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Mysterious Odor Plagues New York; Bush to Announce Increase in Troops; Democrats Ready for Surge of Legislation; Nominations Announced for U.N. Representative, Iraq Ambassador

Aired January 08, 2007 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

A big odor in the Big Apple. What's causing all the stink? Is anyone in danger? CNN's Soledad O'Brien and Alina Cho report from the streets of New York.

PHILLIPS: A scientific breakthrough. Stem cells that can be harvested without destroying human embryos? Will this discovery help cure Parkinson's Disease or diabetes? The facts from the CNN NEWSROOM.

LEMON: And you can call it the wacky weather, and it continues. High winds out west. Higher winds, maybe a tornado in the southeast. Jacqui Jeras has it covered from the severe weather center.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: First this hour, the mysterious odor in New York City. Homeland security says no sign of terrorism, and the mayor says there's no indication the air is unsafe to breathe. But nobody can say what's causing that smell.

Standing by live with the latest, CNN's Soledad O'Brien at Madison Square Garden and Alina Cho at Columbus Circle.

Let's start with you, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kyra, thanks.

If there is anything to add to the mystery, is that there's still a mystery ongoing at this hour.

Now the smell has dissipated quite a bit. Earlier this morning around 8:30, 9 a.m. in the morning, you could smell it in our offices. Very, very strong, actually. But now you can hardly smell it at all.

The question, of course, is it a natural gas leak? And you talk to the folks at Con Ed. They say, no, it's not from all their tests. In fact, earlier today, we saw Con Ed workers. At one point there were 60 crews all around the city trying to figure out and measure what was happening with the natural gas lines. They turned up absolutely nothing. And keep in mind, this is a very big distance between mid-town and Battery Park City. I mean, you can estimate 60, 70 blocks could be affected by this, north to south. Thousands of people, it's reported, have called 911 and Con Ed, but, still, they have not been able to trace it, according to Con Ed at this hour, to any kind of gas leak.

Now, the fire department also out with their sensors this morning and, again, the fire department and the mobile unit's out, but no ability to track it down to one specific thing.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had this to say at a press briefing earlier today. Listen.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: What we do know is that we're investigating. And we don't believe there's been any injuries because of this. And we've had many calls to 911, much more than is typical for a Monday morning, but well within our capabilities of handling that.

Our police department and fire department, Office of Emergency Management, Department of Environmental Protection, Health Department, Coast Guard, Con Ed, are all working together to try to pinpoint the nature of the leak.


O'BRIEN: All working together and, yet, no indication at this point that there is even a leak.

In that press conference the mayor said that there was a small leak on 6th avenue, but, actually, Bleecker Street. Actually, ConEd said, "No, with all due respect, Mr. Mayor, there was not a small leak at all." There have been no leaks that they are reporting.

They also say there's been no pressure drop. If there was a massive leak -- and the smell was so strong you'd actually have to have a lot of gas to have the smell the gas that we smelled earlier this morning. They say no pressure dropped. That would certainly be indicated.

Also, they say all their sensors are showing no increased concentration of natural gas on those sensors. They say that's a blank, as well.

You know, something very interesting is what the mayor talked about in this press conference. Methyl mercaptan, that's an additive they add to natural gas to make it smell, smells like rotten cabbage. It's a natural substance, too, and it can occur in decaying material. So maybe there's not been a natural gas leak but there's been a mercaptan leak.

And right now there are some theories that either there is some kind of a leak of natural gas or mercaptan in New Jersey. We also talked to a chemical expert who said the amount of mercaptan that would have to leak is actually tiny because the whole point of mercaptan is to really smell very, very badly to warn people if there's a natural gas leak. So you'd need much less mercaptan. And he guessed that somewhere between six and eight SCUBA-sized tanks of mercaptan could produce a smell that could waft 70 blocks and last for 45 minutes to an hour.

So as the mayor said, they're still investigating. No clear indication of any leak. And as you can see from the commuters behind me, no one seems all that worried here on the streets of Manhattan right in front of Madison Square Garden -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Soledad, real quickly, so can mercaptan be harmful?

O'BRIEN: Well, he said yes and no. It's unclear. And it, of course, all depends on certain concentrations.

