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THE SITUATION ROOM

Huntsman Drops Out; Cruise Ship Accident Investigation Continues; Neck-and-Neck with Obama; What's So Funny About Super PACs?; At Least 25 Dead In Building Collapse; Security Officers Visit CNN Office In Nigeria; Misquote Carved In Stone

Aired January 16, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: An urgent and risky search resumes for people still missing after the partial sinking of a massive cruise ship. We're going to the scene, and I will talk to two Americans who survived the night of fear and chaos.

Jon Huntsman made a bit of a splash, but there was no ripple effect. He drops out of the Republican race and throws his support to a former rival.

And a famous quote carved in stone, but they got it wrong. The new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. needs to be fixed, but how?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dramatic new pictures of the dangerous search-and-rescue effort just off the Italian coast, where a cruise ship the size of a skyscraper lies on its side half-submerged. The Costa Concordia, which is owned by the Carnival Cruise Lines, struck rocks Friday night with some 4,200 people on board. Six are known dead, 16 remain unaccounted for, including two Americans.

Look at these extraordinary images showing the massive gash ripped into the ship's hull. Italian prosecutors say the captain made a grave error and could face serious charges.

CNN's Dan Rivers is on the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this picture says it all about how precarious, difficult and dangerous this search-and- rescue operation is proving to be. It's been called off for several hours after the Costa Concordia started shifting.

All of the rescue and fire officers were winched off in a scramble as they felt the super structure move beneath them and now they're beginning to come back again to continue scouring the 2,000- odd cabins for any remaining survivors and, of course, for bodies.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of Costa Cruises has been defending the actions of the crew, while admitting the actions of the captain may have contributed to this disaster. PIER LUIGI FOSCHI, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, COSTA CRUISES: Yes, the explanation is that he wanted to shore the ship, and to nearby this island of Giglio, so he decided to change the course of the ship to go closer to the island passed through in front of the little city that sits on that island.

RIVERS: It's still too early so say whether they can salvage this ship. But what's more worrying and more pressing, perhaps, is the 2,300 tons of fuel which are aboard. Italy's environment minister has said very urgent action is needed to avoid an environmental catastrophe -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dan Rivers on the scene for us, we will be back to you shortly. Stand by.

Meanwhile, two Americans are among those unaccounted for and the State Departments identifies them as Gerald and Barbara Ann Heil. The U.S. Embassy has requested information from anyone who has it regarding the Heils' whereabouts.

According to CNN affiliate WCCO, the Heils are from White Bear Lake, Minnesota. They have four children and 15 grandchildren.

So, how could such a catastrophic accident happen?

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with a closer look.

What are you finding out, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems to be all about time and size.

Take a look at what was happening at the time this happened. They're sailing off the coast of Tuscany. They just started out. They're only about four hours in, somewhere in that area, when they hit a rock. It's nighttime and they sail on initially apparently with some idea of getting to a port or doing something else.

Instead they move for some distance and begin to turn. If they had started evacuating at the very moment they sensed they had a problem out here, according to industry standards, in about 30 minutes' time, they should have had everyone off of the ship.

I want to stress to you the size of this vessel because that's important. This is about two-and-a-half to three football fields in length. It is much, much bigger than the Titanic. About twice as many people were on board at the time this happened between all of the passengers and the crew. So you had a whole city moving on the water here, as you have often heard it described. It's very accurate.

Nonetheless, they made this turn and then they had to deal with the reality of what had happened to them. Yes, ships like this are designed with watertight compartments that are supposed to keep them afloat even after some accidents, but very much like the Titanic, as people have been noting all day, this appears to have made a rip down the side of the ship which could have affected many more than one compartment and created a problem, a big rip down the side.

You see some details there. Here are some more here. Look at how huge this is. It was probably traveling about 16 to 18 miles an hour after you convert it out of knots at the time of the impact, so you can see the impact is really quite enormous here. But look at the ship itself. They have 11 different layers here before you get to the top ones up here. This is a cross-section of it.

This, truly, is a tremendous amount of space and consider what was going on. Right now, this is where the ship stands. If you were on the top deck and you could go inside, judging from the photographs, you would have water covering about this much of the deck up here.

