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AMERICAN MORNING

First U.S. Aid Arrives in Myanmar; West Virginia Voters Head to Polls; Deadly Tornadoes Hit Oklahoma the Hardest; Gas Prices Impacts RV Vacations; Earthquake in China Buries Students in Rubble

Aired May 12, 2008 - 06:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I raised a lot of money from the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children. I've got to get you to come out and play in my golf tournament next year, but it's great to be back.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: I'd love to if they'd give me a day off. It's great to have you back.

We start with breaking news out of China this morning. A 7.8 earthquake struck overnight about 60 miles west of Chengdu. It's home to 10 million people and the giant panda breeding research base.

New video just in of people evacuating a local hospital and other people hiding under their desks. The quake was so strong it could be felt as far away as Thailand and Pakistan -- 7.8, a pretty strong quake. A smaller one jolted Beijing within minutes of the original quake. Tremors also reported in many other parts of China.

CNN's John Vause is live. He comes to us this morning from Beijing with the very latest.

John, could you feel the earthquake there.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. It was a rolling motion. It lasted for a minute or two, and we're getting some more information from the quake's strength. Xinhua state-run media, we're now being told, that the death toll stands at five, including four primary students who were killed when their school building collapsed and at least 100 others were hurt. That was about 200 miles from the epicenter.

Now, closer to the quake zone in the city of Chengdu, that's 60 miles from the epicenter, the moment of the quake was caught by that cell phone camera. There have been reports of minor injuries as well as some damage in that city. Thousands of people there were sent in to the streets. There were reports of some panic obviously among the people who live there.

And, in fact, in major cities across this country from Shanghai in the south all the way to Beijing here in the north, thousands of people evacuated offices as well as shopping malls and also high-rise apartment buildings. As we say, it was a rolling motion which we felt for about a minute or two here in Beijing. The U.S. Geological Survey says that in the last couple of hours, there has been at least six major tremors -- John. ROBERTS: It looked as though the earthquake was centered in the mountains just west of Chengdu. Is that an area that's prone to that sort of seismic activity?

VAUSE: Well, what we've been told is that it's very unusual for earthquakes in that part of China. But earthquakes in China are relatively common. What may have minimized the damage here is that the epicenter was about six miles beneath the surface that is a mountainous region. About 100,000 people lived in that particular county in China -- John.

ROBERTS: All right. John Vause for us this morning from Beijing with the latest on that earthquake, and we'll go back to John this morning as we get more news coming out of China -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And we've got more breaking news. The first American aid finally on the ground in Myanmar. Twenty-eight thousand pounds of food, water and other supplies arrived this morning. We'll get an exclusive report now from our correspondent there in Myanmar.

VOICE OF CNN CORRESPONDENT, INSIDE MYANMAR: Hi, Kyra.

You're absolutely right. We saw that American C-130 Hercules landed in Yangon Airport earlier this morning. Certainly that is a very good sign that finally American aid is coming into the country.

The country has been receiving some aid from other nations, but certainly it's far from enough to actually help in this disaster area. We're also hearing that several American Navy vessels are moving closer to the Myanmar coast, hoping to be able to help there, ready to come in and help if the Myanmar government decides to let them come ashore.

And really, I've been down in that region yesterday along that river and it seems as though that help is really very badly needed in that area. We were in villages that had received no aid to speak of. And from our perspective, what we saw there, it seems that food is very important for those people at this point. But even more important is clean drinking water and also medication because they have had none of that since this cyclone hit nine days ago -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. We'll continue, of course, to check in with you there in Myanmar. We also hope to hear from the military within the next hour and a half. We're not giving the names or locations of our correspondents for security reasons. We're going to continue to do that as we cover that story there.

And if you'd like to help the people in Myanmar, you can impact your world. Just head to CNN.com/impact to find the aid agencies that are helping out -- John.

ROBERTS: Turning to the "Most Politics in the Morning" now.

Hillary Clinton is campaigning hard in West Virginia ahead of the primary there tomorrow. She is favored to win the state by a huge margin, but it won't make much of a dent in Barack Obama's overall lead in delegates because there are only 28 delegates up for grabs in West Virginia.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all tied up now in the race for superdelegates with 273 apiece. At one point, Clinton had a substantial lead. Twenty-eight-year-old superdelegate Crystal Strait of California threw her support to Obama to tie up the superdelegate race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRYSTAL STRAIT, SUPERDELEGATE FOR OBAMA: In 2004, young people voted and in 2006, young people voted again. And so, we know that this 2000 election is crucial to actually creating a block of young voters for the Democratic Party. A lot of the members, the young Democrats of America, a lot of the young people from around the country have come out in numbers, in overwhelming numbers to support Senator Obama, and I thought that it was important that, you know, I represent them by pledging my vote for Senator Obama today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Senator Obama is holding campaign events today in West Virginia and Kentucky, but some Democrats on the Sunday morning talk circuits say he needs to turn his attention away from Senator Clinton and toward the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, CHAIRMAN DEM. CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN CMTE.: Obama is clearly frontrunner here, but until it's finally over, it's not over. We'll just have to see how this plays out. But clearly, he's the frontrunner. We need as a Democratic Party to begin the focus on the differences between the Democratic position on issues and John McCain who represents a third Bush term. And the sooner we can get there, the better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: For her part, Senator Clinton says she may be down, but she's not out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I guess my favorite message was from a woman named Angela. Keep strong, she said, it's not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Clinton's campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that she still has a chance to win the nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS")

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": You will admit that that she cannot overtake Barack Obama with elected delegates. TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: They're highly unlikely (ph) impossible. Nothing is impossible. What? Tomorrow some new -- nothing is impossible. If you were talking to Terry McAuliffe, I don't believe anything in life is impossible.