So what the chemical expert we spoke to said was this. What if people wanted to give the impression that there was a natural gas leak? Wouldn't that cause as much chaos as an actual natural gas leak? Maybe it was some kind of a hoax in a way. That was one of his dozens of theories that he was discussing.

Hard to say at this point because, of course, no one is really sure what it is.

PHILLIPS: All right. Soledad O'Brien, appreciate it. We'll keep in touch.

LEMON: And further north and further west of Manhattan is Columbus Circle, a big hub for commuters. CNN's Alina Cho is tracking it all from there for us -- Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don. Yes, I'm about 20 blocks north of where Soledad is. And as you know, it's right in the middle of lunchtime in New York City, and in classic New York form, people are taking this in stride. They're going about their business, walking around. And the taxis are very busy.

You know, quite a different story about 9 a.m. this morning, just four hours ago, and Soledad was talking a bit about this. Thousands of calls poured into 911 in New York City this morning. Much more than a typical Monday, but the mayor said nothing that they could not handle. Not characterizing it as widespread panic but, certainly, widespread concern.

People were reporting a mysterious odor and, certainly, it was pervasive. All over Manhattan from mid-town to Battery Park City, several blocks, dozens of blocks and even as far as Newark, New Jersey, people were reporting this mysterious odor.

The mayor, and I think this bears repeating -- the mayor says there is no cause for concern. They have conducted air quality tests, and they have determined that the air is not hazardous. All the while, they are still investigating the source of the leak and, for that matter, exactly what it is. As a precaution this morning, several buildings were evacuated. And we spoke to one man earlier this morning who recounted what happened in his building.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shortly after I got in, we could smell gas on the 28th floor and...

CHO: Were you concerned at that point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit. And then an announcer came on over the loud speaker and said that there was a gas leak and that 911 was called. So, then, pretty much the managers in my office were, like, let's all get out of here. So we all went downstairs, and then I left with some of my other co-workers just to get away from the building.


CHO: And, by the way, that man now has the day off. He's happy for that.

We spoke to another woman just a moment ago, a mother of a 3- year-old boy, who essentially told us she lives a block away from here and said she smelled something suspicious in her building earlier this morning. She was, of course, scared, but not overly so. She thought maybe it was just a gas leak. And, Don, she said it wasn't until she logged onto and saw the breaking news there that she found out what happened.

But a lot of people, I can tell you, may not even be aware of what happened this morning, because the rain and the wind certainly helped wash things away here in New York -- Don.

LEMON: And Alina, if you can't tune into CNN, of course, is an excellent choice for you.

And just Alina, real quick, as a crow flies, these areas are really, really close to each other. When you think about Manhattan, it's only 2.3 miles wide. So it's not -- it's not out of the ordinary for people to smell something on the lower part of the island, and than maybe smell it somewhere in mid-town, as well, because it's really not that big of a distance.

CHO: Well, no, but -- but I think it is significant that people here in mid-town and from river to river, all the way south to Battery Park City and as far away as Newark, New Jersey, smelled something mysterious.

Now it could be that they were -- they were separate incidents in all of these different places, but it doesn't appear to be so. The city certainly is looking into it and, of course, as soon as we get more information, Don, we're going to bring it to you.

LEMON: Absolutely. Alina Cho, reporting from Columbus Circle, thank you very much.

And we also want to update our viewers. You know, the president is planning to make some announcement about Iraq on Wednesday night, we believe. We are expecting to hear something possibly about that in the White House briefing that's expected to start in just a short while. We'll have that for you just as soon as it happens.

PHILLIPS: Thousands more troops, billions more dollars. A seemingly infinite amount of skepticism. President Bush's new plan for Iraq could generate all of it and he hasn't announced it yet. But we won't have to wait much longer for that.

Let's go to CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Hi, Jamie?


Well, you know, all the indications are that President Bush is going to go with the generals and outside advisers who tell him that victory is still possible in Iraq with a commitment of a significant number of additional troops. Again, sources telling CNN that number could be as many as 20,000 or more troops. We're talking about five combat Army brigades and possibly some Marine brigades, as well. Not all going in at once, but at least an initial surge of troops in January to try to reestablish security in Baghdad.

