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California Inferno; Kidnapped Baby Found; Ready To Run?; Public Enemy Number One; Fueling Pains; Gerri's Top Tips

Aired March 12, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning and stay informed. Here's what's on the rundown.

Tanker cars burning with propane explode in central New York. The blast chasing people out of their homes and schools this morning.

COLLINS: A baby safe. A kidnapping suspect due in court in two hours. Police say the woman disguised herself as a hospital worker to walk off with the newborn.

HARRIS: California crews facing off against the wildfire. Extreme heat and bone dry brush fueling the inferno, this Monday, March 12th, you are in the NEWSROOM.

And at the top this hour, we are following a drama unfolding right now in the heart of New York state. Evacuations underway in Oneida where a train has derailed and exploded. The blast set a huge fireball into the sky and thick, black smoke is still pouring from the scene. Several train cars have caught fire. Their cargo, propane gas. Fire crews say there's a risk of more explosions has crews try to contain the blaze. There are no immediate reports of injuries.

COLLINS: A blazing brush fire on the move near Los Angeles. Live pictures now coming to us from Anaheim Hills, California. Right now all-out effort to stop it. Hundreds of firefighters, plus helicopters, bulldozers on the front lines. And they are gaining a little bit of traction. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the latest now from Irvine, California.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The good news this morning is that no homes are currently being threatened. The winds have died down and humidity was up overnight giving firefighters the break they needed to try and establish a line around this fire. As of last night, containment was at 30 percent. This fire began yesterday morning when a car caught fire at a nearby freeway. The wind picked up flames and spread them up the hillsides toward the homes. Two outbuildings were lost, two homes sustained minor damage. And residents are relieved and grateful this morning that no homes were lost. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this fire, we had a unified command. We ordered what we call strike teams, which are just lots and lots of fire engines early on. We unified our command so that we really took an overview approach to this fire. We got plenty of resources there early and that made the key difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're doing a great job, I think. At one time, they had four helicopters flying around. And, frankly, they've been doing a marvelous job.

GUTIERREZ: More than 1,200 residents were evacuated from the Anaheim Hills and the city of Orange. Most are glad to be back at home this morning. Firefighters are hoping to gain full containment later today.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Anaheim, California.


COLLINS: Chad Myers joining us now to give us a little bit better picture of what could be happening later on today.

You know, Chad, I've followed fires like this before and it is amazing when you're up close to them how quickly they move.


HARRIS: Well, this morning, a big developments in that case of a kidnapped newborn found safe and sound this weekend. Next hour, we will hear from the hospital. How did someone pose as a worker to whisk the child away? Then a court hearing for the 21-year-old suspect. CNN's Keith Oppenheim is in Lubbock, Texas.

Keith, bring us all up to speed on where we stand with this case, including what's next.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Tony, we're going to see a little bit of a reunion this morning. I'm in a news conference room here at the Covenant Medical Center. And in just about an hour and a half or so, we're going to be able to see the five-day-old baby, Mychael Dawodu, along with her parents. They are Caisha Darthard and Mike Dawodu.

And keep in mind, we really haven't seen these folks yet. They've been keeping very low key. So this will be an opportunity to see them and also to see how they're doing.

Meanwhile, the kidnapped suspect has been identified as 21-year- old Rayshaun Parson. She's been held in Clovis, New Mexico, where she was apprehended by police early Sunday morning. And Clovis, by the way, is about 100 miles away from Lubbock, Texas, where we are.

There is a hearing scheduled this morning to determine whether or not Rayshaun Parson will be extradited to Texas. And I just got off the phone with the Lubbock police who indicated to me that if she agrees to be extradited, it's possible that Rayshaun Parson could be extradited, brought back to Lubbock as soon as today.

But in the meantime, we're waiting to see this reunion to see that baby and from all we know the baby is in good shape.

HARRIS: Oh, that's great. The baby was suffering with a bit of jaundice, is that correct?

OPPENHEIM: That's right. She was jaundiced and also very, very young and vulnerable. So authorities here were very worried that she could be damaged by -- from the kidnapping. But when she was recovered, we were told that she was fine.

HARRIS: CNN's Keith Oppenheim for us.

Keith, appreciate it. Thank you.

