has passed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more bag. We need one more bag.

MARCIANO: In the nation's capital, sandbags are piled around the National Archives, flooded in the last major storm.

Ernesto is expected to keep moving north. It's still packing enough of a punch to make this a miserable and possibly hazardous Labor Day weekend in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MARCIANO: For now, here in eastern Virginia, the rains have stopped and the floodwaters slowly receding. It'll be just a matter of time before they dry out and eventually the lights come back on.

But it looks like a dark night here in eastern Virginia -- John, back to you.

KING: Rob Marciano.

Rob, thank you very much.

And now to Mexico, where Hurricane John is nearing landfall right now. In Cabo San Lucas, about 7,000 tourists, most of them Americans, are now in harm's way. The category two storm is packing top winds near 110 miles an hour. It's expected to crash ashore on the Baja Peninsula and dump up to 15 inches of rain. The storm already has caused flooding in Acapulco-and other popular resort areas along Mexico's Pacific coast.

Now, let's bring in CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. She, of course, at the CNN hurricane headquarters -- hi, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, John.

We'll start out with Hurricane John. And that's the one that's taken a little bit of a turn for the worse today. It did strengthen and winds are at 110 miles per hour, which is just one mile an hour away from category three status, by the way.

Now, the path has changed a little bit. If you haven't been watching all afternoon, it took a wobble, which is really common in tropical systems like that. So it's really sparing Cabo San Lucas in terms of taking the direct hit. Good news for them that they're not going to get the worst of the storm, but bad news in the fact that you'll be sustaining the tropical storm force conditions a little bit longer.

There you can see it's continuing to move up toward the north and west and it could really be kind of the southeastern coast where we're going to see landfall. And, of course, that landfall has been bumped back since we saw that little bit of a wobble.

We do expect it to be crossing the peninsula and then it's going to be moving back over the open waters. But some of the computer models are indicating a little turn around an area of high pressure, which could bring the storm into the southwestern parts of the United States. Of course, it won't be a hurricane at that time. But it certainly could be bringing in some heavy rainfall.

Heavy rainfall, that's the big key here, across parts of the midatlantic states. The center of circulation here with what's left of Ernesto is near Richmond. But all the moisture on the north side of the storm.

Delaware, coastal areas here getting hit very hard at this time. The winds are very strong. Maximum sustained winds in this system still around 35 miles per hour. So you can see on the Delaware coast we're right in that neighborhood.

Twenty miles per hour in Washington. Watch for continued -- conditions to continue to deteriorate there for tonight.

The midatlantic will be wet throughout much of the weekend -- John.

KING: Jacqui Jeras, thank you very much.

The storm is still worth watching. Jacqui, thank you.

And now to Iraq, where attacks are escalating and deaths continue, seemingly without end.

The Pentagon warns the fighting is moving from troops battling insurgents to Iraqis killing Iraqis. That could lead to civil war.

CNN's senior political correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, has all the details -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there have been a lot of indications this month, but how do you know when things really aren't going very well in Iraq?

Well, when the Pentagon's own report says so.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The report to Congress on how things in Iraq went in June, July and August does cite progress in building up Iraqi forces, as well as turning over one southern province to Iraqi control. But the good news is tempered with grim statistics -- attacks up 15 percent over the summer and Iraqi casualties up an alarming 51 percent compared to the spring.

The report says civilian casualties increased by about 1,000 per month over the three month period and says 90 percent of the bodies brought to the central morgue in Baghdad appear to have been executed in Iraqi-on-Iraqi attacks, which the U.S. still insists does not yet constitute a civil war.

COL. TOM VAIL, COMMANDER, 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION: We've got an optimistic view that civil war would not occur. But I can't predict the future. My optimism comes from the amount of forces and the amount of capability available in Baghdad right now as we intervene and we protect the people.

KING: The report echoes that hopeful assessment, but also warns ominously, "conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq." Even as it concludes: "The current violence is not a civil war and movement toward civil war can be prevented."

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: It's not often that you hear the Pentagon use the word setback, but in the report, it says setbacks in the level and nature of violence in Iraq are affecting the stability, the reconstruction and the transition plans for the country -- John.