RUSSERT: But you would need an act of God or for something catastrophic to happen to the Obama camp.

MCAULIFFE: Sure. Something big would have to happen. I will give you that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So what are the key issues with voters in West Virginia? Our Sean Callebs is with the CNN Election Express in Charleston this morning, the capital.

Good morning to you, Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We sat down with a number of voters at the American Legion Hall. People have strong opinions who say they know exactly what they want from their next president, and that is to find a way to spark this state's economy, an economy that was sluggish even before the recent economic downturn.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (voice-over): Like the Democratic nominee, but in West Virginia it's Barack Obama who's playing catch up.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in our ability to perfect this nation.

CALLEBS: Here in this labor intensive blue collar state, Hillary Clinton's message plays well.

CLINTON: We're going to get rid of any provision in the tax code that gives a penny to anybody who exports a job out of West Virginia.

CALLEBS: And at the American Legion lodge in Huntington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a fighter.

CALLEBS: You'll find a group who may not agree on issues, but all want to see the next president help stimulate their state's economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: West Virginia has a lot of assets, but they haven't been developed. We educate our people and have some rather excellent colleges, and then we export them because we don't have jobs here.

CALLEBS: The latest census figures show West Virginia ranks 48th in household income, ahead of only Mississippi and Louisiana. Steel, coal and other industries have seen jobs erode here. The population is dwindling as well, but they say bills just keep going up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cost of health care is out of sight, just like gasoline. We've got a refinery within 10 miles from here, and we pay a higher per gallon price than they do where there's no refinery.

CALLEBS: In West Virginia, gas tops $3.85 a gallon. The plea from candidates from people like Charity Connor (ph), find a way to put more money in her pocket.

CHARITY CONNOR, WEST VIRGINIA VOTER: This is not good. I'm a stay at home mother of two children, and my husband is the only income -- and this is very hard on us. Gasoline, and not just gasoline -- groceries, clothing, everything went up.

CALLEBS: And as you may imagine from guys who gather at the American Legion, America's armed forces are on their minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the problems of West Virginia are the problems that we have all over the country, and that we're trying to build a nation overseas in Iraq when we ought to be trying to build this nation, rebuild this nation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: And if polls are anywhere near accurate, Hillary Clinton is going to cruise to an easy victory. But Barack Obama only needs about 161 more delegates to capture the nomination. So the question here, will a strong victory be enough to further propel Clinton's campaign? John?

ROBERTS: On that point, Sean, the Clinton campaign in an e-mail went out from Terry McAuliffe last night trying to urge people to get on the phones, to get people out to vote there in West Virginia to try to up her margins in the popular vote so that if she were to overtake Barack Obama in the popular vote, it looks like they might be able to use that as potentially making a case that she should be the nominee. Any idea how that plan would go down in West Virginia?

CALLEBS: Well, in the essence of trying to get voters out there, certainly using that network, trying to get people out to the polls hoping the conditions here improve, but I guess they really have to fight here is this belief that maybe her campaign is sagging beyond the ability to bolster it once again.

So that is something she is fighting. She's made -- she's had a number of appearances here in this state in the past few days. Barack Obama just making his first visit here in recent times trying to drum up support. So Hillary Clinton clearly putting a lot of effort into the state.

ROBERTS: Sean Callebs this morning in Charleston, West Virginia. We should mention that Joe Manchin, the governor of West Virginia, is going to be joining us in our next hour here on AMERICAN MORNING -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. On a lighter note, "Saturday Night Live" also weighing in on the Democratic race this weekend, of course. Cast member Amy Poehler started the show with her spot on impression of Hillary Clinton. If you haven't seen it, you have to. She lists the reasons why that she deserves the nomination over Barack Obama. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

AMY POEHLER, COMEDIAN, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Take for example the race card, which she has been reluctant to play, as in anyone who doesn't vote for me is a racist. I, on the other hand, will be happy to play the gender card and claim that anyone who doesn't vote for me is a sexist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Amy nails it. That is for sure.

ROBERTS: She does.

Ten minutes after the hour. Families blaming vaccines for causing autism in their kids. A potentially ground breaking lawsuit heads to court today.

PHILLIPS: Also, oil prices reach record highs while prices at the pump keep climbing. How rapidly rising fuel charges cost you. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Twelve minutes after the hour. Dig out your pennies if you're heading to the post office today because a first class stamp is now going to cost you 42 cents. That's up 1 cent. U.S. Postal Service blames low mail volume and high fuel cost for losing $700 million in the second quarter.

Speaking of high fuel costs, Ali Velshi here this morning.

I love you like a brother, but enough is enough.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Enough is enough. I wish enough is enough. Let me tell you.

