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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Advisory For T.S. Debby; 11,000 Evacuated From Wildfire

Aired June 25, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a reality. You have to balance the work and the family life what many people are finding out. Certainly, I think support of spouses. There are a lot of great dads out there that also a play a key role.

But what's (INAUDIBLE) really says is that companies need to change their minds that instead of just paying lip service to flex time or working from home, they have to really mean it, because a lot of the companies will have this stated on the books as their policy, but then when an employee asks for it, it's denied. So, we see a lot of that. And that's what she says has to change, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for that, Lisa Sylvester.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a new forecast for an unpredictable storm that's happening parts of Florida with endless rain, dangerous flooding, and deadly tornadoes. We just received the latest information from the National Hurricane Center. Standby for that.

Plus, wildfires force thousands of evacuations across Colorado, and the weather is making this disaster even worse. We'll get a personal account of what it's like to run for your life as flames race towards your home.

And the pope is getting surprising help to deal with scandal. The Vatican's new adviser is a former Fox News correspondent who's a member of a very controversial group in the Catholic Church.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Joe Johns. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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JOHNS: It's slow moving torture right now for millions of people in Florida who are being drenched or put in danger by tropical storm, Debby. Florida's governor has declared a state of emergency. You need a boat to get across some streets in the Tampa Bay area. Up to two feet of rain or more is expected in parts of Florida as Debby inches northeast in the Gulf of Mexico.

We're told the rain is falling at about five, five inches an hour in some locations. Tropical storm force winds have been shooting from the storm center, and it apparently unleashed tornadoes in central Florida yesterday killing at least one person.

This nightmare is expected to last for days until Debby makes landfall this week. We're also watching another disaster. This one, out west, where massive wildfires are being fueled by hot, dry winds. More than 10,000 people have been forced from their homes by the latest blaze racing through the state.

CNN's Jim Spellman is standing by in Colorado, and CNN's John Zarrella is in Florida. But first, our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, with a new storm advisory from the National Hurricane Center -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Joe, the very latest is the five o'clock advisory. Remember, we kind of got out of practice. We get new advisories about every six hours when there's a storm or a watch warning on the shore for the United States, those advisories come out every three hours and so. This is the five o'clock advisory, 45 miles per hour.

The storm did not slow down. The center very close to Apalachicola. It will travel across the northern part of the state, probably travel directly over to (INAUDIBLE), maybe right over Jacksonville, itself. But that five-inch an hour rainfall total as you right talking about right there on the northern fringe of Debby.

It is up here just to the west of Jacksonville, but very close to the city of Tallahassee. We've already seen some spots now with 16 inches of rain today. We know there's flooding. The pictures are impossible to get because the roads are literally closed. We can't even get to these spots. One more thing, we have more storms coming onshore here.

And this big red box, Joe, that's a tornado watch box. Some of these storms tonight will spin. Some of these storms will put down water spouts, maybe turning into tornadoes if they do hit land and making damage like some of that damage that we had from last night -- Joe .

JOHNS: So, Chad, we're hearing just incredible things about this storm. Thanks so much for that. I just want to talk to you a little bit now about some of the anecdotes. One man in the Tampa Bay Area says it was so windy and rainy he couldn't see a thing outside.

When he finally could, he saw his roof was gone, blown off by a suspected tornado. Watch this report from Ashley Glass of CNN affiliate, WFTS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sneaking up the truck (ph) right now.

ASHLEY GLASS, WFTS REPORTER (voice-over): You are watching as it happened. Two men caught this video as the storm came ashore in Pass- a-Grille in the dark of night on Sunday. The light of Monday morning reveals a lot of damage.

How bad is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty damaged. We're going to have about eight pieces of property. It's going to be totaled.

GLASS: St. Pete Beach firefighters will spend the entire day going door-to-door, making sure they didn't miss anyone hurt. They report just one minor injury, but widespread damage. Some of the worst of it on Ninth Avenue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man, it looks like this is one of the places that touched down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was pretty powerful.

GLASS: Brenda Payes (ph) was home at the time, thankfully, in the main house and not the detached garage, now threatening to crumble to the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got out of there without a scratch. So, we're happy.

GLASS: Kenny Herman (ph) says he owns the oldest home in Pass-a- Grille and the neighboring apartments, both places survived the hurricane back in the 1920s, but not this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tropical storm did it.