And what U.S. commanders are acknowledging, even as they're not talking about exactly what option the president is going to settle on, is that they've learned from the mistake of the past operation, Together Forward, which back last summer was supposed to reestablish control of Baghdad. It did not work.

And commanders now are saying they know why. There weren't enough Iraqi troops and too much focus on just the Sunni insurgents, not on the Shia death squads, as well. They're going to have a more balanced approach.

And in this time, we're told, that the U.S. troops will not just go in and clear the area for the Iraqis to patrol but will stay and provide security for the people to try to one last chance to get Baghdad under control.

That appears to be where the strategy is going, but, again, as you've said, the president will announce it Wednesday night. The next day, by the way, he takes off to meet with U.S. troops at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

And by the way, Kyra, the Pentagon is not calling this option a surge. You know what they're calling it?

PHILLIPS: What's the word?

MCINTYRE: The operative word now is a plus up. It's a plus up of troops, not a surge.

PHILLIPS: Did you look -- did you look that up in the dictionary? Is that an actual word?

MCINTYRE: I think what it means is we're going to see additional troops in Baghdad.

PHILLIPS: Jamie McIntyre, appreciate it. And the English lesson. Talk to you again.

We're waiting for a briefing from the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice right now. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it begins. As you know, there's been a lot of reshuffling among leaders from the U.N., all the way to the military circles. We've been talking about that as the president gets ready for that speech that Jamie was talking about on Wednesday, that new direction in Iraq. As soon as we get that live presser, we'll take it and announce all those final personnel changes.

LEMON: And here's something very interesting for you, a new source of stem cells? Well, scientists are excited about new ways of harvesting and repurposing the building blocks of life. But will it change the debate? That's ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: A whole lot of flaking going on in Colorado. But even in ski country, snow isn't always a good thing. The update on the conditions and what it's going to -- well, what it's going to look like, straight ahead.


LEMON: The so-called 100 hours by Democrats hasn't started yet. Now less than about 24 hours away. The clock starts tomorrow on the scheme by Democrats in Congress to quickly move legislation that's been on their wish list for years. I'm talking everything from minimum wage to stem cell research, all in 100 business hours.

CNN's Brianna Keilar joins me now from Washington to tell us. That's going to be pretty tough, but let's hope they can get it done.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, any vision of Congress burning the midnight oil, working for 100 hours straight, just put that out of your head.

Democrats have billed this as the first 100 hours, but as you said, it's business hours, 100 legislative hours, and they're spread out over six days. Actually, Congress has been in session since Thursday and, in fact, they've already passed legislation. So this is just a legislative blitz that they scheduled to begin tomorrow.

Well, here's what they're tackling. First up tomorrow, a measure to adopt some 9/11 Commission recommendations. Among those, funding to improve the communications system for first responders. And during 9/11 you may recall they had local, state and federal responders, and it was very difficult for them to communicate and know what other agencies were doing.

Also, improved aviation security: better bag screening, better passenger screening, and also improved inspection of cargo containers coming from the largest overseas ports here to the United States.

It's also interesting, though, what's not part of the bill. The 9/11 Commission listed as one of its most important recommendations that Congress strengthen and centralize its oversight of homeland security, and that is not one of the proposals Democrats have incorporated into this bill.

Of course, there will be five other topics on the agenda during this so-called first 100 hours. Two to watch, increasing the minimum wage. It's on the calendar for Wednesday and something the president has supported, has said he will support if it is offset by tax breaks for businesses.

And then, Thursday, funding for stem cell research. Very touchy subject. This is a retooled measure the president vetoed in July, his only veto since becoming president. And if it makes it through the Senate and goes to his desk, it's very possible, Don, it could be vetoed again.

LEMON: All right. Brianna Keilar, thank you so much for that.

PHILLIPS: We want to remind you that we're waiting for a briefing from the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it begins.

As you know, the president is getting ready to make a big speech this week. We'll be talking about that. We believe he'll be talking about his new strategy in Iraq, which might involve the upsurge in troops. Also, we'll be talking about a number of personnel changes that have been made from the U.N. all the way to the U.S. military.

A whole lot of flaking going on in Colorado, but even in ski country, snow isn't always a good thing. An update on conditions right now and what's to come. That's coming up in the NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Detroit, Michigan. Once again, the center of the auto world this week as the North American International Auto Show gets under way, and Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange to tell us about the hot prospects.