COLLINS: Politics and the heartland. All eyes are on Nebraska this morning for a big announcement. At the top of the hour, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel expected to announce whether he will take that leap into the already-crowded presidential race. The Nebraska senator is an outspoken critic of President Bush's Iraq troop buildup plan, but there are mixed views on whether that will help or hurt Hagel with conservatives.


REP. LEE TERRY, (R) NEBRASKA: We ought to be perfectly blunt, it hasn't been received well, especially within the base of the Republican voters.

MATTHEW DOWD, GOP STRATEGIST: There's about a third or more of people in the red (ph) who are going to vote in the Republican primary, who disapprove of the president on the war and are against the war. And so there's definitely a place for the political perspective for a candidate like Chuck Hagel to run from.


COLLINS: Stay with CNN for live coverage of Hagel's announcement. It should be coming up next hour.

And here's where Senator Hagel stands on some key issues. Now, first, the hot button issue of Iraq, Senator Hagel voted for military force in Iraq, but he's been an outspoken critic of President Bush's troop surge plan. On abortion, Hagel opposes abortion rights, except when the mother's life is in danger. He also opposes same-sex marriage. But Hagel is against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He says marriage issues should be decided in states.

Ronald Reagan went from acting to politics and the White House, and now another actor turned politician is on the Republican radar. CNN's Gary Nurenberg has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Known to millions of voters from his role on the television program "Law & Order" . . .

FRED DALTON THOMPSON, ACTOR, "LAW & ORDER": Tell his attorney we're preparing a counter offer.

NURENBERG: Fred Dalton Thompson may be preparing a counter offer for Republican voters. Thompson said Sunday he's considering running for president.

FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR/FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I think the American people are deciding what they want. I think they're looking for maybe something a little different in politics nowadays.

NURENBERG: Thompson is different. After gaining national attention as a lawyer on the Senate Watergate Committee, he entered private practice, began acting, served eight years in the United States Senate, deciding not to seek re-election in 2002. Acting again, he played a president in the 2005 film "Last Best Chance."

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he makes a great president in the movies and he might make a great one in real life.

NURENBERG: In real life, Thompson helped Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts prepare for his nomination hearings.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Thompson gets to straddle the fence as insider-outsider.

NURENBERG: Rich Galen is a Republican strategist who compares Thompson to Ronald Reagan.

GALEN: Fred Thompson has the capability of attracting an audience, holding the audience, making the audience understand his point of view and getting them to believe him because that's what actors do.

NURENBERG: Thompson may find support among conservatives who haven't yet found a candidate they think can win. Opposed to abortion and gay marriage, raising money for convicted former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby's legal fund, Thompson could be what the right is looking for.

BOB DOLE, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a conservative and there's some, you know, some question on the Republican side if we really have a true conservative in the race.

NURENBERG: Thompson says his decision depends in part on how well existing candidates do.

DOLE: I don't think he's just going to get into the race for the fun of it. If he gets into the race, he wants to know that he can probably have a chance of winning.

NURENBERG: Is there room for another candidate?

THOMPSON: Oh, sure. There's always room for one more.

NURENBERG: Thompson says his decision will "become apparent a little later this year."

Gary Nurenberg, CNN, Washington.


COLLINS: Spotlight on a killing in Colorado. The accused, the 15-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. The case coming up in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And targeting those who can't fight back. A blurry figure becomes public enemy number one. We will show you that figure and tell you the story in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Want to quickly update you on the situation in New York. Oneida, New York. About a half hour east of Syracuse. A train derailment there. We still are seeing quite a bit of smoke coming off of these cars because of the cargo inside, which is propane. About 80 car there's. Twelve of them that we know at least initially exploded because of that flammable cargo inside.

We have not gotten any reports -- and this is the good news -- from folks on the ground there of whether or not any more of those cars have, in fact, exploded. So, of course, some good news. About a one-mile radius around this derailment has been evacuated. A couple of schools. But it's a relatively rural area. Again, more good news there. Not too many people affected by this.

But we're going to watch it for you. And we are expecting a news conference any minute. There will be the mayor and New York state police to tell us the very latest of the situation there.

HARRIS: Outrage in New York. Two women, one 85, the other 101, beaten and robbed. CNN's Jim Acosta reports.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not every day that a local crime story in New York gains national attention. The attacker who mugged those two elderly women has been dubbed "Public Enemy Number One" by one city paper. And today, New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, said, we want to stop him before he strikes again.