GLASS: The roof gone, blown right into the front yard. Pass-a- Grille Marino lost their roof, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Wow. Those pictures are just incredible. Now, let's go to CNNs John Zarrella who's on the ground where that storm you just saw hit last night. John, it isn't over for Florida yet by a long shot, is it?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. And in fact, you know, you think of all of the tornadoes and the water spouts and the heavy rainfall. And you know, you've also got this tidal flooding, and that's what we're experiencing here now in Pass-a-Grille this afternoon. You see behind me, that boat dock pretty much submerged here.

High tide was about 30, 45 minutes ago. We're seeing a lot of water overwashing here all along the seawall area as the tide continues to come in. You know all this, Joe, in front of me, behind me here, was all dry just a few hours ago. And now, all that water (INAUDIBLE) overwashing the sea wall, you know, continuing to redrench this area.

There's nowhere for it to go. All the manholes are filled. The drains. Water is bubbling back up through the drains. Take you over here to that building that was described in that report that detached garage. And, you can see, you know, there's still a lot of standing water here. And you can see back here, there's the partially detached garage that we're talking about.

Upstairs was an apartment. Fortunately, nobody was living in there when it collapsed last night, either in those straight line winds, the tornado or the water spout, whatever it was. Officials haven't been table to determine exactly what it was yet. But the water has not gone down at all here.

And of course, that's partly because everything is so saturated in this area. It just takes a little bit of rain, and it just comes right back up, and then, all of the overwash from the Gulf of Mexico. So, they're continuing to see all of these problems here. And they're continuing to compound themselves, certainly, with each high tide.

And as that storm as Debby moves closer, it's going to continue, even in a weakened state to drive up more water from the Gulf of Mexico -- Joe.

JOHNS: John, we're hearing a lot of wind noise in your microphone which seems to suggest that you're still feeling some of the wind effects there at this time.

ZARRELLA: Yes, you know, it's interesting. We didn't have hardly any rain at all today. Just a one little squall line that moved through literally dry the entire day. You can hear the woodchippers behind me. They've been all the trees that are down. The power is still out in this area. They're working hard to restore the power, working hard to clean up all the debris here.

But yes, you can still hear the gusty winds and you can still see clouds in the distance as they rotate around the storm. But again, for the most part, Joe, you can see, it's pretty much blue skies above us, although it's still (INAUDIBLE) -- Joe.

JOHNS: There you go. It looks like your signal is coming in and out on us. Thanks so much for that, John Zarrella in Florida.

Now to the wildfires out west. Firefighters are battling flames spreading across tens of thousands of acres in Colorado and Utah. A new blaze in and around Colorado springs is putting thousands of homes and lives at risk right now. Let's bring Chad Myers back in. He's been tracking those fires for us as well and the weather that's making it worse. You're a busy man today, Chad.

MYERS: Wouldn't it be nice to spread some of this rain around a little bit, Joe. Exactly. We've had fires north of Denver, Colorado Springs, in Wyoming, back to the north of Vegas, and again, in Utah. The winds not cooperating today. The heat not cooperating today. Over 95 degrees right there on the fire lines north of Denver.

Let's talk about the high park fire. This is the one that's pretty close to Estes Park. We are now up to 130 square miles. There are more than 2,000 men and women fighting this fire with 19 helicopters, five heavy air tankers, and 170 fire engines, and they lost containment this weekend.

We were 55 percent on Friday. Now, we're down to 45 percent because the winds blew the fire over highway 14, just to the north of the pool (ph) creek area. This, high park fire right now, 94, not getting better tomorrow. My forecast is for 98 degrees.

And the fire line, I drew a line around the whole fire. It's 65 miles around the fire, in the fire line, itself. It's almost impossible to fight anything that large without a little bit of help from Mother Nature, and we just don't see it -- Joe.

JOHNS: Boy, that sounds like it'd be kind of hard to breathe. High winds, 95 -- 91 -- 98- degree temperatures. Pretty rough stuff there, especially for people trying to fight the fire.

MYERS: You bet. When the winds shift, the firefighters can get in the wrong side of the fire, too. So, this is a shifting blaze. It's a tough one.

JOHNS: All right. Chad, thanks for that.

