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Universal Studios Lot Burns; Obama Withdraws Membership from Trinity United Church; Fashion Giant Yves Saint Laurent Dies at 71

Aired June 1, 2008 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's hand it over to Rick Sanchez. He is picking up our coverage at the CNN Center -- Rick.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: All right thanks a lot, Wolf. We will get into the politics but look at this; flames leaping from one of the world's most famous movie studios.

Yes, it is a big win for Hillary Clinton. Does it bolster her claim that she has more popular votes than Barack Obama or is she just fighting a losing battle?

And we have become too familiar with these pictures; the first day of hurricane season. Is it going to be anything like the tornado season? If so, uh-oh...

You're in the "NEWSROOM."

Hello again, everybody. I am Rick Sanchez today.

An important part of show business is gone, destroyed, reduced to ashes by a major, mysterious fire that seemed to engulf it. We are talking about the famed and historic Universal Studios Backlot in Los Angeles.

Those are the pictures. Look at that, no, not a movie and no special effect. This is the real deal. The fire somehow started before dawn.

By mid-morning we understand that the flames had consumed New York Street. That is the big apple skyline that is part of the studio lot.

Plenty of questions that need answering, as smoke still rises from the scene, we have had crews working this story all day. Let us go to Los Angeles now. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has been following the story.

Boy, I will tell you, to look at the pictures, this thing looks almost catastrophic. How bad was it, Thelma?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, I can tell you, Universal Studios is a very important Hollywood landmark and you can take a look right behind me. You can see that this fire is still burning some 12 hours after it started. You can see that gray smoke just billowing into the air. This is a very, very stubborn fire and there have been hundreds of firefighters on the ground trying to put it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) GUTIERREZ: Shortly before dawn, a spectacular fire lights up the sky above Universal Studios, Hollywood.

JOHN HARTMAN: It was nasty. Very nasty.

GUTIERREZ: John Hartman awakens to several explosions and grabs his camera.

HARTMAN: It was the sound of automobile tires exploding on trucks. Whatever it was, it was loud.

GUTIERREZ: A dark plume of smoke shoots hundreds of feet into the air as flames raced through the Backlot of Universal, consuming famous city facades on New York Street and the Courthouse Square we remember from "Back to the Future."

This is what happened to the King Kong attraction. Part of the tram ride at Universal, completely destroyed.

MICHAEL FREEMAN, CHIEF OF THE LOS ANGELES CO. FIRE DEPT.: We had essentially two city blocks on fire at the same time.

GUTIERREZ: 400 firefighters attacked the flames from the ground, from rooftops and ladders, trying to keep the fire from spreading through the park.

FREEMAN: They were flowing in excess of 18,000 gallons of water per minute.

GUTIERREZ: Firefighters and studio employees carried boxes of recordings to safety before the video vault burned down. A huge relief for Universal President Ron Myers because the main vault of the motion picture negatives was not affected.

RON MYERS, PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: Fortunately nothing irreplaceable was lost. We have duplicates and obviously, it is a lot of work to replicate what has been lost, but it can be done.

GUTIERREZ: How it started is still a mystery, but before it was over, arson investigators began to sift through the damage. As for the thousands of tourists who came to visit the gates remain closed as clouds of smoke billowed into the air.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

GUTIERREZ: Now the park is still closed and many families say they are incredibly frustrated because they were told that the park would open early today, they waited and then they were told to come back a couple of hours later. They came back and then just a short time ago they were told, in fact, that the park would not open. So lots of people very disappointed.

And Rick, I should add that a total of ten people sustained very minor injuries. Just lately, it is just a few hours ago a pressurized cylinder blew up, another explosion injuring two other firefighters, but luckily, they were minor injuries -- Rick. SANCHEZ: Yes, it sounds like from your report the tourists were not there at the time of the fire, but I know these parks take a lot of people to maintain. How many workers were there and did they have to scurry away because of the fire themselves?

GUTIERREZ: Rick, there were hundreds of workers showing up to work in the morning. Some of the shots that you saw there were workers helping firefighters actually remove canisters of film and videotape from that vault.

SANCHEZ: Wow.

GUTIERREZ: So there are a lot of people here positioned to go to work, ready to greet the tourists who were lined up to visit the park, and the tourists were told, we are going to open. No problem, but the people waited and that did not happen; so lots of frustrated people out here.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it is a good thing they didn't, I can only imagine how many people would have been hurt if there had been a bunch of terrorists at the time that this that things happened.

Thelma Gutierrez, good report; extremely comprehensive. We will be checking back with you throughout the evening as the story develops.

