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AMERICAN MORNING

Tanker Truck Inferno; Home Values Down: Biggest Drop in 25 Years; Debra Lafave Re-arrested

Aired December 5, 2007 - 06:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: An estimated 9,000 gallons of gasoline started leaking. It ignited. Our Alina Cho is following the latest from the national update desk this morning -- Alina.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, good morning. You know, the fire department says those flames spread to nearby homes. It's still pretty early, but we are hearing from our affiliate WBZ that at least two homes and up to 40 cars caught fire. Now, this happened overnight as you mentioned in Everett.

According to the Red Cross, more than 200 people are now taking shelter at the local armory. We're told a lot of elderly people and nursing homes in the area. Here's what some of the residents said as they were told to get up and get out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a big pop. At first I thought it was a transformer, then I looked out the window and I saw all the brightness and I called it in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was shooting until someone was banging up the cars, and I woke my husband up. I said "Get up. We got to get out of here."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Now, thankfully so far, no serious injuries have been reported, including the driver of the tanker who escaped. Firefighters, of course, still on the scene right now. At least one main road is closed, but we are hearing, Kiran, that that road is either open or about to open. That, of course, is very good news for people getting up and getting ready to get to work.

Of course, CNN is working to confirm all of this. But frankly, this early in the morning and especially as this scene is unfolding, it's been difficult to get people on the phone because they're all out on the scene. But, of course, we are working on the story, trying to confirm a lot of the details. We'll have much more in the next hour here.

CHETRY: Alina, thank you.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: We are also following a massive rescue effort this morning in the pacific northwest. The heavy rains and stuff that many rivers are continuing to flood in Washington and Oregon. Many stranded residents are being rescued by boat. This family being pulled out of the waters in Thurston County, Washington.

National Guard troops also moving down streets looking for residents caught off by landslide. The Coast Guard is also on the scene assisting in rescue operations. Helicopters plucked people from the rooftops of their homes, including an elderly man and his dog in western Washington. Search and rescue teams also scrambling to find people missing in the mountains.

And many roads and major highways in Oregon and Washington closed to traffic today. A 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 will remain closed until at least until tomorrow. It's the main north south route between Portland, Oregon and Seattle. Emergency crews say there is up to three feet of standing water in some spots.

What can they expect today? Reynolds Wolf at our weather desk tracking extreme weather. What's it looking out there in the pacific northwest today, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well today, John, things are going to be getting a little bit better. But when you go back in time, it's easy to see why we've had all the issues with the flooding in parts of the pacific northwest. Take a look at some of these numbers on the weather computer.

It is really mind-boggling, some of these locations. Lees Camp, for example, in Oregon, had over a foot of rainfall. Just over a foot in Bremerton, Washington. Log Creek, Oregon, what's interesting about this number, the 10.07, that fell in less than 24 hours. It's a record, ladies and gentlemen. We have that kind of rainfall, you're going to have some serious issues and that certainly was the case there. Seattle, over five inches of rainfall. June Lake, Washington, 9.50.

Now, that's not the only big weather story we're following. We're following many weather stories. One of those would be the snow that we're beginning to see down in parts in the Midwest. Some of the snowfall totals we've seen just over the last 24 hours in Duluth, Minnesota, over a foot of snowfall there, 5.7 in Madison, and Minneapolis, looking at 3.5. And still it will continue today.

In fact, take a look at this big area that we have across much of the Ohio Valley. And there's snow advisory. We're going to see much of that falling in places like Chicago to Columbus. Just to the east and west of Washington, rather the western Washington at this time, we're seeing the snowflakes beginning to fall. And we got a few spots mainly near south in Indiana, where we've had five inches of snowfall, and we're expecting more of that lake effect activity as we make our way through the midday hours.

Again, John, no surprise, full plate of weather. We're going to talk more about it throughout the morning and tell you how it's going to affect travel. That's coming up in just a few moments.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to it, Reynolds. That's always the important point. See you soon -- Kiran. CHETRY: Couple other stories new this morning. Out of Iraq, defense secretary Robert Gates making an unannounced visit. He landed in Mosul overnight and expected to meet with military commanders as well as Iraqi civilian leaders and Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

Gates is expected to urge Iraqis to take advantage of a drop in violence with reports that the president's so-called troop surge is producing results on the battlefront.

President Bush is going to be traveling to the Mideast next month. That trip follows a recent agreement by Israel and Palestinian leaders to bring a fresh round of peace talks after last week's Mideast conference in Annapolis. Details of the trip not revealed yet, but Israeli television is reporting the President will stop in Israel. It will be his first visit as president. He was there years ago, but that was when he was governor of Texas.