By the way, the postal service is now allowed to increase their stamps every May by the rate of inflation, which is so you're seeing their fuel costs which are true. And, by the way, we also have FedEx which is often seen as a good measure of where the economy is. On Friday, coming out with a real warning about how much money they're going to make because of fuel cost, I'll tell you that in a second.

But I'll give you the bad news first, where on the screen, it's over here, right? The gas thing? There we go. $3.72 a gallon is a brand new record for the price of gasoline. That's because we have a brand new record for the price of oil set on Friday.

By the way, last week, every single day we had a new record on the price of oil. We gained nearly $10 just in a week. Look at that. We started the weekend at a little less than $120. We ended the week at $125.96. We're above that now. In fact, oil hitting just shy of $127 a barrel.

Now, the good news, because I must bring you some, is that the U.S. dollar has actually been strengthening fairly significantly. It doesn't look like much, but take a look at this.

We've talked about the dollar being $1.60 to buy euro. Now, it's a $1.54, $1.96 to buy a pound, and 99 cents to buy a Canadian dollar. So that could --

ROBERTS: So why is oil still going up?

VELSHI: Well, because sometimes these things lag. So -- but, you know, oil has been going up. The dollar has been strengthening. A lot of people don't believe the dollar will stay strong for a long time.

So you've got to believe that the dollar is going to be strong for oil traders to start -- going to push down.

PHILLIPS: The international demand as well.

VELSHI: Well, that's very real. I mean, we only make half a million barrels more a day in the world than we use.

PHILLIPS: Right.

VELSHI: So it's very real demand. It's just that most people say demand should put oil between $60 and $90 a barrel. I mean, it's very broad range. Look at him. See the way he looks at me whenever I say this?

PHILLIPS: He's very pessimistic about this. Does anything matter?

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: He's wondering about why I'm the hairless prophet of doom.

PHILLIPS: From one kind of bad thing to another.

ROBERTS: I didn't say that. I love you like a brother. Enough is enough. Thanks, Ali. We'll see you soon.

VELSHI: All right.

PHILLIPS: Across the time, the extreme weather. It's on the move this morning. Dozens of tornadoes have touched down in three states now. The damage is pretty widespread. And now, the northeast is in the bull's eye for heavy rain.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is, Kyra.

We are definitely looking at this storm making a change. It will spell different problems for different people. All details coming up when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Well, we're watching the extreme weather this Monday morning. Right now, wildfires burning out of control in Florida. One hundred additional firefighters are being called in this morning to help fight three fires. And just minutes ago, we learned that I-95 has reopened in some parts but it's still closed in Melbourne.

Now, U.S. Highway One also remains closed due to the heavy smoke. Meantime, another fire near Daytona Beach burned at least 500 acres.

Meanwhile, overturned cars, homes torn to shreds in Georgia where a tornado has left at least one person dead. One official says that the town of Kite, that's about 150 miles southeast of Atlanta, was significantly damaged. Governor Sonny Perdue has declared a disaster area in six counties now.

But Oklahoma and Missouri bore the worst of the tornado outbreaks. Six people died in Picher, Oklahoma, 14 are dead in Missouri. The total now, 22 across three states. That twister, at one point, a mile wide. You can actually see the sheer size on this cell phone video. Take a look.

So far, tornadoes have killed 98 people this year making it the deadliest in a decade. Rob Marciano tracking all that extreme weather from the weather center in Atlanta. Susan Candiotti live in hard-hit Picher, Oklahoma.

Rob, let's begin with you.

MARCIANO: All right, Kyra.

This has been a bad deal over the weekend for sure and this could very well be, you know -- we're going on a cliff here where this could be the worst tornado year on record. We're only into May and we're already down as number seven.

All right. Let's get to what happened on Sunday. We had 20 reports of tornadoes mostly on the East Coast, but the states ranging from Tennessee into South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and Georgia. Some of which were rated an EF-1 or higher. But we slide the map over to the west and some of the damage that you saw in through Oklahoma and Missouri, and, of course, the death toll from that one twister that slipped through Oklahoma and Missouri, that certainly bore the brunt of the heaviest damage.

An EF-4 starting back through here going through Picher across the county lines and then heading into Missouri, racking up almost 20 deaths with this particular twister alone. EF-4 with winds of 170 miles an hour and up to one mile in width at times. Unbelievable storm that obviously is not boding well for those folks there.

All right. From the fire -- from the tornadoes we go to the fires in Florida. We have a number of brushfires burning. I-95 is closed in a number of spots, especially in Brevard County, and likely will be remaining closed today as winds are going to be extreme here. We have an extreme fire danger for winds gusting at times over 20 miles an hour. Everything is coming from the west northwest, and it's all circulating around the same storm system that brought the tornadoes over the weekend to the Midwest and to the East Coast.

And here it is. It's now becoming a coastal low, and we're getting reports out of Delaware -- Kitts Hummock, Delaware, where they're evacuating some coastal communities because of coastal flooding now. So this storm is going from a tornado maker to a fire aggravater, now to a coastal rain and flooding situation across the northeast.

Want to just get this thing out of here, but it's still going to cause problems for New England and the northeast over the next 24 hours. Kyra, back over to you.

