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Train Explosion in New York; Orange County Blaze; Kidnapped Baby Found; Cheney's Influence

Aired March 12, 2007 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
I'm Tony Harris.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Heidi Collins. Good morning, everybody.

For the next three hours, watch events come into the NEWSROOM live on Monday, March 12th.

Here is what's on the rundown.

Fire on the doorstep. Southern Californians fight back walls of flames. The situation this hour in a live report.

HARRIS: A woman in custody, a baby safe, a kidnapping suspect in court today. Police say she disguised herself in hospital scrubs to grab a newborn.

COLLINS: A strong conservative attracting liberals. Senator Chuck Hagel may announce his presidential plans in two hours. Antiwar candidate in the NEWSROOM.

Want to get directly to this story coming to us out of New York, specifically Oneida, New York. Look at this map now.

We are telling you about a train explosion. CNN has confirmed 80 cars carrying propane exploded. Right now, we know that 12 are burning. Look at these pictures that we received from Barbara Williams.

We want to go directly to her and find out what she knows about this.

Barbara, can you hear me?


COLLINS: Tell me what you know as far as what happened.

Right around 6:55, 7:00 this morning, there was a huge bang outside of our House, and the whole house shook. And my husband came out of the bathroom because he saw a light from the window, and he opened our blinds and there was just this huge wall of flames shooting up from right near our house. It was about three miles away. And we didn't know what was happening. We weren't sure if it was a train or a plane or what was going on.

And from what I've heard from the local radio station lately, is that there was 20 to 25 tanker cars filled with propane that derailed, and now they're worried about the other tanker cars that are attached to it...


WILLIAMS: ... possibly catching on fire, so they're trying to get that straightened out.

COLLINS: Yes. Exactly, Barbara. You said you live three miles away. We do know that already authorities have evacuated several residents from...

WILLIAMS: Yes. About a mile around it they've evacuated and they've closed two of the local elementary schools.

COLLINS: Wow. OK. This is according to the fire department there in Oneida, Lieutenant Kevin Salerno.

And that is the big danger as we talk about this story and what Barbara is mentioning here, how many more of these cars. Apparently there are 80 cars, 12 that we know of that are burning right now. There is a possibility, of course, in a situation where you're talking about propane, the danger of further explosions.

What's the situation now? Are you still in your home, Barbara? Can you look outside?

WILLIAMS: I'm still in my home, and I can still see it's still -- there's still a lot of smoke. There's a big column of smoke. And the whole horizon behind it is just gray smoke clouds. So, it's still -- there's still burning going on over there.

COLLINS: All right. Well, we are going to continue to watch this situation and make sure that we keep everyone on top of it.

Once again, information coming out of Oneida, New York, which is a central New York community. About 7:00 this morning, a huge explosion, 80 cars. Twelve of them burning, most of them filled with propane, so we continue to watch and make sure that none of them go up in flames after what we already know so far this morning.

We'll stay on top of it for you.

Barbara Williams, thank you.

HARRIS: And Heidi, let's take everyone to Montgomery County, Maryland, now. As you know, that is a suburb just outside -- a Maryland suburb just outside of Washington, D.C., for what we are being told is an accident involving two city transit buses, two municipal buses involved in an accident. What you're seeing right now, some of the fire personnel on the scene right now. But also, you're seeing the traffic backup. And if you know anything about that area surrounding Washington, D.C., some of those Maryland suburbs, you know that there was a lot of congestion in that area this time of the morning, and that this accident that you're getting a better look at right now is going to cause some traffic problems for some time to come.

But a better look at the scene right now, pictures courtesy of our affiliate there in Washington, D.C., WUSA, of an accident involving two municipal buses. This is Montgomery County, Maryland. We understand that there are several injuries reported connected to this accident that you're looking at right now.

We'll keep an eye on it for you.

A blazing brushfire on the move near Los Angeles, and right now an all-out effort to stop it. Hundreds of firefighters, plus helicopters and bulldozers, are on the front lines, and they're gaining some traction, we understand.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is with us now from Irvine.

Thelma, good morning.


Well, the big break came overnight. Humidity was up, the winds were down.

Now, we had told you that 1,200 or so residents were evacuated from their houses in the Anaheim Hills, also from the town of Orange. This morning, most of those people are back home again, and we are told that no homes are currently being threatened. Residents are breathing a big sigh of relief because those flames came dangerously close yesterday.