By the way, this is not the first time that Universal Studios has suffered a Backlot fire. But you have to probably go back about 20 years or so for the really big one.

This is 1990. Look at these pictures. It is an overnight blaze that wiped out about four acres of the complex and destroyed the famous Dick Tracy building and the historical Ben Hur set. A security guard and a cigarette lighter were eventually blamed for starting that fire.

It seems like every weekend we talk about this, severe weather barreling across parts of the United States. This time it is a lot of thunderstorms that are packing some very wicked winds.

Let us go right to Jacqui Jeras. She is at the CNN Weather Center to bring us up to date on what is going on. What do we know Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN WEATHER CENTER: Hey Rick, these winds have been incredibly fierce. We have a complex system of thunderstorms that have been holding together since before dawn this morning. This thing started out in Southern Kansas, ripped through Oklahoma and through Arkansas and is now making its way across Northern parts of Mississippi. This has produced more than 70 reports of damaging winds and thousands of people are without power, particularly in the Tulsa area.

Some of the worst weather right now in the northern parts of Alabama. You can see all of these orange polygons, that is where we have severe thunderstorm warnings with winds capable of exceeding 60 miles per hour. Birmingham could be seeing these storms very shortly and that is going to start to fill in across the rest of the Southeast. We also have one tornado watch and not a lot popping in the box but we got a real nasty super cell right there for Cherry County, Nebraska, with a possible tornado on it. So these folks need to seek cover right now. It is a real busy day, Rick. Not a lot of tornadoes, but sometimes winds can cause just as much, if not more damage.

SANCHEZ: You let us know Jacqui, if anything happens with those orange polygons in particular, thanks so much.

Hey, Jacqui is going to be joining us in a little bit I should say in our next half hour, we are going to prepare something for you. This is the first day of the hurricane season.

Now that is particularly important. Joining us live is going to be a couple -- we will are going to have a couple of things, actually. We are going to have a Katrina survivor. A man who helped bring order to the post-Katrina chaos.

Also, what is causing this weather pattern? Could it be us? Us as in you and me. That is coming up at 7:30 Eastern right here in the "NEWSROOM."

As you may know, Hillary Clinton projected to win Puerto Rico by as much as a 2-1 margin; exclusive exit polls right now telling the story. The actual votes are still being tabulated, but Mrs. Clinton's victory is all, but official.

We are being told in fact my producer told me and you can see it right there. See where that little green -- that little green bar is on the bottom of the screen? It says 91, that means 91 percent of the precincts are now reporting. Still not a 100 percent, but certainly enough to call a victory. Not certain, but a call.

Barack Obama wasted little time phoning his rival to congratulate her. Turning for -- turnout for today's primary though fairly poor, all things considered. Yet the Clinton campaign counts the victory as substantial. They say it illustrates the senator's strong support among Hispanic voters; 55 delegates at stake in this one, but Puerto Rico is not winner take all.

We won't know exactly how the numbers break down, in other words how many she gets opposed -- as opposed to how many she gets until after the counts are all complete. But keep in mind only two primaries are left, Montana and South Dakota.

The Democrats are going to be voting Tuesday in those primaries so is Mrs. Clinton's victory today strictly symbolic? Probably not if you ask some of her supporters.

Let us go to CNN's Jessica Yellin, she is in Puerto Rico. Part of the best political team on television and has been following this thing all day.

What does Puerto Rico mean, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senator Clinton will say that it means she is the popular vote winner. That after all is said and done, more people went to the polls and voted for her than for Barack Obama and that that is a significant a measure as his lead in delegates is.

She is going make this case to the superdelegates that they should consider her because she has had more popular votes. She is also going to make the case that Puerto Rico further bolsters her argument that she is more electable because she has so much support from the Latino community. And when she made remarks here just about an hour ago she was talking not just to the people here in Puerto Rico, but really directing her argument at those superdelegates.

Let us listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the voting concludes on Tuesday neither Senator Obama nor I will have the number of delegates to be the nominee. I will lead the popular vote. He will maintain a slight lead in the delegate count.

The decision will fall on the shoulders of those leaders in our party empowered by the rules to vote at the Democratic convention. I do not envy the decision you must make.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

YELLIN: And the Clinton campaign, as you can see, is insisting they are powering on, but I have to tell you, Rick, the turnout today was lower than the kind of turnout this island sees for almost any kind of election.

For the general election they tend to get 80 percent. For local primaries they tend to get 70 percent turnout. It's shaping up to look like turnout today might be just 20 percent; quite low.