KING: A sober assessment, to say the least.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Thank you, Jamie.

Well, many Democratic critics of the war are pouncing on this new Pentagon report, including Congressman Chris Hollen of Maryland.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KING: This report talks about, it says there's al Qaeda in Iraq. It says there are outside people coming into Iraq. But the most sobering, scary, if you read it, is Iraqis killing Iraqis -- Sunni on Shia violence, Shia on Sunni violence.

How do you stop that? Is it the job of U.S. troops to stop sectarian violence in Iraq?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, this is a very disturbing development. And what's also disturbing is it was imminently foreseeable.

If you go back before the war and you look at the analysis that was done by people at the CIA, the people who really knew what they were talking about, they predicted that this might happen. If you go back and listen to what Vice President Cheney said back in 1991 when he was secretary of defense, explaining why we didn't go into Baghdad, he said it could have this kind of effect on sectarian violence.

Look, I think the United States has got to be very involved in political accommodation, trying to build political reconciliation that will put an end to the violence. I'm not necessarily hopeful that that will happen. But it seems to me, as others have said, as our military commanders in the field have said, in the end, there's no military solution to this. You've got to find a political solution.

KING: What happens lastly?

Let's project forward a little bit. Assume, as the projections now stand, that the Democrats take back control of the House. And let's, for the sake of this discussion, the Senate stays in Republican hands by a seat or so.

If the Democrats still disagree with the president and his policy, as we get to see things like fights over appropriations bills, cutting off funding to the troops, inserting things in appropriations bills, as some Democrats have suggested, saying Secretary Rumsfeld should resign? Is that what is going to happen if this war debate carries over into a changed Congress with Democrats running at least one chamber?

VAN HOLLEN: No. What you've seen is the Democrats, by large majorities, have continued to support our troops, making sure that they get the equipment they need and the support that they need.

What you will see is a much more vigorous debate. You'll have people held accountable.

I think one of the big problems we've seen in Iraq is that this administration has rewarded people who got it wrong and they've punished people who got it right. When you reward failure, you get more failure. We need to focus on the issues. The administration diverted us from Afghanistan. We still haven't finished the job against al Qaeda. They're still plotting attacks against us. And yet we've actually reduced our force presence in Afghanistan. We've disbanded the unit at the CIA that was specifically dedicated to go after al Qaeda.

So we need to get our priorities straight. We need to be smart in how we approach that. And what the Democrats are going to do is begin to hold this administration accountable, ask the hard questions, have a real national conversation, not finger pointing.

KING: Congressman Christopher Van Hollen, thank you for joining us today with your thoughts.

Thank you very much, sir.

VAN HOLLEN: Thanks for having me.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: And Jack Cafferty joins us now from New York -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Labor Day weekend -- it isn't what it used to be in this country.

Fifty years ago, one third of all non-agricultural jobs in the United States were union jobs. Today, that number is 9 percent.

Labor Day used to mean parades and parties celebrating the progress of the American workforce. Today, it's an excuse to get out of town for a long weekend or to look for a sale where you can drop what's left of your paycheck after expenses. And every year it's got to be a better and better sale.

I saw a great bumper sticker the other day. It read: "NAFTA plus CAFTA = SHAFTA."

Between the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs and the impact of somewhere in between 12 and 20 million illegal aliens competing for the jobs that are left in this country, the American worker has his work cut out for him.

Here's the question -- what's the biggest challenge facing America's labor force today?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

A lot of people think the decline of the labor unions started when Ron Reagan, President Reagan, fired the air traffic controllers back in the '80s, that that was the beginning of the end for organized labor in this country.

KING: It will be interesting to see the responses, Jack.

Jack, thank you very much.

And coming up, a bosom buddy goes to the bedside of his ailing friend in a very public way.

We'll have new pictures of Hugo Chavez's get well soon photo-op with Fidel Castro.

And uninviting some invited guests -- as Katrina emptied New Orleans, Houston welcomed them with open arms. Now, many in Houston want the evacuees to evacuate their city.

And blurring the line between fact and fiction. Does a new movie about a fictional assassination add to the debate about the war on terror or only stir up more controversy?