Let's go now straight to the fire danger zone. CNN's Jim Spellman is on the ground in Colorado Springs. So, Jim, what's it like out there trying to fight these fires?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, what Chad was describing are what firefighters call red flag warnings, right? So, this is high wind, low humidity, and high temperatures, and this is exactly what is going on right now. This is the hour that firefighters here told us when things would start to get worse.

Right behind, along this ridge, is the very edge of the fire. It's been creeping across the ridge all day. They've been knocking it down with helicopters. It's creating very challenging conditions for the firefighters and a lot of anxiety for the 6,000 or so people who have been evacuated from their homes and are waiting to find out their fate. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty scary. They're right there.

SPELLMAN (voice-over): The latest wildfire burns outside of Colorado Springs in Waldo Canyon. Thousands of people there forced to evacuate and leave most everything behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just my valuables, financial records, clothes. Everything else stays.

SPELLMAN: Firefighters are trying to save the homes, but conditions aren't making it easy.

GREG HEULE, WALDO CANYON FIRE PUBLIC INFO. OFFICER: Today is going to be a tough day, tougher than yesterday. Ninety degrees, upper 90 degrees. That type of temperature. Twenty-five to 30-mile an hour gust are predicted.

SPELLMAN: And Waldo Canyon isn't the only fire causing problems. The high park fire near Ft. Collins in Northern Colorado has already destroyed more than 240 homes. For the moment, winds are blowing away from Colorado Springs, and firefighters hope it will give them a chance to create a fire line. But they know conditions can change at any time.

HEULE: Fire can go almost any direction it wants to when Mother Nature pushes it around.

SPELLMAN: Did you see flames?

DENNIS WILDERMUTH, evacuee: Oh, yes. I saw flames the whole time. The whole time. Smoke, flames coming up, flames shooting up over the top of the ridge.

SPELLMAN: Dennis Wildermuth evacuated as flames were headed towards his home just over this ridge. Now, he waits and watches as helicopters drop water near his home.

WILDERMUTH: It's like needles and pins waiting to find out whether or not my house is still there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPELLMAN (on-camera): A few hours ago, they added some new resources to this fire, too. United States air force COSTELLO-130, the cargo planes retrofitted to be able to drop retardant on the fire. They've been out here for this fire. But Joe, this fire is still zero percent contained.

JOHNS: That's incredible. And it's really quite a sight to see those planes dropping all that retardant on big fires like that. Simply remarkable stuff there, Jim Spellman. Thanks so much for that.

The mayor of Colorado Springs is standing by to join us with new information he just received about that very dangerous Waldo Canyon fire.

Plus, new reaction from the Obama White House to the Supreme Court ruling rejecting most of Arizona's controversial immigration law.

And Syria shoots down one plane and fires on another, adding tensions in the case between the Assad regime and the world.

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JOHNS: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Indeed. Thanks, Joe. While Mitt Romney intensifies his search for a running mate, it remains to be seen how much his number two pick will even matter. Florida senator, Marco Rubio, kept mum on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday about whether Romney might choose him. Rubio previously said he's not interested in being vice president.

Now, he says he's not talking about it anymore. That means he's interested. Romney has said that Rubio is definitely in the mix of possibilities, pushing back against a report last week that Rubio wasn't being vetted. Another report today suggests the Romney campaign is looking at Wisconsin congressman and budget director committee chairman, Paul Ryan.

Some republican king makers told "The Hill" newspaper who they think Romney should pick. Several of them mention Rubio as their top choice. Other names include Republican senators, Rob Portman, Rand Paul, Congressman Ryan, Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, and New Mexico governor, Susanna Martinez.

Not on that list, Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, who, over the weekend, said he thinks he can best help Romney as a, quote, "volunteer and surrogate speaker," unquote. There's also New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, who would bring a little Tabasco sauce to an otherwise fairly bland omelet.

Candidates usually name their running mates right around the conventions, but some think that Romney might jump early and name his number two before the Republican convention in Tampa in late August. It's a way to rev up the base, generates some buzz, increase media attention, and bring in those al important fundraiser dollars prior to earlier in the campaign.

Vice presidential candidates, sometimes, help win their home state. But others say the most important quality in a number two on the ticket is do no harm. See Sarah Palin, 2008.

Here's the question, how much does Mitt Romney's VP pick matter? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Joe.

JOHNS: You know, it seems like they only matter if there's a problem. Otherwise, they vote for the candidate, right? What do you think?