Now, the Clinton campaign insists they are not disappointed at all. They insist this is a different kind of animal and you can't compare it. But it does seem to local observers and political analysts we've talked to here on the ground and even an election official that that is a very low turnout for Puerto Rico and surprisingly so, some of them say.

SANCHEZ: We should probably add that because of her husband's actions with the target practice site in (inaudible) and the fact that he was instrumental in getting rid of that, that Puerto Ricans far and away are behind the Clintons, were and probable will be for quite some time, right?

YELLIN: Absolutely. They're wildly popular here. The economy also did well under the Clintons and there is a lot of enthusiasm when they were here. The issue, the reason there wasn't such turnout is there wasn't a lot of local issue at play, they weren't divided over statehood. Both Obama and Clinton took the same issue, so there wasn't a huge difference between them on these key issues that play here on the island. SANCHEZ: Jessica Yellin, reporting to us from San Juan. Thank you very much, Jessica, for filing that report.

Let's get the other side of the story now.

Senator Obama today has been campaigning in South Dakota ahead of Tuesday's primary. It always says something where the candidate is after a primary. It gives you a pretty good indication of whether they think they're going to win that primary.

He obviously they didn't think he was going to fair so well in Puerto Rico. He heaped praise on Senator Clinton, but also looked ahead.

CNN's Jim Acosta has been following the Obama campaign. He's joining us now from Mitchell, South Dakota. I bet you, Jim, that it rubs the Obama folks somewhat raw to hear Hillary Clinton say I have won the popular vote.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Rick. And they very much dispute that. As you just mentioned Barack Obama did exactly what candidates do on a primary day that they're going to lose. They go to the next state where the next primary is going to be held and stage a big rally which is what Obama did here in Mitchell, South Dakota out in front of this corn palace which is a massive structure. A sports facility here in Mitchell that is adorned with these murals made out of ears of corn, Rick.

And Barack Obama fired up this crowd here because obviously South Dakota and Montana together hold these last primaries after this marathon campaign. We're less than 48 hours to the voting getting started here in South Dakotas and in Montana.

We saw Barack Obama today pivot away though from taking on Hillary Clinton and her popular vote claim and take aim at Senator John McCain, tying him once again, as he likes to put it, to the failed policies of the Bush administration as he puts it. But Senator Obama did work in some time to congratulate Senator Clinton for her victory in Puerto Rico and he did offer this praise.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton is an outstanding public servant. She has worked tirelessly in this campaign. She's been a great senator for the state of New York. And she is going to be a great asset when we go into November to make sure that we defeat the Republicans. That I can promise you.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, Senator Obama did try to work in a little fun over this campaign weekend having some pancakes at a pancake breakfast in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, earlier this morning. The cook there at that restaurant was literally tossing pancakes at Barack Obama and Senator Obama seemed to be enjoying that part of the campaign. He also worked in a stop at Mt. Rushmore yesterday and was asked, Rick, do you think you'll see your face up there on Mt. Rushmore someday. And Barack Obama responded, I don't think so, my ears are too big and not enough rock there on that mountain.

But seriously, Senator Obama heads to Michigan which is interesting. Tomorrow, he is expected to bring up this whole disputed delegate controversy which got resolved over the weekend. A resolution that he says he's satisfied with.

And then it's on to Minnesota on Tuesday night, Rick, and that's a key appearance because obviously in the twin cities, that is where the Republicans are holding their convention this fall and Senator Obama is using that event, if he clinches the delegates needed for the nomination he is going to name himself the Democratic nominee at that event Tuesday night according to his aides.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and it's interesting that you would mention that Obama and his folks are satisfied with results from yesterday's decision by the Democratic Rules Committee, but I'll tell you, to listen to Harold Ickes, it doesn't sound like the other side is satisfied. And that means there are some questions as to what happens next? Does it go to the credentials committee? Does it go to the convention?

I know you don't have answers, so I'm not going to put you on the spot, but you're going to be part of the crew following this and as long as it goes, we'll be on it. Jim Acosta, thanks so much for filing that report.

Coming up, Barack Obama withdraws his membership at Trinity United Church in Chicago. Now that's important. We have the reasoning for it and the reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

KEN DANIEL, CHURCH MEMBER: No, he didn't sell out. He didn't sell out. He was put in this position by somebody else. He said many times before this is his church home. He had to make that decision himself because of things other people did. So no, I don't think he sold out at all.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

SANCHEZ: We're going to be heading live to Chicago. In fact, there's the live picture as we speak from Farewell. Stay with us. Bye-bye.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back to Atlanta. I'm Rick Sanchez.