So police have beefed up their presence in the Queens neighborhood where 101-year-old Rose Morat was mugged in the entry to her apartment building. The brutal attack left Morat with a fractured cheek bone, while the mugger walked away with $33. But that was just his first of two attacks on elderly women. Eight-five-year-old Solange Elizee says she was also beaten and robbed by the same man. Elizee says her assailant walked away with $45, and, of all things, her wedding ring.

SOLANGE ELIZEE, MUGGING VICTIM: I'm closing my door and he pushed me. Closed the door. Began to beat me on my face. Give me, oh, and then he say, I get you.

ACOSTA: Elizee has been so terrified by the mugging, she now wants to move out of her apartment. New Yorkers who are accustomed of hearing about big city crime are understandably outraged. But people in the city are also praising both of the victims for their courage. Neighbors describe 101-year-old Morat as spry and feisty.

JENEEN FRASER, NEIGHBOR: She's a sweet lady. She's very spry for her age. She walks, exercise all the time. She's such a lovely lady. And I just felt bad that that happened to her.

ACOSTA: And New York Police are asking people in the city to be on the lookout for the man in this security camera image. And if they have any information they're urged to, as they say in this town, call the cops.

Jim Acosta, CNN, New York.


COLLINS: President Bush in Guatemala this morning and, once again, facing some tough crowds. Last night, Mayan Indians protested the president's plan to visit a sacred archeological site. Guatemala is the latest stop on Mr. Bush's five-nation Latin America tour. He's been met by all sorts of protests during this trip, but none as striking as the one set for later today. A group of Mayan leaders vowing to spiritually cleanse that ancient site after the president stops by.

HARRIS: Are you feeling frustrated when you fuel your vehicle? You're not alone. There has been a big jump at the pump. Big. Twenty cents in two weeks. CNN's Allan Chernoff joins us live from Jersey City, New Jersey.

Allan, why, why?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very good question, Tony. You can ask it again. I mean, it's a little confusing here because, first of all, the price of crude oil has actually been pretty steady over the past few weeks. And there's plenty of gasoline in the country. There is absolutely no shortage. In fact, right now, inventory's a little higher than they usually are this time of year.

So what's going on? Well, a larger number of refineries than usual have shut down some of their units for repairs and for maintenance. So refineries, at the moment, are operating at a little lower level than they usually are. And that simple fact has futures traders over in New York at the Mercantile Exchange bidding up the price of gasoline. And we're feeling it right here at the gas pump. That's the key reason that prices are moving up. We're also seeing pretty strong demand. A lot of people on the road driving, which is a little curious. Usually you don't see all that much this time of year. But demand's pretty strong. Higher than usual this time of year.

HARRIS: Man, I have to ask you. Are we likely to see these prices continue to climb as we approach what we all understand to be the summer driving season?

CHERNOFF: Well, the most important factor is going to be the price of crude oil. And this morning actually it is down a little bit. It's just under $60 a barrel.

But aside from crude oil, when we get back to the refining aspect, what's going to happen is more of these refineries will temporarily shut down and they have to switch over to production of a cleaner burning summer fuel. That fuel actually costs more to produce. In fact, it takes 4 percent more crude oil to make that summer gasoline than the winter blend.

So typically we do see prices move up a bit as we go into the summer driving season. So brace yourself. It certainly is possible that in some parts of the country gasoline will cost $3 a gallon once again. And, of course, in California, a lot of people are saying, hey, that's not news to me because in California some people already are paying $3 a gallon.

HARRIS: I tell you what, it is great that you can explain it all, but we don't like the message, but we really do like the messenger. Allan Chernoff for us in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Allan, thank you.

COLLINS: Want to go ahead and get to Gerri Willis now, personal finance editor, for some travel tips.

I would say walk because apparently the gas is just too expensive.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's time to go, though, isn't it?

COLLINS: It's time.

WILLIS: It's time to start thinking about your vacation. We'll tell you what you need to know for this upcoming travel season, next on "Top Tips."


COLLINS: OK. So check this out. The numbers here. The Dow Jones Industrial average, you know what, Tony, they are flat as a Swedish pancake. It can't get any flatter than that.