GUTIERREZ (voice over): Sunday afternoon, flames rage through tinder-dry brush, up steep hillsides, toward homes in the Anaheim Hills, charring more than 2,000 acres. It was a fast-moving blaze fueled by high winds and intense heat, with temperatures spiking up to the mid 90s, and 800 firefighters rushed to the scene. Police raced through neighborhoods, telling residents to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was 12:30, 12:45, and they went door to door, the Anaheim Police.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): At that point, what did you grab?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dog. And not too much else.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And some wedding pictures of my parents.

GUTIERREZ (voice over): Firefighters launched an aggressive air attack. One after another, helicopters dipped into a nearby reservoir. They filled huge buckets and flew over the hot spots to make their drops.

By sundown, the winds had died down and temperatures had fallen. The fire was 30 percent contained. Two homes were damaged, but residents were relieved and grateful none were lost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, they've been doing a great job. At one time they had four helicopters flying around and, frankly, they've been doing a marvelous job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the rainfall that we've had, you know, this is probably a precursor to what we can expect through late spring and early summer.


GUTIERREZ: Now, the residents that we talked to say they are very concerned because they don't remember a time when fire season started in March, when it started so very early -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes. Hey, Thelma, we understand that firefighters are setting backfires, but give us a real sense of where we are with this fire. Is it essentially under control?

GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, the official word is that it is 30 percent contained, Tony. They are establishing a perimeter around that fire.

The winds have died down. And they say that they are very optimistic they're going to be able to have full containment by later today. They are saying that things are looking awfully good right now. Let's hope it stays that way.

HARRIS: Yes. As Chad Myers often tells us, when the winds die down, the firefighters win.

Thelma Gutierrez for us in Irvine.

Thelma, thank you.

COLLINS: Want to bring you back to the story that we've been following straight off the top this morning, an explosion in New York of a train carrying several cars of propane. CNN has confirmed about 80 cars in all of that. And I believe this is an area in central New York called Oneida, about a half an hour east of Syracuse.

Let's go ahead and bring on Lieutenant Kevin Salerno. He's with the Oneida Fire Department, to tell us what the situation is now.

Lieutenant, can you hear me?


COLLINS: What is the latest? What can you say about what's going on out there now?

SALERNO: Right now we're still in the process of evacuating, and we're trying to get to the area. The derailment is in a wooded area just to the outskirts of the city. To my knowledge, it's like an 80- car train. I believe 20-some-odd have derailed. I believe (INAUDIBLE).

COLLINS: Has anything like this ever happened before, Lieutenant Salerno, in your area?


COLLINS: And so, what is being done? You have, I imagine, just a whole slew of people out there fighting these flames.

SALERNO: Well, we have our whole department, numerous (INAUDIBLE) departments. We have a specialized hazmat team, as well as the train -- railroad company.

COLLINS: And as you mentioned, I know that you've evacuated about a one-mile radius area. What are we talking about by way of population here?

SALERNO: Because it is in a rural area, it's probably not that significant until you get to the outskirts of the one-mile area. I couldn't give you some exact numbers of how many. I mean, we had to evacuate a couple schools because they did fall within a one-mile radius.

COLLINS: Certainly. And last question for you. Any idea, are you getting any reports from scene about the other cars that are not on fire at this point? What's the potential danger here of more explosions?

SALERNO: That I don't know. I haven't heard from the scene. They're trying to separate everything now the best they can.

COLLINS: Yes, understood. Well, we will touch base with you. Appreciate you coming on. I know it's a busy time for you.

SALERNO: No problem.

COLLINS: And try and stay on top of this.

In fact, now, Lieutenant Salerno, we do have some pictures coming in from our affiliate there in New York, WSYR. Again, this is Oneida, New York, a central New York community about a half hour east of Syracuse where this train has derailed.

You see a thick, thick cloud of black smoke there, propane smoke. It looks like -- I see a tiny bit of flames still going in the very, very back portion of -- at least the picture of the cars that we have there. About 80 cars, we are told, 12 of them burning. Hopefully, they are having some luck in extinguishing those flames. But a pretty tenuous situation when you look at this, and the cargo inside, of course. Folks have been evacuated in a one-mile radius, a couple of elementary schools shut down.