We have some sad news coming in here to CNN. A giant in the fashion world has just passed on. The Associated Press is now reporting that designer Yves Saint Laurent has died in his Paris home. A long time friend says that Saint Laurent's death follows a long illness although they would not give specific details as to the illness. He's been credited with helping to define modern women's fashions including elegant pantsuits for years. Yves Saint Laurent was 71 years old. If we get any more details or reaction we will be sharing them with you.

Sunday in Chicago and word that Barack Obama has decided to leave his longtime church and the reaction to that is still sinking in there. This morning his decision was very much on the minds of worshippers at church, not one, but two other churches as well.

Reporter Christian Farr has the story for us.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a free man. He can do what he wants to do.

CHRISTIAN FARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As they file into the church, many walk past a stand selling Obama '08 merchandise.

Everything from hats and t-shirts to buttons with Obama and the pastor whose comments first put this church under the microscope, Jeremiah Wright.

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FORMER PASTOR OF TRINITY UNITED CHURCH: No! No! No! Not God Bless America!

FARR: But what may have triggered his ultimate decision to leave trinity were remarks made by visiting priest and community activist Michael Pfleger who mocked Obama's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, a week a go.

FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!

FARR: At his own church today Pfleger made a public apology.

FATHER PFLEGER: I am deeply sorry, and I pray that my apology will be accepted even by those who have told me they won't accept it.

FARR: For many, Obama had no choice.

OBAMA: But it's clear that now that I'm a candidate for president, every time something is said in the church by anyone associated with Trinity, including guest pastors, the remarks will be imputed to me even if they totally conflict with my long-held views, staples and principles.

DANIEL: It's a statement he had to make. He's running for president of the United States and these things are happening that are causing him issues. He has to make the decision to extricate himself from a situation that may cause him those problems.

FARR: Is it disappointing that he had to -- I mean, did he sell out by having to --

DANIEL: No, he didn't sell out. He didn't sell out. He was put in this position by somebody else.

FARR: During today's service, the loss of Obama and his family was not the subject of Trinity's Senior Pastor Reverend Otis Moss' sermon.

REVERENT OTIS MOSS, PASTOR OF TRINITY UNITED CHURCH: I have some good news that will not be printed in the paper.

I have some good news that will not be on the television. I have some good news that will be passed down from generation to generation. I have some news about a loving god who cares about and loves people.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FARR: Now Reverend Moss did not issue, what he did issue a statement today which said in part, that we are saddened by the news. We understand that it is a personal decision.

Obama and his family are in search of a new church. He hopes to find one where he can sit in the pew quietly and have some very nice reflection.

SANCHEZ: He probably hopes to find that church in Washington, D.C., but I guess time will tell. Christian Farr, thanks so much for that report.

So what does today's victory for Hillary Clinton really mean? CNN's Bill Schneider, part of the best political team on television next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Look at the size of this fire. Look at debris. Some of it still smoldering. Our thanks to KABC out in Los Angeles for providing this picture to us. We were just now noticing this. We wanted to bring it to your attention.

Again, this is the fire at the studios there in Hollywood. There you see the firefighters still trying to put those out. Unbelievable.

It's Universal Studios. Only seven people injured, by the way. But a lot of people were scurrying at the time that they first noticed this fire early this morning.

Tourists hadn't arrived at the park yet, but it is an area that's historic for many of the movies that have been shot there. We'll continue to follow this as we get more details. We will be sharing it with you.

Welcome back, I'm Rick Sanchez here in Atlanta.

Let's bring now in our own political analyst, Bill Schneider. He is in New York. He's joining us to talk, about among other thing, electability because electability, the big e-word is the one Hillary Clinton has been using. And I guess part of her argument is, look, I don't have more delegates, but when push comes to shove I'm the one that America will vote for and put in the White House before him. That's her argument, right?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's her argument to superdelegates. A few minutes ago you just heard her talk about how she's slightly ahead in the popular vote. That's by her count, he disputes that.

He's ahead in delegates, slightly she said, that is indisputable. They're not equal. The delegates determine the nominee and he's likely to claim at the end of the day Tuesday that he is either at or has surpassed the threshold for claiming the nomination.

She says she has more popular votes that prove she's more electable. She cites polls across the country. But the polls are not that clear cut.

Our latest poll of polls shows that in a contest with John McCain, she leads McCain by three points. How does Obama do? He leads McCain by three points.

There are some swing states where she does better than Obama against McCain, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida. There are other swing states where Obama does better than she does against McCain. Like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Washington. It's very unclear that either one of them has a decisive advantage in electability.