As you move down and you start getting into the first areas of cabins, you can see that it's heavier in here. Heavier in here. At one end of this, once you move a little bit further down, you get into many more cabins with a lot more water down here. Remember, people were trying to get out of here in the dark, and, initially, without being told that they had to get off the ship.

That's what we're told, at least to this point. The further down in the ship you go, you can see how the water now is occupying much more of the area. Get down into this area where there actually is a theater in this ship that goes over three stories down here, that theater now is probably completely underwater. There's a casino in here and there were many restaurants down here and many people were dining at the time, we're told. This area is completely underwater.

And by the time you work all the way down to the lowest cabins in here, Wolf, look at this. Right now, you're talking about all of these cabins, all in here, and the bottom decks being completely submerged at this point or, at least, very, very close to it. This is essentially the problem, Wolf.

Everyone went into dark. There were language problems. There were a lot of people on a ship that had just started sailing so even though they are required to have safety drills in the first 24 hours it's not clear yet whether they had one. It doesn't seem that they did. It was going to happen the next morning, we believe.

So the simple truth is time started passing from the time they hit. There was no clear order for everybody to evacuate and things got worse from that point and this is where we stand at this point. A lot of questions. A lot of damage. And I know there are a lot of stories for investigators to collect from all these people on board to say, what went wrong?

BLITZER: Yes, I have heard some say, Tom -- you say the ship was much bigger than the Titanic. I heard one report that it was three times as big as the Titanic. Is that the information you're getting?

FOREMAN: It could be. I don't know exactly in terms of weight, maybe, but in terms of passengers it had about twice as many. Titanic went down with, I think, 2,100 or 2,200 on it, something like that. About 1,500 perished in the Titanic. In this case you had a little over 4,000 people, 1,000 of those being crew on board at the time, if I'm correct in my numbers on all that.

This really is an awful lot of people and think about it, Wolf. If you were in any big shopping mall and the lights suddenly just went out and there were no clear instructions, think of what would happen as people tried to figure out what to do in the next half-hour. Do they leave? Do they stay?

And that's with nothing changing. And as the boat shifts like this, all sorts of things, like the ability to deploy lifeboats and everything else gets affected by that process. The longer you wait, the more it's affected and the more people are stumbling around in the dark with increasing fear and increasing panic.

BLITZER: That's what it was. Panic. We will speak to a couple who was on board, an American couple. Tom Foreman, thank you.

It's also now being revealed this is not the first time this actual ship has been in an accident. On November 28, 2008, the Concordia collided with a pier in Sicily during a storm. Here's a look at the damage to the bow.

People on the ship at the time say the wind blew the ship about a half a mile away from the dock and it also crashed sideways into a tanker. No one was hurt in the accident and we haven't been able to confirm who was the captain on board at the time.

As far as Costa Cruise Lines, there have been at least two other collisions involving Costa ships since 2008. One killed three crew members when a ship smashed into a pier in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. Four tourists were also injured.

An ominous scraping sound, a massive collision, a loss of power and a ship suddenly taking on water. It was all too real for the passengers and the crew of the Costa Concordia and in a very realistic setting maritime officers are trained to deal with exactly these kinds of emergencies at sea.

Our Brian Todd shows us how.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're here at the American Maritime Officers Union training center in Dania Beach, Florida. This is a simulator they call the 360 that basically takes you through every type of scenario.

Right now we're simulating running aground. This is Captain Larry Reimer, one of the trainers here. We're a few seconds away from a potential accident here near a coastline. You can see the ship moving slowly. We're trying to turn it.

CAPT. LARRY REIMER, TRAINER: Aground right now. Stop engines.

TODD: We have just run aground. Hard to actually see it and feel it, but we have definitely stopped. They're going through some checklists right now. This is the procedure of what you do when you run aground.

Captain Reimer, tell us what we have to do immediately when we hit rocks or run aground.

REIMER: The first thing you have to do is you have to stop the engine so you don't go harder aground, OK? Then you are going to have somebody on the team run through an operational checklist for grounding.

(CROSSTALK)

REIMER: ... signals to alert people that you have got an emergency. We're going to make an emergency call on the radio, where we are, what the situation is.