Stay right here.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: They both consider the United States an enemy, so it seems only natural that they're friends. One visited the other today to deliver a very public get well wish.

Our Zain Verjee has the story -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, as you say, they're fast friends, bear hugs and laughter all around, sharing a moment here and making a point on national television. In his pajamas and lying in bed, Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro, and Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, meet as the cameras rolled.

El Commandante has been recovering from intestinal surgery and he hasn't made frequent TV appearances. But he did with his old comrade and he looked pretty cheerful.

It's not the first time Chavez has visited his sick friend. Chavez is returning from a series of meetings in Asia and the Middle East, including ones with America's enemies, like Iran and Syria. So he decided to cap it off with a trip to Cuba.

The Venezuelan leader says his old ally is recovering from his illness and that this morning, right here, the two of them talked for hours and analyzed the international situation. The 80-year-old Castro had surgery last month, after handing over power to his brother, Raul.

They look like they had a good time, John.

KING: Interesting pictures of Chavez.

VERJEE: In red P.J.s.

KING: He is a worldwide traveler.

Zain Verjee, thank you very much.

VERJEE: All right. KING: Now, in Iraq, the U.S. military says insurgents hope to use yet another tactic to advance their cause. They want you to see all of the violence and death they could push into the news.

Our Brian Todd has more.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. military commanders in Iraq seem more fed up than ever that the mainstream media is reporting mostly what they believe are negative stories on the war.

LT. COL. BARRY JOHNSON, DIRECTOR, COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: We know that bombs and deaths and the tools of our enemies tend to make the news more quickly than the things that we are doing to reinforce democracy and the progress that our troops are making each day in decreasing the violence, which is less likely to make it on the news.

TODD: Now, for two years and up to $20 million, U.S. military commanders in Iraq plan to hire a civilian P.R. firm to keep a close eye on news reports on the war. On a new contract document, CNN tops the list of so-called Western news sources, along with the Pentagon Channel, and so-called pan-Arabic news outlets like Al-Arabiya.

But the firm won't just monitor the news, it will also brief commanders on their public messages, draft ideas for newspaper columns and news conferences.

The goal?

To send what they believe is a more positive message on the war.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in his own editorial this week, writes: "The war on terror, to a great extent, will be fought in the media on a global stage."

Analysts believe insurgents in Iraq have already mastered that.

ROBERT MALLEY, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: If they're going to go on a sniper attack or an IED attack, they send journalists, a media team, to tape it, to record it, to have commentary and then it is posted on the Web site.

TODD: Is the new coalition effort propaganda?

JONATHAN ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: To the extent that we're trying to do this sort of audience research that people in media do all the time, that's useful. But to the extent that we are trying to buy good news, Iraqis don't need more news about what we're doing because they look out the windows and they see what we're not doing.

TODD: The U.S. military has hired P.R. firms before for this kind of thing. Last November, it was disclosed that the military had used one firm to plant articles written by American soldiers in Iraqi newspapers, while hiding the sources of those articles. An internal investigation found that did not violate military policy.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: Former Secretary of State James Baker met with Iraq's deputy prime minister in Baghdad today. Iraqi authorities say the two discussed a variety of issues, including the protection of Iraq's borders and the prospects for peace and security. Secretary Baker heads a group that's conducting an independent analysis of the situation in Iraq.

Still to come tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, could it protect the United States from a North Korean attack? Tonight, for the first time, you'll see the Pentagon's latest test in shooting down a missile.

And he's doing a whole lot of explaining. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin eating his words in the Big Apple.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Zain Verjee joins us with other news making headlines right now -- hi, Zain.

VERJEE: Hi, again, John.

At least 28 people are dead in today's jet crash in Iran. A tire on the Iranian Airlines plane burst when it touched down in the north- central city of Mashad. The plane skidded off the runway and caught fire. A hundred and forty-seven passengers and crew were on board the Tupolev 154. It's the second time in two weeks that one of the Russian-made planes has crashed.