CAFFERTY: That's true. They vote for the number one. McCain reached out for Sarah Palin in 2008, exactly what you said, there was a problem. And they looked to the bold gesture, some dramatic breast stroke. Rather (ph) was bold and dramatic, but it kind of blew up in their hands.

JOHNS: Got it. Thanks so much, Jack. Be back at you.

Turning to today's dramatic ruling out of the Supreme Court. The justices and a 5-3 decision striking down most of the Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants while upholding one of the most controversial provisions, but what, if anything, will it mean in the battle for Latino votes on the campaign trail. CNN chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here with that part -- Jess.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Joe. Well, this is really a political victory for the White House, especially with the (INAUDIBLE) voters that the president's campaign is working overtime to energize.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Just before heading out for a day of campaigning, the president touted most of the Supreme Court's immigration ruling and called on Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, saying a patch work of state laws is not a solution.

But the president has not made immigration reform his top priority in office either. One reason the Obama campaign is working so hard to please frustrated Latino voters now.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are a nation of strivers and climbers and entrepreneurs. The hardest working people on earth. And nobody personifies these American values, these American traits, more than Latino community.

YELLIN: Recent polling shows 75 percent of Americans support the Arizona law. Still, the court's ruling overturning most of that law is largely being seen as a political win for the president. Why? Two reasons. First, the president has consistently opposed the law.

OBAMA: I think this puts American citizen who look Hispanic, are Hispanic, potentially in an unfair situation. I don't approve of the Arizona law. I think it's the wrong approach.

YELLIN: Second, his campaign believes turning out the Latino vote could make the difference in November, especially in four battleground states, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Florida, where there's a growing number of potential Latino voters. But many of the president's would-be Latino supporters are angry that he has not prioritized immigration reform until now.

The president just announced a new policy that certain kids brought here illegally by their parents are now safe from deportation for two years.

OBAMA: It is the right thing to do.

YELLIN: And with the Arizona ruling, the president can now tell Latino audiences he fought for them in the nation's highest court.

OBAMA: We said, yes, we can. We said (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (on-camera): Now, today, the president also expressed concern that one part of the law that the Supreme Court did leave standing could lead to civil rights violations. At the same time, he also emphasized that he is committed to tight border security, a careful balancing act for a very tricky political issue, Joe.

JOHNS: And you know, we're talking about this earlier today. When you look at Justice Scalia's dissent, you can really see how much worse it could have been for the Obama administration if they had the vote. So, that's really interesting. We now have on Thursday the healthcare vote coming up. What about that?

YELLIN: That's right. And, as you can imagine, the White House and the campaign bracing for that. If the individual mandate is struck down, that main component, some in the Obama world believe that other parts of the law could well stand like a popular provision allowing kids who are under 26 to stay on their parent's healthcare.

Well, you can expect that they are ready to make voters aware of those other popular parts of the law if they're still allowed to be on the books and get ready for the president to call on Republicans to explain their plans to get people health care if the law is struck down.

JOHNS: Jessica Yellin, always great reporting. Thanks so much.

A major recall after affecting some popular salads in a bag. Just ahead, we'll tell you what areas are affected and why there could be concerns about you getting sick.

Plus, is now the time to buy a new home? Details on a surprising report that's just been released.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Dole is voluntarily recalling more than 1,000 of these bagged salads. Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?

SYLVESTER: Hi there. Joe, the recall which covered six states was issued after a sample tested positive for listeria, an organism known to cause food bourn illness. It affects certain Kroger and Wal- Mart products with a used by date of June 19th. So far, no illnesses have been reported in association with this recall. And customers with concerns are asked to call Dole for more information.

And some positive signs in the housing market. The government reporting a 7.6 percent jump in new home sales last month. The hype was higher than economists were expecting, but not all of the numbers are good. Existing home sales for the same month stall dropping more than a percent.

And some frightening moments for this bear cub that managed to get trapped inside a garage. You can see it, scaling a bar, looking for a way out, then, it's mama bear to the rescue. Lifts the garage door up and with the help of a ladder, the cub is able to escape. I just love watching these pictures, Joe.

JOHNS: That's incredible. That's -- but you know what, the thing that bugs me about this is that camera looks like it's in the garage. And you know, I wouldn't want to be the person messing with mama bear.

