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AMERICAN MORNING

More Severe Weather Expected in Much of Country

Aired March 1, 2007 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: ... get ready for some more storms. Chad is watching it all.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: School trip: President Bush heads to New Orleans for education push today. Lots of storm-battered schools, no where close to making the grade.

S. O'BRIEN: A late-night announcement. Senator John McCain launches his presidential bid with the help of David Letterman.

M. O'BRIEN: And a fender bender mind bender, as a new study on sky-high costs of low-speed crashes. We are live from New Orleans, South Korea, Washington, and New York on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. It is Thursday, March 1st. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien. We are glad you are with us.

It could be a rocky day. Tornadoes touching down near Kansas City overnight. The threat of severe weather is bearing down across a huge chunk of that part of the country. Radar shows intense storms brewing, severe weather alerts are up in all kinds of places.

People in parts of Kansas and Missouri are waking up to twister and hail damage already this morning. Heavy rain, flash flooding, trees are down, as well, closing a stretch of Interstate 35 in Kansas City through the early morning hours.

The storm is on the move. Let's get to it. Severe Weather Expert Chad Myers with the latest.

Chad, good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Good morning.

It stretches all the way with snow from the Canadian border down into the Gulf of Mexico. That is where most of the severe weather will be today. The most severe not that far from Mountain Home, this is northern Arkansas, big storm system just rolled over Saint Joe. It had a lot of rotation up there. I don't know whether there is damage reported with that; whether there's a tornado on the ground.

This is Ozark County, up into Missouri, a storm close with rotation not far from Bull Shoals. And farther to the north, we do know there was a tornado on the ground earlier, about 45 minutes ago, just to the north and east of Springfield, in Phillipsburg (ph), Missouri, report of a tornado on the ground by the public. That was at 5:15 local time. That's 6:15 Eastern Time, just 45 minutes ago. And there's reports of damage this morning.

These storms are rotating. When I tell you about a county today, that means there's a warning on it -- not, there's a watch on it. There's going to be so many watches I'll never be able to tell you all of them. There will just be dozens today, for hundreds of counties. When you hear your name, and your county, that means you need to take cover now.

Miles, Soledad, back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad. Weather radios, if you have them make sure they're working. OK.

MYERS: Absolutely. You bet.

M. O'BRIEN: In the Northwest, in the Rockies, heavy snow and ice making for dangerous roads. At least 50 cars and trucks piled up in Snoqualmie (ph) Pass, that's east of Seattle. Seven were hurt, four of them seriously -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: President Bush is going to the Gulf Coast for his first trip there in six months. He will visit a charter school in New Orleans which is really a relative success story, but coming back from the storm is still a struggle for most schools across that city. CNN's Sean Callebs is live for us this morning from Mary Bethune Elementary, in New Orleans.

Good morning to you, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

One thing that the president will not see, damage like this. I want to show you just one area here of this elementary school, you can see the pipes have just been ripped out of the roof. A lot of this done by the storm, a lot by vandalism. People went in and actually cut all the copper wiring out for money. Once they do begin work on this, they will have so much to do.

I want to show this classroom. Look at this. They had about three feet of water in here. This is matted down muck, filth, disgust. It will take some time to clean this up. Despite this, more than half the school is still closed from the storm. There are some success stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice over): Every day Cornell Carney walk through the metal detector before going to the class this is part of student life at O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans.

CORNELL CARNEY, STUDENT: It's the best school that I've ever been in.

CALLEBS: O. Perry Walker is one of the rare post-Katrina success stories. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As citizens of this country they have been entitled to quality, free public education. Not just free education, quality education.

CALLEBS: But O. Perry Walker still has its problems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To see this place, like this, it really disheartening.

CALLEBS: The auditorium is still flooded and in need obvious need of repair. The school is one of 56 city schools that have reopened since the storm.

This, too, is the face of New Orleans schools. Mary Bethune Elementary, one of 65 stools still closed. It's hoped it will reopen in the fall. New Orleans has told FEMA it will take $418 million to repair and renovate damaged schools. But officials say FEMA has only provided $13 million for the work so far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really beginning to panic, quite frankly, about how we will continue to operate, and continue to open schools and repair schools at the rate we are going with getting reimbursed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has something to do with --

CALLEBS: And for a school system still in tatters, panic is not what anyone needs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Schools are making a turn for the better. Everybody is trying to not go back to the pre-Katrina way. Everybody is trying to advance from the pre-Katrina.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: Pre-Katrina seems like such a long time, more than 18 months. I want to show you these desks, here. The kids in this classroom on August 27th, just leave your books underneath the desks. We will come back a few days after the storm and try and get on with life as we know it.