TODD: OK.

REIMER: And then we're going to go from there, assess what the damage is and decide what we're going to do.

TODD: OK. And in some cases, you will actually try to reverse the...

(CROSSTALK)

REIMER: We may try and get her off, but right now we don't want to do that yet because we don't know what the damage is. So maybe we're safer right here than to try to get her off into deeper water.

TODD: Under any circumstances does the captain leave the bridge in a situation like this?

REIMER: Absolutely not. The captain is in operational command to make sure that all the operational -- the procedures for the emergencies are followed.

TODD: And he's got a full team here handling communications and all that?

REIMER: Correct. Yes.

TODD: And deploying to try to get the passengers together?

(CROSSTALK)

REIMER: Getting the passengers in a safe point where if we have to abandon ship, they're ready to go.

TODD: All right, Captain, thanks very much.

This is just part of what they go through. This is a very rigorous program, training captains from all around the world. Thousands of captains have been through here, so this is just one of the drills. And it's a pretty good simulation of what to do in case of an accident on a major cruise ship.

Brian Todd, CNN, Dania Beach.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Survivors are also sharing gripping stories of disaster and disbelief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We went up to the top deck to look over to the side and we were shocked to see that we were right next to land. And I think at this point is when we realized that we were in trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Later this hour, my interview with two survivors recalling a true night of terror.

Also, Jon Huntsman drops out of the Republican race for the White House and endorses a former rival. So, what impact will all of this have?

And if you're going to misquote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., don't carve it in stone -- details of the controversy, and now the change, at his memorial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Take another name off the list of Republican presidential candidates, Jon Huntsman calling it quits today. He made a splash in New Hampshire but there was no real ripple effect in South Carolina and he's now endorsing Mitt Romney.

Let's go live to CNN's Joe Johns. He's joining us from beautiful Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

Joe, what's going on?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, technically, Jon Huntsman says he's suspending his campaign, though, whatever you want to call it, he's still out and the reason is pretty clear. The latest CNN/ORC poll shows only 1 percent of responders said they believe Huntsman had the best chance to beat President Obama this November.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): For Jon Huntsman whose campaign failed to generate much excitement except for a blip on the radar screen third- place finish in New Hampshire, there was no place to go but out. Though curiously, while headed for the exits, he fired a parting shot at negative campaigning.

JON HUNTSMAN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks, not worthy of the American people, and not worthy of this critical time.

JOHNS: For the record, Huntsman was no shrinking violet in this campaign, questioning whether Mitt Romney's behavior on the trail was damaging his electability.

HUNTSMAN: I think it makes you unelectable against Barack Obama.

JOHNS: And it was Huntsman whose sometimes biting wit took more than one swipe at Romney's purported flip-flopping and changing of direction.

HUNTSMAN: You can't be a perfectly lubricated weather vain.

JOHNS: And now, never mind all that, Huntsman was suddenly throwing full support behind Romney.

HUNTSMAN: The candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama.

JOHNS: Some, including Romney state chairman, say President Obama was one of the campaign's biggest problems. Huntsman was this president's ambassador to China, which helped him get labeled a "moderate," even though his supporters say it wasn't quite fair.

MIKE CAMPBELL, HUNTSMAN'S STATE CHAIRMAN: A lot of that goes back to just the voters not getting properly educated, really, on his record because the more I spoke with people, I know people told me all the time, that they had no idea that he had the record as governor so far job creation, tax reforms, you know, being as strong as he was for the Second Amendment, signing more pro-life legislation than anybody else in the race. Those sorts of things, people, that's just going to kind of blow their mind.

JOHNS: And in hindsight compared to the rhetoric that's been tossed around in this campaign, his supporters say Huntsman's other problem is that he didn't behave like a junkyard dog.

CAMPBELL: He's stayed pretty positive I through the process and even a lot of his supporters early on were saying, he's staying too positive. They were saying, look, you know, you're being too mister -- too much of Mr. Nice Guy here. You got to get in there and tussle up because they're going to be that way to you.

