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Severe Weather Continues to Threaten the Central Plans States; Tornado Watches Posted For Kansas, Dakotas; Middle Eastern Comedians Use Humor To Deal With Post-9/11 Life

Aired May 06, 2007 - 17:00   ET


MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Melissa Long in today for Fredricka Whitfield and you're in the NEWSROOM.
This is why they call it tornado alley. More than 120 reported twisters in at least eight states. At least 10 people dead. A town in southern Kansas virtually wiped off the map. And all of this happening since Friday night. President Bush expressed support today for Greensburg, Kansas. But some of the people who live in the town are expressing doubt, that staying and rebuilding is even an option. With Greensburg largely destroyed, many speak of starting over elsewhere. After the first round of twisters Friday, a second wave hit the region yesterday. And more tornados are likely today. Mostly in Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle. The latest victim was killed overnight in the small town of Bennington in north central Kansas. Heavy rains left by the storms have now caused localized flooding.

A monumental task is facing the people of Greensburg, Kansas. Hundreds are now homeless. Their places of work destroyed. Stores, schools, the hospital, gone. It's tough to imagine how this town will come back. Reporting again, let's check in with Jeff Flock who joins us from Greensburg. Jeff?

JEFF FLOCK: Melissa, it's been quite a day here. In addition to all of the stuff that you see going on, watched going on here today in terms of the recovery here, we had a tornado warning here. Someone came around from emergency management and said a tornado has been sighted just south of the city. You need to take shelter immediately. There was mass panic. We had responders headed one way toward what they thought was the storm. They had folks that were working in the city headed out the other way. Kind of a chaotic scene for a moment. It appears that was not the case. We don't have any reports of any damage. We talked to Jacqui about it a little while ago, too.

I want to maybe show you an up close and personal on the damage. We've been showing you this grand scope because there is tremendous block-after-block destruction. But here's just one little piece of it. This is a truck that was -- they tried to park out of the way. This was a service station. There were, you know, awnings over the top here. They thought they were safe here. The storm just flipped this thing up and over. There's a -- maybe you see it, a yard. A tractor that's sort of strapped in the back here. That stayed in but the whole truck went upside down. This car apparently, I talked to somebody who had been out here before the storm, this was parked across the street and was pushed all the way across this way. And maybe you hear in the background, I don't know if you can see it. Derrick, if you can see around right quick, these front end loaders, we've been watching this happen all day. Armies of these things just passing on by as they try to think about clearing this kind of debris. Also, this is what we saw not long ago. Fire and rescue units. You know we feel like every one, any live people that were in this debris have already been found. But we saw fire rescue units buzzing past here when we had that report of a potential tornado south of the city. Then, those folks heading out to respond. And again, it's amazing when folks here who have seen this kind of devastation, when they got the report that there was a tornado on the ground and potential trouble, they began to head out to respond to it again. You know, I talked to the major general of the Kansas National Guard, the fellow who runs emergency management in Kansas who said, that's what you have the National Guard for to respond. That's what you have first responders for. That indeed is what they are doing and will continue to do as we have difficult weather here and as this cleanup continues. That's a little slice at this hour. We will of course continue to watch this throughout the evening as this recovery effort begins to unfold here. Melissa back to you.

LONG: Jeff Flock for us live from Greensburg. Jeff, thanks so much.


LONG: Now President Bush has expressed support today for the victims of the Kansas tornados and the people of Greensburg in particular. The president spoke after church just across the street from the White House.


BUSH: I declared a major disaster for that community and I hope that helps. It's going to take a long time for the community to recover. And so we'll help in any way we can. There's a certain spirit in the Midwest of our country, a pioneer spirit that still exists. And I'm confident that this community will be rebuilt to the extent that we can help, we will. The most important thing now, though, is for our citizens to ask the good lord to comfort those who hurt.


LONG: Federal aid, what does it mean? It means the victims can get grants for temporary housing, home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs as well to help both businesses and individuals.

Dozens of survivors of the Greensburg tornado are spending today in shelters in nearby Havilland, Kansas. Kim Hynes of our CNN affiliate KWCH is in Havilland and spoke with some of them.


KIM HYNES, KWCH (on camera): I'm here at Havilland High School, just one of three shelters set up for people who have been evacuated from Greensburg. I spent some time here and talked to people who survived the tornado and heard their stories.

Julie Harshey sits bandaged in a hospital gown, still stunned by the tornado that hit her Greensburg apartment.

JULIE HARSHEY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Suddenly the roof went and then all of the ceiling fell down in. And I was grabbing a hold of the door. My little rear end was just flying and I was hanging onto the door.

HYNES: Harshey made it outside and passed out. She woke up in the back of a pick-up headed to the hospital.