You know, I love being here in the CNN Center, bringing people their news, but the other place I'd really like to be right now is at that auto show, Susan.



LISOVICZ: We'd have a lot of fun there, wouldn't we? We had so much fun on Friday...


LISOVICZ: ... with that sneak peek of that concept car, the Chevy Camaro convertible. Well, we have some other cars that we're going to show you.

The Detroit automakers are hoping some new cars and features will boost sales. Among them, GM's new Chevrolet Volt, which is a four- passenger hybrid plug-in coupe. The main advantage in the Volt, its batteries can be charged from a standard household outlet. I wonder how that would work in my bathroom?

The car will also have a very small one-liter gasoline engine that can recharge the car if it runs low on juice while being driven.

Another vehicle getting lots of attention, the revamped version of the Chrysler Town and Country. The fifth generation of the popular Chrysler minivan has a boxier feel than previous versions.

It also has some interior features that include swiveling second row seats and a table that can be placed between the two back rows. Chrysler says it has tested the seats and table extensively to make sure they're safe.

So I guess you could have a whole big poker game going on or other things, I suppose. You could play Scrabble, whatever, read the paper while someone does the chauffeuring -- Don.

LEMON: Did you see that picture? I don't know if we could bring that back up. But you know what that reminds me of, Susan? It reminds me of the '80s when -- '70s and '80s when my family had that goodtime van.

LISOVICZ: Bring it up, there you go.

LEMON: Right. Well, listen, Susan, we're going to get back to you on this one. Very interesting, but we're going to take you now to a press conference. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is having a press conference now at the U.S. Department of State. And let's listen in to see what she's talking about.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... partners on the Security Council. We've passed important resolutions on two -- on major international challenges like the nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, the ongoing violence in Darfur and the extremist threat to a free Lebanon.

Much still remains to be done. We're eager also at the U.N. to advance U.N. reform. And we look to continue this important work under the leadership of the new U.N. general -- secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

This work is a tall order. It demands a skilled and experienced diplomat with proven ability to lead from principal, to build consensus and to get results. And few Americans have distinguished themselves in this regard as much as Zal.

As our ambassador to Iraq these past 18 months, a time of extraordinary change and extraordinary challenge, Zal has performed heroically and at great personal risk to help Iraqi reformers and responsible leaders build a foundation of democracy in their country. Prior to serving in Iraq, Zal played much the same role as our ambassador to Afghanistan, where he helped the people of his ancestral homeland to step out of the shadows of conflict and to begin building a new future of hope.

Zal has also held senior positions on the National Security Council, where, of course, he worked with me and where he gained my trust and confidence, as well as that of President Bush.

Following Zal is not an enviable task. But there are people who can do it, and there's one person who's especially qualified to do that and to lead that challenge and to lead our team in the embassy Baghdad, and that's Ryan Crocker, one of our most distinguished foreign service officers. So today, it is my pleasure to announce that President Bush intends to nominate Ryan to be our new ambassador to Iraq.

The next two years may well be the most significant ones in this mission so far. New challenges on the ground call for changes to our strategy. And in two days, President Bush will speak to the nation and announce a way forward to achieve success in Iraq.

There will be new leadership of both our military and our diplomatic efforts, and the man president Bush want to lead embassy Baghdad is Ryan Crocker.

Few diplomats have the kind of experience in the broader Middle East that Ryan has amassed in his three decades of service. He has held the position of ambassador four times: in Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, and most recently in Pakistan.

After the fall of the Taliban, Ryan was one of our first diplomats into Afghanistan, where he helped to reopen our embassy in Kabul. In Baghdad, Ryan rose to the same challenge and to others with equal success after the liberation of Iraq.

Ryan Crocker is known and respected throughout our government, throughout the Middle East and throughout the world. He knows the language and the culture of the region, as well as the regions and the societies that they lead.

He will work well and effectively with the leadership of our military, as he has done in Pakistan. He will work well with our coalition partners, and he will work well with the new Iraqi government.

Ryan will be a demanding boss in our embassy. You can be sure of that. But a fair and inspiring one.