So, I think you saw him elevate that level of toughness to show people that he was that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Well, the timing of this announcement is interesting to political junkies. The fact of the matter is the Huntsman campaign had no traction and really needed a pretty-good sized bounce comes out of New Hampshire. Just never materialized here in South Carolina, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'll be down later this week and I'll see you then, Joe. Thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, will Jon Huntsman's getting out of this race really have much of an impact?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so, Wolf. You know, with someone who was polling in the low single digits, 4 percent, 5 percent, really not much of an impact. At the very margin, he could attract some of those voters would go to Romney -- the more moderate, the more establishment voters.

But I think you have to say that Huntsman realized he had run the race he was going to run and not much impact in the end.

BLITZER: He did the best he could.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: I blogged on my -- THE SITUATION ROOM blog post today. I said that if it's really close, if Gingrich were to surge in these final few days or Santorum for that matter, and got really close to Romney, maybe --

BORGER: At the margin.

BLITZER: -- at 2 percent or 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent or whatever, if Huntsman could swing that to Romney and that could potentially make a difference.

BORGER: At the margins. You know, people still don't know what Huntsman stands for. Is he a moderate? Is he a conservative? That's a problem.

BLITZER: Yes, he was the governor of Utah and that's a pretty conservative state.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about these new polls we're releasing right now. at this second, CNN/ORC polls hypothetical races, choices for the presidency among registered voters nationwide. Look at this -- if the contest were Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama, right now -- 48, Romney, 47, Obama. Sampling error, 3 percent. So, that could be close, a tie.

If it were look -- at this -- Barack Obama versus Ron Paul, also, 48 percent for Obama, 46 percent for Paul. Sampling error, 3 percent.

Those are pretty close races.

BORGER: Very close races. I mean, first of all, what this tells you, Wolf, is that no matter who's the nominee, this is probably going to be a very, very tight race, particularly if it's Mitt Romney. The eye-popping number to me, of course, was the Ron Paul number.

And you remember 1992. This kind of reminds me a little bit of Ross Perrot in 1992. Not likely to be the nominee of the party, but did really seriously affect the issues terrain that the candidates debated on. He's managed to take the deficit issue which is important to all Republicans and essentially, turn it into a values' issue of liberty versus sort of uncontrolled power in Washington, that has a lot of resonance.

But take a look very quickly at the other choices. You have Newt Gingrich, for example, up against Barack Obama. He is nine points down and he's making the electability argument, saying that he's the most electable.

And then you have Rick Santorum who's very popular with the evangelicals and you see that he is six points below Barack Obama.

So that kind of affects them in the electability arena, wouldn't you say?

BLITZER: Yes. They're pretty close all around. If I were the Democrats and the president I would start worrying a lot.

BORGER: A little nervous. Right.

BLITZER: They got some stuff, no matter who the Republican nominee is going to be. Voter enthusiasm, we take a closer look at that as well.

BORGER: You know, this is always a very important marker because it tells you who's likely to go out in the polls. When we take it this early, though, Wolf, you have to understand it's very fluid. So, let me show you this.

We asked all voters, Democrats, Republican, are you extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in November. And you can see that the Republicans are still more enthusiastic but by a substantially reduced margin, only by five points as opposed to 21 points more enthusiastic back in October.

BLITZER: Wow.

BORGER: Now, we should keep in mind here -- and there is a caveat -- that numbers measuring enthusiasm, always go down when you have a very protracted divisive kind of primary. In the end, when there's a nominee, and Republicans really want to beat President Obama, when there's a nominee, say it's Mitt Romney, there's usually a rally around the nominee effect and I think you can probably expect the same and see those numbers to change.

BLITZER: All right. Well, they've changed since October.

BORGER: They have.

BLITZER: Let's clear about that. We'll see what happens in the weeks and months to come.

Gloria, thank you.

BLITZER: And as the Republican field narrows, can any of Mitt Romney's rivals really take advantage? I'll speak with two of them.

The Texas Governor Rick Perry will join me right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. And on Wednesday, I'll go one-on-one with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. All of that coming up this week in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll have a check of the day's other top stories, coming up.