Also this morning, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is calling the new U.S. intelligence report on his country "a declaration of victory." The report concluded Iran stopped working toward a nuclear bomb four years ago. President Bush still saying that's not an excuse to sit back and that Iran is still a global threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The Intelligence estimate said Iran has left the door open to pursuing atomic weapon, but is probably incapable of building a bomb before 2010 -- John.

ROBERTS: Five minutes after the hour. Cleaning house in the battle for the White House now. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has fired a landscaping company over immigration concerns. The company Romney hired to work at his home in Boston is accused of using illegal immigrants, but the landscaper says all of his workers are here legally.

The issue first came up last year. Opponents also used it against him at last week's CNN YouTube debate with Rudy Giuliani calling Romney's home a "sanctuary mansion."

Focus on the campaign trail turned to Iran after a new Intel report says Tehran stopped trying to make a nuclear weapon back in 2003. An Iowa debate, radio debate, John Edwards went after Senator Hillary Clinton for voting to designate Iran's revolutionary guard a terrorist organization. He says she gave President Bush exactly what he wanted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton has said she agrees with George Bush's terminology that we're in a global war on terror.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand politics and I understand making outlandish political charges, but this really goes way too far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Senator Clinton insists the vote was meant to encourage diplomacy and not give a green light for war.

On the Republican side, nothing is settled. According to a new poll from the Associated Press and the few research center, three early primarily states can still go either way. Mitt Romney has a one-point lead over a surging Mike Huckabee in Iowa in the latest survey. Romney is up 37 percent to Rudy Giuliani's 19 percent in New Hampshire as well. Romney and Giuliani are tied in South Carolina.

The polling also shows that many GOP voters don't strongly support their choice at this time. It all depends on what issues the candidates are being asked.

And late breaking this morning, a dangerous microwave recall to tell you about. General Electric says they pose a fire hazard in the kitchen. The company is recalling 92,000 built-in combination wall and microwave oven. They're sold under the brand names of GE, GE Profile and Kenmore. It says a door switch can overheat and ignite, and in and some cases, set fire to the surrounding cabinets.

GE says there have been 35 reports of minor property damage, one incident in which a fire spread to those nearby cabinets. No injuries have been reported. Everything, everything you need to know posted on our Web site, CNN.com/AM -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, home values see their biggest drop in a quarter century and depending on where you live, you may want to think twice if you're planning on selling your home any time soon. Ali Velshi at the business update desk with more for us this morning. Hi, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran, and you're correct. But, of course, that call -- that means this is a buyer's market. These home prices are pretty low and in many cases, there are more houses for sale than we've seen on the market for about 25 years.

Take a look at the number here, 1.3 percent, compared to the same time last year. That's the drop we're talking about, being the biggest in 25 years. Let's take a look at how it divides across the country.

The east coast, the west coast, and the Midwest are all seeing drops in home prices over the last year. The south and the southwest, which is basically, you know, everything in the south but Georgia and Florida, and the mountain states are seeing increases. Now, I just want to remind you that while these drops are big, every region in the country over the last five years is still up somewhere between 20 and 80 percent. So we are still part of a long-term trend. It's an adjustment. We still over the last five years have not seen a loss. So for those of you all that concern, remember that we're talking about this home crisis, this mortgage meltdown, ending sometime at the end of 2008 and early 2009. So most people will start to see a resurgence in their home value before we see an absolute zeroing out. But, yes, if you're buying, this is a good time to look at it. It doesn't mean prices won't go down further in the next year, but we are looking at pretty low prices -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Ali. We'll check in with you throughout the morning, thanks.

VELSHI: Absolutely.

CHETRY: John?

ROBERTS: A lawsuit over an overdose for the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid. "Quick Hits" now.

The babies were given an overdose of the blood thinner, heparin, a thousand times too strong. They appeared to be fine now. The Quaids are suing the drug maker instead of the hospital that made the mistake.

The Center for Disease Control says thousands of kids across the country will have to get revaccinated for chicken pox and other diseases. The original shots going back at least two years were not properly refrigerated. The CDC wants clinics to be routinely inspected to make sure that refrigerators are at the right temperature for storing vaccines.

Celebrating a miracle and helping the environment in the process. An easy way to have a green Hanukkah? Well, we'll tell you about it ahead.

Plus, a former Florida teacher under house arrest for having sex with a 14-year-old student arrested again for allegedly violating her probation. Could she do some serious jail time? Our legal analyst Sunny Hostin weighs in. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: And we're looking at pictures there from Everett, Massachusetts, this morning of a fire. A tanker truck exploded there on main street in Everett, Massachusetts. A set a number of structures on fire. The firefighters there are trying to put out the fire. Apparently, there are some environmental concerns as well. One of the buildings that has caught fire. Apparently, they're not allowing firefighters to go inside.