SYLVESTER: I never even thought about that. You're right. Who is the one who actually shot --

JOHNS: Yes. Who shot that? SYLVESTER: I know. Anybody knows, you don't get between mama bear and her baby cub.

JOHNS: I know. It's unbelievable.

SYLVESTER: Some brave person. But great footage for our amusement.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks, Lisa.

Thousands of people evacuated as a new wildfire spreads in the Colorado Springs area. The mayor is standing by with new information about the danger and whether residents are getting out fast enough.

And, we'll get a personal account of what it's like to run for your life as flames race towards your home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Colorado's governor says about half of all the firefighter air crews in the country are in his state right now. Seven active fires are burning, tens of thousands of acres across Colorado. The newest one in and around Colorado Springs erupted over the weekend.

We're joined now by the mayor of Colorado Springs, Steve Bach.

Thanks for joining us, Steve -- mayor.

Can you give us any idea whether there's an update on the information about these fires and strength, and where they may be traveling?

MAYOR STEVE BACH, COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO: Well, we're into day three of the fire. It's a wild and fire ten miles west of Colorado Springs, up in the national forest, and we have a very strong wind blowing, unfortunately right now from the southeast to the northwest which is blowing the fire away from the city. Our police and fire departments are well organized. We have a lot of resources on the western limit of our city. So, we are very vigilant here. We've evacuated quite a few people as a precaution, but Colorado Springs is safe and open for business.

JOHNS: Have you been able to contain any fires so far?

BACH: As of now we still have, as far as I know, zero containment. This again is ten miles outside the city, up in the national forest. We now have federal and state resources here, incident demand personnel and C130 aircraft and other aircraft are fighting as far along with several hundred firefighters and that number is growing. So, we do not have containment yet. But we're having more and more resources applied to every hour here.

JOHNS: Mayor, I realize there's a big delay on our communications here on the satellite. So I hope everybody will bear with us. Can you give me a sense right now, if you know, about the speed these fires are traveling?

BACH: Well, this fire has several fronts and the cold heads to the fire. And it's had three heads at one time. And that continues to change as the winds shift and temperatures change. That's going back and forth. Right now the fire is moving southwest and northwest.

JOHNS: A lot of times in a situation like this, you run across people who for one reason or another, just don't feel comfortable about evacuating. Are people there obeying evacuation orders?

BACH: You know, this city is a very close nit community despite our large size. We've had practice evacuations, especially in the cedar heights area of our city, which is closest up the mountain to this fire. And we've had tremendous cooperation from the people being evacuated and thousands of citizens stepping forward to volunteer, giving money to the Red Cross and other organizations to help. So, this is a city that's really pouring together right now.

JOHNS: Colorado Springs mayor, Steve Bach, thanks so much for coming and giving us a little bit of time and update on the fires now.

Over in Ft. Collins in Northern Colorado, the state's largest fire is scorching right now. It's called high fort fire has charred more than 83,000 acres. It's destroyed 248 homes in the Ft. Collins area. That's more homes destroyed than any other fire in Colorado history.

We're joined on the phone by Jaime Astorga, a resident who was forced out of his home back when the fire erupted on June 9th.

Now, you've been out of your home for two weeks. What was going on your brain when you had to evacuate? And what's it like picking up and leaving your home and all your stuff and not knowing when and if you'll get back to it?

JAIME ASTORGA, EVACUATED FROM COLORADO WILDFIRE (via phone): Well, our family had developed a plan in the event of something like this occurring. We had a list of items we would to take with us in the event we had to evacuate in case of a fire. The list was basically a 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, one hour interval. The more time we had, the more opt to we have to take of our personal items.

The essential that we did is the very first thing we did is, you know, we gathered all of our genealogy for the family. We gathered our pictures of the family. We have them in boxes. We gathered our scriptures. We are basically able to gather some of the clothing. But it was a limited time of leave in there. And the smoke and the fire was coming right at us, so we wanted to make sure we could get out. We only had one exist at that time because had walk off the other exit. And so, obviously, it was coming upon us to get out there as soon as we could.

JOHNS: How did you find out if your home is still standing?

ASTORGA: Well, it was about three days after the fire. The fire started in the morning of June the 9th. And on Sunday we had seen images of the area, based upon helicopters flying over and taking the images. And we thought that at that point in time, we were OK. But in the following day on Monday, the 11th, we saw it again in the whole mountain was literally covered in red, meaning there is a fire had literally swept across the area.

