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AMERICAN MORNING

Tornadoes Hit North Carolina, Eight Dead; Insurgents Ambush Civilian Convoy, Kidnap Security Contractors

Aired November 17, 2006 - 07:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Nature's fury, lives lost, homes shattered as a tornado slammed into North Carolina. And the wild weather travels north. Floods and mudslides in Upstate New York. Hundreds rescued. What's next?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Missing in Iraq; a desperate search right now for four American contractors who are feared kidnapped.

M. O'BRIEN: Chaos. The brand new PlayStation3 is out today and already bringing out the worst in many American consumers. As you can see right there. A little bit of violence at a Wal-Mart.

S. O'BRIEN: And take a look at who is in Italy this morning for the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. That's Brooke Shields! We're there live this morning with the entire star-studded guest list straight ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) made up, so to speak.

Good morning, Friday November 17. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thank you for being with us.

Let's begin with the severe weather we have been reporting this morning. Here's what's new. Cleanup and damage assessment after that tornado struck without warning in Riegelwood, North Carolina. At least eight people are dead, four children are in critical condition.

Heavy rains and floods are suspected in a freight train derailment that happened in Maryland. It's a commuting nightmare now this morning. Amtrak, though, says finally back on track, restoring service between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in the last two hours.

And a state of emergency around Binghamton, New York; 200 people have been rescued from flooding and mudslides. Many roads are washed out. They are saying you should not travel if it is unnecessary. They are banning it there.

Begin with the cleanup and some questions, too, following that killer tornado. CNN's Rick Sanchez is live for us in Riegelwood this morning.

Good morning to you, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

This is a coastal area, and because it's a coastal area, the people who live in this region are more apt or more accustomed to dealing with hurricanes. In fact, their emergency management system is more prepared for dealing with hurricanes.

It may be for that reason that it's ironic that the worst natural disaster they ever had here in Columbus County would be a tornado.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (voice over): The sheriff's department got the first warning at 6:29 in the morning; 15 minutes later, the tornado was on the ground. Mark Brown was home when it arrived.

MARK BROWN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: It sounded like a train was coming. I said let me get up and look out that door and see what's going on. I looked out the door and the tornado was coming.

SANCHEZ: Brown's house was destroyed. He was lucky to have survived. Others in the town in Riegelwood, North Carolina, never had a chance.

JANICE WADDELL, TORNADO SURVIVOR: It was terrible. I have never seen anything like it before. And I hope to never see anything like it again.

SANCHEZ: The tornado was a killer. Among the dead, two children. The victims lived in this mobile home park sheriffs say was disintegrated by the storm.

SHERIFF CHRISTOPHER BATTEN, COLUMBUS CO., N.C.: It is a major catastrophe. There is an area that's probably almost a half a mile wide, reaches probably three-quarters to a mile in length, stretching northward, that is totally demolished, homes turned upside down, vehicles completely destroyed.

SANCHEZ: Authorities say this tornado was so ferocious, it's wind so strong, that some of the deceased were found in the woods, a full 200 yards, two football fields away, from where there where they were when the tornado first touched.

BATTEN: We assume that the tornado created that kind of damage.

SANCHEZ (on camera): Literally took them from their homes to the place where they were found?

BATTEN: Exactly.

SANCHEZ (voice over): Authorities say 20 people were injured, four, including three small children, are in critical conditions. Meanwhile, thousands are still without power. To look at the devastation, it's amazing the death toll isn't higher, and then there is this to think about. The town doesn't have a siren to alert residents of an impending tornado.

BATTEN: We do not have that type of system in this community.

SANCHEZ (on camera): So, there is no siren?

BATTEN: No.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: So you may be asking yourselves if there is no siren, then how is it possible anyone would be able to hear anything? That's the problem. A lot of people here may not have heard anything, because 6:30 in the morning, it's still dark here, many people could have been sleeping.

The only way they would have known, at least in terms of what some of the sheriff's authorities tell us here, is if they had their radio on at the time, or if they had their television on at the time. Otherwise there, was just no way of communicating with them in that 15-minute interval. Soledad, back to you

S. O'BRIEN: Such sad news. Rick Sanchez for us this morning. Thank you, Rick.

Chad, let me ask you a question.

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Go ahead.

S. O'BRIEN: You showed up that radio a little bit earlier, that will turn on if there is some kind of serious tornado approaching. How many small towns are like this, where they don't have a siren?

MYERS: How many small towns don't have a siren?

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah. A lot?