No reports of injuries at this point, though. The firefighters say considering everything that happened, you could see the twisted and burned out wreckage there, it's a miracle that there were no injuries here. This tanker truck was fully loaded with approximately 9,000 gallons of fuel and you could imagine, it's a very densely populated area there, very dense in terms of how many structures there are right along the main street there.

So for a fireball like that to erupt in the middle of a highly populated area could cause some serious problems, but apparently, at this point, they're being kept to a minimum. Of course, a lot of people had been evacuated. We'll keep following the story for you this morning and give you the latest.

But just some incredible pictures from that tanker truck fire in Everett, Massachusetts. It's about three and a half to four miles north of downtown Boston on the north side there.

Some amazing shots of the morning in our ""Quick Hits" now coming to you from Angelo, Texas, a fireball there. Take a look at this.

State troopers and firefighters could only watch as a propane truck caught fire and exploded. Police say the blast killed the driver. It was so strong that it shook homes some 10 miles away.

An SUV in a sinkhole, and the rain and flood soaked pacific northwest. This was sent in by I-Reporter Eileen Brook in Silverdale, Washington. She says the two homes next to hers are completely flooded, and she is stuck because roads to her house look like this, full of holes and stuck in the mud.

A burglary in broad daylight caught on tape by a neighbor. Check it out. Cutler Bay, Florida, that's south of Miami. The robber leaps out, there he is, of a second story window and takes off when police show up. Oh, got on camera, pretty good look at his face, too.

The witness says he picked up the camera when he saw the guy walking into an empty house through a sliding glass door. Police say nothing is missing, but the suspect seen running away here apparently, still on the run -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, the former teacher who had sex with a 14-year-old student is in trouble again. Police say Debra Lafave was arrested for discussing her personal life with a teen waitress at her new job. That would violate terms of Lafave's probation which said no contact with minors. Last night, her ex-husband talked to Larry king.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OWEN LAFAVE, DEBRA LAFAVE'S EX-HUSBAND: I'm not shocked. I assumed, at some point in time, she would violate her probation. I'm just shocked at the timing of it. To be honest with you, I was under the impression that today her attorney was going to file a request for her last year of house arrest to be dropped off probation. So I assumed that when the news came across the wires that was going to be the news. However, obviously, we hear that she was involved in inappropriate conversations with a co-worker of hers that just happened to be a minor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Lafave avoided going to prison back in 2005. Now, she can go away for as much as 15 years for this alleged violation. AMERICAN MORNING legal analyst Sunny Hostin joins us now.

There are a lot of people who cried double standard. They said if this was a guy, if this was a male teacher who had sex with a 14- year-old female student, forget it. They would have thrown the book at him. Instead, she got, what? Two years of house arrest?

SUNNY HOSTIN, AMERICAN MORNING LEGAL ANALYST: Well, she got a complete pass and I'll tell you. The judge in the case would not accept the plea deal, rejected the plea deal and said this was a child predator, child molestation, she has to go to jail. The prosecutors then dropped the charges, so she got a pass. She got house arrest. She did get probation, but now it seems that she violated the terms of probation.

People are saying, well, she only had conversations with a 17- year-old girl. What's the big deal? Well, it is a big deal because by all accounts, it's been reported that she discussed her personal life, boyfriend issues, and more importantly, sexual issues, and that is something that sexual predators usually do.

They don't immediately go and molest the child. What they do is they groom the child, and they start sort of crossing the boundaries, and it appears that is what she did. And that's the exact thing she was not supposed to do under the terms of her probation.

CHETRY: No. I hear what you're saying. It's just interesting that this girl is 17 years old.

HOSTIN: Yes.

CHETRY: So in a year, she could have these types of conversations with her technically?

HOSTIN: Well, that's right.

CHETRY: And she was a co-worker and as you said, when she testified about it, she said that sometimes we were talking in a group setting, sometimes it was one-on-one about the issues that you may talk about with your girl friend. How did police and law enforcement I guess decide what's appropriate and what's inappropriate? Because it seems like there is a fine line.

HOSTIN: Sure. Well, you know, one thing is the terms of her probation were very clear. No contact with anyone under 18 years old. When you get a pass like this, you have to abide by the terms of your probation. I don't buy the argument that this was girlfriend talk. This is a person much older than a 17-year-old with poor judgment. Clearly, you know, with crossed boundaries before...

CHETRY: Right.

HOSTIN: ... she should have towed the line here. She did not. I will predict that she is going to get some jail time.

CHETRY: And how -- is this normal? This is how authorities react to alleged probation violations by sex offenders. HOSTIN: Absolutely.

CHETRY: They really have to be in their their lives on a daily basis like this?