If confirmed, Ryan and Zal will have two of the hardest and most consequential jobs in the world, but President Bush and I have the utmost confidence that they are more than equal to the challenges of their posts. They have our unwavering support for the difficult work that lies ahead. And President Bush looks forward to submitting their nominations and to early action on their confirmations.

Thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice live there from the State Department.

Real quickly, just to let you know as, of course, she and all of us within the media waiting for the president to make his speech this Wednesday on a new direction in Iraq. She's talking about two big changes there.

And that is the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Ryan Crocker, to fill the Baghdad post, which U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad once held. He is now going to be moved to the U.S. representative to the United Nations.

Our Liz Neisloss, who joins the U.N., joins us now live to tell us a little bit more about this change in direction.

We're seeing it not only on the political level, Liz, but also the military level, but we haven't had a chance to talk much about this aspect, the U.N. versus military, which dominated our headlines last week.

LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Kyra. And Secretary of State Rice just called the U.N. a tall order, and Khalilzad will have quite a bit of work ahead of him.

On his plate, he does have Iraq, as you mentioned. He has Darfur, and he also has Iran, the tough nuclear issue. Sanctions have been imposed on Iran. They still have to be worked out. And you still have an Iran that is not willing to give up its nuclear program.

And I spoke with the Iranian ambassador to the U.N., and he said it remains to be seen how this candidate, potentially new ambassador, will work out. He said it depends. It depends on whether he wants to deal with the realities or whether he wants to make a name for himself.

There is still a little bit of lingering hostility in Iran about the approach that Khalilzad took in Afghanistan in his poach -- his post there, dealing with the Taliban as perhaps a counterbalance to the Iranians. And the ambassador told me that Khalilzad never belonged to the school that believed in talking to Iran. He believed in talking to the Taliban, not to Iran.

So, a little bit less than enthusiastic response from a key ambassador, the Iranian ambassador.

Now one other point, Kyra. A lot of questions are being asked by the media about Khalilzad's religion. He is a Sunni Muslim. So that's perhaps unusual for an American diplomat, but here at the United Nations, diplomats are still cautious. He's an American diplomat. He'll be taking American instructions.

But South Africa's ambassador, who is now on the Security Council, was asked about whether his religion mattered. And his answer, I'm a Methodist. Does that matter -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: It seems like religion definitely matters in every aspect of what's taking place now overseas and definitely there at the U.N. Liz Neisloss, appreciate you monitoring that for us. Thanks.

LEMON: A new source of stem cells. That's the question. Scientists using a new source to get those building blocks, but will it change the ethical and political debate? Certainly a question. That's ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM."

Plus, here's a look at stocks today. The Dow is down roughly 5 percent there; the NASDAQ 12,382 and climbing. We're back in a moment in the CNN NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Hello, again, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

LEMON: And I'm Don Lemon.

Keep the stem cells, lose the controversy over destroying embryos. We've got details of a promising new breakthrough. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Amniotic stem cells the next big thing? They're more plentiful than the embryonic kind, but do they hold as much promise to curing some of the most dreaded diseases and conditions? And that's a question we posed to our very own medical correspondents here.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen, can you help us dig through all of this stuff?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, this stuff gets very confusing, because there are so many different places now to find stem cells.

Well, what researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard have discovered, is that you don't have to kill an embryo to get stem cells that are pretty similar to embryonic stem cells. So where are they getting these stem cells? from amniotic fluid. Any pregnant woman who's had an amniocentesis knows how you get that. A needle is stuck in a mother's stomach, amniotic fluid is extracted. Mothers have this done all the time as part of their pregnancy. I've had them. Many women have had them. And so the thinking is, what would happen if we just took some of that fluid and took out the stem cells?

Well, the great thing, of course, is you avoid that ethical dilemma, are the stem cells as good? Only time will tell. But early signs are good actually that the stem cells are of a good quality.

LEMON: Yes, you can bet. Correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of people are interested in this.

COHEN: Oh, yes.

LEMON: So when -- it's just research now -- when will we see the fruits of, or if, are we are going to soon see the fruits of this research?

COHEN: No, we never know if we are actually going to actually see the fruits, because this is such in the infant stages. Who knows exactly when, but it will be years before embryonic stem cells or amniotic stem cells help a sick person.