It's no secret that the school system did do a great job with public school students before the storm, and since then it's been devastating. It will be interesting to hear what the president has to say. He may not have an audience that's extremely warm -- gives him a warm reception.

S. O'BRIEN: I guess that's the thing, people look around at that damage and say 18 months later. There's nobody who can come through and just clean up the mess? Maybe not rebuild it completely, but the books are still there from a storm? That's ridiculous.

CALLEBS: It's hard to imagine. We spent a great deal of time yesterday with the superintendent of schools here and the president of the school board. And they are -- they're at wits end. They believe they're doing what they are supposed to. They make bills, they send them on to the federal government saying this is what we need to do to clean up. That has to be approved. Go through the state, come back. All this red tape and it's really, really the kids who are suffering the most in this case.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah, 18 months later you have all the stuff still where it was when the storm rolled through. Sean Callebs this morning. Thank you, Sean, for that report.

We should mention one of the students that you saw in Sean's report, Cornell Carney, he's working that new camera we gave him. He's part of our "Children of the Storm" series. We've been asking some kids in New Orleans to videotape the story of their lives. This is a project we're doing with Spike Lee, to show off some of their work.

The next episode will air a week from tomorrow, Friday, March 9, right here on AMERICAN MORNING. I have to say, some of the videotape they've been sending back is amazing. We will share it with you.

M. O'BRIEN: Dying to see that.

Happening this morning, a hard landing for a U.S. helicopter near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The two crew members were injured. At least eight U.S. helicopters have crashed, or been shot down, this year in Iraq.

Market watch this morning, the third day, no charm. All along the Pacific Rim stocks down, once again today. In the city where it all began, Shanghai, closing down today just shy of 3 percent.

Former Congressman Bob Ney is telling people he's sorry as he prepares to trade his gray suit for prison khakis. The six-term Republican is due to report to a federal prison in West Virginia this afternoon. Ney pleaded guilty in October to accepting bribes from convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He faces two and a half years behind bars.

It's a prescription for a new kind of drug abuse. Pain killers and tranquilizers and stimulants are becoming the drugs of choice for people looking to get high. In fact prescription drug abuse is about to exceed the use of illegal drugs like heroin or pot. The word comes from the International Narcotics Control Board, a global watchdog group.

And famed historian and chronicler of Camelot, Arthur Schlesinger is dead. The Pulitzer Prize winner was close confidant of John F. Kennedy. He served as an adviser while Kennedy was in the White House. Schlesinger suffered a heart attack while dining out in New York City. He was 89.

This morning John McCain is publicly admitting the obvious, that he will make a run for the Oval Office. And in keeping with the new world order of candidate announcements the Arizona senator spilled the beans last night on Letterman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, LATE NIGHT: Are you running, or are you going announce that you're running?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The last time we were on this program, I'm sure you remember everything very clearly.

LETTERMAN: Yes.

MCCAIN: But you asked me if I would come back on the show, if I was going announce.

LETTERMAN: Yes.

MCCAIN: I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States.

LETTERMAN: Oh.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: Here now to tell us what this all means for the race to the White House is our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

He also went on to say, Bill, that you know, you just kind of have to do this thing over and over again. It's interesting how the announcements are going this year. Obviously, no secret that John McCain was running.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Not a secret but by announcing on David Letterman he is attempting to recover the image that he had in 2000, that he was a maverick. Remember Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on Jay Leno. It a way of saying I'm not a typical politician. I'm different from most politicians.

He went on Jay Leno, it is a more populist gesture. But the fact is, this is year -- unlike 2000 -- this year, John McCain really is the candidate of the party establishment.

He's made his peace with the Bush forces. He raised a lot of money from Bush supporters, and hired some Bush staff people to work on his campaign. He's really become the establishment candidate this year. That gesture was a way of saying hey, there's still some maverick left in my persona.

M. O'BRIEN: You could make a case that maverick is what his initial appeal was all about. Let's look at some numbers here.

The latest poll numbers we have show Rudy Giuliani right there at the top. This is an ABC/"Washington Post" poll, 44 percent -- this is among potential GOP voters. John McCain at 21 percent. What explains those numbers, do you think?

SCHNEIDER: Rudy Giuliani is 9/11. McCain has become the Iraq issue. He's embraced the troop build-up in Iraq, a very unpopular cause. Though he's been a critic of the management of the war in Iraq, he said very recently that Donald Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of Defense, ever. He described a management of the war as a train wreck.