MYERS: Oh, yeah. A lot. Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Even when you go through the Midwest, some towns don't have a siren, too. This will be your siren. A signal is sent through the air waves, picked up through this antenna and turns the radio on for you. The old ones would go off all the time for every county, like 15 counties. The new ones you can set for your one county and it doesn't go off unless there is a warning for you. About 50 bucks, might be the best 50 bucks you have ever spent.

For the person who has everything for Christmas, they don't have one of those.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: A developing story in Iraq. This morning the hunt is on for some missing contractors, four of them Americans, apparently another kidnapping. Again, more concern about the murky line between the real authorities and masquerading insurgents. Arwa Damon, here from Baghdad with the latest -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Miles, what we do now know from representative for the Crescent security group, is that the convoy was traveling from Kuwait to Taulil (ph) Air Base, that is located in southern Iraq, when the convoy was ambushed in the vicinity of Basra.

A military source tells us the convoy pulled up to a fake checkpoint, manned by the local militia that was masquerading as Iraqi police. We have seen this a number of times in the past. What we do now know is that four American contractors, one Austrian contractor, were kidnapped, along with a number of drivers. The drivers, though, are all of South Asian origin. They were apparently released a short distance away from where the attack took place.

There are currently aggressive military operations underway to try to identify the vehicles and rescue the victims, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon, in Baghdad. Thank you very much.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In Florida, disgraced Congressman Mark Foley is out of rehab and the e-mails to congressional pages, that got him in trouble in the first place, are the subject of a criminal investigation. CNN's Susan Candiotti is in Davie, Florida, with more for us this morning.

Susan, what's the basis of the criminal investigation now?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: You know, we don't know for sure what pushed this investigation up a notch. We do know investigators, now from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, will be looking at things like e-mails. We have already heard about some of the more scandalous ones that Mr. Foley sent to former pages.

And for one thing we do know that investigators will be looking at whether Mr. Foley tried to solicit any minors. It's really not known what authorities have been doing up until now. They have spent over a month now starting a preliminary investigation. So we hope to learn more as time goes on.

S. O'BRIEN: Will the cops hold a press conference or do any sort of address the media about what's happening in this investigation?

CANDIOTTI: That's highly unlikely. But it's likely that authorities will be issuing subpoenas, talking to witnesses, serving search warrants, possibly even seizing Mr. Foley's computers.

S. O'BRIEN: When did he get out of rehab? What's he been doing since he got out?

CANDIOTTI: As we know, he's been in rehab for over a month now. He extended his 30-day stay at least once. He was at the pricey and private rehab center in Arizona. We also know that these treatment programs often have different phases. He did just returned to south Florida recently. And he is here now to attend his father's funeral this weekend, who died of cancer on Tuesday.

S. O'BRIEN: Susan Candiotti, in Davie, Florida, for us morning. Thank you, Susan.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening in America: A truck slams into a home in Wichita, Kansas, and stopping just inches away from where a man was sleeping. The crash left a gaping hole in the house as you see there. Killed two puppies. The people in the truck ran into another car, took off. The homeowner thinks they were drunk.

And 200 US Airways pilots picketed in Phoenix, just a day after the company announced an $8.7 billion bid to buy Delta Airlines. Pilots still operating under a separate contracts that they signed before America West Airlines bought US Airways. Pilots plan another picket in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ketchup is staple here in our hamburger loving country. But its not supposed to be like this. Actual staples in the ketchup, in Wichita, Kansas, at a school. Police are investigating. The rest of that batch of Red Gold Ketchup sent back to the company.

In Alton, Illinois, caught on tape, a clerk shot during a stickup at a convenience store. Police released this tape trying to find the two suspects seen walking into the store. One climbs over the counter, as you see there, the other guards the door and fires the shots. The clerk survived.

At Graceland, they are finally embracing the man who would be king. Elvis wanna-bes from all over the world, invited to participate in Graceland's first official Elvis impersonator contest. It will happen next August on the 30th anniversary of Elvis's purported death. 'Til now, Pressley's estate has kept the impersonators at arm's length.

And in West Bend, Wisconsin, the new Sony PlayStation3 triggers a melee in a Wal-Mart. A teenager injured while trying to beat other customers to the shelves. PlayStation3 went on sale as of midnight last night. The store had only ten units, though. And then told customers to go run for them. Bad idea, stores. Don't do that.

S. O'BRIEN: They had people lining up like sprinters on that line. That's ridiculous.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. That's not a good idea. You knew somebody would get hurt there.