We will continue to follow this one, of course, and let you know if there are any developments.

HARRIS: A morning of big developments in that case of a kidnapped newborn found safe and sound this weekend. First, we will hear from the hospital. How did someone pose as a worker to whisk the child away? Then, a court hearing for the 21-year-old suspect.

The basics of the case now from CNN's Keith Oppenheim.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): On Saturday morning at 1:00 a.m., Mychael Dawodu was just 3 days old. But just as her third day of life started, young Mychael became a kidnap victim.

LT. SCOTT HUDGENS, LUBBOCK POLICE: A female posing as a hospital employee went into the hospital room, told the family that they need to take the baby for some tests, and then -- and then left the room.

OPPENHEIM: Before the suspect was caught, she was caught on tape. Surveillance cameras at Covenant Medical Center captured what appears to be an African-American woman in her 20s walking in the hospital. There was tape of her before the abduction and later, leaving, wearing a puffy coat, and carrying a handbag. Hospital officials said she was not an employee but posed as one, dressed in nurse's scrubs, taking advantage of a hospital open to the public.

GWEN STAFFORD, COVENANT MEDICAL CENTER: This individual was pretty sophisticated, or at least knowledgeable of what happens in healthcare institutions.

OPPENHEIM: Lubbock police got more than 200 tips. Then, at midnight Saturday, a caller said the suspect and baby Mychael were spotted at about 100 miles away in Clovis, New Mexico.

HUDGENS: Clovis PD located the baby, Mychael, at a residence there in Clovis in the company of an adult female.

OPPENHEIM: Police would not release the suspect's name, but when CNN called the Curry County Detention Center in New Mexico about inmates who were recently booked, we were told 21-year-old Rayshaun Parson is being held as fugitive of justice from Lubbock County, Texas, for kidnapping.

For the record, baby Mychael's ordeal lasted for 26 hours. She was jaundiced and needed medical attention.

Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Lubbock, Texas.


HARRIS: President Bush facing another day of tough crowds in Latin America. The president in Guatemala this morning, the latest stop in his five-nation tour of the region. The official welcome mat is out, of course, but protesters have been out in full force as well.

CNN's Elaine Quijano traveling with the president. She joins us now from Guatemala City.

Elaine, good to see you.

What is the purpose, share with us, of this particular visit?


The president's message here today in Guatemala is once more that America cares, but also specifically that the people of this country are starting to reap the benefits of free trade.

Now, the president, throughout his Latin America tour, has been trying to shore up U.S. allies in this region amid the widespread perception, experts say, that the Bush administration has largely neglected Latin America since September 11th. Well, today the president will push back once more against that notion. He's going to be visiting a farm cooperative to try to make the case that CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, is helping to improve the lives of this nation's poor.

Now, his tour of the region, though, has been marked by protests, as you noted. Yesterday, in fact, in Bogota, Colombia, we saw this, a relatively small protest, about 1,500 people in a city of seven million people. But some of those demonstrators, as you can see here, did, in fact, turn violent.

Now, overall, authorities in Colombia took extraordinary security precautions for that visit. Even at the outset, just before the president motorcaded to the national palace for his meeting with the Colombian president, officials used a decoy motorcade ahead of him. And throughout Bogota itself there were some 20,000 police and military personnel involved in the operation to secure that city for the president's visit, which lasted just about seven hours.

Now, in Guatemala today, interesting to note, an unusual protest in a sign of the president's unpopularity here in Guatemala. Specifically, Mayan leaders are planning to spiritually cleanse the ancient Mayan ruins that the president is going to visit after he is done with that visit later today.

Tony, certainly here in Guatemala it is not the kind of reception that they wanted to see, but the White House has been relatively muted in its response to some of these demonstrations, saying essentially that it is good in these democratic countries that people do feel comfortable enough to speak up and voice their opinion -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well, Elaine, let me gauge some White House reaction from you, with you, on another topic. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, is somewhat shadowing the president's tour. What's the White House reaction to that?

QUIJANO: Well, you know, it's interesting. Hugo Chavez has, in fact, been on a kind of Latin American tour of his own, shadowing President Bush. He was in Bolivia yesterday at protests there. And he's due to be back in Venezuela later today.