Nevertheless, he has embraced the cause in Iraq and has supported the president's policy of building up American forces there. Rudy Giuliani is new to national politics. He's not an unfamiliar figure, but that indelible leadership image of him in a crisis coming out of 9/11 appears to be paying off for him.

And the biggest surprise is Giuliani is making a lot of headway with evangelical voters despite the fact that he describes himself as a supporter of abortion rights, and civil union for same-sex partners, and even gun control.

M. O'BRIEN: I wonder how many GOP voters know all that, right now. It remains to be seen on that.

Let's talk about John McCain's age. If he were to win, he would be the oldest president sworn in for a first term. Ronald Reagan, on his second term was older. But for a first term, back in 1980, Ronald Reagan was actually younger than John McCain would be. Is that going to be an issue?

SCHNEIDER: I think it will be. He will have to make some effort to resolve any questions that people have. The "Washington Post"/ABC news poll asked people would be less likely to vote for a candidate who is -- they said over age 72. He'll actually be 72 next year. And 58 percent of Americans, a pretty solid majority said yes, they would be less likely to vote for a candidate that old. That's more than said they would have problems with a candidate's gender, or race or religion. It's an issue.

He can put it to rest by demonstrating that he's perfectly capable of doing the job, there should be no doubts about his hardiness or his health. But it's going to be an issue because it's clearly a widespread problem for a lot of voters.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. Bill Schneider, looking at it for us. We appreciate it.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Severe weather in the heartland could be a dangerous day today with tornadoes. Chad Myers is watching it all. He has all the warnings straight ahead.

Plus, an emotional reunion. Take a look there. That is U.S. Olympic Skier Toby Dawson hugging his dad, who is crying. They were reunited after Toby got separated from his mother 25 years ago in a crowded market in South Korea. We will talk to Dawson about that reunion straight ahead. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) M. O'BRIEN: Most news in the morning right here on CNN. In Iraq, another American helicopter is down this morning in Kirkuk. The Pentagon says it was a mechanical problem this time. The two crew members on board that Kiawa (ph), were injured.

And more stock trouble in Shanghai. The exchange down nearly 3 percent overnight. You recall a tumble there is what sparked it all on Tuesday and caused that Wall Street meltdown.

It is now quarter past the hour. Chad Myers is at the CNN Weather Center. He has a look at those red boxes. We have folks in the middle part of the country better listen up.

Good morning, Chad.

MYERS: Good morning. The red boxes are tornado watches, which means conditions are ripe for storms that might contain tornadoes. When you hear warning -- I'm warning you -- when you hear warning that means a tornado has been sighted or is indicated by Doppler radar.

We have a couple of major storms this morning. Two actually on the ground probably. You just can't get this type of a hook and rotation without something being on the ground.

I'm concerned for the town of Norfork (ph), Salesville (ph) and Three Brothers in Arkansas. That's this storm here. South and east of Mountain Home and to the north of there, a rotating storm, into Ozark County, Missouri. That storm is close to Tecumseh, Missouri. Take cover now if you are there.

If you are this area, in general, those two counties. Take cover now.

If you are in any of the counties from this area south to almost northern Florida, you may take cover later on today. Keep in mind that this is a large storm with big arms. The snow is into Canada, the severe weather is down to the Gulf Coast.

Look at this red zone from St. Louis down into even Atlanta, Georgia. Under the gun today for big-time severe weather. One of the higher severe weather events maybe of the year -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for watching it, Chad.

Now a CNN exclusive: A new chapter in an pretty amazing story we told you about yesterday. U.S. Olympic skier Toby Dawson, right there, reunited with his biological father, 25 years after Toby, as a little toddler, got lost in a crowded market in South Korea. He was raised by adoptive parents in Colorado. Toby Dawson is in Seoul, South Korea this morning.

We have a little bit of a delay, but I'm going to ask everybody -- especially you, Toby to be patient with the delay, because your story is so amazing.

We saw you hugging your father; clearly emotional for both of you. Your father was sobbing. How was that for you yesterday? How are you doing today?

TOBY DAWSON, U.S. OLYMPIC SKIER: I'm great. It's -- I'm pretty worn out. It's been an emotional roller coaster. I've been on highs and lows. Just quite a pleasant experience, actually. It's gone a lot smoother than I could have ever imagined.

S. O'BRIEN: You discovered you have a brother, as well, who we saw in some of that videotape yesterday, too.

Take me back to that day, if you can, 25 years ago. We know that you wandered away, I guess, from your mother at a crowded market. And then your parents were unable to find you even though they looked for you. And eventually you ended up in an orphanage. Do you remember anything about that day at all?