There's good news for people who live along the coast. Hurricane researchers have lowered their predictions for this year's storms. Instead of having seven hurricanes this year, researchers now expect to see only five. It was the second time in a month that the team had lowered its forecast. They credit West African dust over the Atlantic, as well as warmer waters in the Pacific, for the calmer weather.

The nation's largest tobacco-companies are asking a federal judge to let them keep selling low tar cigarettes while they appeal a ruling banning the labels. Two weeks ago, the judge ruled that labels were misleading and they ordered the companies to stop using them. But the tobacco-companies say that they're going to lose business to smaller companies who aren't bound by the ruling and can still use the labels.

Officials in a Pennsylvania town have agreed to postpone a law that would make the -- that would make English the city's official language, making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to work there. The law was passed in Hazelton in July. It essentially fines landlords who rent to illegals and denies permits to businesses that hire them. The ACLU says the law is unconstitutional. City officials say that they'll draft another proposal -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee.

Thank you very much, Zain.

And just ahead, the Pentagon is claiming a new success for its missile defense program. We'll show you what happened and whether it makes America any safer.

And they welcomed Katrina survivors a year ago.

So why now are some Houston residents yanking away the welcome mat?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, fears, floods and fatalities. A look at weather, as what is now Tropical Depression Ernesto roars across the midatlantic. Roads are looking like rivers and there are deaths due to the storm.

Meanwhile, Hurricane John is poised to make landfall in Mexico, raising alarm for thousands of tourists.

Excuse him for his words. That's what New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is asking. He's gone to New York to say sorry for calling ground zero a hole in the ground.

And at the bedside of a bosom buddy -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez makes a very public get well visit to the bed of ailing Cuban president, Fidel Castro.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A developing story tonight. The U.S. missile defense system passes an important test and Pentagon officials say they're confident the system would protect the country against an attack.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by to bring us the details -- Jamie.

MCINTYRE: Well, John, you know, the general in charge of the Missile Defense Agency says he likes to under promise and over deliver, and that's what they did today. The Pentagon said that this test wasn't even supposed to be an intercept test. But as it turned out, when the target missile was fired from Kodiak, Alaska, an interceptor fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base and the killed vehicle, as it's called, met the dummy warhead in space over the Pacific Ocean. A direct hit. Completely destroyed. Everything worked perfectly. And the Missile Defense Agency says it's the most realistic test yet of the missile defense system.

Still a work in progress, but he said if North Korea was to fire a missile at the United States today, he believes there would be "a good chance of knocking it down." He says there's a good operational capability even though the next test, they say, will even be more difficult, more realistic, to show the capability of this missile defense system -- John.

KING: And Jamie, as we watch these new pictures just in to CNN, they're optimistic today. There have been setbacks in the past.

What's the next test for this system? Does it get more sophisticated from here on out?

MCINTYRE: Yes, well this test was basically the warhead in space hit by the kill vehicle.

The next thing they're thinking of doing is adding some decoys to make it more difficult for the system to acquire the actual warhead, because critics say that's kind of what an adversary would likely do if they were to attack the United States .

Pretty cool pictures, though, of the warhead actually being destroyed in space over the Pacific Ocean.

KING: A fascinating look at a very controversial system.

Jamie McIntyre, thanks for sharing that with us tonight.

Jamie, thank you.

And now to the storm threat here on the East Coast. Rains and strong winds are hammering northern Virginia right now. The threat of flooding is serious and it could get worse in the hours again.

Once again, here's our Brian Todd.

He's in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of the nation's capital -- hello, Brian.

TODD: Hi, John.

Yes, the brunt of this tropical depression is just starting to hit this area right now. About seven-and-a-half hours from now, it's supposed to be about three feet above normal.

It's actually low tide here. You would never know it. Check it out. These puddles (INAUDIBLE) around a little bit. These whitecaps all over the (INAUDIBLE) here. And this water is coming right up to our feet.

And, again, in a few hours the tide will be back in and the experts at the National Weather Service say that because of that tide coming in and the storm surge from Ernesto, the water will be about three feet above normal.

Just a few hours ago, the water was stretched all the way up to about halfway across this field. You can see how close the homes and the businesses are to the water. So people here are worried about it. They've been sandbagging their doors and windows from a few hours ago.