The White House has been very careful not to elevate Chavez in any way, shape, or form by responding to some of his fiery rhetoric. In fact, President Bush himself was asked about a Chavez comment over the weekend that perhaps he was afraid to say Chavez's name. President Bush didn't take the bait, didn't mention Chavez's name, but indirectly tried to draw a contrast, saying that the U.S. and his administration's approach to diplomacy in this region is quiet and effective -- Tony.

HARRIS: Elaine Quijano traveling with the president in Guatemala City.

Thank you, Elaine.

COLLINS: He's an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. Now Republican Senator Chuck Hagel may be ready to try out for the role of commander in chief. That's coming up in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: He's been a U.S. senator and an actor.


FRED THOMPSON, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: I think the American people are deciding what they want. I think they're looking for maybe something a little different in politics.


HARRIS: Will Fred Thompson pull a Ronald Reagan? That's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: The sweet bayous of Louisiana.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to live a dream. That was a dream, to live on the water.


COLLINS: A dream that turned dark for one boater. Surviving against all odds, ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And once again, we continue to follow this story out of Oneida, New York, not far from Syracuse. Fire officials are evacuating residents in Oneida after an explosion set fire to several freight train tanker cars. The cars carrying propane.

We will keep an eye on this for you in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Will he or won't he? Republican senator and antiwar maverick Chuck Hagel expected to announce his political plans this morning. Speculation is that the Nebraska senator will take a leap into the very crowded presidential race.

CNN congressional Correspondent Dana Bash reports.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Nebraska is conservative country -- a state that re-elected President Bush with two-thirds of the vote, one of the highest margins in the nation. Yet, these days loyal Nebraska Republicans are represented by perhaps the most vocal GOP opponent of the Iraq war and the president.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: After almost four years of a rather significant presence in Iraq and many, many American casualties and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, things are getting worse, not better.

BASH: Chuck Hagel even suggested to "Esquire" magazine this month the president could be impeached for Iraq blunders.

REP. LEE TERRY (R), NEBRASKA: Well, to be perfectly blunt, it hasn't been received well, especially within the base of the Republican voters.

BASH: Republican Congressman Lee Terry hears constant complaints about Hagel from conservative constituents.

TERRY: Some of the people that talk to me, they're pretty passionate and they're pretty angry. And I don't know how Chuck will soothe that.

BASH: But are conservatives angry enough to hurt his chances of winning the Republican nomination? Maybe not, says a GOP strategist who twice helped elect President Bush.

MATTHEW DOWD, GOP STRATEGIST: There's about a third or more of people in Nevada that are going to vote in the Republican primary who disapprove of the president on the war and are against the war. And so there's definitely a place from a political perspective for a candidate like Chuck Hagel to run from.

BASH: Hagel's own war experience as a decorated Vietnam veteran may give him added credibility. He was there on the front lines and says he fought in the same kind of war currently being mismanaged in Iraq.

HAGEL: And we better be sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COLLINS: Dana Bash joining us now live from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Dana, what's the latest now on what you expect to hear from Senator Hagel?

BASH: Well, Senator Hagel and his aides are still being very tightlipped, not saying anything beyond that he's going to announce his "future plans." But look behind me, you can see the setup here.

It's pretty basic. Not a rally setup, it doesn't look like it's going to be kind of a rah-rah, we're jumping into the race. What we do expect to hear from Senator Hagel, according to a couple of Republican sources who have been talking to associates of his, I should say, that he is going to make clear that he is going to take initial steps, at least, towards running for president.

We know, Heidi, that later this week he has already accepted an invitation at a candidate's forum, Republicans and Democrats. The only ones who are going to be there are going to be those running for president. That is a strong indication.

We may get a sense also of what he plans to do in the Senate. Senator Hagel is up for re-election next year in 2008. And a long time ago, when he first ran, he said that he would only serve 12 years. We might hear something about that as well -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Interesting.

How much do you think it would shake up the Republican race for president, Dana?

BASH: That would be the most interesting thing to watch, if he does, in fact, jump in, in any way, shape or form today, Heidi. He is somebody who, of course, has been very outspoken in his criticism of the Iraq war, and very different from all of the leading candidates who are out there right now in the Republican field.