And then, my interview with two survivors of that disaster at sea. What was it like as their ship started to sink?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that point, the boat was really leans over quite a bit. And it was actually difficult to walk in the ship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And things started to actually fly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, 89,000 Mini Coopers are being recalled because of a fire risk. Manufacturer BMW reports a problem in the computer controlling the turbo-charger cooling system. A failure can lead to a smoldering water pump and possibly fire in the engine compartment. Some BMW and Rolls-Royce vehicles were also recalled for the same problem.

Online retailer Zappos wants 24 million people to reset their passwords following a cyber attack. Zappos says hackers gained access to data, including names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of credit cards. A deluge of calls forced the company to shut down its phone lines. Customers are being told to e-mail instead.

And what could be more exciting from an aspiring rock star than to play one of Eddie Van Halen's guitars? Dozens of high school students are now living that dream. Van Halen donated 75 guitars from his personal collection to seven Los Angeles public schools. An official who helped facilitate the donation says Van Halen realizes how lucky he is and he just wanted to give something back.

So, a very nice thing that Eddie Van Halen is doing and pretty cool for those students, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very cool. I'm jealous a little bit, not that I can play a guitar. But I did play keyboards, many, many years ago. You knew that, didn't you, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: I didn't. But maybe we'll have to get some video on and share it with our viewers -- now that you put it out there, Wolf.

BLITZER: I was in high school. I was in a group called "The Monkeys" before the Monkeys.

SYLVESTER: Oh, no kidding.

BLITZER: That's another story we'll discuss another time.

SYLVESTER: All right.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, we got important news we're working on, including two Americans who survived the cruise ship disaster. I'll speak with them. They heard a grinding noise and felt a strange vibration. Then chaos

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In English, they said that everything is under control, that there had been an electrical failure and there was a problem with the generator and everything is under control. And my husband and I looked at each other and said -- they're full of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back to our top story. An urgent search under way for 16 people including two Americans still unaccounted for after Friday night's catastrophic cruise ship accident.

The massive ship is partially submerged right now off the Italian coast. Earlier, I spoke with two Americans who survived.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Mario and Nancy Lofaro. They're joining us from Rome. Nancy, let me start with you. Where were you on the ship when you first realized you were in trouble?

NANCY LOFARO, CRUISE SHIP SURVIVOR: I think to a small degree it was initially when we were in the theater watching a show. We heard a grinding sound and felt a very unusual vibration. So we began to think we were concerned.

People performing just ran off the stage. There was no announcement. The lights flickered and some of the people in the audience decided -- started to leave perhaps to look for family members.

We went up to the top deck to look over to the side and we were shocked to see that we were right next to land. And I think at this point is when we realized that we were in trouble. And unfortunately, it wasn't for about another 30 to 40 minutes until there were announcements, various languages.

And in English they said that everything is under control. And that there had been an electrical failure and that there was a problem with the generator. Everything is under control.

And my husband looked at each other and said, they're full of it. We noticed that the boat started to list a little bit to the right side and that's when we really knew that we were in a crisis situation.

BLITZER: What was the reaction, Mario, as you began to see that there was a real disaster under way? How did the other folks react to what was going on?

MARIO LOFARO, CRUISE SHIP SURVIVOR: I don't believe that people initially knew what was going on and that there really was a problem. Some people were confused and concerned. As we were going through the ship, we were asking crew members and they weren't sure.

They didn't have any information. And some of the crew members would send people in one direction and others would send them in another direction. There really wasn't, too much concern or panic initially.

But later, once they finally sounded the distress signals that's when I think things got a little more intense. But it was also, I think, due to the fact that at that point, the boat was really leaning over quite a bit. And it was actually difficult to walk in the ship.

NANCY LOFARO: And things started to actually fly. We went to our cabin quickly to get our life preserver and a few personal items and our knapsack and we had items in the cabin go flying across the room.

BLITZER: Had you, Nancy, had you ever seen the movie "Titanic?" This ship is bigger than the "Titanic." What we saw in that movie begin to go through your mind?

NANCY LOFARO: Absolutely. In fact, I'm a big fan -- I guess, not a fan, but I have a very keen interest in the "Titanic" having seen several movies and read several books and I must admit, with the leaning and listing of the ship, the lack of, in our opinion, awareness on the part of the officials to know what was going on and to make an announcement so late.