These kinds of stem cells never helped a sick person ever. They have helped a lot of sick mice, but they haven't helped people. So again, we're talking years. The researchers says, though, he thinks it will be less than an a decade.

LEMON: OK, less than a decade.

COHEN: But I must say, we have heard that before, so don't hold your breath.

LEMON: This is going to affect the political debate, I'm sure.

COHEN: It will affect the political debate, because people who don't want more funding for these embryonic stem cells, will say, look, why should we hold money on stem cells when you have to destroy an embryo when there are other ways of doing it. They've said it before. That's what President Bush said when he vetoed legislation for more money for embryonic stem cells.

Well, the Democrats are planning this week to get more funding for embryonic stem cells. They say, why not pursue both kinds. Both kinds look promising. Why not pursue every kind of stem cell research. And so they're going to put that before President Bush, and we'll see if he vetoes it again.

LEMON: Yes, it's part of the 100 hours, according to Brianna Keiler, stem cell research.

COHEN: That's right, a big priority for them.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Elizabeth Cohen.

COHEN: Thanks.

PHILLIPS: Colorado just can't get a break. High winds and blowing snow closing more roads today in the Boulder area. Avalanches over the weekend swept more cars off another highway just west of Denver, forcing dramatic rescues. A state of emergency exists in 13 counties, we're told.

Rob Marciano is in Berthoud Pass.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): The Rocky Mountains in winter. Paradise for powder hounds and back country skiers. But after three huge storms in the last two weeks, avalanches can quickly make that paradise a living hell.

A 15-foot-high wave of snow crashed down Berthoud Pass sweeping this car off a cliff Saturday. This van took the same ride, but remains hundreds of feet down the ravine. Miraculously no one was killed. But it's a sobering reminder to those heading up the hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see the signs on the highway, on the way up. No stopping, avalanche danger, and that slide happened between two of those signs.

MARCIANO: Fresh snow, a tight chute, and steep incline make it pretty easy to determine where an avalanche will occur. They typically happen in the same place over and over. Trying to forecast when a slide will happen, is difficult business.

Stuart Schaefer is an avalanche forecaster. He tells highway crews and ski patrollers where the most dangerous spots are likely to be. There's lots of variables.

STUART SCHAEFER, AVALANCHE FORECASTER: Wind direction, winds can put snow in places where it's not easily detectable. The steepness of the slope, it's direction relative to an incoming storm, it will load -- one slope will load differently say as the wind is coming from the east as to a slope, where the wind is coming from the north. Some slopes will load out of a wide variety of wind conditions. Other slopes will load only out of a narrow range of wind conditions.

(on camera): What was the main reason for that slide over at Berthoud Pass?

SCHAEFER: No one knows yet, to tell you the truth. I'm not sure we're going to find out very fast.

MARCIANO (voice over): Schaefer himself has been caught in an avalanche or two.

(On camera): What did that feel like?

SCHAEFER: It felt very frightening, and, fortunately, I managed to extricate myself from one, and run out of the way of the other one.

MARCIANO: What kind of advice would you give -- do you give, to people who go play in the back country?

SCHAEFER: Know the slope you are skiing. Get a good forecast in the morning before you go out there. Don't just assume that because you have been on this slope before, you won't slide. Always understand that when you are dealing with avalanche-prone snow, no matter how sure you think you are, you are taking a risk.

MARCIANO: A risk many feel is worth taking. Rob Marciano, CNN, Berthoud Pass, Colorado.



PHILLIPS: Well speaking of New York, sign of scary times today. What might have been another inconvenience before 9/11, gave the city a case of the chills. Hours later still it's unclear what is causing a weird smell that's settled over part of the city.

For the latest on that we go to CNN's Soledad O'Brien. Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Kyra. You're right, it was just weird. I mean it was really a strong smell and it was just strange. And, as you mentioned, it is still a mystery here.

The smell is gone, although it was really strong around 8:30. Official reports started coming into the fire department though at 9:00 in the morning.

And what they did was to shut down the subway at 23rd Street, so about eight blocks south of where I am and also the PATH train as well, which is a train system that takes folks from New Jersey to New York and back. So that was shut down briefly.

Now Con Ed crews, 60 at one point, were checking around the city and they had gotten thousands of calls to 911 and into Con Ed and then the fire department was also out with sensors trying to measure natural gas concentrations, but everything turned up empty.