John McCain, of course, is one of the authors of this idea of sending more troops to Iraq, which Senator Hagel says is the wrong idea. Senator -- excuse me -- former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani also supports the president's strategy, as does former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

So, all those people are going along -- going along with president. But as you heard in the piece, that's not necessarily where the entire Republican electorate is. And what Chuck Hagel's candidacy could do if he does jump in is kind of test just how the unpopular war is affecting American politics, even in the Republican Party -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Well, we will be watching, and I know you will, too. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.

Dana Bash, thanks.

BASH: Great. Thank you.

COLLINS: And here's where Senator Hagel stands on some key issues now.

First, the hot-button issue of Iraq. Senator Hagel voted for military force in Iraq, but he has been an outspoken critic of President Bush's troop surge plan.

On abortion, Hagel opposes abortion rights except when the mother's life is in danger. He also opposes same-sex marriage, but Hagel is against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage because marriage issues should be decide din states.

HARRIS: If you are filling up the family buggy this morning, let me tell you a couple things about gas prices. Bring some extra cash.

What is fuelling this latest price spike at the pump? We'll have a look in a live report coming up in the NEWSROOM.

And sorry for everything. A teenage mom contrite. She's accused of doing the unimaginable to her children.

Grim details in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: And we want to keep you updated on this story that we're following out of Oneida, New York, not far from Syracuse. Fire officials there are evacuating residents in Oneida after an explosion set fire to several freight train tanker cars. Now, the cars were carrying propane. Officials there have also evacuated at least two elementary schools.

The explosion happening this morning about 7:00 a.m. A number of fire departments, as you can imagine, on the scene, fighting flames that we understand were visible from as far away as a mile.

No immediate word of fatalities or injuries right now. The real danger is the further explosions.

The good news is this scene is playing out in a mostly rural area described to us as mostly a non-populated area of Oneida's north side.

And we will keep an eye on these live pictures and the scene in Oneida, New York, for you.

Helicopters, bulldozers, firefighters in southern California throwing everything they've got at a big wildfire, and they're gaining some ground. The blaze is in the Anaheim Hills, about 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

Oh, great. A live picture for you right now.

And this is what firefighters are up against. You get a bit of a sense of it from this picture. Flames, fueled by Santa Ana winds, spreading through bone-dry brush land. The fire has scorched more than 2,000 acres and damaged at least two homes. At one point, hundreds of homes were evacuated.

And this morning some progress. The winds have died down and the humidity is higher. The blaze now 30 percent contained, and firefighters are hoping for full containment by this evening.

COLLINS: Fueling cars and frustration. Surely you've noticed the big jump in the pumps.

CNN's Allan Chernoff asks, what's behind the latest gas spike?


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New Jersey has some of the cheapest gas in the nation. Yet, even here drivers are frustrated, watching prices at the pump shoot higher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think it's a little strange prices going up in the middle of February.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why does the price keep going up? I don't understand this. It just keeps going up. When is it going to stop?

CHERNOFF: Station owner Yefim Blitsheteyen says he doesn't understand why the price he pays keeps jumping. What's going on?

YEFIM BLITSHETEYEN, GAS STATION OWNER: I don't know what's going on. Maybe somebody make the money.

CHERNOFF: So, we spoke to Yefim's supplier, Michael Passankofski (ph), who's just as frustrated. He says the wholesale price at which he buys is up 44 cents a gallon since the beginning of last month. He's heard news reports of a supply shortage but says that's not true.

BLITSHETEYEN: I didn't see no shortages. We still have the same amount of product and I can buy product whenever I want to. It's product always there.

CHERNOFF: Michael is right. There is no shortage. In fact, the nation's supply of gasoline is a bit higher than usual for this time of year. But there is a reason gas prices are climbing.

Some refineries are closing facilities for maintenance and repairs. And that drop in production has energy traders pushing prices higher.

CHRIS MOTRONI, ENERGY TRADER: When you hear a refinery has problems, goes down, gets shut down, explosions, you're going to get a spike in prices.


COLLINS: Alan Chernoff joining us now live from a gas station in Jersey City.

Alan, are prices likely to keep on climbing as we approach summer?

CHERNOFF (on camera): Well, Heidi, what's going to happen as we get closer to summertime, more refineries are going to have to temporarily shut down so they can switch production to cleaner-burning summertime blends of gasoline which are more expensive, so it is likely that we are going to see prices move higher, possibly to $3 a gallon by the peak driving season.

COLLINS: Yikes. That is seriously high.