To make a distress call so late, the fact that when we finally got in a lifeboat and started to be lowered that the staff appeared to us, as if they didn't have -- of course, it was a crisis situation, but it didn't appear it they had adequate organization and training because somebody yelled to the other guy.

You're driving and he said I'm driving? And as we started to be lowered it was problematic in that the boat was listing and we crashed into the boat, the lifeboat had --

MARIO LORAFO: The lifeboat had turned to one side and everyone went flying to one side. The lifeboat then went into like a free fall for a certain amount of feet.

Once it stopped, it swung around the other way and slammed into the ship and everyone was panicking at that point until, finally, it stopped and then, in order to lower it into the water the lifeboat screeched down the side of the ship until we hit the water.

NANCY LOFARO: And as we stood on shore when we eventually made it to shore, looking at that ship, listing and listing and turning to almost of 90-degree angle was very titanic-like unfortunately, for everyone.

BLITZER: When you say, Mario, that people were panicking, Describe the kind of panic that you eye-witnessed?

MARIO LOFARO: Well, getting into the lifeboats, I know that it was it was an emergency situation and people were fearful. But rather than doing it in an orderly fashion or as close to that as possible, people were pushing and shoving.

We normally -- screaming -- we normally would believe that women and children, elderly, should go first and men were just pushing their way ahead. It was like a free-for-all in that respect and then people were just screaming and crying. So it was just a little chaotic.

NANCY LOFARO: And unfortunately, there had not been a fire drill. We had boarded the ship three or four hours prior. Typically on a cruise it was our experience that you have a fire drill that day and we noticed that it wasn't scheduled until the next day.

And we were very disturbed to hear from a couple that we had met here in Rome at the hotel that we were put up at, that they had boarded the ship on Monday. The ship goes to various ports and picks up people different days.

They boarded the ship on Monday and they told us that they had yet to go through a fire drill so from the fact that there was very late recognition of what the problem was and if fact that there was no fire drill, the fact that we couldn't get any information while on board, as well as when we were on the island.

We were there overnight sitting out in the cold and the local people were tremendously supportive. They brought out clothing and coffee and food. There was one gentleman in the cafe that opened up his bar and we had a few drinks, I'll admit.

And the local people were extremely kind and grateful. And the whole time that we were on the island, which was about nine or ten hours, we didn't get word one from Costa, even though staff was sitting in some of the same locations with us, very upset.

They had swam some of them. They were concerned about their fellow colleagues and concerned about their ship, which is their home. They had no information whatsoever and so this was just very tragic, I think.

MARIO LOFARO: Yes. There was no communication whatsoever from start to finish. And once we were on land, there was no organization. There was no one around to group people together, to try to find out names and who got off the ship and who didn't? It was just, you know --

NANCY LOFARO: Mayhem?

MARIO LOFARO: Mayhem.

BLITZER: Did either of you have any interaction with the captain of this ship?

NANCY LOFARO: None.

MARIO LOFARO: No.

NANCY LOFARO: But we must tell you that we're horrified that he's on TV here in Rome and I'm sure elsewhere, he's saying that these rocks were not on his charts. Well, we find that very disturbing.

We also question -- this is a half-billion dollar ship. They must have GPS navigation equipment. We have a small boat. We have a GPS. If you know that your equipment is failing, then what about visual sight? Something was seriously, seriously wrong here.

BLITZER: And what about now? Have the authorities -- have the owners of the ship? How have they treated you? Are they helping you? I see you're still in Rome. Have they promise additional assistance down the road? What are they saying to you?

NANCY LOFARO: Well, we're in the cloths that we left the ship with and we're sporting some -- we have a knapsack, but we're sporting some paper bags. They did put us up at the hotel and they fed us.

And they were very kind in opening up the phone lines and the internet for us. But it seemed as though other people who were brought to the hotel, the other survivors of different nationalities were receiving information.

The Spanish ambassador came and met with the group. The Italians we observed were obviously brought somewhere to go buy things. We kept asking. I gave a Costa representative my name and our room number.

I'd like some socks, a few other things. She wrote it down very, you know, swiftly, never heard anything. We never got any information the entire time that we were at the hotel from Costa.