HARRIS: What do you know about Swedish pancakes?

COLLINS: They're very thin, very flat.

HARRIS: How would you know this?

COLLINS: I'm a Swede, shh, don't tell anybody.

Hey, you know what, the Nasdaq's only up about three, too. So we do continue to watch these numbers, as usual. But the big story, obviously, of the day is gasoline prices. Up 20 cents. $2.55 a gallon now is the average cost.

HARRIS: Is that what it is?

COLLINS: Yes. We'll be watch that and talk with, I believe, Susan Lisovicz a little bit later on.

HARRIS: Spring is near. And with it, day dreams of travel. Last year air travelers had to contend with long flight delays and lots of lost luggage. What can we expect this year? Here with a closer look, CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis.

Gerri, great to see you.

WILLIS: Hey, Tony, you're back. It's good to see you.

HARRIS: Yes, I came back to work to relax a little bit. Running around with these kids was driving me nuts. Hey, I have to ask you, first of al, I hope what we can expect to hear from you in the next couple of minutes is some good news, you think?

WILLIS: I've got some good news, yes.

HARRIS: Great.

WILLIS: I'm happy to give you some. Prices on domestic flights may be a bit lower this season, especially on major routes. Now, Tony, that's because of increased competition. Delta and Northwest will be exiting bankruptcy this year and most low-cost carriers will be adding seats.

Now there is a little bit of bad news here. Fares to Europe will be about 20 percent higher during the peek summer travel time. So if you're going to Europe, you're going to have increased costs. Experts are saying that's because there is increased demand to travel to Europe.

HARRIS: OK. How should we approach this then? When should we think about booking?

WILLIS: Do it now.

HARRIS: Do it now?

WILLIS: Yes. Ideally, you should book your flight eight weeks before you want to go.

HARRIS: Eight weeks? WILLIS: Yes, baby. And if you see a good sale, jump on it because fewer airlines are giving you vouchers if the flight goes on sale after you buy it. So you've got to do it now. If you're looking to travel overseas, you're going to find some great deals coming up in March.

HARRIS: I can't figure out what I'm going to do in the next eight minutes, Heidi. Eight weeks. All right.

Is there a great window, a preferred window when we should actually book eight weeks in advance?

WILLIS: If you remember one thing from what I have to say today, this is it. The best time to buy a ticket is Tuesday evening from about 4:00 p.m. to midnight.


WILLIS: Yes. That's when the airlines start to match sales and the price settles down from the weekend. If you really want to snag a last-minute travel deal, you'll find them on Tuesday night to Wednesday morning. That's when the airlines are aggressively trying to fill seats, marking the prices down on some of them. So you'll really want to look then.

HARRIS: Hey, look, you've said it twice, but say it one more time. What is it? It's Tuesday between . . .

WILLIS: 4:00 p.m. . . .

COLLINS: Then I won't be able to get a resi (ph).

HARRIS: Yes, yes. Tuesday evening.

WILLIS: Tuesday evening after 4:00 p.m. into Wednesday morning because that's when the airlines are trying to figure out, where are we going cut prices because we've got to get some folks in these seats.

HARRIS: And where should we go? Should we go to the airlines directly? Are there some websites that can be helpful?

WILLIS: You can go to the airlines directly, that's always a quick way to book. And there are a million travel websites. Expedia comes to mind. Just lots and lots of them.

HARRIS: Great. Gerri Willis, I tell you what, and you've got e- mails coming up this week. Should we tell folks to send in the questions now?

WILLIS: I do. Before I get to them, I just want to say quickly, the Caribbean and Mexico are going to have good deals throughout the year. We also talked to experts who say Costa Rica, Germany, Seattle, San Diego are hot spots. So these places have better weather and fewer crowds, lower prices this season.

As always, we want to help you figure out your money questions. Send us an e-mail to


HARRIS: Beautiful.

Gerri, good to see you.

WILLIS: Good to see you.

HARRIS: Tuesday, 4:00 to 8:00. Got it.