And let's check out the wind. The cameraman's going to take a shot of these trees being ripped around. The winds are 20 miles an hour. (INAUDIBLE) This surge from the storm and the tide is expected to bring this water up at least three feet above normal in the next few hours. So, it's a coastal flood warning from now until 6:00 a.m. in this spot where I'm standing, John.

KING: Brian, I'm going to ask you to raise your microphone just a little bit. With these conditions it's difficult to hear you. I live in that neighborhood and what often happens there is because it's an older neighborhood the storm drains back up. You have the flooding along the coast where you are, but also a few blocks away, as you walk uphill a lot of times the water comes back up. Are you seeing that in Alexandria tonight?

TODD: We're not seeing it right at this moment, but a few hours ago we did see it. The water did came right up the street to right here where the businesses are. Again, it is supposed to get worse. Three and a half or so feet above normal. They're used to it here. They're not panicking, but they are getting ready. And it's obviously pretty nasty here right now.

KING: As Brian noted, low tide and that's the Potomac River behind Brian, bobbing along. Brian Todd out for us in these conditions tonight. Thank you very much, Brian.

Now Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is warning residents of his state not to let their guard down even after Ernesto calms down. I spoke with the governor by phone a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Is the flooding severe enough that people are shut off, roads inaccessible or just a hassle?

GOV. TIM KAINE, VIRGINIA: A whole bunch of roads are closed. We've had to close a lot of interstate on and off ramps. We've done some minor evacuations of groups of people. There was a community where we had to evacuate about 50 homes on the northern neck in Virginia. There's a park in Richmond, the state capital that is like a small canyon that fills with water.

We had to evacuate around about 20 homes around that park. And so there's some other evacuations of that kind. Small evacuations that are happening. But again, the rain is kind of moving through now. But a lot of streams are carrying a lot of water and as it goes downstream we may well see some additional flooding over the next couple of days.

KING: Concern always when you have these power problems and trouble getting to people, senior centers, hospitals, anything like that cut off where you have an emergency situation?

KAINE: We do. We have two hospitals in the Hampton Roads are without power, one is using a backup generator. But the second their backup general failed and we are working to get a backup in for them. Think that they may be out of power for two or three hours and we're doing what we can to make sure folks' health care isn't compromised in that little gap.

We have a pretty good sense of the senior facilities and other places. I don't have any other instances of those being significantly hurt by the power outages. But 245,000 is a pretty good chunk of our population right now and we're anxious to get this wind died down and start getting the power restored.

KING: Pretty big chunk as you mentioned. In closing, one last question, as this moves more to the north, I'm in D.C., obviously, suburban Alexandria, Arlington, places like that. What are you seeing in terms of the flood threat over the next 24 hours or so?

KAINE: Two kinds of flooding you worry about in the D.C. area, one is storm surge up the Potomac and the good news is we don't think we're going to see that. But the second is you know just the intense rain that cause streams to overflow. We had some pretty serious flooding on Cameron Run, right around the Beltway in northern Virginia in late June.

And so far Cameron Run is OK, as of about an hour and a half ago. But just again, the intensity and length of the rain may bring some of these streams out of their beds or cause storm sewers to back up. And so that's what we're watching for now.

KING: Governor Tim Kaine, democratic Virginia governor. Good luck in the hours and days ahead. Thank you so much for joining us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Tropical depression Ernesto is affecting traffic throughout the mid-Atlantic. You're looking now at streaming video of Virginia, Maryland, and the nation's capital. All of this traffic comes at one of the busiest times of the year for Labor Day weekend travelers. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by with some real time resources available online to keep you current, Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, you can see these streaming traffic cams around me, but what you can get on line is now almost as good. We're looking at pictures from TrafficLand.com, hundreds of traffic cameras at major roads all around the country. We're checking in now on areas affected by Ernesto. These pictures from around Washington, D.C. Now if you are traveling this weekend, it's also a good idea to check in on the Department of Transportation website for your state where you're traveling. These are pictures here from traffic cameras in Virginia from the Virginia State Department of Transportation. If you look at these, they're updated every second or two. You can check out your route before you travel.