You know, we always ask if people are going to be driving more, driving less when these prices go up. What about the demand side? Are people driving more?

CHERNOFF: Actually, people are. This is a little surprising because right now demand is higher than it typically is during this time of year. Perhaps that's because the price had gone down a few months ago and at that point people maybe were saying well, forget about that hybrid vehicle. Let me go back to the SUV. You're seeing plenty of SUVs of course still on the road. Maybe that helps explain why demand is especially strong now.

But it is a little bit serious. You know, this time of year, usually demand is not all that strong. We're not close to peak driving season yet.

COLLINS: Spring break, though, right?


COLLINS: All right. Allan Chernoff, thank you.

HARRIS: He's been a U.S. senator and an actor.


FRED THOMPSON: I think the American people are deciding what they want. I think they're looking for something a little different in politics nowadays.


HARRIS: Will Fred Thompson pull a Ronald Reagan? That's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: She's frail, defenseless, and 101-years-old, but watch this. A mugger slaps her down. New York outrage in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: That's the big bell that started this morning. The DOW begins the day at 12,276 points. Let's see. Do we have numbers? And we get started slightly down. We'll call it flat.

We are tracking gas prices today, prices that are surging 20 cents over the last two weeks, an average of $3.10 a gallon in San Francisco. We'll check prices throughout the day with Susan Liscovicz and the rest of the business headlines with Susan in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Big developments, big questions this morning, a newborn kidnapped and recovered over the weekend. About two hours from right now, we'll hear from hospital officials in Lubbock, Texas. How did a woman pose as an employee to steal the baby? That newborn tucked inside the woman's purse in this surveillance video. Then at noon Eastern, a court hearing for the suspect. A judge in New Mexico will consider returning her to Texas to face charges.

COLLINS: Vice President Dick Cheney has been a driving force in the Bush White House. Now, there's talk in some political circles that his influence has waned and he's even become a political liability now to the president.

That's the focus of "TIME" magazine's cover story, the verdict on Cheney. Joining us to talk about that is the man who wrote the story, Michael Duffy, "TIME's" Washington bureau chief.

Michael, thanks for being with us this morning. I want to read a quick excerpt from your article and get your comments on this. You write, "Cheney has become the administration's enemy within, the man who's single-minded pursuit of ideological goals, creeping political instinct and love of secrecy produced an independent operation inside the White House, that has done more harm than good." Explain that for me.

MICHAEL DUFFY, TIME MAGAZINE: When President Bush chose Dick Cheney to be vice president, one thing that he was really bringing, he didn't bring any great political skills, wasn't a great speaker, didn't particularly like shaking hands, didn't come from a big state, but he wasn't a liability. He wasn't going to cost the president anything. He was safe and sound.

What's changed over the course of the last couple years, particularly with the conduct of the war and some of the more aggressive foreign actions by the government, and now the Libby verdict, the vice president has for the first time become a liability within the party.

He's a huge asset to the Democrats. And that's a change. That's something I don't think the -- anyone ever bargained that Dick Cheney, who has been in government for a long time, would ever become.

COLLINS: Yes, because you also write, "Bush is making the decision but the VIP (ph) is directing the process towards the decision that he thinks is the right one. There's always been a lot of question, hasn't there, Michael, about who the real decision maker is?

DUFFY: When it came to actually lining up the intelligence for the war and figuring that selling it and moving it into the final decision making process, Cheney really was the commander of the process. He was not the commander, but he did have a very important position between the intelligence providers and the person who was really the last person to speak to the president before decisions were made. That put him in the slot, and that's one of the reasons we have the trial we had two weeks ago.

COLLINS: Well, let's talk about that for a minute too. Does that Libby verdict really impact Cheney's influence now?

DUFFY: He's still quite influential inside the administration. You can see that almost every week. He was recently in Pakistan. He's clearly part of the process that is making -- driving a fairly hard line, at least rhetorically, on Iran.

But senior officials tell us, Heidi, that for first time really in the six-and-a-half years that the president has been in office, seven years, the vice president is beginning to lose arguments internally, and that's a change. He isn't losing them all, but he is losing some.

COLLINS: Right. Does it really tell you anything about his operating methods by way of them being damaging to him?

DUFFY: One of the things that's really different about what's happened in the last couple months is that the vice president was able to put a lot of people who he knew and were loyal to him at all kinds of different positions in the government. Those people have begun to pull out and leave government.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has assembled a much more muscular team over the state department, and they are beginning to exert their influence across the board.