S. O'BRIEN: Making history in the House. The Democrats pick the first woman to be speaker of the House of Representatives. Now it's the GOP's turn to fight it out. A wild week in politics that will change how Washington does business. We have that story straight ahead. And a verdict in the case of a young Hispanic boy attacked and sexually assaulted. We'll tell you what happened there. AMERICAN MORNING is back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Top stories on the agenda today: President Bush in Vietnam, right now. He says the war in Vietnam should serve as a reminder that an early withdrawal from Iraq could have disastrous consequences.

And 200 people rescued from cars and homes in New York State, after heavy rains, flooding and mudslides in the Binghamton area -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A follow up to a story we have been following for a while. A white teenager in Texas is facing life in prison for beating and sexually assaulting a Hispanic teenager. It happened back in April. The trial of David Henry Tuck is entering the sentencing phase today. A jury found him guilty of a horrific crime that nearly cost the young victim his life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARLOS LEON, ATTORNEY FOR VICTIM'S FAMILY: It's a great, uplifting situation today. I think it's just step one. We're excited, we're happy.

S. O'BRIEN (voice over): The attorney for the victim's family reacting to Thursday's guilty verdict. Eighteen-year-old David Henry Tuck was convicted of aggravated sexual assault for attacking an Hispanic teenager during a party in April.

Prosecutors said and Tuck, and his alleged accomplice, 17-year- old Keith Turner, beat the boy, kicking him with steel-toed boots, dousing him with bleach, and burning him with cigarettes, sodomizing him with the end of a plastic umbrella pole. They said Tuck, an alleged white supremacist, screamed racial slurs during the savage attack.

The victim told jurors this week, at Tuck's trial, he doesn't remember the attack that nearly killed him. He spent more than three months in the hospital recovering from his injuries. He has had maybe 30 surgeries.

LEON: This sort of a verdict, this sort of confirmation that what happened was wrong and should be punished I think will help him emotionally and physically.

S. O'BRIEN: Back in July, I visited with the boys' parents in Spring, Texas.

(On camera): Do you think this was a hate crime?

MRS. GALVIN, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Oh, I know it's a hate crime.

S. O'BRIEN: How do you know?

GALVIN: How do you put a Swastika on somebody or burn them? You would have to hate someone to hurt somebody like that.

S. O'BRIEN (voice over): Prosecutors, though, decided not to charge the suspects with a hate crime because it would be harder to prove, and wouldn't add to the punishment. Now, after getting a conviction, the victim's family is cautiously optimistic.

LEON: We still have the punishment phase, and we still have another trial in a month, so it's a good first step.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Just a first step. The other teenager, who is charged in the attack, that you saw in that piece, 17-year-old Keith Turner, his trial starts next month.

M. O'BRIEN: The Democrats have made their choices, now the Republicans are choosing their future leaders. Who will they be? What have they learned? Next.

A cold trial suddenly warming up again. New clues in the hunt for Vivi, the escaped Whippet show dog. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Democrats make history and choose the first woman to be speaker of the House. Today, it's Republicans' turn. CNN Congressional Correspondent Andrea Koppel is live on the Hill this morning.

Hey, Andrea. Good morning.

ANDREA KOPPELL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

It is a race unlike any other Republicans have experienced in the last dozen years. That's because for the first time since 1994, Republicans -- when they are selected later today -- will have a new word in front of their title, "minority."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice over): Just one day after Democrats elected the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi tried hard to put a good face on what had been a bitter and divisive battle for the number two spot.

NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER ELECT: We have had our debates and disagreement in that room and now that is over.

KOPPEL: Now it's the Republicans' turn to go behind closed doors and cast secret ballots for their leaders. But unlike Democrats, Republicans have little to celebrate. REP. JOHN SHADEGG, (R-AZ): We got shellacked in this election, the American people are trying to send us a message.

KOPPEL: The message, says Congressman John Shadegg, of Arizona, who is running for his party's number two spot, is that after a year filled with scandals, from Jack Abramoff's lobbying, to the bribery convictions of Duke Cunningham to Bob Ney, to Mark Foley's sexually charged messages to teenage pages, the Republican Party needs change at the top.

SHADEGG: If we re-elect the exact same two top leaders going into the election, when we come out of the election, I think we will have said to the American people, we don't really care about the fact that you want change.

KOPPEL: Shadegg's rival, Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt, already in the Republican leadership, argues that with Speaker Hastert out, and at least four new faces set to join the leadership, now is the time for experience.

REP. ROY BLUNT, (R-MO): You got to have leaders who actually know how to get this job done, of keeping our team together.