COLLINS: Fire storm. The Los Angeles area fights off walls of flames. We're looking live now. These are the slurry bombers going through and dumping that chemical retardant on these flames. This is a great sign because usually these guys can't get in the air if it's too windy. And that wind, obviously, pushes those planes along, makes it that much harder to control. We'll have more coming up on this story out of California in just a few minutes here in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And a man on a mission. A huge mission. The new U.S. commander in Iraq puts more boots on the ground to help secure Iraq. Particularly Baghdad. A report from CNN's Jennifer Eccleston, who's been embed with the troops. That's coming up in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: A family falling apart. A teenager troubled. A child predator saw the opportunity and took it.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you see that house, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish I had never seen it. I wish I had never seen this house.


COLLINS: "Headline News" anchor Thomas Roberts talks about his private agony, abused by his catholic priest. Thomas will be here live to talk about it coming up in the NEWSROOM.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: And good morning. Welcome everyone to CNN. Good to see you.


HARRIS: Feels like -- it was 10 days.

COLLINS: It was 10 days. Thanks for rubbing that in.

HARRIS: Sorry.

COLLINS: You look good, though. Nice rest with the kids.

HARRIS: A little tanned. That's what it is.

COLLINS: We want to let you know about a story that we are following this morning. It's unfolding right now in the heart of New York State. You can see the dot there in the state, Oneida, New York, this is. Evacuations now under way where a train has derailed and exploded. The blast sent off a pretty big fireball in the sky. Thick black smoke still pouring from the scene. Several trains cars have caught fire. Their cargo, propane gas. Fire crews say there is a risk of more explosions as crews try to contain the blaze. No immediate reports of injuries so we're going to follow this one for you, bring you any new developments.

And big developments, big questions this morning. A newborn kidnapped and recovered over the weekend. An hour from now we're going to be hearing from hospital officials in Lubbock, Texas. How did a woman pose as an employee to steal the baby? That newborn tucked inside the woman's purse in this surveillance video. Then at noon Eastern, a court hearing for the suspect. The judge in New Mexico now will consider returning her to Texas to face charges there.

HARRIS: Helicopters, bulldozers, firefighters in southern California throwing everything they've got in a big wildfire. And we understand they're gaining some ground. The blaze is in the Anaheim Hills, about 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles. At one point hundreds of homes were evacuated. This is what the firefighters are up against, flames, fueled by Santa Ana winds, spreading through bone- dry brush land. The fire has scorched more than 2,000 acres and damaged at least two homes, but this morning some progress. The winds have died down and the humidity is higher. The blaze now 30 percent contained. Firefighters are hoping for full containment by this evening. Let's check in now with Chad Myers in the weather center. Chad, a great couple of I-reports I had a chance to glance at. One was of some beautiful homes in the low area framed by the hills behind them with the fire coming over the ridge, pretty scary if you happen to be the home owner.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Let's take a look at some of them here. I think we have three this hour. I want to show you the I- reports and if you want to get out there, go to and send them to us please. This one here, a similar shot than what we had last time. This is also from Tiffany Gill from Anaheim Hills, California, seeing the ridge tops there. You have to realize that this was actually a fairly rugged little area here in the middle of Anaheim. You think of -- I do anyway because I don't get out there much. You think of LA as one big concrete jungle. It's not. There are some beautiful areas in between some of the suburbs.

Let's go to one of the next pictures here. This is going to be from Tiffany as well. This is actually from Justin Dignam from Anaheim Hills, lived here a long time Justin has and there's some shots. You can actually see one of the helicopters there's in the smoke. We did see one of those big tanker planes just a little bit ago live dumping some actually -- this was Tiffany's? We flipped that. There you go. This is Tiffany Gill's pictures. Now we'll get to Justin's pictures. We can't find it. OK. All the best laid plans. From Fullerton at 97 and Anaheim at 95, Riverside the same. These are all record breakers from yesterday and Long Beach all the way to 94. Some of the winds, too, from Mill Creek to Oxford, 40, 45 miles per hour. These are the gusts. Today the gusts will be 20. That's still high, but it's not 40 and it's not going to blow cinders, not going to blow ashes miles down into the next canyon. So this is going to help out just a little bit. We are still going to see though very hot weather out to the west from the inland empire right through LA, 93 will be the high today in LA. The old record was 86.