I think the vice president has completely read into these decisions. May not agree with all of them, but that is a big course correction under way and they are beginning to adopt different standards, more moderate approaches to foreign policy. And that's really happened since the first of the year.

COLLINS: Yes. That has been very interesting to watch as she comes out on foreign policy issues. How has that impacted his role? Is he still the man behind the curtain as we've said before?

DUFFY: Still in the conning tower, still on the bridge, just not the only voice the president is listening to or maybe even the most important. This is not to say he's not, like I say, part of the process. He just isn't winning the same number of arguments that he was winning before. At least, Heidi, that's what senior officials tell us.

COLLINS: Michael, what's his relationship with the president now?

DUFFY: Still very strong. You can believe that. There's no risk here that the president's going to change horses. It's very late in the term. It wouldn't solve any problems politically, would only create them. He's a sticker anyway. And there are all kinds of other advantages that Cheney provides to the president, catching a lot of spheres, rallying the base, someone that the party's conservative base, which is very much a larger part of the support the president has than before, really counts on.

COLLINS: All right, "TIME" magazine's Washington Bureau Chief Michael Duffy. Nice too see you again, Michael. Thank you.

DUFFY: Thank you, Heidi.

HARRIS: Let's spend a couple of minutes with Chad Myers in the severe weather center. Chad, we were talking to Thelma Gutierrez a short time ago. She was reporting on the wildfires there in Anaheim Hills. And she made the point that you've made often here, when the winds die down, firefighters can get the upper hand.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They try. I mean, that's when you don't have sparks moving the flames ahead. You don't have extra oxygen blowing into the fire. You don't get a firestorm like we had for at least for a while yesterday.

Look at these high temperatures yesterday. These are records from Fullerton at 97, the old record was 84. That's just breaking them, completely going back past them by a dozen degrees there. Anaheim was 95, the old record 91.

Now, it was windy, as well, yesterday, and it won't be as windy today for Malibu to Oxnard, 35, 45 miles per hour.

Here are some pictures from some I reports from yesterday. This one here, this is actually some video coming out of the area from Eve Brown, just up on the hill, videotaping with her brother, and then hiking all the way up to see it and getting actually pretty close to it and then the winds are switching directions on them and they knew they had to get out of there, but they sent that I-report.

We always say if you're going to take an I-report, we don't want you to be the story tomorrow, so don't get too dangerous with all this stuff. Protect yourself as you do.

And now a still photo coming out of the same area, there you go, look at that. I'd like to be sitting in that house. This is from Tiffany Gill from Anaheim Hills, California. This shot was actually taken not that far from the reservoir.

And if you have something you want to show us, go to and send it our way. Love to get it on the air for you.


HARRIS: Chad, appreciate it, thank you.

MYERS: Sure. HARRIS: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, a train loaded with propane becomes a fireball chasing people from homes and schools in central New York state. It's a developing story in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: The sweet bayous of Louisiana.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got to live his dream, to live on the water.


COLLINS: A dream that turned dark for one boater. Surviving against all odds. Coming up in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Quickly, want to get you back to this developing story that we have been following all morning long out of New York.

A train derailment and a bad situation because the cargo inside those cars was propane. You can still see pretty massive clouds, smoke clouds, coming off of those cars. CNN's confirmed 80 cars, originally 12 of them were burning. Certainly don't want to speculate, but we have not gotten any word of more of those cars exploding because of the propane inside.

We do know that pretty quickly officials were evacuating about a one-mile radius of the area. This is Oneida, New York, about a half- hour east of Syracuse, relatively rural area, so that's a good thing, not too many people living nearby. But just to be safe, there were two schools that were closed down as well.

We haven't heard anything about any injuries, but we do know that that podium there will be addressed by the mayor and New York state police shortly. We will be following it for you and monitoring it and certainly bring it to you should anything develop there.

But you see the pictures now to the right-hand side of your screen and it was pretty massive explosion.

HARRIS: Halliburton, the oil field service giant out of Texas, now saying it will run its worldwide operations from of all places Dubai.

Ali Velshi here minding your business this morning. Ali, this is a company most famous for its association with the vice president of the United States who used to run Halliburton.