SANCHEZ: Yes, but look, Bill, the swing state argument does seem viable given that those are states that in the past have been won by other guys. But the popular vote argument, to use that argument you have to say that I'm including Florida and Michigan which are states that the other side, Barack Obama's camp really didn't compete in, right? Is it fair to include it?

SCHNEIDER: Well, nobody really campaigned in those states at all. They all agreed not to campaign there. The problem is Michigan where Barack Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot. And so there's a big debate over how to count those uncommitted voters.

The Democratic National Committee rules committee said that they would award those voters and give the delegates as if those voters voted for Barack Obama. And she disputes that very strenuously.

There are five ways of counting the popular vote. Do you count caucus voters? Do you count Michigan uncommitted and whether he wins or she wins, it depends on how you count them, but it's not a landslide for either of them.

SANCHEZ: All right. Explain us to, explain to our viewers this idea that she would go further beyond Tuesday to the a, credentials committee and possibly all of the way to the convention. Using what argument and what's the expectation, bill, that she's going do this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, she was more conciliatory than some of her supporters like Harold Ickes at the rules committee yesterday. She didn't make threats today. She sounded very reasonable.

She said this will all be resolved and the Democrats will be united. And remember, she didn't say I threaten or people didn't say she's threatening to go to the rules although she said that she reserves the right to do that.

What could she do? She could appeal the decision of the rules committee and take it to credentials and have them decide it. She claims it was decided unfairly and if she's dissatisfied with that, she could take it to the floor of the convention. But if she doesn't have more delegates than he does, it's hard to see how she would get anywhere by taking it to the convention.

I doubt she will do that and there will be enormous pressure brought after someone has a majority of delegates, most likely Obama after the primary's end, there will be huge pressure from the superdelegates to shut this thing down.

SANCHEZ: Bill Schneider, part of the best political team on television. Thanks so much for the well-detailed explanation.

Remember, just two days from now the last two primaries of this marathon political season, Montana and South Dakota. CNN's special coverage begins at 8 p.m. Eastern. All the results, all the analysis; all of the reaction that you can probably handle.

Well, it's the first day of the hurricane season and the question is - is America ready?

Up next, a special look at what's expected to be a stormy few months and if you don't think those storms are going affect you, well, we've got some news for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Why suddenly so many tornadoes, so many deaths. In recent months killer tornadoes have swept across the country nearing all-time records. Houses gone. 110 lives lost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get in! Get in!

SANCHEZ: A punishing wildfire causes a family to flee their home. Forecasters warn this could be one of the worst fire seasons ever.

Question, given what we've experienced with the wildfire and tornado seasons, what should we expect from this year's hurricane season? Well, the answer will blow you away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: We welcome you back to the World Headquarters of CNN in Atlanta. I'm Rick Sanchez. This is important. What you are about to see is some of the most devastating video from one of the most devastating seasons on record when it comes to tornadoes. To say the very least, it has not been a typical year, and it makes some experts worry about what that may foreshadow. More on that in a minute, but first, let's take a look for ourselves at the fury.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a large tornado. Very large.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Hennessy, Oklahoma, a helicopter pilot can't believe his eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at that roof come off of that building.

SANCHEZ: CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras watches this twister rip up this farm live on CNN. Boards flying. Amazingly, no one is hurt. The next day, Iowa is not spared. The state gets hit with its most powerful tornado in 32 years. A level five, the top of the weather service's scale.

TYANN LESTER, WITNESSE TORNADO: I don't know how my kid got out. I don't know how the rest of my employees got out.

SANCHEZ: The sirens sound, sending people rushing for their basements. When it was over more than half the town of Parkersburg destroyed. Seven people killed in Iowa. A toddler killed in Minnesota. The weather service says this tornado season is on track to be one of the deadliest on record. 110 people killed so far this year. Some 800 tornadoes hitting the U.S.. One of those did a number on Pitcher, Oklahoma this month. Everything within a 20-block area destroyed. A couple carrying groceries into their house hears sirens and sees this monster funnel cloud coming straight at them. They run for the bathroom. The wife gets into the bathtub.

GLORIA WORKMAN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I grabbed a hold of him because I didn't know if he could hang on and I was holding on to him and the tree and hit him in the back of the head and hit me in the arm here and --

SANCHEZ: They were lucky. The storm killed seven of their neighbors and left a path of deadly destruction throughout Oklahoma and Missouri. A total of 23 people killed. Many of them dying in their cars as the storm tossed them about.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It really is like a small, nuclear bomb going off. The power of these kinds of storms is very difficult to describe. You really have to see it for yourself.

SANCHEZ: And in February, an unusually early and brutal start to the tornado season. Dozens of twisters, unexpectedly rip across the south.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've gotten advise, and I told them and said most of the house is gone. It's gone.