DAWSON: I have no memories until I was about -- until I was about five years old. I think I subconsciously just blocked everything out so I wouldn't be hurt and disappointed. But thanks to KTO for making me an honorary ambassador of Korean tourism, I was able to come to Korea and they put together DNA testing to help me find my biological father.

S. O'BRIEN: Did you ever, before that, want to know your biological parents? Because I know that after you got amazing success in the Olympics a lot of Koreans came out of the woodwork, literally, saying I'm your father, I'm your mother. And a lot of people who turned out to be frauds. Was it something you always wanted, too?

DAWSON: It was something that I was -- I had always thought about was in the back of my mind. For me personally, I wanted to do this to help raise the awareness of being -- of adoption, and bring that to the forefront. And try to bring money into my foundation, the Toby Dawson Foundation.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about your foundation for a moment. I know you have spoken about how as a child being raised by white parents, and being Korean, you wanted to be an all-American blond, blue-eyed kid. Clearly you're not. It was hard for you. You felt like you didn't fit in anywhere. Has this reunion with your father and kind of figuring out where you're from, has that helped you?

DAWSON: I'm not sure if it has helped me. It's been a little bit difficult because growing up I was always feeling like I didn't fit in. Then when I come to Korea I still don't feel like I fit in because I'm so American. So, I'm kind of stuck between two worlds right now.

S. O'BRIEN: What happens now? I know you gave your brother, who we saw pictures of, he's got an afro sort of going on. You gave him the advice no more perms for you. What kind of connection will you have with your family?

DAWSON: It seems like we're having a great connection. We are already -- I'm trying to plan a trip with my fiance, Leah, to go back to South Korea and go to Pusan, where I was born. He is talking about taking me fishing and doing some the outdoor activities I enjoy. S. O'BRIEN: Wonderful. Toby Dawson, congratulations to you. I know you've been on a real whirlwind. So, we appreciate you taking a moment to talk to us and sharing your good news with us. Thanks.

DAWSON: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: What an amazing story.

S. O'BRIEN: Isn't that a great story? It's a great, great story.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, one of the world's biggest airplane manufacturers set to hand out thousands of pink slips. We'll see what it means for the rest of the industry.

And a new crash test to tell you about. You won't believe the damage that comes out of a six mile-per-hour crash. Drive safely. AMERICAN MORNING is back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Every U.S. soldier needs a safe place to rest and time to regroup for the next battle. But peace can turn into chaos in an instant. CNN's Tom Foreman looks at that in his special report "The Lion In The Village" it airs tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360". He's here with a preview.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

This is the story of the mess tent bombing in Mosul, two years ago. It killed 22 people, it injured 69. It started off like any other normal day. The holidays were coming up. The mess tent was crowded. The men were excited. They felt like they were in a safe place, when a man in an Iraqi national guard uniform walked in, and sat down. And what happened next was devastating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEAN HOFFMEYER, PHOTOGRAPHER, "RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH": It was very quiet. And my ears were ringing. I heard the sounds of moaning. I heard one man scream.

And that was the point that I reached for my camera and thought somebody will want to see what happened in here.

STAFF SGT. NICK MALICH, STRYKER BRIGADE, FORT LEWIS: It was just a huge explosion.

CAPTAIN JUSTIN UHLER: It just rocked the whole area. I mean, the ground physically shook.

MST. SGT. SHANE BRIEL, STRYKER BRIGADE, FORT LEWIS: I would say I a got blown a good 30 feet or more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember thinking to myself, man, a mortar came in here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very loud, intense crack. Like getting hit by a football player and punched in the face at the same time.

SPC. ALEJANDRO SOTO, STRYKER BRIGADE, FORT LEWIS: I didn't know what happened at first. It just felt like somebody had pushed me. And I remember just laying there thinking, OK, this is like when you're dead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: We have never before seen pictures, never before released information about the investigation into what happened that day. It is a fascinating and terribly, terribly sad story about what happened.

Most of all, what the producer Amanda Townsend and I set out to do, we do in the show, is the thing that probably is most important, take some time, remember and get to know the young people who are serving, and in some cases dying, over in Iraq for what we have asked them to do -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: As you point out, some cases a long way from the front line, wherever the front line may be.

FOREMAN: When they think they might be safe.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

You can catch the rest of Tom's special report, "The Lion In The Village" airing tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time on "Anderson Cooper 360."

It wasn't too long ago Boeing was on the ropes and Airbus seems invincible now the tables have turned. It's 25 minutes past the hour.