HOSTIN: Absolutely. I mean, we see this happen all the time. Sexual predators, child molesters constantly grooming, crossing the line. This is something that law enforcement authorities, prosecutors, judges take extremely seriously. We have to protect the children of our nation.

CHETRY: Sunny, great to see you. Coming up a little bit later, we're going to talk about Dennis Quaid, the actor. His two twins accidentally overdosed in a hospital and what legal action he's planning.

HOSTIN: That's right.

CHETRY: Thanks.

HOSTIN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: A warehouse collapsed in Massachusetts tops your "Quick Hits." It happened in the town of Taunton, south of Boston. The structure was still under construction when it came down. No one was killed but at least five construction workers were hurt, two of them seriously. The cause of the collapse is now under investigation.

And a new health concern for people living near the recent southern California wildfires. A report released yesterday shows the ash from the fires in San Diego and Lake Arrowhead contains high levels of arsenic and lead, as well as other heavy metals. Scientists say that they're also concerned that rainwater runoff from the burned areas will have an impact on water quality.

A festival of lights minus one. The idea behind a green Hanukkah, how Jews are being encouraged to help the environment over the holiday.

And police think they know who pulled the trigger and killed Sean Taylor. We'll tell you which of the four suspects is now accused of being the triggerman. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twenty-two minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning. A final tribute to daredevil Evel Knievel tops your "Quick Hits." His family plans to kick off his funeral with a fireworks show Sunday night in Butte, Montana. I tell you. Every time I see that Caesar's palace jump, Oooh, it just makes you hurt.

CHETRY: I know.

ROBERTS: The public viewing and memorial service will be Monday morning on the Butte Civic Center. It could hold some 10,000 people. And a special visa could be an award for an illegal immigrant who saved a boy. He was recognized by officials from the U.S. and Mexico after he rescued a 9-year-old boy that he found wandering in the Arizona desert. Border patrol agents say the 9-year-old and his mother were in a car crash. She died. He wandered away from the accident site. Lawmakers introducing a bill that would allow the good Samaritan to work legally in this country.

CHETRY: Well, if the streets are flooded, there is only one way to get around. And at your morning "Hot Shot" today, people in kayaks. They needed to use their kayaks to get around Interstate 5. This is in Washington State yesterday.

As you can see by this AP photo, the busy highway inundated with about five feet of water. The storm causing major problems across the pacific northwest for two days. They had to declare states of emergency in Washington and Oregon, leaving homes flooded and as we see here, highways flooded as well.

Well, if you've got a "Hot Shot," send it to us. The address amhotshots@CNN.com. Include your name, a little bit about the picture, where you're from, and please make sure the image is yours.

ROBERTS: So there are eight nights of Hanukkah. But a group of Israeli environmentalists is encouraging Jews around the world to light at least one last candle this season. The founders of Green Hanukkah Campaign say every candle that burns completely produces 15 grams of carbon dioxide. They say it could do significant damage to the atmosphere if an estimated 1 million Israeli households light them for the full eight days. So they're saying light one less candle, save the planet.

CHETRY: You can light one and blow it out sooner. You could do a million other things. But then again, just imagine with all the wrapping paper, driving to the stores, all of the stuff you eat, can you imagine the holidays in general, probably not the most environmentally friendly.

ROBERTS: Apparently, well, one rabbi remarked that if we did something to lower greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps we would need one less miracle.

CHETRY: All righty. Well, good luck there.

Meanwhile, racing to clear a huge disaster. This is a tanker truck inferno, ignites a neighborhood outside of Boston. We have an update and the incredible pictures ahead.

Also, the fight for Iowa is getting down to the wire. It's getting more and more negative. We have a live report from the front lines, plus the other top stories when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. A couple minutes before the bottom of the hour here. And boy, it is a cold one. It's 29 degrees right now. But because of the wind, it feels like it's 20, shaping up to be high just above freezing today in New York city, with the possibility of some snow flurries.

ROBERTS: Not quite winter, but winter is definitely here.

CHETRY: Ooh, I'd call it winter. So cold. It's December 5th, Wednesday, glad you're with us. I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts.

New this morning. We're following breaking news outside of Boston, where a tanker truck exploded, sending flames through a crowded neighborhood. At least two nearby homes and dozens of cars have burned in Everett, Massachusetts. Now we're learning that the driver may have been going too quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLICE OFFICER: We do have a witness who indicated that the truck was traveling at an excessive rate of speed, so we're looking at speed as a factor in this crash.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Amazingly, no serious injuries reported, not even to the driver. More than 200 people were evacuated, though, to a nearby shelter.

New developments overnight in the Stacy Peterson case. State police in Illinois executed another search warrant in connection with her disappearance. Drew Peterson's attorney says they are looking for items that may have been used to commit or cover up a murder. The forming Bolingbrook, Illinois police sergeant is a suspect in his wife's disappearance. Stacy, his fourth wife, was last seen on October 30th.