Here's what Mayor Mike Bloomberg had to say at a press briefing earlier today.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: So far the city, the city's air sensors. We have multiple of these located around the city, do not report any elevated level of natural gas. There are no unusual levels. They there have been some precautions that have been taking place. The MTA, for awhile, closed the 23rd Street station, but they've reopened that.


O'BRIEN: And so, the levels, not recording any higher concentration of natural gas, also the pressure remain the same, an indication that there wasn't some major gas leak. Mayor Bloomberg though mentioned something very interesting -- he spoke about methyl mercaptan and that's that additive that they put in natural gas, kind of smells like rotten cabbage.

You know, natural gas actually has no odor so it's the thing you sniff when you have a gas leak. That's the whole point, of course, that it smells before there is a serious gas leak.

There are winds coming from the west, we talked to Jacqui Jeras a little earlier this morning and that could point the finger to a leak maybe in New Jersey. Plants there. Some of them add the methyl mercaptan into natural gas and if one had a natural gas release that actually could have explain how it wafted over to the city. That could explain the smell we had here.

Much less likely we're told by chemical experts that it was a hoax. A tiny amount of this methyl mercaptan you could smell it and so you could make it quite easily, very accessible ingredients. So, that's not very likely.

So, the bottom line is that it should be traceable, OSHA and EPA all have regulations. You have to report it when you have a natural gas release. So, we're expecting at some point to be able to figure out what exactly happened, but as it stands right now, nobody looks too worried today -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: OK, Soledad O'Brien, thank you so much. We'll stay on top of it.

LEMON: The fast, the furious, and the fuel efficient. All on display at the Auto Show in Detroit and our Ali Velshi, lucky guy, has an inside track.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ten years ago when this came out, the Toyota Prius, it was the future of the car industry. Not everybody has picked up on it, but now with gas prices the way they are, is this really the future? Or is it just a new beginning? I'll tell you about fuel efficiency when we come back in the NEWSROOM.



PHILLIPS: This just into CNN, he admitted knowing three of the 9/11 hijackers and being trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. CNN has just learned that today he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

We're talking about Mounir al-Motassadeq, who was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of the passengers and crew of the four planes used in the 9/11 attacks.

The Moroccan denies knowing about anything about plans to attack the U.S. And in 2005, a lower court acquitted him of direct involvement in those attacks, but was overruled by the appellate court.

LEMON: You can score one or make that two for American automakers. Saturn's Aura wins car of the year at the Auto Sow in Detroit. Truck of the year goes to Chevy Silverado. Both are from General Motors, which generally has had a disastrous couple of years.

CNN's Ali Velshi is in Detroit with a look at another big winner at this year's Auto Show -- fuel efficiency.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Toyota understands that Americans like their rough and tumble cars. This is the rugged F-J. But what this company understood maybe before other automakers did is that with gas prices doing what they've been doing in the last year -- fuel efficiency might actually be the way of the future.

(voice-over): Carlos Ghosn doesn't run Toyota, but he does run a car company. Actually, he runs a couple of car companies, Nissan and (INAUDIBLE) and by almost every measure, he runs them well.

Ghosn arranged for me to test drive Nissan's brand new hybrid electric Altima on the streets of Detroit.

CARLOS GHOSN, NISSAN CEO: You drive or I drive?

VELSHI (on camera): You tell me, it's your car.

(voice-over): He rode shotgun.

GHOSN: The more you use a car and the more the fuel price goes up, the more you're going to be likely to save money by buying a hybrid car.

VELSHI: But more than fuel efficiency, car buyers are crying out for competitive and stylish vehicles. General Motors chief Rick Wagoner knows that. Most industry watchers think Toyota is about to steal GM's title as the world's biggest automaker.

(on camera): Nine out of ten people who know the auto industry well have suggested that Toyota will be the number one car maker. I think the one was you, who said that's not likely to be true.

RICK WAGONER, CEO GENERAL MOTORS: What I said is that we don't plan to give that up without a fight.

VELSHI (voice-over): That fight includes a big push on the fuel efficiency front. A collection of cars which average more than 30 miles per gallon and the largest selection of vehicles which can run on ethanol, fuel made from corn, not crude oil. But Nissan's Ghosn thinks ethanol may turn out to be too expensive for the U.S.