KOPPEL: A position shared by the current Republican leader, John Boehner, being challenged by Indiana's Mike Pence. Pence has told his colleagues, we didn't just lose our majority, I believe we lost your way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: But whoever wins today race, they will have a different role to play than the ones that previous leaders have had over the last 12 years, Soledad, as they try to seek to find their way back into the majority -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill for us this morning. Thank you, Andrea.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And now from the cold case desk, pet detectives may be hot on the tail of Vivi, the wayward Whippet. She has been missing since February, after the Westminster Dog show. Vivi bolted out of her crate at New York's Kennedy Airport. And now all of a sudden tracking dogs are picking up her scent in a cemetery about eight miles away. The scent is apparently fresh. Vivi's owners, they live in California, think this could be the break that leads to a happy ending to this sad -- tale.

A proposed law could end up being called the Ken Lay Law. And Andrew Ross Sorkin is here to explain what that is all about.

Andrew, good morning.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning. This one is kind of weird, right?

You know, when Ken Lay died on July 5th, his conviction was effectively overturned. Now there is a senator from California who is proposing that this not be allowed -- and, by the way, the reason why these convictions are overturned when you die is you can't appeal. So that the government is always believed that since you can't appeal, should be overturned.

However, he's trying to change all of that. And proposing that the conviction stand. This has huge implications for Ken Lay and also for other folks who have been convicted and died. And in part, because it allows victims to seek restitution.

Most interestingly in this case, he is trying to have the law be retroactive to July 1st, so that it actually counts for Ken Lay.

S. O'BRIEN: This would be a huge legal step if he can get it done, which makes me think maybe he can't.

SORKIN: That's the real question. It was just proposed. We will have to see where this goes. It's a fun one. It's sort of interesting -- I don't know if it's fun for the Lay family.

S. O'BRIEN: Or the victims, who would love to get their hands on that money.

SORKIN: Or the victims. It's a toughie.

M. O'BRIEN: They are going against the tide of an awful lot of legal precedent here.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: The question is -- it seems as if the victims, here, have a case either way, don't they? Does it really undermine their case that much?

SORKIN: You know, on the civil side, maybe not. But it makes it that much harder to actually seek restitution. Because if you don't have the conviction -- the conviction is a guaranteed win on the civil side, without it, it makes it that much more difficult.

A couple of other things I wanted to note: Yesterday, Jeff Skilling, also of Enron fame is going to be --

S. O'BRIEN: It's like a police blotter, this morning, from Andrew, yes?

SORKIN: Mr. Skilling is going to prison. They sentenced him. He will be going to prison on December 12th, to a minimum security prison, but he will be there for a very long time, 24 years and four months.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow. SORKIN: So that is -- that's not nothing. And it's a lot more than folks like Dennis Kozlowski, who is in for eight, at a -- he's in a maximum security prison. So that's a bit different.

M. O'BRIEN: And no Margaritas there?

SORKIN: No, Margaritas there. But this is a little bit more club fed than where Kozlowski is at.

And the last piece of news I just want to impart this morning is that the SEC has made its formal investigation into the HP spying probe formal. So now there is a formal investigation going on and we should see where that goes.

S. O'BRIEN: Is it really in?

M. O'BRIEN: Why has it taken so long? Why did it take so long no formalize this? We have been talking about this for months?

SORKIN: You know, the government --

S. O'BRIEN: The SEC moves in slow ways.

SORKIN: It takes it's time.

S. O'BRIEN: It really was the police blotter this morning.

SORKIN: It was the police blotter.

S. O'BRIEN: A criminal report -- what do you have coming up?

SORKIN: Oh, we have another fun one. There is a CEO who is calling his company the MySpace for the older generation. I won't tell you who it is. So, stick around.

S. O'BRIEN: MySpace for the older generation, that's not space. OK.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Andrew.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: See you in a bit.

This morning's top stories straight ahead, including that ambush and kidnap and Iraq. The search is on for a group of American contractors now missing. New questions this morning about how that ambush was planned and carried out. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: States of emergency. Wild weather slams the country from a deadly tornado in North Carolina to pounding rains and mudslides in Upstate New York. Hundreds rescued and a travel mess up the East Coast.

S. O'BRIEN: And it's mayhem in the rush for the brand new PlayStation3 video game, turns violent.

M. O'BRIEN: Look who is coming to the wedding. Brooke Shields in Italy for the TomKat wedding. We'll look at all the other big stars, also in town on AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning, to you. Friday November 17. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, President and Mrs. Bush in Vietnam right now, part of a week-long trip to Asia. The president only the second U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the end of the war. He is drawing parallels to the war in Iraq , saying that conflict should remind Americans how an early withdrawal could have disastrous consequences.