Still the record for now but by this afternoon, that record will be gone. Long Beach, you're going to break a record and so will Santa Barbara for sure, all the way to central and southern California right through the valley, going to have some big-time, big-time hot air there today. It goes away tomorrow. But today's the hottest of the rest from Dallas all of the way down to east of Houston. That's where the heaviest rainfall is, also back to the northwest of Abilene picking up some rain. This is going to be a potentially bad area guys for the next few days as the storm begin to see the one side, the back side just spins over the same region now for days and days and days, could be a flood maker there.

HARRIS: All right, Chad, thank you.

MYERS: Sure.

COLLINS: A rare political event took place in Iraq over the weekend. In case you missed it, allies excuse me and foes alike took part in an international conference in Baghdad on Iraq's future. Talking about delegates from the U.S., Iran, Syria, and the UN Security Council, all sitting down talking about ways to stabilize the country. No big solutions but Iraqi and American diplomats both agree the meeting was worthwhile and participants have agreed to meet again.

It's a tough mission making Iraq safe and secure, of course. But the new top U.S. commander in Iraq has a fresh plan of action. CNN's Jennifer Eccleston has been embedded with the U.S. troops in Anbar province. She has this report.


JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's back but this time he's the man in charge, now as the top commander in Iraq. He's revisiting the troops and studying what is an ever- evolving battlefield. General David Petraeus, commander of multinational forces has a daunting task to secure this country. And it all starts here in the restive Anbar province, a major fault line in the fight to secure Iraq, a major front in the fight to secure its capital.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR, MULTINATIONAL FORCES IRAQ: Anbar province has been a terrorist route from Syria into -- all of the way into Baghdad. In fact, it's almost a dagger pointed at Baghdad.

ECCLESTON: A route not only for terrorists but for weapons, too, smuggled across the border, ending up in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad. In the past, American and Iraqi operations cleared heat (ph) and other cities of insurgents, often fighting street by street. When they were secured, coalition forces moved out and the insurgents moved back in. The local population suffered.

PETRAEUS: The insurgents have killed their sheiks, their sons, their brothers and they've had enough of that.

ECCLESTON: That game of cat and mouse, according to American forces, has come to an end. Iraqi police and army, American soldiers and Marines increase their presence on the streets, created firm bases, a permanent presence in and around the city, a signal to residents that they are here for the long run.

PETRAEUS: It makes all Iraqis feel as if they have a stake in the success of this new Iraq. And that's absolutely vital. And again, we will certainly try to help provide the opportunity for them to do that without worrying about whether they can get to work that day or their child will be kidnapped on the way to school or something like that.

ECCLESTON: A plan so simple that it's now become a model for all of Anbar, the same model that General Petraeus now wants to replicate nationwide. Part of being the new man in charge means providing a simple connection, showing that boots on the ground matter. Getting out and meeting with those that are influential in the communities like Sheikh Hickmad (ph) who also happens to be the mayor of Heat. Do you have a good feeling about the future?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope, yeah. I hope. I hope.

PETRAEUS: I think the -- one of the crucial factors as we discussed is, in fact, the tribes. They have just had it. You have the right circumstances, where the right commander with the right unit, with the right mindset with good Iraqi partners can all of a sudden achieve a breakthrough.

ECCLESTON: A public relations breakthrough today, but for the Iraqi public, they hope perhaps a long-term partnership in the making.


COLLINS: Jennifer Eccleston joining us now live from Baghdad. Jennifer, you say boots on the ground matter. There's no doubt about it. Why, though, is Anbar province so key to this whole conflict?

ECCLESTON: Yeah, it is, Heidi. And General Petraeus makes the connection over and over again that in order to secure Baghdad, the political center of Iraq, they must secure Anbar. It is a crucial piece in the puzzle to bringing long-term stability to this country. That's because much of the bomb-making material comes from smuggling routes in Anbar, wreaking havoc in major populations especially here in Baghdad. It is also a transit route for insurgents making their way from Syria. If they can stop the flow or at least make a dent in the flow of weapons and fighters, then, according to General Petraeus, at least one part of Baghdad's insecurity, this rabid insurgency could be tackled and that is why part of the American surge, some two brigades are headed to Anbar province. Heidi?

COLLINS: Jennifer, I know you've been down there before to Anbar province in particular. How have things changed since your last trip?