BLITZER: One final question and, Mario, let me ask you. Would you go on another cruise any time soon?

MARIO LOFARO: Definitely not any time soon. In the future, it depends. I have to see. It's still sinking in. I know that, you know, anything could always happen on the water.

I just feel that this wasn't handled properly and, you know, in the back of my mind I wonder if I was on another cruise, would they have handled it the same way or would they handle things better so I really don't know what the answer to that would be.

BLITZER: What about you, Nancy?

NANCY LOFARO: I was going to say on my own boat I would go. I think that, actually, I would consider another cruise because I find this is so unusual. But to be honest with you until I was about to embark on the ship, I wouldn't know until that point.

BLITZER: Where is home for the two of you?

NANCY LOFARO: Home is in new Rochelle, New York.

BLITZER: Well, have a safe trip back to New York, and good luck to you. Thank God both of you are OK. I know you're thanking God yourself and you're in Rome where you can have an opportunity to do so. Good luck on your flight back to the United States. Thanks very much for joining us.

NANCY LOFARO: Thank you.

MARIO LOFARO: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A new information just coming in from Italy where the coast guard chief in Italy has just reported that four crewmen and 25 passengers, total of 29 individuals, 29 people, remain unaccounted for as a result of the cruise ship, "Costa Concordia" crashing three days ago.

Earlier, the number was 16 people still missing. It's now gone up to 29 people still missing and including two Americans, the family, the husband and wife from Minnesota. We'll get more information and get new details. That's coming in.

Also, other details of the investigation into the cruise ship disaster. We'll have more information coming in to us from the scene on the coast of Italy. That's coming up in our next hour.

But up next, our "Strategy Session" and Steven Colbert's own "Super PAC."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona along with the Republican strategist, Rich Galen. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Steven Colbert, he's a comedian. He's having some fun poking fun at all the politicians, the "Super PACs," but he has also got a point. A serious point he's trying to make. Here's one of his "Super PAC" ads that's now actually running. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corporations, America's greatest institution, they built this country one job at a time. Mitt Romney says he's for corporations.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Corporations are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Mitt Romney has a secret. As head of Bain Capital, he bought companies, carved them up and god got rid of what he couldn't use. If Mitt Romney really believes --

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then Mitt Romney is a serial killer. Please, "Mitt the Ripper." If you believe corporations are people, do your duty and protect them.

On Saturday, January 21st, stop "Mitt the Ripper" before he kills again. Americans for a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow are responsible for the content of this advertising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "Americans for a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow," that's Steven Colbert's PAC. It's funny. It's cute, but he's trying to make a point.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's hilarious, Wolf, but as you know, the old saying goes many a truth is spoken in jest. I think it is also a way to get people to focus to something that is actually quite ridiculous in politics, which as you know, opens the door to all this money being poured into politics without having to disclose donors or anything through the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. I think this is a way to do it to get people to really pay attention.

BLITZER: She makes a cute point, but is it a good point.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: She is cute, but a good point as well. You know, I think that's right. I actually thought the first 15 seconds was better than the last 15 seconds. I think they ran out of gas.

But I think the greater point is fine. The notion of unlimited funds without instantaneous disclosure, I think, is a big --

BLITZER: Six months later, they have to disclose.

GALEN: I think that's wrong. I think that if you're going to write a check for $5 million then that ought to be in the record in 24 hours and then it becomes a political question whether you want to accept that money or not. I'm of the first amendment side of the argument. So I think money is OK.

BLITZER: Hundreds of millions of dollars, potentially between now and November, are going to be shelled out by this so-called "Super PACs." CARDONA: Absolutely and I think it is an issue. We saw the interview with Candy Crowley and Axelrod, and one of the things that he worries about and I think it's true is that there's so much more money on the other side, in the Republican side, with all the corporations, talking about corporations being people.

All of these corporations and all of these folks that are rich, rich donors who know they don't have to disclose immediately and the first thing they want is, frankly, the same thing the Republicans on the Hill want, which is to make sure this president is a one-term president. They're going to pour everything they have into defeating him.

GALEN: Before you get into a lather, let's remember that unions have always been able to do that.