HARSHEY: This is what they do with you when they don't know who you are.

HYNES: Neil Patten doesn't know anyone around here. He's a truck driver, now stranded because of the tornado.

NEIL PATTEN, TRUCK DRIVER: My tractor's laying on its right side. The trailer is completely off its wheels, laying on another guy's trailer of his truck.

HYNES: So he'll stay at the shelter along with Harshey, but neither mind because they both know they're lucky to be alive. In Havilland, Kim Hynes, KWCH 12 eyewitness news.


LONG: Now i-Reporters from across the region are sending us pictures of the destruction. This image was taken by Jeff Robinson of Havilland, Kansas. He captured photos of overturned cars, tossed around like toys, destroyed homes. Now an American flag that marked the spot of what was once a home. You can report for CNN as well. Just send us your photos, your video. Go to and from there, click on the i-Report logo.

More deadly attacks today against American troops in Iraq. We will get the details just ahead.

Plus, France marks the election of a new president. Will this mean a new direction for that country's government?

And she dropped out of school, became a mother at 15. So how did she rise to become Washington's chief of police? Her story later in the NEWSROOM.


LONG: Insurgent attacks taking a deadly toll across Iraq, nine U.S. soldiers were killed today. The deadliest attack happened in Diyala Province. A roadside bomb struck a U.S. military vehicle killing six U.S. soldiers and a civilian journalist. These deaths come as U.S. troops conduct operations in Baghdad's Sadr City. More from CNN's Hugh Riminton

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The aftermath of a bitter nighttime firefight in Sadr City, Baghdad's Shia heartland. I thought I was going to die, says Abu Rahim, look that this destruction, and we have nothing. U.S. and Iraqi forces struck after midnight, hunting house to house for a top Shia militant, they say with links to Iran. They didn't find him. But inside one house, they did find what the U.S. military describes as a torture room.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: They found a room that clearly had bloodstains in it. They found the handcuffs. They found at least one facial mask.

RIMINTON: By now the troops were taking fire and called in air strikes against militia positions, killing, they believe, eight to 10 armed opponents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was an explosion, says (INAUDIBLE). An American plane did it. I was wounded, but I wasn't scared.

RIMINTON: Inside the house, troops also found bomb-making materials and more than 150 mortar rounds. They evacuated the neighborhood and blew the munitions up.

CALDWELL: Had that thing gone off, I mean when you start talking about 150 artillery shells, the extensive damage that could have done in killing innocent civilians in Sadr City would have been horrific.

RIMMINTON: The operation though, was not welcomed by all. They want to instigate a civil war. It's the American's fault, says Jesse Mohammed. When I see an American, I see the devil

RIMINTON (on camera): The toll for Americans rose again today, six U.S. troops plus a journalist being killed at a single roadside blast northeast of Baghdad. Already in the month of May, the rate of coalition deaths is running higher than it was during the near record month of April. The U.S. military command has been bracing the public for a higher death toll as in their words, they take the fight to the enemy. Meanwhile, a car bombing in a mixed Sunni/Shia district of Baghdad Sunday, killed at least 30 people and wounded 80 more. While another suicide attack killed 12 Iraqi police north of the capital. Hugh Riminton, CNN, Baghdad.


LONG: Two U.S. soldiers were shot and killed in Afghanistan today. The military says a man dressed as an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group of U.S. soldiers near a prison in Kabul. Two were killed, two others were hurt. A U.S. commander says the attack appears to be random with no apparent motive. The shooter was gunned down by Afghan national army soldiers.

It is counter programming from Iraq. The U.S. military aiming to show what it thinks the mainstream media is missing. CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The most-watched video on the U.S. military's new Youtube site is last January's pitched battle on Haifa Street. A firefight well documented on CNN at the time. But other videos feature views of Iraq, the U.S. military says, rarely make the news. Such as this joyous reunion, as American troops rescue a kidnap victim in Baghdad. Unlike many anguished Iraqis often seen on TV, the people in these videos are generally happy. They don't seem to mind being searched. And interact freely with Americans, such as this boy dubbed slingshot kid who gets help from a heavily armed marine. And here, Iraqi boy scouts eagerly prepare for an upcoming jamboree. The U.S. led coalition sponsored Youtube channel was launched two months ago, to quote, give viewers around the world a boots on the ground perspective, with what it called eye-catching videos. Since then, the site has recorded more than 150,000 hits.

It's clearly public relations, but the U.S. military insists the clips are edited only for time, security reasons, and for overly disturbing or offensive images. Still, the picture is one-sidedly upbeat. U.S. and Iraqi troops working as a team, Americans rushing to aid victims of a roadside bomb. And some videos are slickly produced promotional spots, designed to engender patriotism.