ECCLESTON: On the surface it was extremely different. The last time I was there was October 2005 during a major operation. They were cleaning out the city of insurgents and then they were moving on. At that time there was a great deal of suspicion among the local population, very few people came out to greet us. They didn't have the connection with the Americans nor the Iraqi forces that are there. That's what changed this time. There seems to be more of a relationship between the local population in Heat, at least, their local officials and Iraqi security forces and the Americans and the crucial part of that is building the trust. They built that trust or they're establishing that trust. It is a work in progress, by remaining there, not pushing on, actually having somewhat of a permanent presence there. And that's the biggest difference I saw. This time, many more people on the street, especially children. You could see that there was a general confidence and trust between both forces and the local community.

COLLINS: Wow, quickly before I let you go Jennifer, would love to know your impressions of General Petraeus and his relationship with the troops and the Iraqis.

ECCLESTON: He seems to be a very earnest man. He's certain is a very educated man. They call him the scholar, a warrior. That was very evident during our trip. He is the author of the counter insurgency manual. I think that is key here. He knows that there are very difficult steps that need to take place in order to pacify Iraq. Some of them are engaging some of those forces, some of the insurgents, perhaps those on the lesser end of this spectrum of what they were doing here in terms of the bad things they were doing. But they have to be on board. He kept over and over again mentioning the political process, getting people engaged and also he mentioned respect. Show the Iraqi people respect that we trust them, that we know one day they'll be running their own country and that will help that process come along. Heidi?

COLLINS: Jennifer Eccleston, exclusive with General Petraeus there, live from Baghdad this morning. Jennifer, thank you.

HARRIS: Throughout the morning we've been telling you about this huge wildfire in Anaheim Hills, California about 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Some pictures of that wildfire right now. At one point over the weekend hundreds of homes were evacuated. Congressman Ed Royce is on the phone with us. He represents the good people of that district. He is just back from a tour of the effected areas. Congressman, thanks for your time.

VOICE OF REP. ED ROYCE (R) CALIF: Thank you. Good to be with you.

HARRIS: Give us a sense of what you were able to see. ROYCE: Well, you know, the worry here and what we saw here was that the fire has burned as a result of the Santa Ana winds. Yesterday in my hometown it was the hottest of any place in the United States. And today we're looking at temperatures that might be as high. As a consequence of that and relative humidity, it's very, very low here. We've got a situation where had it not been for the good work of our fire crews, we would have lost those several hundred homes that were evacuated. What happened was that the fire crews are repositioning and taking some steps early on, made certain that all the brush was cleared within 100 feet of those homes, those homes for now. And now we're waiting to see how the winds pick up. And if it's 30 knots like yesterday, we've got problems.

HARRIS: Is it all dependent at this point on the winds?

ROYCE: Yeah, the winds are the main factor. I mean, temperatures out here, you know, for March, people are kind of surprised that it's been in the mid 90s, the humidity, single digits. What really drives that fire are those Santa Ana winds that come out oddly enough not off the coast, but just off the mountains and blows this red wind in the opposite direction of the usual wind pattern. That's what feeds the flames and races them right up these hills to the homes at the top of the crest.

HARRIS: Congressman do, we know what started this fire?

ROYCE: Yes, we do know what started the fire. I believe we do. It was a stolen car which apparently was set on fire by whoever stole that vehicle. It was near a toll booth up 241 highway. And the winds blew west from there, blew that fire right into the eastern part of Anaheim Hills and the eastern part of Orange.

HARRIS: If authorities can find that person, that person is facing several charges, it sounds like.

ROYCE: Well, there are a lot of people looking right now for clues to trace that individual down and see justice done. There have been some minor injuries out here as well. So, yes, there are a lot of people look for him.

HARRIS: Congressman, these are some beautiful homes in this district that you represent. I'm wondering what life is like for these people who live in those homes, who live in that district. Are they on pins and needles now waiting for the next evacuation order?

ROYCE: They're actually -- a lot of them are in a shelter right now. They're in several shelters, one in Orange in (INAUDIBLE) high school and another in Anaheim Hills. Some of the people have gone back to take a look now that the winds abated a little bit over the night. Again, people have been warned that those winds might pick up again and temperatures certainly are expected to be in the 90s here again. So, you know, the fire crews are going to be out, 150 fire crews right now, probably 500 -- 900 firefighters from different locations across southern California have come out to help fight this fire.