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, rocky weather across much of the country to tell you about today. Very busy day for forecasters. At the nation's storm prediction center we're going to take you right inside the action this morning.

And fighting fat. We'll tell you some ways to get your kids off the couch and back to the playground. And this --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Soledad, we'll be in the crash tunnel and we'll be talking about cars coming up this ramp and hitting things, and finding out about the damage. But it won't be high speeds, it will be low speeds. How much damage can happen to your car? We'll tell you coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Weather alert, big storms slamming the country, snow out west, a tornado in the heartland and more problems are on tap for today. We'll bring you up to speed straight ahead.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Digging your wallet. How a six mile-an-hour crash can put a big dent in your bank account.

S. O'BRIEN: And play time. Health experts having a little fun as they try to tackle one of the country's biggest problems, childhood obesity. We'll explain ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING. Welcome back everybody. It's Thursday, March 1st. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks for being with us.

S. O'BRIEN: We are watching this morning a line of severe weather in the Midwest. Another round of stock trouble in Asia, markets all around the Pacific rim again down today. The Shanghai exchange in China down about 3 percent, probably not the news that American investors would like to hear. Tuesday's meltdown on Wall Street of course was sparked by a stock plunge in Shanghai.

And there was a hard landing for a U.S. Army helicopter near Kirkuk in northern Iraq. Two crew members were injured. At least eight U.S. helicopters have crashed or been shot down this year in Iraq.

People in Kansas and Missouri waking up to damaged homes and snapped power lines, downed trees after an apparent tornado there. Take a look at these pictures. Heavy rains also forced police to close a stretch of I-35 in Kansas City today. Storms are on the move. Let's get to severe weather expert Chad Myers with an update. Hey Chad, good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning Soledad, a couple of dangerous storms this morning, one in northern Arkansas, one just crossing the Arkansas and Missouri border. And Mountain Home (ph), you are just to the north of where the biggest storm is. A very large intense rotating storm there, not that far from Salem, into Arkansas, but the towns I'm worried about, Mitchell, Byron and Bexter (ph). If you're in this area, northern Arkansas, you need to take cover immediately. This is a big-time rotating storm.

So then into western plains, west plains, another big-time rotating storm there. That one is near South Fork right now. And the rotation on the storm indicate that these storms must be on the ground, although we have no official ground truth (ph) at this point whether the storms are in fact or are not on the ground. Enough rotation to make a tornado fall out of it and then just north of Richie (ph) into Vichie (ph), also we are seeing that storm for Marise (ph) County. That would be the secondary storm that we're worried about now for you for this morning. Big-time weather with snow to the north, severe weather to the south. Many of these storms will produce damage today. The severe weather prediction center in Norman, Oklahoma, a bunch of weather there, slight risk and high risk and you know who is there? Our Jacqui Jeras, she's going to have the latest on what this means right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you for that very excellent segue. Let's turn right to Jacqui. She's inside that situation room at the storm prediction center in Norman. Hey Jacqui, good morning.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning Soledad. Yeah. This is like the situation room where, like, the headquarters for severe weather for today. This is where the expert meteorologists across the country are here predicting what we think is going to be one of the worst weather days possibly of the year. We have what we call a high-risk of severe thunderstorms including large tornadoes across parts of the southeast and a day like today happens maybe, a handful of times a year. Meteorologists working behind me over here, this is John Hart (ph) and he's issuing what we call the convective outlook, the risk of where we're expecting to see the worst thunderstorms today and his computer is just like our computer at home and crashed on him, so he's really working hard and wasn't able to talk to us.

The 45 percent hatched area that he just had in there where you see the purple, that basically means those people that live there across Mississippi, Alabama, into Georgia, it means they have about a 45 percent chance of an F-3 tornado or larger touching down within, say, 30 miles of their home. So that is a very serious risk. They don't issue warnings here. Your local national weather service will do that. For example, if you live in Atlanta, Georgia, the Peachtree city office will issue an actual warning when a tornado is on the ground. But what they do do here is they issue watches rather. This is Greg Carbin and you just issued a brand new watch for parts of Arkansas and Louisiana. Tell us about that.

GREG CARBIN, METEOROLOGIST: We currently have four watches out, three of them tornado watches, one severe thunderstorm watch that is about ready to expire. The most recent tornado watch was issued for parts of southern Arkansas, the northern parishes of Louisiana and parts of eastern Texas. We do see some warnings now for activity coming up in eastern Texas. This is the leading edge of the cold front moving east and it looks like the severe weather will just continue to increase and move east throughout the day. The conditions throughout this region very favorable for tornadoes.