SANCHEZ: 57 people dead throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. The nation's deadliest tornado tragedy in 23 years, but it's not only tornadoes marking 2008's wild weather.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Our house is on fire. It's on fire.

SANCHEZ: An early and fierce start to the fire season out west. Families running to their car to escape the flames about to consume their homes in the Santa Cruz mountains. Hundreds evacuated. You remember last year's brutal Malibu fires? Fire officials say this year will most likely be worse. They're bracing for scorching summer temperatures on the heels of a longtime drought.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And today is the very first day of hurricane season. This is Celia and guess what? There's already a named storm out there. His name, I believe, Arthur. That's right. Arthur. Jacqui Jeras joining us now. You know, Jackie, as I look at this and I'm sure a lot of people are thinking the same thing, is there any connection with the fact that we've had such a very strong tornado season if it's called that and we've had all these fires and all these wind storms out west as well?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Does that usually foreshadow a more serious hurricane season as well?

JERAS: It certainly can. It depends, of course, on the reason why we're seeing some of these active conditions and a lot of it, I think you can make a great argument that this is due to La Nina when you have the usual cooling of the waters in the equatorial Pacific, it changes our jet stream pattern so we tend to see more tornadoes particularly across northern parts of the United States and it also helps proliferate drought condition which of course causes more fires to burn and to spread and then it also then conversely keeps the waters a little bit warmer into the Atlantic and keeps the winds calmer which is that perfect recipe for a lot of hurricanes.

Now we do have our first tropical system of the season which is out there which started one day ahead of time and it is Arthur and just the remnants of it, really it's just a tropical depression right now with winds around 35 miles per hour. In fact, you can't even hardly pick it out on the satellite picture and it's moving over land now. So, it's really just a rainmaker over the Yucatan Peninsula and nothing anybody really needs to worry about other than the threat of some flooding and some mud slides as well. Of course, everybody wants to know about the name list and, Rick, before you even look, I promise that your name is not on the list this year or the next five years as they rotate these names every six years, but I do want to talk a little bit about the forecast coming up. A lot of different players now are putting out their own individual forecast. And they can see what we typically see in a year. 11 named storms, six hurricanes, two major hurricanes which means category three and higher and basically everybody saying the same thing that we're expecting the season to be above normal. But no matter what the forecasters say, no matter how many storms we have out there, Rick, all that matters is how many hit the U.S., how strong they are and how prepared you are to deal with them.

SANCHEZ: Yes. That's important. And you know what's interesting, we've got somebody in our studio right now, General Honore who probably handled the situation there in New Orleans as well as anyone. He's going to be joining us in just a little bit. I don't know if you can see him. He was standing there just behind me a little bit, Jacqui. Looking forward to talking to him. He is pushing as hard - there he is. Wave your hand, General. He is pushing as hard as anyone - he salutes like a good soldier. You know, he's pushing as hard as anyone for people to be aware and think about what you need to do before it's too late. So we're going to be joined by him in just a little bit and also going back to Jacqui.

So we got a busier than normal hurricane forecast. We've got a scorching fire forecast and a near record tornado season. What on earth is going here, you may ask? We've got not one, but two top scientists to answer these questions for you. Greg Holland and Gabriel Vecchi. Gabriel, I want to start with you. You put out a report, I was just reading. I looked you up and I googled you and read some of what you've written. And I read a report that you just put out that says that there are diminishing trade winds in the oceans perhaps caused by global warming. I wanted to ask you why is that important? What does it mean?

GABRIEL VECCHI, NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMIN.: Well, that's important for a few reasons, for scientists it's important because it's a prediction that models have made for a long time.

SANCHEZ: Cutting to the chase, the reason I ask you is does that mean the conditions are more ripe for more storms?

VECCHI: Oh, in fact, the impact of this should be the opposite over the Atlantic. Over the Atlantic, this change would be expected to increase wind shear and which is not good for hurricanes. Now, I need to juxtapose that with what happens in the west Pacific where these conditions would tend to decrease wind shear and make the west Pacific more favorable to hurricanes. So it's more of a shifting of where they would happen rather than changing the absolute number around the world.

SANCHEZ: So, that's interesting. By your explanation we would have more Pacific storm, but fewer Atlantic storms. Greg Holland, do you buy that?