Virginia state police reported about 55 traffic accidents related to the storm, also at these sites alerts and real-time information about those houses. John.

KING: Useful tools, Abbi Tatton. Thank you very much.

Let's get more now on the situation in Mexico where Hurricane John is expected to make land fall. On the phone with us is Mark Stevenson. He's a reporter with the Associated Press, who's in Cabo San Lucas. Mark, give us the latest from where you are, particularly on the number of Americans who are stranded there, vacationers in most cases, I would assume, and whether they are getting the information and the resources they need to get home or simply the shelter they need?

MARK STEVENSON, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, John, we're seeing the first signs that the outer bands of the hurricane are coming ashore just as we speak. The water here in the harbor at Cabo San Lucas is flowing out. That's something that often occurs with hurricanes, and that means a storm surge is coming, and we're getting intermittent bands of rain and low, heavy circular clouds, it's quite a sight.

The tourists here, we estimate there are about 7,000 or 8,000 tourists, and they are hunkered down. They are inside windowless hotel convention rooms and ballrooms and they are basically just waiting it out. They're lying on mattresses on the floor, and some of them are playing a little game making up survival strategies. One woman mentioned she had brought a pair of goggles and was ready to swim out if necessary.

KING: Playing games, so they sound like they're in good spirits at the moment. In terms of the resources necessary, water, food, I assume they still have power at the moment?

STEVENSON: We still have power. These rooms are well stocked with food. They had a hot lunch today. It's not the perfect vacation, but they are in good spirits, and they're being well looked after.

KING: Is there any estimate from local officials at all about how quickly they think the storm will go through and if these folks want to get home, how quickly service flights and other transportation services would be restored?

STEVENSON: Well, local officials are concerned. The big threat here of course is the very heavy rainfall that may occur, and the storm, they're hoping it passes quickly, but it doesn't appear to be passing quickly, which raises the risk, as always here, of flash flooding, and that usually is the biggest killer of hurricanes. KING: And Mark, last year around these times there was complaints for some Americans who were vacationing in Mexico, they couldn't get information from the consulate or U.S. officials on the scene about how they might get some help once the storm passes. Any complaints like that in your case?

STEVENSON: Not yet. Again last year during Hurricane Wilma, that lasted a week, some people were in shelters for a week. These people have been in shelters for one night, but most of the hotels seem to be providing them very specific updates on the hurricane and how soon they can expect to go home.

KING: So far so good given the conditions in Cabo San Lucas. Mark Stevenson of the "Associated Press." Thank you for joining us.

STEVENSON: Thank you.

KING: Take care Mark.

Up ahead tonight, Houston changes its tune for Katrina refugees. The city that once rolled out the welcome mat now says go home.

And art is supposed to mirror life but can it mirror it a little too closely? We'll look at a controversial new movie that includes an imaginary assassination of President Bush. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Right now in Houston some are uninviting some invited guests. What was once a call for the need to come to Houston has turned into a call for them to go home.

Our Sean Callebs explains.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Houston police say there has been a tremendous increase in violent crime here the past year, especially the murder rate. The chief says that has jumped nearly 25 percent and he says nearly all of that can be attributed to evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice-over): Houston opened the Astrodome and its arms last year to evacuees from New Orleans following Katrina. But a spike in violent crime had many at a recent, crowded civic meeting saying that goodwill is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want the New Orleans residents to go home.

CALLEBS: Houston's mayor feels the frustration.

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON: It did not help that some small minority of citizens from another major urban area had went in a community which apparently tolerated a great degree of lawlessness. MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: The Texas court system seems to be much tougher than the system that a lot of our residents left.

CALLEBS: Houston's mayor says there are still about 130,000 evacuees in Houston. He says most have jobs or are looking for work but says he's cracking down on crime.

WHITE: We're not extending our arms to people who break the law, we're housing them in jails.

CALLEBS: A 64-year-old was shot and killed at this car wash a month ago. Three teenage evacuees from New Orleans have been charged in connection with the crime. Houston's police chief says there have been 262 killings here this year. Katrina evacuees were victims or suspects in 59.