In southern Iraq the search is on for four American security contractors feared kidnapped. Minutes ago we learned one of the men is Paul Ruben of Minneapolis. Hew as working for the Crescent Security Group when gunmen ambushed the group's convoy in Nassaria (ph); five of their colleagues also missing.

The Associated Press now reports one of the Americans was wounded in that attack.

More American Marines headed to the Anbar Province, one of the most violent parts of Iraq. So, 2,200 Marines to be deployed; they're based out of Camp Pendleton, California.

Well, first it was "don't ask, don't tell". Now there is a new military guideline causing trouble for the Pentagon. It classifies homosexuality as a condition that could force retirement, a condition like bed wetting, stuttering, and sleep walking. Gay rights advocates call it a continued slap in the face. But it is a step up from the previous classification. Until now, the Pentagon considered homosexuality a disorder, like mental retardation.

The death of a Brazilian model from anorexia prompting an impassion plea from her mother. Twenty-one-year-old Ana Reston died earlier this week. She weighed 88 pounds. Her mother is asking parents of young models to pay more attention to their kids' eating habits. She also wants the fashion industry to stop glorifying rail- thin models.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was five foot, eight, five foot, eight and weighed 88 pounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: It's just so sad. It's so sad.

S. O'BRIEN: Very, very sad. Let's bring you up with the latest on those violent and deadly storms. Here's what's new this morning. They are cleaning up now and assessing the damage after that powerful tornado ran through Reigelwood, North Carolina. At least eight people are dead, four children are in critical condition today.

Pounding rains, wind and flood in Maryland. Dozens of people had to be rescued from stranded cars. Other people were able to save themselves by wading across roads that were under, in some cases, four feet of water. And there is a safety emergency around Binghamton, New York. Two hundred people there were rescued from flooding and mudslides and many of the roads there are washed out. They are saying all unnecessary travel is now being banned. Those storms are moving north, threatening to spawn tornadoes as well. That could touch down just about anywhere, even in New York State.

Rob Marciano is in Hawthorne, which is in Westchester Counter, in New York. Residents there are really no strangers to dangerous twisters, right, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, no, we're in a location, Soledad, where just this past summer a twister came right through Westchester County, just east of the Hudson River. That -- I mean it's pretty rare. It only happens every two or three years, but, case in point, tornadoes can happen just about everywhere and we certainly saw that the past few days.

This storm that spawned the deadly tornado in North Carolina has really been pounding the United States all week long. It came across as a little short wave across the Pacific Northwest late in the weekend, bringing rain. As a matter of fact, a record was set in Seattle just yesterday for the most rain in November. Then it got into the Rocky Mountains and that's where it really started to develop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO (voice-over): Tuesday, the rains had turned into a severe snowstorm, dropping nearly two feet in the Colorado Rockies. That storm system pulled cold air down and spun it into the Plains, drawing warm, moist air in from the Gulf of Mexico as it moved east.

By early Wednesday, the system caused strong thunderstorms, some developing the swirling winds that produced tornadoes. A twister dropped north of New Orleans, cutting a path two miles wide and three miles long through Greensburg, Louisiana. When it had passed, one man was dead, his home destroyed. Eleven homes were left damaged or devastated in Lemar (ph) county, Mississippi.

And it wasn't finished yet. Next up Alabama. Five confirmed tornadoes, taking down an elementary school and a skating rink, with its busy day care facility inside.

The storm continued on its deadly path, feeding off the Gulf and moving all the way to another source of moisture, the Atlantic Ocean. It pushed into South Carolina, killing a utility worker checking on power lines.

But North Carolina took the worst beating, with young children among the dead and injured. Then that same storm system continued up the coast, bringing torrential rains to Virginia and Maryland. Sandbags brought in to stop the water couldn't prevent flooding in the streets and businesses in Annapolis, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARCIANO: We're here live for you in Westchester County, just east of the Hudson River, where in July of this past year, a tornado came through this area. You can still see damage behind me. There are no threat for tornadoes today in New York state. As a matter of fact, the center of this storm system now in Quebec, will be moving off towards the north and east and a much cooler and calmer weather for just about everybody east of the Mississippi. And that's good news, especially for the folks down south who suffered the brunt of it. Guys, back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Rob.