GREG HOLLAND, NATIONAL CENTER FOR ATMOSPHERIC RESEARCH: I think in the longer term we have a lot of uncertainty and we need to look into that. As Gabe said, if we have a reduction in wind shear, vertical wind shear that could lead to a reduction in the number of storms but in the Atlantic, the reduction that he gets is a couple of miles per hour which is absolutely negligible in the basis of either intensity or frequency, and I think there are other relationships that we need to take into account such as the --

SANCHEZ: I'm sorry. Go ahead. I didn't know -- finish your point.

HOLLAND: Yes, there are other relationships such as the relationship between the hurricanes of the past and sea surface temperature, for example, which is quite a good statistical relationship and similar types of activities. I might just add that one of the problems is that we really are sort of in a darkroom with a very weak flashlight trying to work out what's happening in the future and our flashlight's getting better, but as it gets better we only pick out parts of the problem. For a current climate, I think, in other words, what we're experiencing right now, I think that there is little doubt that we'll experience a combination of an increase of natural variability and also an increase in human causes.

SANCHEZ: Let me ask you. Exactly. Human causes. You know that argument continues as to whether or not there is global warming. Most people would agree there is. The real controversy is is it man made or is it not man made? Where do you guys stand on this? Gabriel, let's go back to you. I'll hit you with the question.

VECCHI: I think you've hit on an interesting point, particularly with regards to hurricanes and global warming, sometimes these two others get convoluted. The issues of global warming and global warming arising from human-induced greenhouse gasses. And I think the scientific evidence for this is fairly well established. The IPCC report summarizes it and so there is a very large consensus that that's what's going on.

SANCHEZ: That is true. That man has to a certain extent caused this situation.

VECCHI: Exactly. Now this needs to be separated from the issue of hurricanes and global warming. One can imagine --

SANCHEZ: We got that, let me go to Greg Holland and we're down to 10 seconds. Do you agree?

HOLLAND: I agree entirely with Gabe on the global warming.

SANCHEZ: Man has caused it.

HOLLAND: There is a substantial contribution from man made influences. Yes.

SANCHEZ: No argument there. My thanks to both of you. My producers are hurrying me about. I know there's lots to talk about and we'll have you back and continue this conversation. A hurricane survivor speaks out as well. More deadly weather, surviving the storm. Stay with us. This special continues after the break.

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SANCHEZ: Some people are asking for it. Think about that for just a moment. Literally are they asking mother nature to kick them squarely in the behind. If build on a mountainside that slides or a forest that usually burns or a beach that is constantly eroding, aren't you asking for trouble? Studies show that more people are moving to disaster prone areas of the country these days and more people are moving to hurricane-prone coastlines as well. A government study has found the economic damage from hurricanes as doubled every 10 to 15 years because of this.

Joining us now is someone you definitely call a survivor, Steve Gonzalez. Here's Steve's story. He lives in New Orleans, gets slammed by Katrina, moves to Tennessee, gets slammed by a tornado. He's been devastated by storms twice in his life and he's good enough to tell us about it. Steve. After Katrina, I imagine you thought this can't happen again, right?

STEVE GONZALES, STORM SURVIVOR: No, definitely don't expect it to happen twice.

SANCHEZ: What was it like when you've been through this, how'd you deal with it, man?

GONZALES: First, we were concentrating on medical problems that my wife had. And we evacuated for it and came back to a state and a community that we knew and loved that was just totally devastated. We picked it up piece by piece and put it back together and then we moved on and we figured we'd come to a nice state with very little crime and real safe as far as - no hurricanes.

SANCHEZ: Yes, you moved to Lafayette, Tennessee. Is that right?

GONZALES: Yes, sir.

SANCHEZ: And in Lafayette, Tennessee, interestingly enough, with a nice name, it sounds like it's still somewhere around New Orleans you get hit by a tornado. Take us through that.

GONZALES: The night of the tornadoes we heard from the newscasts that they were headed in our direction, but they weren't exactly supposed to hit our town. It was supposed to hit 15 miles away and we decided to get prepared. We got everything and got some blankets and pillows and put them in a closet, wife and children, got in the closet and I stood on the back porch and just tried to look and see if things were going get worse or going to get better. And I actually saw the tornado come across the hill. There was a gas plant that was on fir in the background that actually lit up the sky where we could see the outline.

SANCHEZ: What happened to your house?

GONZALES: It blew out all of the windows. Roof damage, it actually picked the house up and twisted it, so it's not structurally sound anymore. They're tearing it down and they'll build us another one.

SANCHEZ: Where are you living in now?

GONZALES: We have a FEMA trailer.

SANCHEZ: Great. Back to that, huh?

GONZALES: Back to FEMA trailer.

SANCHEZ: Steve Gonzalez, what a story. God bless you and your family, man. You've been through a lot. We wish you the best.