(on camera): U.S. military insists it's not minimizing the bad news, just trying to show that the situation in Iraq is more complex. It says the events depicted on the videos were not staged. And it's using the internet to show that, along with the chaos, some good things are happening, too. Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


LONG: The wreckage of a downed Kenyan Airlines jet has been located in Africa. The plane disappeared shortly after taking off from Cameroon early Saturday morning. It was bound for Nairobi, Kenya. Relatives of many of the 114 people on board left the airport there in shock. The wreckage was located in an area of dense swamps and forests. A team of about 200 rescue workers has assembled and they're not trying to reach the crash site.

Nine French and Canadian soldiers are dead after a plane crash in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The French military plane went down during a multinational peace-keeping force training mission. An air control officer in Cairo says the plane sent a distress signal about half an hour after taking off. A sign of possible mechanical failure.

French voters have chosen a conservative who admires the United States as their next president. Nicolas Sarkozy defeated socialist Segolene Royal. Polls show Sarkozy winning with 53 percent of the vote. French voters turned out in large numbers to pick the successor to long term President Jacques Chirac.

Americans who are self-employed are losing one of their best options for health insurance. We're going to tell you why.

Also, the war on terror, isn't the first place you'd normally go looking for laughs. Later, we're going to meet a group of comedians who are doing just that.


LONG: The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius has been briefing everyone from the president on down about the tornado destruction. The governor joins us now by phone after surveying the damage. Governor, thanks so much for your time, we appreciate it again.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, KANSAS: Well, I'm glad to be with you, Melissa. Actually, I'm on my way between Havilland which is where the shelter has been set up in a local high school 10 miles outside of Greensburg, into Greensburg as we speak.

LONG: As you're driving in, you said you're just about 10 miles away. Do you see any destruction there? Do you get the feeling that it's much more localized just around the community of Greensburg?

SEBELIUS: It's pretty localized. The folks in Havilland did not really suffer the brunt of the storm. And so their high school's entirely intact, so the shelter's set up in the gym. I visited with a lot of residents who have lost everything. But the damage is pretty localized. We've had another incredible night and another incredible day. Getting here by car from Topeka today was quite treacherous. We've had hail and tornado watches. We have three communities in eastern Kansas being evacuated because of floods. We've had another tornado death last night in another part of the state. So we're still under an enormously difficult weather pattern and we hope it clears out soon.

LONG: You mentioned, you were just visiting with the victims at the shelters. What are they asking? What do they want? What type of help do they need?

SEBELIUS: Well, the first question, and people are a little frustrated, was -- when can we get back into town? When can we see what's left of our property? The decision was made that starting at 8:00 tomorrow morning, residents will be able to reenter Greensburg. The first step really was search and rescue. And unfortunately, two more bodies were found yesterday. And the highway patrol and the National Guard and first responders have been working to clear the roads so that people can travel safely. That's been done, so folks are going to get back in. Then they just want to know what kind of help and support they have. The FEMA director, Mr. Paulison, David Paulison is going to be in Kansas tomorrow. I intend to meet him in the morning and tour the area. We did get a presidential declaration issued. I talked to the president about 4:00 yesterday afternoon. And by midnight, the presidential declaration was signed. And we really appreciate that fast response because getting this community rebuilt and up and running is what we're all about. So we're going to put state resources behind it and we're pleased that our federal partners are joining in, in a very timely fashion.

LONG: So you have a fast response, you have funding on the way, but you have an awesome challenge of rebuilding that community. Where are you going to start? SEBELIUS: Well, you know, Melissa, Kansans are very resilient. We're used to the flukes of mother nature. A lot of the people in this community farm day in and day out, so they know that you can't count on much except one another. I think step one is going to be grieving. Nine neighbors and friends in a community of 1500 lost their lives and that's where the rebuilding effort will start with wrapping their arms around those families who actually lost a loved one. By comparison, and I can't tell you how many people said this to me today, losing their house is nothing. That their children are ok, their parents are ok, their loved ones are ok. And they just count themselves among the lucky ones. So, we want to get them power restored very quickly. I actually am driving into the community now and you can see trees that are uprooted, standing water, large branches down and we're beginning to see the kind of destruction of downed power lines, fences torn apart, and you know, it's clear we've come into a different community right now.

LONG: Governor, we're just about out of time. But I just wanted to ask you, as you're driving into that community now, is it what you expected you'd see?

SEBELIUS: Well, I know that we're just on the outskirts of it. I don't think I've ever seen devastation like this that wiped out an entire community. I've seen lots of tornados in Kansas but we've never had an entire community wiped out at the same time. So this is unique and I just hope people will keep Kansas in their thoughts and prayers. Certainly will do. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Thanks so much for joining us yesterday and again today. We look forward to hearing more from you after you've had a chance to tour Greensburg.