And it was two days later on Wednesday that we went to a meeting of the people who lived in that subdivision, and there were 52 people in the meeting that we had in the community area. And at that time, what they said is we have a sheet of paper here with all the addresses. Would you like us to post it, or do you want us to read them? We said, go ahead and read them. The ones that reread are going to be the ones still standing.

Ours was the third house that was mentioned. And now, the 52 in our areas, 22 homes were not mentioned. That's about 40 percent ratio.

JOHNS: Incredible. And our prayers are with you. We hope you're OK. Please stay safe, and let's check back and see how things are going out there.

Jaime Astorga, thanks so much for coming in and talking to us on the telephone.

We want to go back now to Chad Myers in the weather center with some breaking news in the tropical weather we've been following.

Chad, what do you got?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Something we don't see often. It's called a flash flood emergency. You get flash flood warnings. We get flash flood watches. But this is the next step up, with texts in the warning that says this is an extremely dangerous situation.

Now, let me show you, there's the whole state of Florida, right through here. And there's been a flare-up of rain all day in one spot. Right near Appalachia Cola, and some spots now are estimating that that rainfall could be 15 inches deep with more rainfall coming. Because literally, Joe, it's still raining exactly where we're talking about. That right there is Tallahassee, Florida. That's where FSU would be as well.

So, here's the state of Florida all the way down to Miami and back. This is the area of concern. That's where the flash flood emergency is in effect right now.

Here's the deal if you live in the northern half of Florida. I really would recommend not driving at all tonight. Flash flood warnings are impossible to judge. You can't judge how deep the water is if you're trying to drive around after dark.

Get home and stay home if you're in the northern part of Florida. Something else that could happen when there's this much water on the ground in Florida, significant sink holes can happen at a moment's notice or literally at no notice. You may be driving along, all the sudden the ground below you doesn't exist as sink holes fall into the ground water -- Joe.

JOHNS: Fifteen inches. That's pretty incredible.

MYERS: In one day.

JOHNS: Wow. Thanks so much.

Worsening standoff between Syria and the international community. Up next, will the crisis over a downed fighter jet get NATO to act?

Plus, the Vatican goes to extraordinary unprecedented measures to battle in escalating scandal.

Ahead, the former FOX News correspondent the Pope has hired to be his guru.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The bitter standoff between Syria and the international community is worsening after Syria shot down one Turkish fighter jet and later fired on another. It's raising new questions about whether it's time now for NATO to act.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us from the Pentagon with the very latest.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, in fact NATO will meet tomorrow in Brussels to talk about all this. But will it be more than just talk?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Syria and Turkey started off searching together for the downed crew of the f-4 fighter jet turkey says was on the training mission.

But now it's been learned Syria shot unsuccessfully at a Turkish search plane, further inflaming tensions hours before NATO meeting on the crisis. Turkey claims the plane that was shot down left one of its air bases and briefly strayed into Syrian air space. The Syrians, Turkey says, shot it down without warning. Turkey also says it went down in international waters. Syria says it used the anti-aircraft guns in self defense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a violation of Syrian sovereignty.

STARR: The U.S. isn't buying it.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: It was just shot out of the sky and that obviously is not keeping with international norms and such incident.

STARR: NATO isn't likely to authorize military action even now.

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY GENERAL (RETIRED): So, NATO has not brought itself together to get involved in Syria. It's just too messy.

STARR: But if the U.S. military had to get involved, jets could quickly begin flying combat missions out of southern Europe. There are also U.S. was ships of Israel's Mediterranean coast. Their regular job is using defense to radar missiles to defend Israel from a potential air attack by Iran. They could be moved north in a matter of hours.

The Syrian regime is expected to maintain power. But the Obama administration believes there are growing cracks in Bashar Al-Assad's iron grip.

NULAND: There was dozens of Syrian military who defected to Turkey overnight with their families, that there are at least 38 soldiers including military officers. So this appears to be an increasing pace of these kinds of military folks, voting with their feet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now Turkey, of course, is a member of the NATO alliance so, in attacks against Turkey is an attack against NATO under the rules. But still don't expect to see NATO commit military forces to the Syrian crisis - Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks so much for that. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

The pope has a new adviser on scandal control. He is a former FOX News correspondent who is a member of a very controversial group in the Catholic Church.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: A major new attempt at damage control by the scandal- plagued Vatican. The pope's new communication director has surprising ties, including his work as correspondent for FOX News.