M. O'BRIEN: The search is underway for four American contractors believed kidnapped in Iraq. It happened in Nasariya, where Iraqi troops have taken control of security, but there is reason to believe the contractors were stopped at a checkpoint manned by insurgents masquerading as the authorities.

Gerald Schumacher is a former Green Beret, spent a lot of time with contractors in Iraq, knows that part of the world intimately. He's also the author of "A Bloody Business," which details the risks that these contractors take. He joins us from San Francisco. Colonel Schumacher, good to have you back on the program. This whole notion of these fake checkpoints and insurgents masquerading as authorities, clearly part of a pattern, clearly a big problem. What's to be done about it?

COL. GERALD SCHUMACHER, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, good morning and thank you for having me on. I ran the roads in Iraq specifically with the contracting firm that is now involved this abduction, Crescent Security, and it was always an issue while we were there, not only -- at the time we were concerned about bandits dressed as police. We were concerned about insurgents dressed as police. We were concerned about corrupt police. And now you have a fourth element, which is police that are associated with Shiite or Sunni militias.

It's very difficult as you drive the roads of Iraq, and clear through a checkpoint, to know -- have any idea what to expect from men in uniform.

M. O'BRIEN: Now you say you know the people that work for Crescent Security well. I presume you think they are well trained to do their job well. Is there any way, though, to do your job safely in that kind of environment?

SCHUMACHER: In that type of insurgency where even the uniformed official officers of the government and military people are sometimes corrupted or taking sides with the enemy, it's damn near impossible to ensure your safety.

M. O'BRIEN: So, it begs the question, I mean, at what point does it become a completely untenable situation, as far as the human and monetary costs, of providing security for contractors, who are, after all, trying to rebuild Iraq?

SCHUMACHER: Well, in this case, you have contractors providing security for contractors. It's become a very big business in Iraq. There's about 130,000 contractors in total involved in infrastructure reconstruction. There's about 20,000 that are armed and running missions every day. They have even developed their own quick-reaction forces. They have kind of become a surrogate army. We have been outsourcing a major element of this war to them.

M. O'BRIEN: So, when you start looking at all of the factions with arms and with missions that are very dangerous, it's obviously a very confusing place to do business.

SCHUMACHER: Well, it is and when companies like Crescent Security, which make these types of runs every single day -- in fact, I was in communications with them just last week -- they pass through the British sector, the Italian sector, the American sector, and at any point in time if they get in contact with the enemy, it's very difficult to determine who is going to come to their aid.

M. O'BRIEN: And typically these security people work for these private companies, they have a lot of military background and are the kind of people you would want in those situations?

SCHUMACHER: Typically they have five to six or more years, and very often they have been associated with special operations or Marine Force Recon. In the case of Crescent Security, quite a few their members are former Marines and in Marine Force Recon.

M. O'BRIEN: Should a ransom be paid? Will a ransom be paid?

SCHUMACHER: Interestingly in my book, I discuss a situation where bandits had taken some of Crescent Security's trucks and demanded a ransom. An initial ransom was given, the trucks and the drivers were not released. More ransom demands were made. I don't think that's an effective course in this situation.

M. O'BRIEN: Colonel Gerald Schumacher, thanks for your time.

SCHUMACHER: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, they had hoped to cash in their prize tickets to the big game. Remember we told you the story the other day? They are trying to raise money, this couple, to adopt a baby. Nothing is going their way. We'll tell you what happened with eBay straight ahead.

Also, Play Station Three finally hits the market and gamers hit each other. We'll tell you about this ugly turn in the race to get this year's must-have item.

And the romantic Italian countryside has never seen such big stars like this. We'll tell you about the surprising guest list and the final touches for the big Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding this weekend, when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: All right Chad, thank you very much. Happening in America this morning, a man in Bellevue, Washington is dead after a construction crane collapsed and hit an apartment building. The crane operator told police he heard a crack and then saw the crane go down. It hit four buildings on its way down.

In Ohio, a man arrested for stealing a purse tells cops he lives in a dorm room at the University of Akron. His name is Harry Colliar (ph). He is 45-year-old convicted felon, with a violent history, and he was living among 400 other coeds. He was a student. The university doesn't have age restrictions for dorm residents, doesn't conduct background checks. He's been kicked off the campus now.

In Bethlehem, New Hampshire a 15-pound lobster named Monstro is finally free. You see that little girl right there? Her dad owns the restaurant. She wanted to set Monstro free, so they did a raffle. The winner was given the option, you could have Monstro for supper or you could set Monstro free. The person who won said let's set Monstro free because she didn't eat lobster. Lucky Monstro.