CHIEF HAROLD HURTT, HOUSTON POLICE: If you're going to be here as a visitor or become a permanent resident in the city of Houston we expect you to treat each other as well as other Houstonians with dignity and respect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: The chief says he is also worried about his officers. Many, he says, have worked tremendous amounts of overtime in the past year trying to curtail crime. He says his big concern right now fatigue and burnout -- John.

KING: Sean Callebs for us on that story.

And more now on another story we've been reporting. New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin's very public apology for a very public comment he made concerning a tragedy in New York City.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not easy asking for money in a city some think you've just dissed. Mayor Ray Nagin comes begging for investment money to rebuild New Orleans less than a week after the comment he made about ground zero aired on "60 Minutes."

NAGIN: All right. You guys in New York City can't get a hole in the ground fixed, and it's five years later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That wasn't nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shouldn't take it out on us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a ridiculous thing to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No offense taken. I don't think there's a need for a big apology either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he could have used a better term than hole in the ground.

MOOS: Now it's the hole he dug for himself that the mayor is trying to get out of.

NAGIN: I love New York City, wonderful New York. I tell you what I will never do again is refer to that site as a hole. It's a sacred site that is presently in a undeveloped state.

MOOS: But just as Mayor Nagin was backing off a reporter brought up a "New York Times" column that suggested Nagin had a point after all. "Even though the mayor's wording may have been crass, was he wrong?" The column answers its own question. "To the dismay of most New Yorkers, it sadly remains, five years later, a hole in the ground." But when a reporter voiced those last five words ...

REV. AL SHARPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said it, he didn't. He said it.

MOOS: Al Sharpton to the rescue. Mayor Nagin took a dig at "60 Minutes," saying he was led to believe ...

NAGIN: They did the nice little puff piece, they interviewed my family. We're going to take care of you and it's going to be nice, we're going to make sure we tell the story which was a bunch of bull all along. And then ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baloney. Baloney.

NAGIN: Yes, baloney, baloney, baloney.

MOOS: Sounds like somebody's ticked.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Up ahead, blurring the line between fact and fiction. Does a new movie about a fictional assassination add to the debate about the war on terror or only stir up more controversy?

And on this Labor Day weekend, what's the biggest challenge facing American workers today? Jack Cafferty will be back with your e-mails. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Now to a topic that's shocking, thought provoking, and more than a little controversial. To spell it out for us, let's turn once again to our Zain Verjee -- Zain.

VERJEE: Hi there, John.

It's not even out yet, and it's causing quite a stir. Good for the advertisers, but is it good for the president?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): This is not real life but it's made to look that way. An assassination, the president of the United States, George W. Bush, shot and killed by a sniper's bullet. The Secret Service, shocked. The nation mourns the president's death and the hunt for his killer begins, all in 2007.

"Death of a President" is a controversial fiction documentary that producers say puts U.S. foreign policy and the war on terror in the line of fire by examining what would happen if George W. Bush was killed.

PETER DALE, BRITISH DIGITAL CHANNEL, "MORE4": I think it's very important that we deal with the country as it is now, that we don't try and invent a fictional president or a fictional state of affairs. This is a very gripping and compelling documentary about the state of America as it is today.

VERJEE: Whatever the movie's intentions, many Americans themselves are disgusted, insisting it's irresponsible.

TED BAEHR, CHRISTIAN FILM & TV COMM.: Movies like this tend to produce a very negative reaction from people who are susceptible to it. So the movie itself is not going to do well but it will agitate a certain number of people.

VERJEE: Channel 4 executives in the U.K. who will air the film in October say it's not going to encourage someone to shoot the president.

DALE: I think in terms of the possibility of a copycat that would be appalling, but I think it's extremely unlikely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: And those executives say that they are not putting the film on the air just to be sensational, but to provoke discussion in the U.S. about U.S. foreign policy. The movie premiers at the Toronto Film Festival this month, John.

KING: Thank you very much.

Just in to CNN, new information about Hurricane John packing a punch as it nears land in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Let's go straight to CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras in our hurricane headquarters, Jacqui.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KING: Jacqui Jeras with the latest on Hurricane John. Jacqui thank you very much.