A teenager has been identified as the alleged killer of NFL star Sean Taylor. Police say 17-year-old Eric Rivera fired the shot that killed the Washington Redskins star. Rivera and three other suspects have been indicted on murder and burglary charges. Police say the four were trying to rob Taylor's home when he was shot.

CHETRY: Seeing the troops surge up close. The Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Iraq right now meeting with military commanders. The unannounced visit is his sixth trip there in the past year. He plans to talk to commander General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and also meet with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.

Well, a major case in the war on terror goes to the Supreme Court today. An issue -- can the Bush administration hold terrorism suspects indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or do the 305 so-called enemy combatants have their right to a day in court? Some of them have been held without charges for six years.

ROBERTS: Turning our attention now to Iowa, 29 days and counting to the first votes cast in the race for president. It's getting tighter and it's getting more negative at the same time. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live for us this morning in Des Moines, Iowa.

They got a little bit negative on President Bush yesterday, which is what you would think that the Democrats should be doing, but they didn't stop taking swipes at each other here.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, they certainly did, John. It was really a unique debate because there were no TV cameras. You really have to listen very closely to those words, those one-liners that punched through this two-hour debate. They were three topics on the agenda. It was China, immigration, and Iran. There was no question. It was no question that Iran is what really sparked the fireworks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iran's not a problem.

MALVEAUX: The bombshell over Iran dominated the Democratic debate. Each candidate taking a swipe at President Bush for maintaining his aggressive posture against Iran, even after an intelligence report revealed Iran had abandoned its nuclear ambitions in 2003.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger.

MALVEAUX: It was just the red meat the Democrats were craving to set themselves apart from the current administration.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They should have stopped the saber rattling, should have never started it. You cannot trust this president. He is not trustworthy. He has undermined our security in the region.

JOHN MCCAIN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president who just a few weeks ago was talking about World War III, he, the vice president, the Neocons have been on a march to possible war with Iran for a long time.

MIKE GRAVEL, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the intelligence community has done is dropkicked the president of the United States.

MALVEAUX: But several candidates attempted to dropkick the steady front-runner, Senator Hillary Clinton, on the same issue. They criticized her for supporting legislation which designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Edwards said it not only opened the possibility for President Bush to take Iran to war, but was, in fact, nearly a declaration of war. Clinton bit back hard.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, I understand politics and I understand making outlandish political charges, but this really goes way too far. In fact, having designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, we've actually seen some changes in their behavior. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Now, John, the controversy over Iran really gave some of Clintons' opponents more firepower to their strategy of trying to liken the former first lady to President Bush but team Clinton obviously did not let any of those charges go unanswered.

John?

ROBERTS: A question a lot of Democrats have, Suzanne, is that this new level of attack that Hillary Clinton is engaging in when it comes to Barack Obama, is that going to help or hurt her in Iowa? What do you picking up?

MALVEAUX: Oh, it's very interesting, because that is a big concern, whether or not it really is going to backfire on those two front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We've seen in the past back in 2004, Iowans get to a certain point they don't like the negativity. We saw that Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean really suffered because they went too negative so it's a balancing act for both of them.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux this morning in a frigid, but very colorful downtown Des Moines, Iowa. Suzanne, thanks very much. We'll see you again soon.

Kiran?

MALVEAUX: Thanks, John.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, religion is taking center stage on the Republican side of the White House race. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will give a speech tomorrow in Texas about faith in America. He says it will not be a speech aimed at easing fears about his Mormon faith. At the same time, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, won't say whether or not he views Romney's Mormon faith as a cult. Huckabee says evaluating people's faith is not a role for president.

Well, the Barack Obama campaign is still trying to knock down persistent and false rumors about his religion. You may have seen e- mails that claim Obama is a Muslim. That he attended on Islamic madrassa or religious school in Indonesia. These are rumors that CNN confirmed were false more than a year ago, but still here's what some voters are saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HELEN MOWRY, VOTER: I have heard that he was a Muslim.

QUESTION: Would it surprise you to know there's actually a picture of him with his hand on a bible while he was being sworn in?

BILL SHOCKLEY, VOTER: Yes, it would be. I didn't see it. But it would be a surprise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: CNN investigated the school and found it was a public school, not a religious one. His campaign also says Obama is a committed Christian. It brings us though to this morning's quick vote, because we've been talking so much and some of the candidates have talked so much about religion. How much does a candidate's religion matter to you when you're picking a president. Cast your vote, cnn.com/am. We'll have the first tally of the votes coming up a little later in the hour.