Our Lisa Sylvester is following that story -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is an interesting one, Joe.

Unlike most top Vatican officials, the new strategist is not a priest. They're bringing in an outsider for a powerful new behind the scenes post. But he is a member of the influential catholic group of opus Dei which could raise some eyebrows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice-over): In an unprecedented move the Pope has hired a new public relations guru from a most unlikely place. FOX News reporter Greg Burke who covers Rome is switching sides, becoming the Vatican senior adviser for communications.

Burke told us, his role will be to contribute an outsider's perspective to Vatican meetings, to shake strategies once decisions are made and to help the Vatican avoid some PR problems. Experts say he'll have his hands full.

DAVID GIBSON, RELIGION NEWS SERVICES: It's really the best move the Vatican has made in a long time. But whether it is going to be enough, I don't know. They have a lot of problems internally with their communications strategy and also presentation.

SYLVESTER: Unlike most top Vatican official, Burke is not a clergyman but he is a member of the influential conservative lay group known as opus Dei, depicted in Dan Brown's popular book in the movie the Da Vinci code, as a powerful and secretive group of fixers within the catholic church. Burke told us, he is a dedicated numerary (ph) in the organization, committed to staying celibate and unmarried. That's the big part of his life.

GIBSON: You have got the Vatican hiring a guy from Opus Dei, less than a week after the Pope's number two Cardinal Bertone said, look, the media is urn turning this all into a Dan Brown novel, all this leak scandal and everything.

Well, cardinal, if it's not a Dan Brown novel, you won't turn around and hired the guy from Opus Dei. How is that going to play out?

SYLVESTER: Gibson does say while Opus Dei is highly effective and influential in the Vatican, it's not a sinister organization like the popular depiction.

Burke will start the new job amid an unfolding Vatican scandal, involving the leak of internal document and the arrest of the Pope's butler. Also causing controversy, the recent crackdown on American nuns, the center of a nuns' writings said over the past few years, the pope's handling of the pedophilia scandal.

Burke says, he will not work from press office, but instead will be based on the powerful office of the secretary of state.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: The place for the ultimate insider, the powerbrokers and Hoovers and shakers are located. So, the fact that Burke is going to be working out of that space indicates they mean him to be a real insider, somebody who is going to be sitting at the table when the sausage is ground.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: It also represents another American in a Vatican inner circle that now has several -- Joe.

JOHNS: Lisa, thanks for that.

Time to check back with Jack Cafferty -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, the question this hour is how much does Mitt Romney's VP pick actually matter?

Anthony in Arizona says, "Romney's VP doesn't matter unless the pick is a disaster. In fact, Romney doesn't matter that much himself. People are either voting for or against Obama. I don't know anyone who is actually voting for Romney."

John in Connecticut writes. "The VP pick is very important. I consider is the first presidential decision the candidate makes. That was the problem with John McCain last time. He wanted a game-changer instead of a qualified person who could fill the office if need."

Larry in Kansas writes. "Mitt Romney does not have reality in his DNA. He constantly refuses to tell the American people what he really thinks. He needs a game-changer, arrogant, outspoken, say what you mean Chris Christie. He connects to the middle class. Christie would ignite the ticket like the fourth of July."

C writes from Louisiana. "It the matters a lot."

Shades of Sarah Palin. "I hope Romney chooses our governor Bobby Jindal. He's never here anyway. He demotes any members of the legislature who question his lame brain policies. Does anyone in the media do in-depth vetting of these people anymore? To hear the national media tell it Bobby Jindal is a rock star. Well, he's not. Please take Bobby Jindal."

Paul in Ontario writes. "I don't think Romney's VP choice matters much at all seeing that a recent poll gave Obama a double digit lead over Romney. He had to pick someone wildly popular. Too bad Justin Bieber is a Canadian."

And Ted writes. "Do you think Joe Biden got 95 percent of the black vote 3 1/2 years ago?"

If you want to read more about this subject, go to the blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on the SITUATION ROOM's facebook page.

Joe, I enjoyed sharing the SITUATION ROOM with you today.