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: He used to run it, and then they were very involved in contracts in Iraq through one of their subsidiaries and in fact, got into some trouble over some of those contracts.

But it, you know, has a very American flavor to it and now the company is moving its CEO and its chairman to Dubai because last year so much of the company's business came from the Eastern hemisphere and the company feels that it's growth is mainly in the east, particularly when you're in the oil business. So much of the new development of oil as the prices for oil go up, is in the east.

But the company's still keeping its chief financial officer and chief operating officer in Houston. So, it's unclear to me whether this is a shifting of the headquarters from Houston to Dubai or its two headquarters or global headquarters in -- I've been studying this sort of all day today and yesterday and I can't figure out what the truth is here.

HARRIS: Is the truth the bottom line here, and the bottom line is that this is -- the United States represents a very mature oil business, and that there are more possibilities overseas?

VELSHI: That is largely the truth. In other words, this might be the key executives of the business moving closer to where the business actually is, in the Middle East and east of there.


VELSHI: Asia, by the way, is now -- it's growing faster in its consumption of oil than the West is. So, not only is it a mature market, a mature production zone, it's everything is shifting east. When oil was 20 bucks a barrel, you got it in the easiest places to get it. When it's 40, 50, and 60, like it is now, you go deeper, you go to new places, you develop more infrastructure. When you're developing oil infrastructure, Halliburton is one of those companies you want involved in that or you'd like bidding on that. So, they're moving closer to where their business is, perhaps for relationships and things like that.

HARRIS: Do you suspect some will think that the company is actually running from some of its difficulties here in the States?

VELSHI: Yes, except again, there are going to be senior officers who remain in the United States. It remains to be seen what the full thinking is behind this move. But the president and the chairman, and those are often the two people you think of as the main ones in the business, the CEO and the chairman, they are going to be in Dubai. It's hotter in Dubai than Houston.

HARRIS: Yes, it is, if you can imagine that. Ali Velshi, "Minding Your Business," this morning. Appreciate it.


HARRIS: Thank you.

It's supposed to be a good will trip, but this is some of what President Bush has been facing on his visit to Latin America. A live report from Guatemala in the NEWSROOM.

A public personality, a private hell. A troubled young man turns to his parish priest for support, but that trust is abused. Our own Thomas Roberts tell his story, coming up in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: A two-hour boat trip for supplies becomes a life- threatening ordeal for a Louisiana man. CNN's Rick Sanchez has the story.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Billy Adams loves living on the water so much because he can go fishing every chance he gets.

KEITH ADAMS, BOATER'S SON: He got to live his dream. That was his dream, to live on the water.

SANCHEZ: On this trip, though, something goes terribly wrong. Rough weather sends his boat off course, he runs aground, gets stuck in the mud. After five days, he tries to swim for help. Clinging to a gas can, he's got nothing to eat, nothing to drink and just swamp water to keep him alive.

A week passes, and still he's lost in the bayou. Then Saturday, day nine, new hope: Fishermen spot something in the water.

CHUCK KOBER, FISHERMAN: We got out there and we're fishing and we see something yellow about 100 yards away, and it moved every once in a while. Out pops this guy. And he said, Oh my god, thank y'all. You all saved my life.

SANCHEZ: Against all odds, Billy Adams is rescued. He's weak, he's dehydrated, but he's alive. His family is overjoyed.

MICHELE ADAMS, BOATER'S SISTER: Completely ecstatic -- I mean, words can't even describe, you know. They've gone from tears to smiles to tears. It's just been complete jubilation.


COLLINS: Adams is recovering from dehydration and a rash that covered his body.

HARRIS: A train loaded with propane becomes a fireball, chasing people from homes and schools in central New York state. A developing story, a briefing from Oneida, New York, shortly in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Not quite spring, but it's hot by the pool. Fire barrages in life in Southern California. Fighting back. We'll tell you about it, in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Heidi, I really want people to watch the podcast.

COLLINS: You know, I do too.

HARRIS: We've put so much time and effort into it, don't you think?


HARRIS: Okay. You already know to catch us weekday mornings, right here, 9:00 until noon Eastern, but you have to know by now that you can take us anywhere on your iPod. The CNN NEWSROOM podcast available 24/7 right on your iPod. Heidi, watch it, please.

COLLINS: Good morning, everybody, I'm Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris. Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning and stay informed.