In West Bend, Wisconsin the new Sony Play Station three. Look at these pictures. This is a stampede at a Wal-Mart. A teenager was injured while he was trying to beat all the other customers to grab one. There are only ten units on the shelves at that Wal-Mart. It went on sale at midnight, as you know. Apparently the employees were saying, you know, there's only a couple of them, so make sure you run.

M. O'BRIEN: Go, run. It's like the Filene's Basement bridal sale in Boston.

S. O'BRIEN: Also dangerous.

M. O'BRIEN: Also a dangerous place to be.

Some of the stories we're following for you right now, a lot of rebuilding to do in North Carolina after a devastating torn. We'll talk to a model whose entire family is lucky to be alive this morning.

Plus, in the family, this family about to make it official. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and Suri too, get ready to say their I-dos this weekend. I wonder -- Suri's not old enough to be a flower girl, is she?

S. O'BRIEN: No, you've got to walk.

M. O'BRIEN: You've got to be able to at least crawl, walk, do something. Anyway, she'll be there though. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: And there's Alessio Vinci. He's in Roma. Alessio, settle this for us. Is it Bracciano (ph) or Bracciano?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The second one, Bracciano.

M. O'BRIEN: He says it so much better than I do.

VINCI: It's easier for me.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Soledad, why don't you take it away with Alessio.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, the old native speaker thing, kind of, always gives you the advantage. And, in fact, the mission, should they choose to accept it, is marriage for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The bride, the groom, all their guests already in place in Italy, where the wedding is going to take place at a 15th century castle right outside of Rome. CNN's Alessio Vinci is in Rome with details for us. Good morning.

VINCI: And good morning to you Soledad. Well, it feels as if entire Hollywood has moved to Rome. We have seen already stars such as Brooke Shields, John Carey -- Jim Carey, as well as Jennifer Lopez arriving here last night. But we also understand that John Travolta is flying his own 707 into Rome later today, carrying on board even more VIPs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI (voice-over): The shocked paparazzi and fans in Rome have been waiting for days. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and daughter Suri making their first public appearance on Thursday night, walking inside one of Rome's best known restaurants.

FRANCESCA LUDI, RESTAURANT OWNER: Lots of different kinds of past we are serving tonight for him and ravioli with truffles. So he like, so he will eat truffles. And there are artichokes that he loves too.

VINCI: Until then the only sightings were this night shot of Hollywood's hottest couple and a few seconds of the movie star in a hotel lobby.

In the meanwhile, there is frenzy in Bracciano, the small town north of Rome, where the two are expected to marry on Saturday in this 15th century castle. The world's media have taken this usually sleepy place by storm and locals are cashing in. Windows overlooking the castle are being rented out for thousands of dollars, as journalists wander in search of juicy details.

ALLAN HALL, STAR MAGAZINE REPORTER: We're also talking to people like the caterers, like the people supplying the flowers. We know that there are going to be 6,000 scented candles of coffee and rose.

VINCI (on camera): Details of the wedding are a closely guarded secret, but many here speculate that the couple will reach the castle through this tunnel. At the end of it chords of journalists will be waiting for them on this side before the couple will disappear beyond this gate, off limits to anyone without an invitation.

(voice-over): There will be a lot of people disappointed here if all this was a rouse to keep reporters away from the actual wedding location, starting with Bracciano's shop keepers, each trying to outdo the other with their window dressing skills.

It's a great event for us, she says. We have seen a lot of weddings, but this one really shakes us up.

Nearby, Tom Cruise's recent biography is a best seller here and on prominent display in the local bookstore. And across the street, the manager of a clothing store selling American casual ware hopes the wedding will also bring good business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most important window that we make is the Top Gun window, if you see. And we sell a lot of pilot jackets like Maverick in the Top Gun films.

VINCI: And, of course, this being Italy, food is playing a prominent role. The restaurant across from the castle main entrance is already booked out for Saturday. The chef will prepare a special dish, the Tom and Katie Risotto, with mushrooms and truffles served in a parmesan basket.

But despite all the niceties, there is one thing Hollywood's maverick won't be having his way. A request to close the air space above the castle to keep paparazzi's helicopters away has been turned down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI: And speaking of food, Soledad, one Italian newspaper this morning is reporting that actually Tom Cruise is on a diet, because he has put on a little bit too much weight, and they are also reporting that his wedding suit that was provided by Giorgio Armani also doesn't fit. So, he has one more day to go before his wedding and it looks like he is enjoying too much the Italian food here.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, he just needs to fit in the suit and then he can just forget about it the day after. Is it true that this event is ceremonial and not necessarily legally binding? Is that the case?