JERAS: OK, thank you very much, Greg. By the time that he got on the conference call, by the way, Soledad with the local offices out of Shreveport, out of Little Rock to help determine where to put the watch for this latest round of severe weather that's coming on in, once he pushes that button, it takes maybe just a couple of seconds by the time he gets off the call. He puts in the words in writing, pushes his button on the computer and that will plot right on Chad's computer and bring that to the public.

S. O'BRIEN: Good thing it's fast because they're going to have a busy day today. Jacqui Jeras for us this morning, thank you Jacqui. Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: You don't have to be a lead foot to run the risk of crashing and burning your hard-earned money. Some new crash tests are in and they show even a minor bump can cause major damage. AMERICAN MORNING's Greg Hunter is in Ruckersville, Virginia with the story. Hello Greg. GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Miles, we are in the crash tunnel here at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Can you see way down there? It's 600 feet long. It's how they get cars like this to go 40, 50 miles per hour, run them into a wall. But we won't be needing that kind of speed today because the crash test that they did was about three to six miles per hour. Let me show you what six miles per hour is. We have a driver in here and this is six miles per hour. It's about as fast as I can walk just like this, a nice quick speed. How much damage happens at this speed? You'll be surprised.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTER: People generally think of a car crash like this. But the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says two-thirds of all crashes happen when a car is going just six miles an hour or less. It also says many of today's midsized car bumpers don't protect them adequately when hit by other vehicles, especially SUVs. Look at the comparison between this Volkswagen Passat and this Nissan Altima.

DAVID ZUBY, SR VP, VEHICLE RESEARCH: It cost less than $1,000 to repair the little bit of damage that's here, compared to over $3,000 to repair the damage that's here.

HUNTER: Another IIHS test at just three miles per hour caused $1400 worth of damage on the corner of a different vehicle.

ZUBY: Bumpers are intended to prevent damage to these expensive components, but the bumper on this vehicle is not wide enough to do it.

HUNTER: The institute, funded by the insurance industry, says current bumper requirements are too lax, not nearly as good as the bumpers on this 1981 Ford Escort, which was then required by law to withstand a five-mile-per-hour crash without damage. The Escort, with a stronger bumper, fared well, compared to its modern-day counterparts. This went through the same test this went through.

ZUBY: Exactly the same test.

HUNTER: No damage.

ZUBY: No damage, $4500 to fix the damage on that car.

HUNTER: That's more than that car's worth.

ZUBY: That's right.

HUNTER: Pontiac tells CNN its priority is protecting people. Nissan says its cars meet or surpass Federal safety regulations and its repair costs are competitive. Insurers would like car makers to put wider and longer bumpers on cars to be able to withstand low- impact crashes with less damage.

ZUBY: For the consumer, that will mean that when you have these minor kinds of parking lot or rush hour traffic-type crashes, you can have a small impact, drive away with little or no damage. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTER: This is a Saturn Aura and it's one of the cars they tested. They did four different test. They did front, square, corner, back, square, corner this did pretty well in the front right. But if you look back here - remind you, this is only six miles per hour. You have this. This is pretty severe damage for a six-mile-per-hour crash. The trunk is all lifted up. It won't close properly. It's $3,000 worth of damage, six miles per hour. And some cars did better than others. This for example did well on the front but no car really did as well as that 1981 Escort. The least amount of damage in all the tests for the new cars, $4,000. That's pretty good. The Escort, four different crashes, front, back, corner, corner, about $500 bucks. So car technology...

M. O'BRIEN: Did they test SUVs?

HUNTER: They didn't test SUVs in this test. They tested 17 different medium-sized sedans.

M. O'BRIEN: Got you.

HUNTER: Pretty significant test.

M. O'BRIEN: It's a real eye-opener.

HUNTER: It is.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Greg Hunter. You can get complete details of the crash test report on our website. It is at cn.com/am. Find out how your car did. Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a new contender but many people thought he was already in the race. Senator John McCain makes a late-night jump into the presidential race. But it's still not totally official. We'll explain straight ahead.

And play time. How a little fun might be the best way to solve America's childhood obesity epidemic. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. It's coming up at 45 minutes past the hour. Chad Myers is watching many things actually today, busy today. Some severe weather to talk about. Chad, good morning.