PHILLIPS: All right, Rob, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Well, they're picking up what's left of their town in Picher, Oklahoma. Dozens of tornadoes touched down across three states as Rob was saying, but the worst was in Picher. It's in northeastern Oklahoma right in the border along with Kansas there. Much of the former mining town was flattened by these storms that rolled through. CNN's Susan Candiotti is live in Picher for us this morning, and she brings us this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The killer storm that churned through Picher was so unsparing, it even stripped bark from trees. A 20-square block area was crushed.

JOHN HUTCHISON, HOMEOWNER: This was the closet.

CANDIOTTI: His home is history, yet John Hutchison somehow can muster a smile.

HUTCHISON: Because I'm alive.

CANDIOTTI: He and his family huddled inside a closet as this frightening massive black funnel cloud barreled toward his home and ripped it right from its foundation. The family landed about 70 feet away, with a closet door on top of them.

CANDIOTTI (on-camera): But the storm shoved you way over here? And where did you wind up?

HUTCHISON: Under this door just on the other side of this little table.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): It was one of several tornadoes that wreaked havoc this weekend, killing at least 21 people in Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia. In Picher, a young mother died shielding her toddler. The baby is hospitalized.

Police say two women were crushed inside their home. Three others died when they were thrown from a car. Sue Sigle is thankful she wasn't home. Her house is a heap of rubble. The widowed schoolteacher is now getting help from students and others to salvage what she can, including a cherished souvenir from a fellow Oklahoman.

SUE SIGLE, NEIGHBOR: Mickey Mantle autographed this -- autographed ball.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just fortunate there weren't more fatalities.

CANDIOTTI: Oklahoma's governor toured the devastation. Picher had more than its share of it. The old land (ph) and this mining community is fast becoming a ghost town. It's in the middle of a multimillion dollar federal housing buyout, an environmental cleanup blamed on contamination. And now this --

CANDIOTTI (on-camera): What does this tornado do to the town of Picher?

HUTCHISON: It's just a finishing blow to a dying town.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: And in the predawn hours, it is eerie, it is quiet. This yet another example of what the damage looks like in this town. A town that has been facing a near shutdown because of contamination from lead and zinc. And now the tornado, John, may in fact be the last straw. No one is talking about rebuilding again.

ROBERTS: Susan, are there still people missing this morning?

CANDIOTTI: No. Everyone seems to have been accounted for, and no shelters are being taken advantage of at this point. Friends and family have taken people in, and it is a close knit community as we hear time and again. But you see how destructive this tornado was, even the bark stripped from the trees. It really has been devastating.

ROBERTS: Incredible pictures there this morning. Susan Candiotti for us this morning.

We're watching pictures of news coming in from China overnight. A 7.8 earthquake in central China shakes the entire continent and collapses a primary school. It's just west of the Sichuan Basin. We'll take you there live in just a few minutes.

PHILLIPS: And both we'll talk to one man who's launched his own campaign to get Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the same ticket. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "IRON MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, Tom?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Rose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry. Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said it's Rose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speak up, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the hell is that noise?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm driving with the top down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, I need your help right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's funny how that works, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: "Iron Man" was No. 1 one at the box office for a second week in a row. It only made half as much as it did last weekend, though, taking in about $51 million. But the blockbuster is on pace to surge past 200 million this week.

And take a poorly animated cartoon and turn into a feature film. What do you get? "Speed Racer," which came in second place in its debut weekend earning a disappointing $20 million.

Got to stick to the original cartoon, end of story. It's official, "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," the former "Saturday Night Live" standout is returning to the late shift solo this time to replace Conan O'Brien when he moves up to replace Jay Leno. That's according to a source close to talks with NBC right now. Conan is scheduled to take over as host of the "Tonight Show" next year.

ROBERTS: You know, they do that succession thing at NBC strikingly well, don't they?

Hey, it's time for our Quick Vote question this morning. We're asking the question this morning about Hillary Clinton. This is based on an e-mail that the campaign sent out last night, in which Terry McAuliffe, the campaign chairman said, "Hillary is within striking distance of winning the popular vote nationwide, a key part of our plan to win the nomination. That means that we need every last vote that we can get in West Virginia on Tuesday and in the races that follow."

So it sounds like the Clinton campaign here is trying to set up a scenario in which, while Barack Obama would have the most number of pledged delegates and maybe even superdelegates when the campaign is over on the 4th of June, that they could say hey, we've got more popular vote. She should be the nominee.

So we're asking this morning: Should Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination if she in fact wins the popular vote?

You can cast your vote at CNN.com/am. Does she deserve to be the nominee if she wins the overall popular vote? You can also send us an e-mail. Let us know your thoughts at CNN.com/am and follow the links that say "contact us," and we'll be reading some of those next hour.

PHILLIPS: Camping costs are endangered by rising gas prices. Why the one time cheap vacation might look a little different this year. More on the summer staple coming up.

And secrets revealed from Jenna Bush's wedding. A look at the wedding album and what the father of the bride had to say. That story and today's headlines when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING on this Monday. It's the 12th of May, just crossing the half hour.

John Roberts again together with Kyra Phillips in for Kiran Chetry this morning.