GONZALES: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: He is the cigar-chopping tough talker who helps some of the worst situations that were caused by Katrina and somehow made it good again or as good as it could be. General Russel Honore joins us live to get us ready for a busy hurricane season. Here he comes. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

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SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez here at the CNN World headquarters in Atlanta. General Russel Honore, he's commander of the U.S. Army, lived through the Korean war and who will ever forget how this decorated military man helped turn chaos, literally, I was there, I saw it, into, I guess, relative calm or at least a step toward relative calm in New Orleans after Katrina. Now he's retired and worried that the United States is still not prepared for natural disasters like that. He's good enough to join us now. General Honore, so good to see you. God bless you, sir.

You know, what's interesting is the more I read about you is something happened to you after Katrina that kind of changed the way you look at the world.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes. Katrina was a life- changing experience for me and for a lot of people in America.

SANCHEZ: It's given you a cause, hasn't it?

HONORE: Well, I think we're born for two reasons, there are two great things in our lives, one is the day we were born and the day we figured out why. And hovering in that navy helicopter over the superdome with 16,000 fellow Americans being taken care of by our National Guard and our first responders in New Orleans - I left that with an experience that said, OK, that's your purpose.

SANCHEZ: That's your why.

HONOR: That's my why, work on preparedness, help build a culture of preparedness in America and remind folks just as we saw in Los Angeles, disasters are going continue to come. We can prepare for them, but they're going continue to come. So preparedness is the key thing that ensures our survival because in disasters you survive a disaster directly proportionate to what you were doing before the disaster.

SANCHEZ: There's two parts to survival and preparedness. One is the government's preparedness and the other one is the individual's preparedness.

HONORE: Yes, absolutely.

SANCHEZ: Which one are you talking about -- or both?

HONORE: Point one, government will never be able to do anything to prevent you if you don't do something yourself to prepare for potential disasters. Government isn't big enough to take care of the 303 million people in America at any given time to be taken care of. So it's personal responsibility, local government working with church groups and working with the Red Cross. There's a program called Red Cross Ready. Every American can participate in that. You go online or you call the - one of your Red Cross volunteers. There's a million of them in America with 35,000 paid employees. The Red Cross will come to your group, to your street, to your home and show you how to get ready.

SANCHEZ: You know what's interesting, I was in Andrew which was the worst storm prior to Katrina and after going through Katrina, I remember while I was there I thought to myself all these things that I learned in Andrew, it seems like nobody ever paid any attention to. Are we bound to do that again?

HONORE: Well, I was speaking with a group - I won't name the city, but they live in a flood plain. There are about 3,000 people in this group and I'm going across the country doing motivational speaking and out of those 3,000 people, in a known flood point, maybe 30 of them had bought a weather radio.

SANCHEZ: Are you serious?

HONORE: I'm serious. We have not moved and taken action. Most folks you talk to say what is common sense. If it's so common how come we haven't done it? You know, we need to take pause in this election year. Elections come every four years. We have disasters every day in America just as we saw today in Los Angeles. We saw a storm Arthur come through and thank god, it has not caused a lot of damage, but hurricane season starting today and hopefully we'll do some follow-up during the week.

SANCHEZ: Oh, yes. This is what you were just talking about.

HONORE: This is a Red Cross emergency radio and here is a weather radio. It's a little different. This radio is when you have to evacuate you lose power. It's ready to go. This radio is on snooze right now, but it's actually ready to go. This is a weather radio that's tied to NOAA and this weather radio will wake you up in the middle of the night and tell you that there's a weather damage or if Homeland Security is using the NOAA alert system to tell you something is happening in your area. So, you must have these --

SANCHEZ: So this one tells you before the storm hits. This is the one you need after the storm hits.

HONORE: You can buy this for what I would pay for six good bottles of red wine. $60. This is a $60 product. You can get this, you ought to get it and this would cost you for about what you would pay for $15 of gas.

SANCHEZ: Wow. it's worth it because it can save your life.

HONORE: Absolutely, you need this because information empowers people. The Red Cross has a saying, get a kit, get your supplies, make a plan and stay informed. If more people make smart decisions.

SANCHEZ: It's all about preparedness. General, we're out of time.

HONORE: We'll talk preparedness later in the week, but folks need to get ready for hurricane season.

SANCHEZ: We'll stay with you, sir. Thanks for coming.

HONORE: God bless you.

SANCHEZ: Appreciate it. That's it for us. Coming up next, we're going to delve into the next problem the general talked a few moments ago and that's the price of fuel in this country. What's going on? It's issue number one. We'll see you at 10.

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