MYERS: Good morning Soledad. If you are talking about some storms that are rotating like they are now, although we don't have ground truth that we know these storms are on the ground, we have a couple of them now. If you are in Salem, Arkansas, you need to take cover now. This storm is just to your southwest and has been rotating now for well over an hour or West Plains into Missouri. That's the Arkansas line right there, another storm just to the north with violent rotation on it just now literally on the ground. It has to be on the ground, although I don't have any reports of anybody seeing it yet. This storm is such tight rotation, has such tight rotation that you need to be under a work bench in the smallest room, if you can.

The rest of the country, from snow to the north and thunderstorms in the south being influenced by a large upper level low that is making a huge risk of severe weather all the way from the Midwest right on down to Atlanta, Georgia today. A lot of folks will be affected. If you hear the siren or if you hear the warning, we are not kidding this time. These are big time storms this morning. Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad. Yet another reason to get your kids off the couch and away from the video games. Childhood obesity is a huge nationwide epidemic and the solution could be as simple as recess or gym class. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more for us in his fit nation report. He joins us from CNN center in Atlanta. Hello Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Miles. When you talk about the childhood obesity epidemic, a question that comes up, is there somebody responsible or some organization responsible? That's hard to figure out. But an organization, a coalition called Play Every Day is trying to bring together public and private organizations to try and address this problem. You have big corporations. You also have organizations like YMCA and the national parks and recs as well. The goal as you pointed out is to try and get every kid exercising, active for at least 60 minutes a day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): These elementary school kids in Fairfax County, Virginia, have their groove on. Every day they dance. The purpose? To get kids moving and fight obesity.

VAL TAGUDING, DANCE PE TEACHER: We work on strong muscles and working on building their hearts and their aerobic capacity as well.

GUPTA: That's so important. Some school systems who had canceled physical education classes are thinking of bringing them back, making exercising essential as reading, writing and arithmetic.

DR. SUSAN OWNER, ISLAND CREEK ELEM PRINCIPAL: A lot of it is how kids feel about themselves, that feeling of dignity and self-respect that they get from physical activity.

GUPTA: The partnership for play every day agrees. The group is made up of private, public and non-profit organizations and is tired of watching kids get heavy.

AUDREY TAYSE HAYNES, YMCA OF THE USA: We are asking parents, teachers, public citizens to begin to think about involving children outside.

GUPTA: Along with researchers at Stanford University, the coalition has come up with the community play index that measures which barriers keep kids from participating in physical activities.

DR. WILLIAM HASKELL, STANFORD U. SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Which will allow communities to assess how well they're prepared to really support this idea of 60 minutes of activity every day.

GUPTA: Play Every Day hopes to raise millions of dollars for new programs across the country. That means, for example, more money for school playgrounds and funding for a greater police presence in community parks now deemed unsafe places for kids to play. The partnership hopes to get more students up and grooving to the beat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: It's amazing to me as we've been researching childhood obesity programs, there are school districts around the country that only have 30 minutes of recess a week nowadays. It's sort of remarkable to me. There's now a play every day bill that's been introduced. It's specifically targeting community programs to try and build those programs for kids to be able to get the exercise they need every day Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: That just does not seem right to me, 60 minutes? What is the key, what's the magic number there with 60 minutes?

GUPTA: It seems a bit arbitrary and you hear different numbers. This is based on some of the best science. What I found interesting when I talked to some of the researchers, they say 60 minutes of activity a day, but also another good benchmarks is to try and keep them not sedentary for 60 minutes in a row ever except when they're sleeping. So try and keep the kids moving even if they're not actively exercising, keep the kids moving so they're never sitting still for a full hour in a row Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. That is a message to parents who allow their kids to spend too much time in front of the tube or the video games. Listen up folks. It's important. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for dropping by.

GUPTA: Thanks Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, John McCain states the obvious on Letterman. Is it enough to put the maverick back in his drive for the oval office? Plus, it's Thursday and you know what that means crew right? Graham cam? Yes, it's gram cam today. Miles cam has been replaced by Graham cam, our production assistant extraordinaire and movie maven, Graham Flanagan who has been messing with my graphics there. He is a production assistant. He has access to the graphics machine. And look what he did. Graham was on some movie predictions, Oscar predictions last week. He's going to gloat today. If you have any thoughts about movies, what movies you like, you don't like, our movie maven, Graham will be there. I'll just watch. Graham cam is the place. But send your e-mails to milescam@cnn.com. I don't think we have an e-mail for him just yet and the place to watch all this unfold is on the pipelines product, cnn.com/pipeline at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time. Back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Severe weather is our big story today. We got quite a mess across the country. Chad is watching it all right now in Arkansas and Missouri. Chad's warning of big storms that are hitting there as we speak right now. He's monitoring (INAUDIBLE) Chad in just a moment. Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: America votes now. A look at what the candidates vying for the White House are up to today. John McCain making the obvious official, appearing on David Letterman last night to announce he's running for president. He'll make a formal announcement in April. Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge will serve as co-chair of his campaign.