PHILLIPS: That's right. It's great to be here. Alina Cho also here with us, other stories that making news this morning.

Good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, welcome back. Good morning, John. Good morning, everybody.

A devastating earthquake has hit China and early reports say at least five people are dead, hundreds of others injured. The magnitude 7.8 quake was centered near Chengdu. That's a city of more than 10 million people.

It was so powerful it could be felt in Pakistan. There were two strong aftershocks as well. Phone lines are apparently down and thousands were evacuated from buildings up and down the country.

More fierce fighting in northern Lebanon today. Pro-Syrian Hezbollah fighters are battling with supporters of Lebanon's pro- western government. Eleven people were killed in the violence in and around Beirut this weekend. Arab leaders are headed to Lebanon today to try to avoid an all out civil war.

War torn Darfur in western Sudan is bracing for more violence. Today the Sudanese government may retaliate against rebels who attacked the capital this weekend. Sudan accused its neighbor Chad of supporting the rebels and has cut ties between the two east African nations. Two hundred thousand people are dead after five years of fighting in Darfur.

Well, a harrowing ordeal is finally over for 53 illegal immigrants. Listen to this. Police say Mexican smugglers were holding them captive in a single-family home in Phoenix, Arizona. They were allegedly demanding an average of $2,500 apiece for their release. Five people are now being held on kidnapping, extortion, assault, and human smuggling charges. The illegal immigrants are now in the hands of Customs and Immigration authorities.

There's been a great debate over whether childhood vaccines cause autism. And now, some families are going to court to try to prove that the mercury-based medication thimerosal triggers symptoms of the mysterious disease. Now, mainstream medicine says there's no proof of that, but thimerosal has been eliminated from most childhood vaccines with one notable exception, flu vaccines that are not packaged in single doses.

"Forbes" magazine is out with the list of the world's most dangerous beaches. New Smyrna Beach in Florida tops the list with 112 incidents of "shark human contact" last year. The most polluted beach is Hack's Point in Maryland. Florida waters, no surprise in general, reported the most boating accidents and lightning strikes.

And spectacular, that's how President Bush describes his daughter Jenna's wedding over the weekend. The ceremony had none of the Washington pomp and circumstance that some had hoped for. Jenna and Henry are more casual they say. Jenna is 26. She married 30-year-old Henry Hager Saturday at the president's 1600-acre ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Only a couple of pictures were released. There were 200 guests, mostly friends and family. The bride wore Oscar de la Renta, nice choice, and her twin sister Barbara was the maid of honor. It was a bipartisan wedding, by the way. The pastor who officiated is a long time spiritual adviser to the president, but he has endorsed Barack Obama.

PHILLIPS: I was kind of hoping she'd lift up her dress and we'd see some real cool white cowboy boots, like a nice pair of Gringos. You know what I mean.

CHO: That would have been cool.

PHILLIPS: Two step across the -- yes.

CHO: Apparently, she has taken her husband's name. She's now Jenna Hager. Yes, the president cried, we're told. And, yes, Karl Rove danced a little bit. Those are all the interesting things --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: We've seen that before.

PHILLIPS: He danced around a lot of things.

ROBERTS: Alina, thanks very much.

CHO: You bet.

ROBERTS: It's a staple of summer for many Americans piled into the RV and take the family camping. But with the rising cost of gasoline, driving a gas guzzling camper is hitting wallets really hard. Still for some families, though, leaving it in the driveway just is not an option, so they've got to get out there and use it.

CNN's John Zarrella joins us now live from Sunrise, Florida where the sun is just beginning to come up on what looks like a beautiful day to be out there camping. Good morning, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, beautiful, but it's going to be a scorcher here. Record high temperatures expected. That's another story.

You know, all this week we're going to take a look at how businesses and individuals are being affected by the economy. Well, this morning we're in an RV park, and this used to be an inexpensive way to take a summer vacation. But as you might expect, the high price of gasoline and diesel could put the brakes on summer plans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): For many Americans, it wouldn't be a vacation without the camper or RV. And it's not something they'll give up even at eight miles to the gallon. C.C. Bitner is thinking about selling some of his other toys for extra cash so he and his wife can stay on the road.

C.C. BITNER, FUEL PRICES CHANGED TRAVEL PLANS: We're even thinking about, you know, downsizing all of that so we can realize our dream.

ZARRELLA: Last year, it cost Bitner $600 to drive round trip between Florida and Ohio. This year, $800 just to get here.

BITNER: We're packed for next year already.

ZARRELLA: For 35 years, Dick Whalen has owned this RV park on Florida's west coast. He's optimistic.

DICK WHALEN, RV PARK OWNER: If you've got $300,000, $400,000 invested in an RV, you're going to use it.

ZARRELLA: Even with high gas prices, Whalen says this is still an inexpensive vacation. A space in the RV park costs as little as $44 a day or $600 for the month. That's Bill Jesse's feeling.

BILL JESSE, RV OWNER: We'll keep going on vacation. Tomorrow may never be here.

ZARRELLA: But Jesse and his brother-in-law who have been bringing their RV's to Florida for 20 years say they've never seen so many empty spaces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, not this time. Not this time.