CARDONA: You cannot -- they cannot match the money the corporations are going to put into this.

GALEN: But he said he's going to raise a billion dollars.

CARDONA: He has never said that.

BLITZER: Other Democrats have said that.

GALEN: For Axelrod to complain that -- that's going to be the end of democracy as we know it, that's a little disingenuous.

BLITZER: You know that Democrats have "Super PACs." They have created two Bill Burton. Paul Begala is part of the Democratic (inaudible). They're not unilaterally disarming.

CARDONA: And nor they should because they definitely want to play this field.

BLITZER: These are "Super PACs" are going to have a huge role no matter who the Republican nominee is.

GALEN: And sometimes they spin out of control. Newt is finding that out. I mean, he was in favor of this anti-Romney film only to find out that it was false.

CARDONA: The difference is that Democrats will be the first ones to fight for money getting out of politics to make sure that it's real people who have the voices, not corporations.

BLITZER: Having said all that that was a funny ad that Steven Colbert did. Thanks very much.

A check of the day's other top stories coming up including the number of people missing rising. We're taking a closer look at what went wrong off the coast of Italy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What else is going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. It happened last night in Beirut, Lebanon. The state news agency says at least 25 people were killed when a six-story building collapsed.

No word on the cause of the disaster, but an investigation is underway. The dead reportedly include Lebanese nationals as well as people from Egypt, Sudan, Jordan and the Philippines.

Nigerian state security officer showed up unexpectedly at the CNN bureau in Nigeria today. They wanted to see proof that our staffs there are legally registered with the Nigerian government.

A later meeting showed everything in order and CNN reporting efforts were not interrupted. The incident comes as CNN has been covering unrest in Nigeria over fuel subsidies.

And what's believed to be the world's oldest cypress tree burned down to a stump in central Florida early this morning. The tree, known as the "Senator," was estimated to be 3,500 years old. No word on the cause of that fire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So sad. I wonder what happened, very sad. All right, Lisa, thank you.

That cruise ship disaster is worse than we originally thought. We're now getting reports of more people are still unaccounted for.

Plus a major change to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Washington Memorial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day plans are made for a major change to his memorial here in Washington. Lisa Sylvester explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Fifteen years in the making at a cost of $120 million and now, a colossal blunder. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ordered this inscription at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington be changed.

The line reads -- I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness, but that's not really what Dr. King said. It's a misquote that famed poet, Maya Angelou, says makes Dr. King sound like an arrogant twit.

DR. MAYA ANGELOU, POET: What he said was -- if you want to -- he could never, himself, put himself up by saying I am -- I was a drum major.

SYLVESTER: The sermon just a few months before his death.

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: If you want to say I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.

SYLVESTER: I spoke with Architect Ed Jackson soon after the memorial was completed. He said organizers originally planned to use the complete and accurate quote, but they made a last minute change and decided to place it on another wall.

(on camera): This side was prepared for the shorter quote and the other side was prepared for the longer quote?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is correct.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): The entire quote couldn't fit on the face of the new wall so they condensed it.

(on camera): Do you think by shortening the quote that some of the meaning has been lost?

ED JACKSON, ARCHITECT: No. I think by shortening the quote, it has become more succinct and it's easier for the person to grasp his own definition of who he was.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Secretary Salazar disagrees saying, quote, "I do not think it's an accurate portrayal of what Dr. King was." The National Park Service is now consulting with the King family and the MLK Memorial Foundation to come up with a plan to fix the blunder in the next 30 days.

Erasing something carved in granite is not easy, but the foundation says it's reviewing options including seeing if the whole quote can fit or using a longer paraphrase.

HARRY JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, MLK JR. FOUNDATION: We really want that not to be a distraction for anyone who comes to see this wonderful memorial. We want them to come and see and relish in Dr. King's words and the vision that Dr. King had for this country, and indeed, the nation, with no distractions. So we'll take a look at it and see how it could be corrected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Now, the memorial was built with donated money, and it's unclear, though, if taxpayers are going to have to pay to get the quote altered. The interior department says the National Parks Service will also give its recommendations on that in 30 days. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alright, Lisa. Thank you.