HARRIS: Congressman, you handled that like a true reporter. Nice job. We appreciate your time this morning.

ROYCE: Thank you. Appreciate a chance to talk a little bit about this situation and appreciate your coverage. We're going to certainly appreciate the Federal help.

HARRIS: OK, Congressman Royce, thanks for your time.

ROYCE: OK, bye bye.

COLLINS: Want to take you directly to Tampa, Florida now. Take a look at this. We don't have a ton of information, but, ouch. It looks like a semi trailer truck here has slammed into some sort of building. Not quite sure how it happened but this new video coming in to us from our affiliates on the ground there. We are getting some information about it. We do have some crews in the area. They're going to be reporting back up to us. So we'll let you know as soon as we know what may have happened here. And if there are any injuries we, of course, will let you know.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange where trading has been halted in a stock that lost nearly 80 percent of its market value last week. News pending, we'll have details when NEWSROOM. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.


HARRIS: Just another quick reminder for you. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, staunch Republican as you know, who stands pretty strongly against the war in Iraq and how it has been prosecuted is making his presidential plans clear at the top of the hour. Will he or won't he run? We will find out together right here in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: More trouble for mortgage lenders. Rumors of a bankruptcy filing have been swirling and now one big lender is a step closer to falling over the edge. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange this morning with details on all this. Good morning to you, Susan.

LISOVICZ: Good morning, Heidi. Lots of folks have been talking about this for a while. Now you're really seeing how this problem is coming to play. New Century Financial, the nation's second largest lender to people with poor credit, says its bank lenders have cut off financing. That's a huge problem for New Century as it needs to borrow big sums in order to make its home loans. On top of that the banks and Wall Street firms that have lent money to New Century can demand that it buy back more than $8 billion in outstanding mortgage loans. New Century simply doesn't have the money to do it. Heidi?

COLLINS: Susan, so are we talking about bankruptcy then or not quite?

LISOVICZ: Pretty close to it. You know, at this point, a move that many analysts are expecting. The company is also dealing with a criminal probe. As a result of all of this, New Century stock tumbled nearly 80 percent last week. We were reporting it. Some analysts were calling it a death spiral. Today trading on New Century is halted, news pending. And New Century isn't the only lender getting hit. A jump in late payments is leading to more and more foreclosures. One of the reasons why, no money down home loans.

Now Countrywide the nation's biggest mortgage lender will stop offering those types of loans. Countrywide's new policy calls for at least a 5 percent down payment. Shares of Countrywide are losing nearly 3 percent. The big concern, whether the trouble in the sub- prime sector will trickle into the rest of the economy. Right now those worries on Wall Street are being offset by a series of deals on this merger Monday. The major averages, they're open for business, but little changed from Friday. The Dow industrials down just half a point, 12,275. The Nasdaq Composite up 2.5 points. That's the latest from Wall Street. Heidi and Tony, back to you.

COLLINS: All right, Susan, thank you.

HARRIS: Four days after a fatal tourist helicopter crashed in Hawaii, another one. A look at what happened in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Spotlight on a killing in Colorado. The accused, the 15-year-old daughter and her boyfriend. The case coming up in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: The bodies of two small children found under their home, their teenaged mother now in custody. The 19-year-old apologized in a jailhouse interview. She says, quote, I hurt everybody that I loved. Her boyfriend also has been charged in the case. According to police, Valerie Lopez admitted beating to death her 14-month old daughter on Christmas Eve. They say she stashed her body under the house. And then two months later also hid the body of her five-month-old son. Police say she claims that death was accidental. She says she accidentally rolled over on him in her sleep.

COLLINS: It's happened again in Hawaii. A helicopter carrying sightseers goes down. One person is dead. This happened after a crash Thursday that killed four people, this crash site like the other on the island of Kauai. Federal officials do not believe there's a link between the two. The choppers were not the same models and they were owned by different tour companies. Just last month a Federal safety panel asked the FAA to increase oversight of air tour companies.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dana Bash in Omaha, Nebraska, where perhaps the most vocal and prominent Republican critic of the Iraq war, Chuck Hagel will talk about whether he wants to run for president, more on that coming up in the NEWSROOM.



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