ZARRELLA: Many camper and RV owners say they're not giving deposits to reserve spaces for next year. With the price of gas and diesel, they figure there'll be plenty available.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZARRELLA: Everybody is talking about gasoline prices here, according to a park official. One thing a lot of people are saying, John, is that what they're going to do is they're still going to use the camper. They're still going to use the RV, but they're just not going to go as far. They'll find an RV park, a camp ground closer to home this summer -- John.

ROBERTS: Are they talking about how close to home, John, might they set sort of a radius of 300 or 400 miles as opposed to those long 1,200 mile trips for me to get from the northeast all away down there to Florida?

ZARRELLA: Even closer than that in a lot of cases. A lot of people are saying this summer they're going to stay in their own state. You know, in North Carolina, just go down to the coast. In Florida, just go over to the west coast. Some of them only traveling 30, 40, 50 miles to get to a campground. That's it.

ROBERTS: Let's see if anybody is staying in the public parks at the end of the street. John, thanks very much. Great to talk to you this morning -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: John McCain has planned to take on Barack Obama. Look at his strategy to win the White House. We're going to talk to one of his key supporters, Joe Lieberman. That's coming up live in the next hour.

ROBERTS: Hey, Ali is here with a little more on what's going on with the economy. Tough time for people who are there with the RVs as John Zarrella was saying.

VELSHI: Yes, I mean, it's --

PHILLIPS: Ali Velshi travels in an RV.

VELSHI: While I was in the CNN Election Express and that was a -- that was a big RV. Yes, it is tough times. We're actually talking to a lot of people who were winter snow birds when we were down in Texas. So, yes, it's a tough story.

I was trying to get my head run. Listen, we also have a tough job economy right now and one of the ways to break it down, it's not bad for everybody. Women are gaining jobs while men are losing jobs. I'll break that down for you when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: The economy, issue number one. Nothing more important than your job, right? But now, men have something to worry about?

VELSHI: Yes.

PHILLIPS: I remember when we were talking about breaking the glass ceiling.

VELSHI: Yes. PHILLIPS: And women were trying to get into the fold.

VELSHI: This is an unusual development actually and it's got some good and some bad to it. But we've been talking about job losses in the last few months go up a quarter million of them since January. But here's something interesting.

Men have been losing disproportionately. And, in fact, if you go back to November, because my friends at "Business Week" did a great little study on this based on statistics from the government from last November, 300,000 job gains for women versus 700,000 job losses for men. That's a pretty dramatic difference.

PHILLIPS: What kind of jobs?

VELSHI: Yes, and that's exactly what the problem is. Let's show you the next screen. We have been losing jobs for over a year in construction and manufacturing. These are overwhelmingly male jobs. Construction and manufacturing, we just have not seen gains there.

We have seen month after month gains in education and health services and the government sector, which are overwhelmingly jobs populated by women. This does not narrow the gender gap. We are still finding that women are paid less than men for the same work. But women do happen to be dominating industries that are growing right now, and men are dominating industries that are shrinking.

So, it's an interesting way at looking at things. We'll have to see how that trend continues. Part of the thing is that some of the jobs that are increasing, for instance, men are kind of loath to get into it. There aren't as many men taking those jobs. You've got nurses who are retired getting back into those jobs just to fill the available spots.

ROBERTS: Interesting. Ali, thanks.

VELSHI: All right.

PHILLIPS: Families claiming a link between autism and vaccines will be in court today. We're going to look at what could be a landmark case coming up.

ROBERTS: And Rob Marciano has got a look at the weather today.

And, Rob, we had a hell of a weekend. How's the beginning of the week looking?

MARCIANO: Yes. Well, this storm is transforming itself across the northeast. Flooding now a problem, fires in Florida. We'll run it all down when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARCIANO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Rob Marciano.

Sixty-six tornadoes breaking out over the weekend across several states. These are the reports from Sunday from the Carolinas to Georgia and through Tennessee, Kentucky. Sliding the map over to Saturday where we had 40 reports of tornadoes, over 40, actually. And, of course, all those deaths from Oklahoma in through parts of Missouri.

This one is a bad one, a tornado one mile wide and 60 miles in length. My goodness. All right.

Now, that same storm is bringing in some gusty winds across parts of Florida. We've got issues today with the low levels of humidity. We've got dry winds and we've got extreme fire danger because of that.

These are the current winds. They're are all coming in off the land of the Florida Peninsula, so the I-95 corridor has been really suspect to getting hit the hardest.

We've got some video of some of the grass fires that have been fired up over the weekend across Florida, at least four of them. Look at this, dramatic video. This has caused I-95 and a number of spots to close down including Brevard County, Volusia County up there near Daytona. LPGA Boulevard has been shut down because of that and a couple of other counties had to deal with some of these blazes over the weekend.

So today, not helping the weather situation. It's going to be another long day for firefighters trying to contain this and, of course, Florida in spots, populated areas and that I-95, a very, very highly trafficked route.

All right, here's what we expect today. Northwesterly winds, 15 to 20 miles an hour, gusting at times so your extreme fire danger across north central Florida. It is associated with the storm that moved through Oklahoma, the Midwest, the southeast, brought all those tornadoes. That storm now is centered right about here, and it's a developing strong area of low pressure that's now bringing the winds to Florida and heavier rainfall in through parts of Jersey in through the Delmarva, portions of Delaware.