ROBERTS: In Iraq, long tours of duty not going anywhere. Your "Quick Hits" now. The second ranking commander in Iraq says he would like to cut back on the 15-month-long tours but says that's not going to happen before at least next fall. The tours were bumped up from 12 months earlier this year as part of a so-called surge.

The senate panel approves a bill that could stop the FCC from allowing companies both the television station and a newspaper in the same city. That is something allowed now only by a special waiver. The FCC could meet the senate to the punch and vote on the rule change before the full senate can consider the bill.

Taking aim at child sex predators. How the church is using comic and coloring books to warn children. The critics say the books are inappropriate. We'll have the follow up from that ahead.

And want to volunteer over the holidays but just can't find the time? Well, now, some major companies are helping their employees to help others. Whether you can get a day off for a good cause. We'll tell you how when AMERICAN MORNING coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 22 minutes now to the top of the hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning here on CNN. And "Quick Hits" now. Sunrise after a snowstorm. Here's a look over Lake Superior in Minnesota. I-reporter Steven Hoagland (ph) sent it. As much as ten inches of snow has fallen in parts of the state this week. And check out the snowdrifts. Six or seven feet high behind a jewelry store in the same area. This is Grand Marais. There were reports that plows were even stalling on the roads, there were so much snow.

And how about this. This pug, pretty styling. Meet Dakota. 2- year-old pup who knows how to stay warm and look good at the same time. Out for a walk and Edmonton Alberta up there in Canada, hot coat and the boots to match. Hope it's a girl.

Rob Marciano is off today. Reynolds Wolf in the CNN weather center tracking the extreme weather in the Midwest, that now causing travel delays. Would you ever dress your dog up like that?

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: All right. Thanks a lot, Reynolds. Well, how does this sound. You get a day off so that you can work on doing good for others? More companies like Xerox are now offering a day, a week or even up to a year paid to go work for a charity. Accenture has actually created its own non-profit to employees can do that in house as well. Our Polly Labarre joins us now to talk more about this. Very interesting. This is one of the perks. I guess this new age of perks. You're not talking about the cappuccino maker but you're actually getting paid to help others.

POLLY LABARRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So first, it's always been about getting more, concierge services, massages, those aren't going away but the latest and greatest perks is really actually about giving back, getting an opportunity to make an impact on the world beyond your day job. So, this is not all new. Xerox since 1971 has had its social service leave.

Those are program to get beyond checkbooks, plans that being put its people out in the world. Six of them a year, get to design their own project whether its building school rooms for mentally disabled kids and training women in new kinds of skills for job and those six months to a year out in the world getting paid, getting full benefits, and doing a very different job than their day job.

CHETRY: Wow and how does this benefit the company?

LABARRE: Well, it's an incredible employee perk. We see this going into more depth in other companies. So Timberland for example, Xerox accepts six people out of 54,000. Timberland is a 6,000 person company. Every single one of its employees gets 40 hours a week paid to give back in some way to an environmental or social justice cause and its CEO Jeff Swartz says we're always trying to expand what they call the path to service because, really what this does is motivate people. It retains them. It helps them develop new skills and new challenges and in the end it does benefit the company but by benefiting the employee.

CHETRY: So, Timberland is offering employees, they get five paid days off a year to do whatever it is they want but then, they can also apply, as you were saying, like a handful of people can decide, hey, listen, this is the project we're working on. Can we have up to six months to do this?

LABARRE: Right. It is a limited number can do a longer sabbatical and still get paid for doing that. So, they're trying to expand the opportunity.

CHETRY: And so, in the end, do people pick these companies over, let's say a competitor, because they like the fact that they're offering these and thinking outside the box?

LABARRE: This is absolutely the point. You're going to see this going forward that people want a chance to make a meaningful impact in the world beyond their day job and the companies that actually provide that are the ones who are going to have a little advantage in the war for talent.

CHETRY: Neat. All right, Polly Labarre, great to see you as usually, thanks.

LABARRE: Thanks so much.

CHETRY: John?

ROBERTS: 43 minutes after the hour. Topping your "Political Ticker" this morning, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has fired his landscaper. The company Romney hired to work at his home in Boston is accused of using illegal immigrants but the landscaper insists all of his workers are here legally. The issue first came out last year. Opponents also used it against Romney at last week's CNN YouTube Debate with Rudy Giuliani calling Romney's home a "Sanctuary Mansion."

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani had stepped down as head of his consulting firm, Giuliani partners. For months Giuliani has refused to say what his role was at the firm. Giuliani earned about $4 million there last year.

A new "USA Today" Gallup poll shows signs of trouble for national front-runners Giuliani and Senator Hillary Clinton. Giuliani lost nine percentage points off from his lead. Clinton's are hurled drop by 11 points.

Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu has been indicted of cheating investors out of at least $20 million. Hsu is accused of donating some of the money. The political candidates, including Hillary Clinton. Clinton has since given those donations back as say most of the other people.

Find all the day's political news around the clock at cnn.com/ticker.

Kiran?

CHETRY: New information about treating sinus infections topping your "Quick Hits". According to a study in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" taking antibiotics or using nose sprays won't make you feel any better faster. Instead doctors say take ibuprofen for pain and try inhaling steam to clear congestion. The sinus infection usually runs its course in a week or two.

And color your way to safety. The New York archdiocese using a new method to warn kids about sexual predators. However, some critics say the church's coloring books are a bit out of line. We're going to explain the fallout ahead.

Also, whether you're worried about your children's toys or just what toys to buy this holiday season. You want to stick around, we have a great tool, and it's online for keeping track of which ones are safe. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, 47 minutes until the top of the hour and if you're just joining us, here's a look at the headline this morning. Flames spreading through a neighborhood after a tanker truck exploded. This happened outside of Boston. There you see those spectacular flames. Two homes and dozens of cars burned. 200 people, including several elderly residents, had to be evacuated from the area. Now, crews are racing to reopen the road by the peak of rush hour. Fire marshals saying witnesses saw the driver speeding. They also say it's unbelievable that not more people were hurt or injured in the attempts to put that big fire out. We're going to get a live report at the top of the hour on that.

Also, seeing the troop surge up close. The Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Iraq right now meeting with military commanders. His (INAUDIBLE), it's his sixth there in the past year. He plans to talk to General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq and also meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki.

President Bush's is also going to be traveling to the Mid-East next month. Details were not revealed but Israeli television is reporting that the president will visit Israel and that would be his first trip there as president. News of the plan visit comes a week after the Mid-East conference in Maryland where Israelis and Palestinians agreed to reopen peace talks.

And the storm that soaked the northwest is now dumping snow in the Midwest causing delays at some airports. Chicago's O'Hare, they had about 50 flights canceled now because of the snow and many others had been delayed on average 60 to 90 minutes.

ROBERTS: 49 minutes after the hour. If you thought that perhaps you are you were going to get the Christmas present of lower fuel prices because OPEC was going to increase production, looks like it's not going to happen. So, you're going to have to spend some of your Hanukkah gifts on buying gasoline.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The news just in now. There's an OPEC meeting going on in Abu Dhabi and the ministers have just announced moments ago that they are not changing the amount of oil that they're pumping. Now, as a result, just part of it, is said oil has been floating around about $88 a barrel. There were some thought that OPEC would wait to see where oil was right before the meeting. And if it was above $90, they might increase the amount of oil that they supply to bring the price of oil down and if it were below $80, they probably wouldn't change it. So, they went into this meeting oil, it was below $90.

It is now hovering around the $90 mark, so oil has gone up overnight about $2 because of the word that OPEC would not increase production. The issue here is not that it's 90 bucks, because we've been close to $100. It's are we, is that a trend shifting now. We're going back up toward $100?

ROBERTS: So, it's over 90 bucks now after the announcement.

VELSHI: Right, it was right there.

ROBERTS: Because they'll say, oh my goodness, our announcement caused it to go up so we'll increase production.

VELSHI: Yes, so, now the other thing is a lot of these countries do produce more oil than they tell OPEC they're actually producing. So, it's unclear whether some people will just -- you know, Saudi Arabia has said it may just increase oil production on its own. So, we'll see what happens but right now, we're marching back up again above $90.

CHETRY: Sounds good. What are you doing next time we see you?

VELSHI: Well, I've got a lot of business news this morning but I also have this huge cheeseburger sitting next to my desk like a big, like three times the size of my head so I'm searching for cheeseburger news. If anybody out there has any cheeseburger news that would justify having this on TV without my executive producer yelling at me, I'm open for suggestions.

CHETRY: I dropped it off for you.

VELSHI: Oh, you left me the cheeseburger?

CHETRY: I left you the cheeseburger because I know you can do something.

VELSHI: All right. We got to get the cheeseburger on TV this morning.

ROBERTS: We will try to come up with something. See you soon.

Improving food safety tops your "Quick Hits" now. Food safety experts have convinced President Bush to give more money to the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has been heavily criticized for not preventing a string of recent dangers in the food supply including E. coli in spinach, Salmonella in peanut better, and botulism in canned chili.

A camel cigarette ad in "Rolling Stone" magazine is raising the alarm about marketing tobacco to children. At least half a dozen states are suing RJ Reynolds tobacco company. They say 9-page spread breaks the tobacco industry promise not to use cartoons in its ads. RJ Reynolds says, it didn't know that "Rolling Stone" would use drawings in the ad. "Rolling Stone" says it's advertising a music website and not cigarettes.