JOHNS: Thanks, Jack. Always good to be here. Appreciate it.

Let's go back to Chad Myers now.

Chad, you were already telling us about the flash flood emergency but where is the storm headed?

MYERS: Well, it's headed very slowly Joe, that's the problem. And even by Wednesday, it's just coming onshore in the big bends area of Florida. A very slow-moving storm will spread very heavy rainfall eventually the next few days over Jacksonville, over Lake City, possibly as far as south as the villages with more rain coming in toward the Tampa area. And the storms that come in from this region, they actually could spin a little bit down here and there could be tornadoes down there in central Florida. There's even a tornado watch in effect right now.

But here's the rain. This is the tornado area here, the big red box. This big area that's red, that's the flash flood emergency area. And I can show you that on one more graphic. It is northern Florida, it just south of Tallahassee. The big red zone you see here Joe, between 10 and 15 inches of rain since midnight and it's still pouring - Joe.

JOHNS: Again, so do we have a real idea when all this is going to taper off?

MYERS: No, not really. With it lumbering at four or five miles an hour, this rain lasts a very long time in the spots it's already been raining. I know for a fact that by Thursday afternoon, the storm goes pretty much offshore east of Jacksonville. But by then, could you imagine we are talking three to five inches of rain per hour in some places like Jacksonville would get that type of rainfall, there would be more flooding in bigger cities, not just places like Tallahassee and St. Marks.

JOHNS: That's for sure. A lot of cities you just couldn't imagine that. I know, here in Washington, D.C. with the Potomac River and all, it would be a nightmare.

MYERS: When you have roads like that, roads don't let the ground soak in. The water just sits on top and runs off. That's why flash flooding is so very volatile in cities rather than in the country.

JOHNS: Ok, Chad. Thanks so much for that.

MYERS: You got it. All right.

JOHNS: Liftoff with engines is one thing but when it comes to human power, that's another. Just ahead, the race to build a successful human-powered helicopter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Here's a look at this hour's hot shots.

First in South Korea, marines jump out of a plane during a training operation.

And Kenya, a vendor else is second hand blue jeans at an open air market.

In Russia, tourists flock the banks of a river to watch a laser show.

And in England, tennis fans line up for tickets to Wimbledon.

Hot shots, pictures coming in from around the world.

It may not seem that hard to get a helicopter off the ground, but when you're the one generating the energy, it's a whole different story. Now, a group of engineering students is making it their mission and hoping to win some money in the process.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sure, liftoff is easy with engines. But the quest to build a human-powered helicopter is littered with letdowns.

Though this Japanese craft may not look like a helicopter -- and now Americans using rotors powered by pedaling have broken the world's record, a whopping 50 seconds.

Engineering students at the University of Maryland have been chasing the $250,000 see course ski prize for 3 1/2 years. It doesn't sound that hard to win the prize. The flight just has to last one minute can reach an altitude of ten feet. After all, Pippi Longstocking can do it with a plane chopper hybrid.

But for more than three decades no one's been able to win the see course ski prize offered by the American helicopter society. In 1989, California Polytechnic students were airborne for seven seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down, down.

MOOS: The Japanese made it to 19 seconds. And now the University of Maryland team got within ten seconds of the goal with Kyle Gluesenkamp in the cockpit.

KYLE GLUESENKAMP, PILOT: At the end of the flight, I was definitely burnt out.

MOOS: Pilots have to be light yet powerful. They use their arms and their legs. Kyle answered an ad he saw posted.

GLUESENKAMP: Are you strong but lightweight and do you want to break a world record?

MOOS: Now he's done that. But the 50-second flight only made it a foot and a half or so in altitude. Still Kyle says --

GLUESENKAMP: It feels like floating on air.

MOOS: Maybe it's not as dramatic as the flight of birdman a few months ago. He was an internet sensation. Until the Dutch filmmaker admitted flying by flapping his arms was all a hoax.

The University of Maryland team calls its craft Gamera two after the Japanese movie monster, a giant flying turtle. At least no one's had to duck from this Gamera.

GLUESENKAMP: So far no one's been hurt by it, so far.

MOOS: What do you want to be when you grow up?

GLUESENKAMP: World record holder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, baby.

MOOS: Jeanne moos, CNN. New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And that's it for me. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Joe Johns in Washington.

The news continues, next on CNN.