VINCI: Well it does appear that this wedding will not be recognized by the Italian state. In this country, you can either be married by the Catholic church, this will not be the case because Tom Cruise is a divorced man, so the Catholic church here will not marry him, and, of course, he belongs to Scientology, which by the Vatican, here behind me, is not considered a religion. So therefore there will be no Catholic wedding.

On the civil side, the mayor of Bracciano is telling us that they have not requested any permission or any -- they have not submitted any document for a so-called civil ceremony. Therefore, we do understand that there will be a Scientology ceremony, which in this country is not recognized.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting. Alessio Vinci for us this morning. Thank you Alessio. Are you going to attend the wedding?

VINCI: I will go there, but I'm not invited.

S. O'BRIEN: That's kind of a yes.

M. O'BRIEN: He's the wedding crasher. That's what he is.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks Alessio. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: They wanted to raise money so that they could eventually raise a child, but eBay said no way to their auction. Find out what's next for a couple looking to adopt.

And it's being called MySpace for the older generation. That's you and me, folks. We're minding your business when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: All right, the kids have MySpace. What do we have? Nothing, right? Well Andrew Ross Sorkin of the "New York Times" is here to tell us about one company that has something in mind. Hello Andrew.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, THE "NEW YORK TIMES": The CEO of ShutterFly, this is the photo sharing site --

M. O'BRIEN: I love ShutterFly. I use it all the time, love it. What does that tell you. I'm the demo, I guess.

SORKIN: You are the demo. They are going to try -- The CEO of ShutterFly is saying that he is going to try to turn ShutterFly into the MySpace for the older generation, for the set 30, 35 years and older. So that is the move.

M. O'BRIEN: I'll still be able to get prints and photo albums and all the things I like.

SORKIN: You'll still be able to get prints, but you will be able to share them, you will be able to blog about it, you will be able to get music involved. I mean, his idea really is that the MySpace generation doesn't pay, doesn't understand where the money is on the Internet. But this older generation is prepared to buy songs, for example, on iTunes. Maybe they will buy songs from him. Be prepared to create books out of the albums while they are blogging. So, you know, I don't know if the older generation needs a MySpace, but if they do, this may be it. It's certainly an interesting marketing pitch, if you will.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you see a lot of 40-year-olds blogging in their free time?

M. O'BRIEN: I don't know. Maybe as time goes on and they have more time on their hands. Maybe it's for even older folks, I don't know. I'm a little busy.

SORKIN: You are a little busy?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, what else you got going?

SORKIN: Well, the big game this weekend, Ohio State-Michigan. Ticket prices, off the charts. You know, you can buy them on eBay, $550 to $10,000. Everybody is going to be there. The Michigan police are sending their own staff to the game. But as you guys have been talking about over the past week, there was a couple who were trying to adopt a baby, and put their tickets on eBay, hoping that they would be able to defray the costs, through a charitable contribution, if you will. EBay took down the sale.

S. O'BRIEN: Why?

SORKIN: Well, they have rules on eBay, because they are so worried about fraud when it comes to different charitable issues, that they took it off. So, this couple now -- we'll give them a free plug. If you want to buy their tickets, they are on something called DreamSeats.com.

M. O'BRIEN: Well now wait a minute, if they had just put their tickets on there, without mentioning --

SORKIN: Well that's the thing. You know, there's tickets all over the place -- well, and that's the real issue. But if you want to help out this little lovely couple, you can do that at DreamSeats.com.

S. O'BRIEN: I think they are trying to raise 30 grand, right, for their adoption costs for a little baby girl.

SORKIN : Well, it's $12,500, is what they said it would defray, but it might cost more.

S. O'BRIEN: And then extra.

SORKIN: And then a little bit of extras.

M. O'BRIEN: Plus, plus all the extras. What else you got?

SORKIN: Well, a little later we're going to be talking about the Wii, Nintendo's Wii, coming up, and obviously Play Station. The lengths to which these companies are going to get this into the market and what they are going to do to get you to buy it. So, we will talk a little bit about that.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you. Here is a look at some of the top stories on CNN.com this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The mother of this Brazilian fashion model, who died from complications of Anorexia, is begging other parents to keep a close eye on their children. Her daughter, model Anna Reston, died on Tuesday. She was 21-years-old, five foot, eight, and weighed just 88 pounds.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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