As Ernesto heads up the East Coast residents are sharing images of the damage left behind and sharing them online. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by with the details, Abbi.

TATTON: And John, the floods left behind by Ernesto, pictures coming in to I-Report at CNN, sent in by viewers. This is the Outer Banks of North Carolina, sent in by Ryan Kingsbury. He's just a couple of blocks from the beach there. You can see the flooding. This is an area heavily hit by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Ryan took these just this afternoon. You can see the beach houses there with a few people on them. Ryan says most of the tourists left before the storm.

Headed inland and the picture isn't too much better, these are in Greenville, North Carolina, sent in by Matthew Lawn. He says the flooding is extensive in his neighborhood. That's his backyard. His neighbor didn't do too much better there. He said that the streets are impassible in this neighborhood. And as Ernesto heads north, so do the flooding pictures that we're getting in. This is from Norfolk, Virginia, sent in by Brendan Ash. You can see the car there submerged. Brendan tells us that their are entire intersections in downtown Norfolk that are submerged right now.

KING: Thank you, Abbi. And thanks to those helping out, contributing those photographs. Thanks very much. And still ahead as we enter the Labor Day weekend Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think is the biggest challenge facing the American labor force. He'll have your e-mail up next. Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: (INAUDIBLE) pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow. Beijing, police special forces show off their skills during a training exercise.

On to the Middle East. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raises his arms for the crowd before delivering a speech.

Japan, Prime Minister Koizumi greets supporters at an earthquake drill. The drill commemorates a massive 1923 earthquake that killed 140,000 people.

Vienna, Austria, Marco Hort (ph) puts 259 drinking straws in his mouth. That's a world record and guess what, he holds it. Later this month he'll try to beat it at the upcoming Vienna World Record Day.

That's today's Hot Shots, pictures often worth a thousand words. Jack is in New York with the Cafferty File and Jack loves that picture.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Certainly something for Mrs. Hort to be proud of, don't you think.

Monday's Labor Day, a day that used to be about much more in this country than big sales and barbecues. Just nine percent of non- agricultural jobs in this country are union jobs today. Fifty years ago it was 33 percent. So the question is what's the biggest challenge facing America's labor force today? Ann writes from Pennsylvania, "outsourcing, cheap illegal immigrant labor and a very greedy corporate America."

Dan in Pittsburgh, "The biggest challenge is persuading companies that it is in their interests, ultimately, to give up a little more on the bottom line so that their employees are not struggling for their financial survival."

Richard in Florida, "Outsourcing, especially manufacturing jobs. We hardly make anything in this country anymore. If we had to depend on our labor force to make things, like we did for example during World War II, our young people wouldn't have the skills."

E writes from New Hampshire, "The biggest challenge is work ethic. Americans just don't want to work at those jobs that thrill the illegals. They want to work and they do work. As an employer we have to hire foreign help to stay in business. They are legal. They work 12 hours a day, six days a week and they want more work."

Karen in Ohio, "Being able to support a family with three children, one of whom is in college, is a greater challenge than I ever imagined it would be. My standard of living decreases every year and I worry about what the next years will harbor for middle class families."

And Keith weighs in from Loveland, Colorado, "I've got three words, finding a job."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post some more of these online. There's no question that the outsourcing of American jobs, the decline of the clout of the labor union in this country and the influx of illegal aliens, who are willing to work for much less, and that in turn has driven down American wages, all contribute to a declining climate for the American worker. This weekend on "IN THE MONEY," I'll slip in a quick plug here, we got ten jobs that pay over a hundred thousand dollars and you don't need a college degree for any of them. Check it out, Saturday at 1:00, Sunday at 3:00. John, I know you'll be watching.

KING: I'll be watching unless I'm bailing the water out of my basement. Jack and maybe I'll even try to watch then.

CAFFERTY: Then set your Tivo because your attendance is mandatory.

KING: Amen, my attendance will be there. Jack Cafferty, thank you very much. Have a great Labor Day weekend. Thank you for joining us. This Sunday on "LATE EDITION," Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. "LATE EDITION" starts at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm John King. Thanks for watching and have a safe weekend. Up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW."

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