GHOSN: What is the cost of transformation of corn into ethanol and the cost of distribution of ethanol. If this cost is competitive, it is going to be massively adopted. If it is not, it's going to remain marginal in the U.S. market.

VELSHI: So, if not ethanol, then what? Hybrids? Plug-in electric cars or something else.

GHOSN: It may happen that the U.S. will adopt one particular technology and Europe will remain with another technology. Japan or Asian country will go for a third technology.

VELSHI: One of those technologies may be zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell powered cars, but "Consumer Reports" Michael Quincy says while hydrogen is cheap and plentiful, it's a long way from being practical.

MICHAEL QUINCY, CONSUMER REPORTS: There's an infrastructure built in the United States where every corner there is a hydrogen filling station like there's a gasoline-filling station.

VELSHI: And until that infrastructure gets built, if it gets built, only demand will push the automakers to go green faster. (on camera): All right, before we get too carried away with this whole green revolution thing, let me give you a quick reality check. For the last 30 years, this series of truck, the Ford F Series has been the biggest selling vehicle in the United States. So, Americans might not be ready to put their money where their mouth is just yet where it comes to fuel efficiency.


PHILLIPS: Got to love our Ali Velshi.

Well what is killing the birds in Austin, Texas? Dozens are dead and downtown shuts down. The CDC is on it and so are we. We'll have the latest details straight ahead.


LEMON: An update now on the smell of gas in New York City. Let's send it over to our T.J. Holmes working the details in the NEWSROOM. T.J., what can you tell us?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we've got an update here, Don, but we still don't have an answer I guess that everybody's looking for. Of course, the word is there has been this nasty smell we've been covering all day. People trying to figure out exactly what it is, but word is now we have two people hospitalized.

This is in the New Jersey area. We understand that these two people have been hospitalized, but up to this point, it had just been annoying to a lot of folk. It just smelled bad. We've got officials coming out and telling us there's nothing to worry about, there's no problem here, it's not hazardous to your health, it's nothing toxic there, saying everything is all right, it just smells bad.

But at least now we know that two people have been hospitalized affected in a more serious way now, hospitalized for shortness of breath. Again, we are going to continue to keep an eye on this, of course, and, again, we are getting conflicting reports about whether it is or is not a gas leak, where the gas leak may be.

So, we're going to keep an eye on it. But at least right now we know two people affected in a more serious way than just having to deal with a nasty smell. Two people hospitalized for shortness of breath. So we'll keep an eye on it and any more hospitalizations, any other people getting sick or anything like that. So we'll be on this one all day.

LEMON: All right, two people in the hospital, but we still don't know what it is.

HOLMES: Don't know what it is. What in the world it is? Big mystery now.

LEMON: Hope they'll figure it out. Thank you very much, T.J.

PHILLIPS: All charges dropped against three Middle Eastern men caught up in a security scare in Miami. Authorities initially said that the men had tried to slip through the city's international port in an 18-wheeler. They later said it was a case of miscommunication. They still charged one man with resisting an officer and the other two were trespassing. The charges were dismissed by a judge. While the case raised concern of a terrorist threat just weeks before Miami hosts the Super Bowl. The truck was searched by a bomb squad and the men were questioned for hours by the FBI.

As New Yorkers grapple with that mysterious odor, a fowl phenomenon it is also gripping Austin, Texas. Parts of downtown were shut down early today after dozens of birds were found dead in the streets. Pigeons, graffles (ph) and sparrows started dropping overnight on a route through the heart of the Texas capital. Authorities say preliminary tests for dangerous chemicals have turned up negative, same for bird flu.


ADOLFO VALADEZ, AUSTIN DEPARTMENT OF HHS: We do not think this is avian influenza. I wanted to be clear on my part on that, because we want to be thorough and test everything.


PHILLIPS: And we're actually going to talk more with Dr. Adolfo. What was his last name again?

LEMON: Valadez.

PHILLIPS: Valadez, Valadez. We will talk more, just getting word, we're going to get him on the line and talk more about what happened in that news conference and what might be affecting the death of those birds. Stay with us. More in the NEWSROOM, straight ahead.