Mitt Romney's dance card full today in New Hampshire, campaigning day and night in the nation's first primary state, visiting with students and business leaders today. Democrat John Edwards kicks off a college tour today with an afternoon rally in Denver. The former North Carolina senator taking his message to several campuses, Berkeley, UCLA, Howard among the first stops.

They may have geography and party affiliation in common, but Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer not showing any public displays of political affection. The New York governor says he is not ready to endorse the junior senator from New York. Spitzer saying it's too early.

And youtube get into the ring in an official way. The presidential candidates can now post their own messages in one location on youtube free of charge. Youtube already an unofficial campaign player of course. Remember the makaka (ph) moment? And of course all the day's political news is available to you anytime day or night, also for free, the political ticker is what we like to call it. It's at cnn.com/ticker. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Just heard from Chad a moment ago talking about that big storm that's hitting right now in Arkansas and in Missouri. Weather is a mess from the west coast to the southeast. Chad is watching it all for us this morning, all those warnings, too. We're going to check in with him. Plus, take a look at this, a pile-up that happened in the mountains outside of Seattle. We'll update you on the fallout from all of this bad weather.

Plus, in Hollywood, we all know there's room for the glitz and glam, but what about the green? Turns out, believe it or not, the film industry is a polluter and a big one. We'll explain straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: One of the biggest drivers in the stock market's rise has been mergers and buy-outs. So will the recent hiccup in the market going to continue? That's a good question, 57 minutes past the hour and Andrew Ross Sorkin is minding your business. He's in for Ali today. Yes or no? What do you think?

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely and that's the thing that I think people don't appreciate. Everyone says there's a hiccup in the market. People are going to stop making deals. We're going to worry about the stock market. There's an artificial inflator in the stock market today which is private equity. These big firms that have all of this cash and they have to spend it. So when you think about what's going to happen to the market in the next year, irrespective of whether you think it goes up or down, in a way it will stay artificially inflated at some level because there are folks that have hundreds of millions of dollars like KKR who bought TXU this week, the big Texas energy company. Last year they spent 6$600 million. They have raised all of this money, $20 billion in funds. They have to spend the money and so what you're going to see over the next year is them continuing to spend and that is going to artificially inflate a lot of stocks that might not otherwise stay as high as they would otherwise.

M. O'BRIEN: So could a market drop actually accelerate this trend?

SORKIN: Absolutely. If we see stocks fall at some level, you're going to see certain stocks rise even more because it's going to make them even more attractive. So, for all of the worries that we have about the market, in some way this whole private equity boom, this buy-out bubble, if you will, I think actually is going to really kick start or at least keep the market a bit higher than we might otherwise think about.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. No one knows deals better than you. Thank you, sir. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Some of the other headlines that we're watching for you this morning, have you seen this? Police say young women laughed while they were robbing a bank, happened in Cobb County, Georgia just outside of Atlanta. They got away, the two of them, with what's been described as a considerable amount of money. Now, look at how clear this video cam from the bank. They are pretty clear photos of these girls, who they think might even be as young as 16 years old. They're getting some tips already on these young girls.

M. O'BRIEN: Laughing and relaxed, you have to wonder if they knew somebody inside there. It's just a question to put out there.

And Steven Hawking planning the ride of his life. The British theoretical physicist paralyzed and speechless with Lou Gering's (ph) disease, will fly on a plane that gives people 30 second doses of weightlessness. It flies on a roller coaster pattern. I've been on one of these. It's a company called Zero G and there I am, held on to my cookies. It offers civilians a chance to do what the astronauts do for about $3500 a head. Hawking gets a free ride and it will happen at the end of the month out of Cape Canaveral. With any luck we will be on board with him.

S. O'BRIEN: That would be neat.

M. O'BRIEN: That would be kind of fun.

S. O'BRIEN: A look at the next stories coming up as the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.

Extreme weather, suspected tornadoes touch down in the plains. Snow and ice are snarling traffic out west. It's all on the move right now. Chad is watching for us.

M. O'BRIEN: Reading, writing and reality. New Orleans schools still struggling after hurricane Katrina. President Bush is in town again. Will he help?

S. O'BRIEN: And Hollywood's dirty secret. When it comes to the environment it seems that Tinseltown is green with hypocrisy. We're live this morning from New Orleans, New York and Atlanta on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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