Some coastal communities are actually having to evacuate because of coastal flooding, and we've got gusty winds there, 50 to 60 miles an hour in some spots since midnight last night. So this has been a strong developing storm system for the past three days, John and Kyra, and now that it's hitting the Atlantic Ocean, it's kind of transforming itself and gathering even more strength to cause more headaches for folks, well, across the northeast.

Back up to you.

ROBERTS: All right, Rob, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch because I guess we're expecting some of that weather up here in New York today as well.

MARCIANO: Yes.

PHILLIPS: Also, do vaccines cause autism? Some parents think so and starting today, they're going to be in court to try to prove it. We're going to take a look at the case coming up.

ROBERTS: Could John McCain succeed where Hillary Clinton failed? A look at his plan to win the White House. We'll talk with one of his top supporters, Joe Lieberman. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: The debate over autism and vaccines picks up in court today. Nearly 4,900 cases have been filed by families who say their children's autism was caused by vaccinations. But according to the National Institute for Health, "To date there is no definite, scientific proof that any vaccine or combination of vaccines can cause autism. It's important to know that vaccines actually help the immune system to defend the body."

Our legal analyst Sunny Hostin now joins us. So if there is no confirmed link, where's the case?

SUNNY HOSTIN, AMERICAN MORNING LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that is what the parents have to prove. They have to prove that there is causation between sort of this mercury-preservative laden vaccination and what happened to their children, and this is going to be a test case.

There are two 10-year-old boys that are at the very heart of this case, and their parents are saying they were normal. They were developmentally, particularly fine. They were healthy, they were happy until they got the vaccine. And now, they are two 10-year-old children with autism and that is really what is in the heart of this case. Can they prove the link, the actual causation here?

PHILLIPS: So why sue the government and not the manufacturer of the vaccine?

HOSTIN: Well, it's interesting because usually in a tort case which is what this is, you do sue the person who you believe is at fault which would be the manufacturer. But there's this new program or not a new program, but it's called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program that was put in place for children and others that are injured by shots. And so, instead of suing the manufacturer, in this case, you actually sue the government. And there's a fund in place, and it right now has about $2.7 billion in the fund.

PHILLIPS: So what's the family seeking then with regard to compensation? What kind of compensation?

HOSTIN: Well, they actually are entitled to a significant amount of compensation for past, future medical expenses, rehabilitation, therapies, special educational expenses, and even for lost earnings prior to the age of 18 and after the age of 18. Any loss earnings that a child could have made had he or she been normal and not affected by autism. So there is a significant pot at the end of this type of case.

PHILLIPS: And you know as an attorney, these cases are very interesting because although there hasn't been a proven scientific link, it's these types of cases that create investigations and you never know what can happen.

HOSTIN: Well, absolutely. And let's face it, there are 4,900 cases pending. And so, I think it's pretty compelling that not one, not two, not three families are claiming this. Almost 5,000 families are claiming this.

And quite frankly, out of my research tells me that out of this fund, almost 2,000 or over 2,000 families have been compensated. So now, to say for the government to say there is no link, I think they have a little bit of an uphill battle here.

PHILLIPS: It will be interesting to follow.

HOSTIN: We will follow it.

PHILLIPS: Sunny, thanks. All right.

HOSTIN: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: John?

ROBERTS: It's now 52 minutes after the hour. Breaking news to report to you this morning.

We've been telling you all morning about this earthquake in central China, just west of the Sichuan Basin, 7.8 it measured. Initially, we had heard that five people had been killed. Now, there are reports coming in from Xinhua, which is the official Chinese news agency, that some 900 students have been buried in that earthquake.

It was centered in the mountains about 55 to 60 miles west of Chengdu, which is the large city in Sichuan province, home to more than 100,000 people. And this is a fairly strong quake and particularly unusual in that area. Of course, there are earthquakes all over China, but in that particular area, not too frequent.

The original quake measuring 7.8. There have been several aftershocks as well. We know what can happen in these earthquakes. The structures that didn't go down in the initial earthquake often collapse in the aftershocks because they, you know, they've been damaged and just a little more shaking brings the whole thing down.

There you're seeing pictures in to us this morning from China. Some of the wounded being treated. But again, this latest flash according to Xinhua, which is the official Chinese news agency, some 900 students may have been buried in the western part of Sichuan province.

We've got John Vause up for us today in Beijing, and he's checking into all of these reports, and we'll go to John in just a little while to get the very latest.

It brings us today's Quick Vote question now. We've been asking this morning because there seems to be a strategy by the Clinton campaign to try to make a case that if she wins the popular vote, she should become the nominee. We're asking: Does Hillary Clinton deserve to be the nominee if she wins the overall popular vote?

Right now, 44 percent of you say yes, 56 percent of you say no. Head to CNN.com/am and click on the "Quick Vote" question there. We'll tally the votes throughout the morning.

We're also asking you for your thoughts on this this morning. Send us an e-mail at www.CNN.com/am and follow the links that say "contact us."

