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Wildfires Burn in Texas; USPS on the Verge of Default

Aired September 7, 2011 - 04:00:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, it`s the middle of the week, otherwise known as Wednesday. We`re glad you decided to check in with us here at CNN Student News. I`m Carl Azuz.

We start off today in Texas, where those wildfires we told you about yesterday just keep on burning. More than 180 fires have scorched nearly 120,000 acres, and that`s all happened in the past week.

More than 700 homes have been destroyed just since Sunday. These fires have kept thousands of people away from their homes, including one girl who told us that, despite the destruction, she`s choosing not to let it get her down.


CLAIRE JOHNSON, EVACUEE: Everybody else is in the same situation. There`s no self-pity. There can`t be, because we`re going to be better off than most, but the fact that half of our town is homeless, you can`t really think of yourself right now.


AZUZ: The more than 2,000 firefighters battling the blazes are also fighting against winds that were caused by Tropical Storm Lee. Wind can shift the direction of the flames. That causes even more danger.

And at the site of the largest fire, near Austin, the winds slowed down Tuesday. That helped a little bit. But those who have been fighting the fires day after day are struggling with fatigue or weariness. And because of that, Texas officials are trying to bring in more firefighting help from around the country.

Let`s head to Japan now, where a storm known as Talas has caused severe flooding and landslides, like you see right here. Dozens of people have died as a result of this storm. It was a typhoon before it weakened, and made landfall as a tropical storm.

Talas moved through western Japan on Saturday, bringing record rainfall with it.

Meantime, look at this incredible outer space view of Hurricane Katia over the Atlantic. As of yesterday evening, Katia had weakened slightly, but was still a category 3 hurricane, with winds as high as 115 miles per hour.

The storm was heading north toward the island of Bermuda, where a tropical storm watch was in effect. It`s expected to stay away from the United States, but forecasters are saying Katia will likely cause very strong surf and rip currents, and swells as high as 12 feet along the east coast.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Time for the Shoutout. Who`s in charge of the United States Postal Service? If you think you know it, shout it out. Is it the Department of Commerce? Postmaster general? Secretary of state or postal service secretary?

You`ve got three seconds, go.

It`s the postmaster general who heads up the USPS. That`s your answer, and that`s your Shoutout.


AZUZ: The United States Postal Service is in trouble right now -- money trouble. Looks like it won`t have the cash for a multi-billion dollar payment it`s supposed to make soon to a retiree health fund.

There was a congressional hearing yesterday on how to save the postal service. Lisa Sylvester tells us why things have gone downhill for the agency that brings us our mail, and what kind of changes may be delivered as a result.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): The United States Postal Service is projecting a $9 billion deficit for this fiscal year. The agency is asking Congress to take immediate action, beginning with lifting a mandate that requires the postal service to make billions in surplus payments to a retiree health fund.

Without the legislative change, the postal service will go into default. We sat down with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, who explained what this will mean.

PATRICK DONAHOE, POSTMASTER GENERAL: On September 30th, if we do not have relief from that fund, we will not be able to make a payment of $5.5 billion to the federal government. We will pay our employees, and we will pay our suppliers, because we`re going to continue to deliver mail.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): But for how long? The reality is email and electronic bill payments have taken a heavy toll on the postal service. To close its budget gap, the postmaster general also is seeking congressional permission to end Saturday delivery, to close 3,700 postal locations, to let go of 120,000 employees and restructure workers` health benefits.

There is strong pushback from the Postal Workers` Union, whose contract includes a no-layoff clause and ensures generous health care benefits. The American Postal Workers` Union calls the cost-cutting proposals "a reckless assault on the postal service and postal employees."

Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the subcommittee overseeing the postal service says something has to be done.

SEN. THOMAS CARPER: We do, and I think the postal service could literally close. They`re bouncing up against their $15 billion line of credit limit. And if we do nothing, then they`ll, I think, run out of money.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): If Congress changed the 2006 law that requires the postal service to fully pre-fund the retirees` health fund, that would take off some of the immediate financial pressure. The postmaster general says his agency is the only government entity required to fund retiree health benefits 75 years out.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Time for the Shoutout Extra Credit.

What do pumpkins, tomatoes and asparagus have in common? You know what to do. Are they all fruits? Legumes? Produce? Or vegetables? You`ve got three seconds, go.

The word "produce" sums up many agricultural foods, and all these are examples of produce.

That`s your answer, and that`s your Shoutout Extra Credit.


AZUZ: I scream, you scream, we all scream for zucchini. It`s a far cry from the ice cream truck, but it is food on wheels.

Sandra Endo explains why a city bus filled with the likes of kiwi and rhubarb is making its way through the streets of Chicago -- and listen, because it`s good for you.


SANDRA ENDO, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): This is no ice cream truck. But this refurbished Chicago city bus is packed with goodness.

JEFF PINZINO, COFOUNDER, FRESH MOVES: We`re a healthy alternative to the ice cream truck.

ENDO (voice-over): . stocked with melons, squash, bananas and greens.

PINZINO: It`s 7:00 am.

ENDO (voice-over): Fresh Moves co-founder Jeff Pinzino says if people can`t get healthy food in their neighborhoods, the fresh produce could come to them.

ENDO: This is basically just an old CTA bus, and then what did you do to make it a mobile food market?

PINZINO: Exactly. So we pulled out all of the seats and poles. You`ll see these shelves were specially designed for the bus.

ENDO (voice-over): It started making the rounds through Chicago`s West Side in May, where grocery stores are few and far between.

ANNIE HOPSON, CUSTOMER: Oh, the red tomatoes and the green tomatoes.

ENDO (voice-over): On board, customers can get organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables.

ENDO: Are you surprised to see all this fresh produce roll on by in your neighborhood?

HOPSON: Yes, very proud. I hope they will keep coming.

ENDO: Cereal, bread and milk: that`s what you`ll find here at the neighborhood corner store, but it`s hard to find fresh, healthy produce in neighborhoods like this one, considered a "food desert".

ENDO (voice-over): . which is why demand for this mobile produce stand is so high. This bus used to make stops throughout the community twice a week. Now it`s almost every day.

PINZINI: The neighborhoods that we serve some of the highest rates of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases in the city. We realize that by bringing fresh and healthy foods that we can make an impact on families` lives.

LABOLA WILLIAMS, CUSTOMER: I think it`s a healthy approach for the children. They don`t have to go to the vending machines and eat Snicker (sic) bars or Reesee (sic) Peanut Butter Cups and chips.

ENDO (voice-over): Which is why Fresh Moves is hoping to get more buses up and running to serve other neighborhoods in need of healthy choices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fresh fruit is always a better option than junk food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rosemary potatoes with red onions, it`s beautiful.

ENDO (voice-over): Sandra Endo, CNN, Chicago.


AZUZ: (voice-over): Teachers and parents, we have some free materials for you on the upcoming September 11th anniversary. "Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11" airs this Sunday at 9:00 pm Eastern.

An educator guide with questions and activities is now available. And discussion questions for 9/11 10 years later help guide students` understanding of the events of September 11th. You`ll find it all at

AZUZ: Before we go, we hope you like stir-fry, because you`re about to see a whole lot of stirring and frying.

More than 4,000 pounds of chicken and veggies in a 14-foot-wide frying pan. Yes, those are actually rakes you see them using to stir this colossal batch. Why would someone do this? To earn a new Guinness World Record, now held by the Dining Services Department at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

Now if that`s not something to brag about, I don`t know what is. It`s certainly made a very "stirring" sight, and hopefully, you got your "fill" here today on CNN Student News. We`ll see you again tomorrow with more to "digest". Enjoy the rest of class.