She had sex with a 14-year-old student, avoided prison time and was told to stay away from minors. Now Debra Lafave is in trouble again. What police say she did this with a waitress ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

And everybody knows its flu season. But has anyone ever thought to ask why? A new study may finally show why winter and the flu go hand in hand. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the details coming up in our next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

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ROBERTS: Coming up to four minutes now to the top much the hour. There's a new tool to help parents who are worried about dangerous toys. CHETRY: Veronica De La Cruz joins us now with information on a new website. You found this pretty helpful.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, it's very easy to use, that's the good news. Because remember the CPS...

CHETRY: That's the tough one to navigate.

DE LA CRUZ: Definitely, it was. So, this brand new website we want to tell you about this morning. It's called healthytoys.org. A Michigan-based non-profit group has tested more than 1200 toys for lead and other chemicals. They've taken it upon themselves to do so and they posted the results online. Like I was just saying, it's comprehensive, it's easy to use, you can search by name, brand, or type of toys. Say for example, let's go ahead and try this out. Let's type in Hannah Montana. Once you click, an entire list of Hannah Montana toys will appear and they're going to show you the readings.

Good news is many of these toys are safe but the girls' rock backpack was found to have high levels of lead and arsenic.

CHETRY: So, that's a recalled toy that people may not know about so they can check on the site and see.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes. There are good toys and bad toys on this site. So, you definitely have to watch.

CHETRY: And how did they figure out how to rank it?

DE LA CRUZ: Well, the site uses the existing standards. For instance, the CPSC will issue recalls if the toy has lead level of 6 percent or higher. On this site, toys without much lead or other chemicals are ranked high. So, that's the label that you want to look out for.

ROBERTS: So, what happens if you've got concerns about a toy, you go to the website, it's not there?

DE LA CRUZ: Well, you can nominate your own toy. There is going to be a link on the front page. You can nominate your toy to be tested and then another great thing about this site is there's actually that list that I was telling you about, of all the best toys. So, if you're going to go shopping this holiday season, you can print out the list and you can take it with you. Because, I know, Kiran, you have a lot of concerns.

CHETRY: Yes. I mean, you know, as we talked about, a lot of parents are saying what the heck should I buy and if I do, I have to bring it back? And in fact, you're telling us a little bit later about how it's turning into a little bit of a problem for charities as well to take this toy donations.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes, we've been working on that story. We're going to have it for you tomorrow. We're going to be looking at how the toy recalls affecting charities. But holiday or holidayhealthytoys.org. That is the website we've come across. It's definitely going to prepare.

ROBERTS: Absolutely. Thanks.

CHETRY: Thanks, Veronica. Well, a Roman Catholic archdiocese of New York has a new way of warning kids about sexual predators. The archdiocese giving out coloring books. And in it a guardian angel warns kids about predators, and that kids are urged to not keep secrets or meet anyone on the internet. Older kids are being given these comic books.

ROBERTS: Top stories of the morning straight ahead, including a new look at the flu. Why does the flu hit hardest in the winter? Dr. Sanjay Gupta has got the details for us.

And under fire over illegal immigration, Mitt Romney has literally cleans house, or at Least his front yard, as opponents pour it on. A live report from Iowa when the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

Breaking news. Fireball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went to the window, saw everything up in flames.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A tanker truck flips over, explodes, sets a neighborhood on fire. Rush to rescue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their completely surrounded by water with no ability to get in or out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The coast guard moves in to save those stranded by a killer storm. Plus, what have you heard?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have heard he was a Muslim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: From whispers to anonymous e-mails, we're running down the truth on the campaign trail on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning to you. Thanks very much for joining us on this busy Wednesday, December the 5th. I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry. Breaking news out of Boston this morning. It was out of control inferno that raged through the night just outside the city. It started when a tanker rolled over in Everett, Massachusetts, that's less than five miles north of Boston. An estimated 9,000 gallons of gasoline started leaking, ignited, burning at least two dozen homes and dozens of cars. The fire chief spoke just minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BUTLER, EVERETT FIRE CHIEF: Our major concerns right now, we still have an ongoing fire fighting operations in the two six- family dwellings. They're still heavily engaged in those operations and we still have some concerns environmentally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Alina Cho has been following the story from the national update desk and Alina, they did speak, they held a news conference a little while ago, saying it's amazing that no one was hurt when you take a look at the mess.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's absolutely right. There weren't any serious injuries, Kiran. But that environmental concern that the fire chief talk about, alluded to, was that gas may have entered storm drains in the area. Remember that tanker that exploded was carrying 9,000 gallons of gas. We're also finding out a little bit more this hour about just what may have caused all of this.

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