And still ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, one man's crusade to get Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the same ticket. Find out why he wants you to "vote both." We're back right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It has been called the Democratic dream team, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the same presidential ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Whatever differences exist between myself and Senator Clinton, they pale in comparison to the other side.

CLINTON: We will have a nominee and we will have a unified Democratic Party, and we will stand together and we will defeat John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: But after such a long primary battle, could they ever really come together? And after so much bitterness, would it really be a dream team?

Adam Parkhomenko is a 22-year-old former Clinton staffer who is pushing the idea online of getting this dream team together. He is the founder of voteboth.com. The site promotes both the Clinton-Obama and Obama-Clinton tickets. And Adam joins me now from Washington.

Good morning to you, Adam. So we talk about all of this rancor and the bitterness between the two sides. I mean, why did you want to try to get them together?

ADAM PARKHOMENKO, FOUNDER, VOTEBOTH.COM: Well, I think it's the way to win in November by uniting all the primary voters. And if you listen to the two clips that you just played, you know, they already sound like they're running together. They're united. The differences between them are small compared to the Republicans and, you know, I think this is a way to win.

ROBERTS: As we mentioned, you were a Clinton staffer from '03 until this year. What did you do for the senator?

PARKHOMENKO: The office was a lot smaller back then, but I was on the political staff and mostly, I worked for Patti Solis Doyle, who's the recent campaign manager.

ROBERTS: Right. So originally, you wanted her to top the ticket. But does it matter to you now who's the presidential candidate and who's the running mate?

PARKHOMENKO: Yes, personally I still support Hillary for president, but the site is aimed at uniting both. Whether you support Obama or Clinton as president, we want you to come and, you know, tell us that you want both of them to run together so that we have an eventually nominee. You know, we can take this information and make the case for whoever the nominee is, why they should pick the other to run with them.

ROBERTS: So let me ask you this question. You know, there is so much anger and animosity between supporters on the two sides and we see it all the time here with the e-mails. They're just vicious sometimes. Does it matter to you who leads the ticket?

PARKHOMENKO: The nominee -- it's above my head who will be chosen as the nominee. Once we have a nominee, we think that we need to have the other on the ticket so that we can reach out to the other supporters, because we don't want to take any chance of losing any of these. They're either staying home in November or voting for McCain, and we think that this is the best way to unite the party.

ROBERTS: So you'd be fine if Barack Obama were to lead the ticket and Hillary Clinton would be the running mate?

PARKHOMENKO: Yes.

ROBERTS: As much as you would vice-versa?

PARKHOMENKO: I'd prefer Hillary, but if Barack Obama wins the nomination, I'll support him as much as I can, you know, 100 percent. And I hope that he chooses Hillary as the vice president.

ROBERTS: So a lot of people aren't on board with this idea of the dream ticket. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, said she didn't think it was a good idea. Let's listen to what Ted Kennedy said about it recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If we had real leadership as we do with Barack Obama in the No. 2 spot as well, it would be enormously helpful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Of course, he is a Barack Obama supporter.

PARKHOMENKO: Right.

ROBERTS: He's gone very public with his support for Barack Obama, but he does seem to be suggesting that Hillary Clinton would not be an asset on the ticket. What do you say?

PARKHOMENKO: Well, two things. First, since that clip, his office has since clarified saying he wasn't talking about Hillary. And the second is, you know, with Senator Kennedy, I respect him very much. But this is -- it's above all of us.

I mean, this is 30-plus million people who have voted in the primary. More than $400 million that both campaigns have put in. And, you know, this is talking about bringing two sides that are pretty much equally split, 51 percent, 49 percent together in November so that we can win.

ROBERTS: So we know that on the Web site you're doing things like you're selling bumper stickers that say Clinton-Obama '08 or Obama-Clinton '08 or got both. What else are you doing though besides selling bumper stickers and T-shirts promoting this idea?

PARKHOMENKO: Right now, we have this petition you can sign if you support the idea, and that petition is going to go not only to both candidates but to the DNC and to Speaker Pelosi who is chair of the 2008 convention.

We have write to superdelegate. You can write the undecideds, or you can write a superdelegate in your state. And we are going to be passing those letters along too. And we already have unity tickets -- we already have superdelegates out there that we're talking to on both sides. You know, we're in talks today with Obama superdelegates to get them to come out and endorse the idea.

ROBERTS: You've probably seen the polls out, and it suggests that if she became the nominee, about 25 percent of Barack Obama supporters would not vote for her. If he becomes the nominee, about 35 percent of Hillary Clinton voters would not vote for him. Do you really think there can be peace, harmony and union here in the Democratic Party?

PARKHOMENKO: Yes, I think, again, the differences between as Republicans are small and you know, once each of them campaigned their heart out for each other and if you have one of them on the ticket with the other, I think that will be enough to send both of them to the White House. Both supporters will be happy.

ROBERTS: All right. Adam Parkhomenko for us this morning. He is the creator of voteboth.com promoting the dream ticket. Adam, thanks very much.

PARKHOMENKO: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Maybe we'll check back with you a little bit later on in this primary process to see how things are going.

PARKHOMENKO: That sounds great. Thank you so much for your time.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks for coming on -- Kyra.