SEBELIUS: Thanks Melissa.

LONG: Thanks so much.

Now as Kansas cleans up after the deadly tornados, what can Washington do to help? Well again, we're going to speak with more officials from Kansas, the congressman still ahead.


LONG: Half past the hour on this Sunday. Here's what's happening now in the news. Just a few more hours of cleanup today in Greensburg, Kansas. The town mostly smashed to pieces by that tornado late on Friday. A second night of a curfew goes into effect 8:00 p.m. local time. President Bush has declared Greensburg a major disaster area.

And search crews believe they've found the wreckage of a Kenya Airways plane that went down Saturday in Cameroon. An aviation official says it crashed shortly after takeoff in a marshy area near Cameroon's capital. One hundred fourteen people were on board.

It has been a deadly and destructive weekend in America's bread basket. The small farm town of Greensburg, Kansas, a little more than a memory tonight, after a Friday night twister flattened it, killing at least eight people.

Hours later, more of tornado alley popped with severe weather. This is video out of Sweetwater, Oklahoma. Luckily, only one person was injured there. Though the local high school and a few buildings took significant damage. Right now, storm watches and warnings are on in the Plains. They stretch from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.

Response at the local, state, federal levels has been swift. President Bush has already declared Greensburg and the surrounding Kiowa County a federal disaster area and the FEMA Director David Paulison says lessons have been learned since the Hurricane Katrina debacle.


DAVID PAULISON, DIRECTOR, FEMA: The FEMA you're seeing now is different than the one you saw two years ago. We have been working with the state for the last day and a half.

We have people on the ground. In fact, the city's using one of our command posts for their command post because there's no building standing. We're already moving mobile homes and trailers. We have food and water standing by if they feed it.

But I have to tell you, the local community, the first responders, the state just did an outstanding job of responding to this disaster. It was obvious they had their act together. The Red Cross moved in quickly. They got people in shelters and people in housing. And that's how the system's supposed to work. That allows FEMA to plug into the system and make sure that we can back up the state and give them the resources they need to do their job.


LONG: We've talked to so many people, Jacqui, who have said they have seen tornados before, but none that would cause this kind of destruction. Just how powerful that was storm?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It was an EF-5 tornado. Winds about at 205 miles per hour. That's the strongest tornado on the enhanced Fujita scale, and we only get -- you know, maybe one of these a year, at best. In fact, since 1950, there have been 51 EF-5s, and now the Greensburg one makes 52.

The chance of tornados, it's still ongoing. It's still in the same area. This is day three, guys, that we're dealing with this enhanced risk of tornados. There is the watch box in effect that includes much of south central parts of Kansas, all through western parts of Oklahoma, into Texas. Then we also have tornado watch into central parts of North Dakota.

We'll take you into Kansas and Oklahoma. This is the line that we're really concerned about here, a broken line. We could see rotation at anytime. We do have one tornado warning right now and this is for Barber County in Kansas. Doppler radar is indicating a tornado here. There you can see it. It is pushing on up towards the north and to put it into perspective, right over here, that's where Greensburg is. So, not too far away.

There's also a thunderstorm just to the north and east of there. It could be dumping just a little bit of hail to go along with that.

Now this is not just a tornado-making storm. We have some other concerns. And we're really watching the Kansas City area for some very heavy rainfall. As these storms push through here, we could see several inches of rain in the next 24 to 48 hours. And flood watches have been posted, as well as warnings. In fact, even a flood warning on the Missouri River in Kansas City expecting to see moderate flooding with that, expected to crest we think by Wednesday.

And this is our computer model forecast for the next 48 hours. Everywhere you see red here, that's four to five inches of rainfall. So, really an extreme event here. This is a moderate risk day in terms of severe weather. Tornados, large hail and damaging winds in the red area here. And what does moderate risk mean to you? Yesterday's what we call high risk. You only get a few of those a year. Moderate risk means a great concentration of severe storms; 30 or more reports of one inch of diameter hail or larger. And six to 19 tornados, or numerous wind events that can cause extreme damage of 60 or more miles per hour -- Melissa?

LONG: Jacqui, thanks so much.

Jacqui's been talking about the power of that storm, an EF-5. One person, of course, so interested in cleaning up. And the destruction is Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran. He represents the First District, including Greensburg and Kiowa County. Last -- just about 20 minutes ago we spoke with the governor, now we're speaking with him.

Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

REP. JERRY MORAN, (KS): Melissa, good to be with you, thank you.

LONG: The governor said she was confident in the fast response and that funding was on the way. Do you feel the same way?

MORAN: I feel very good about FEMA's response at this point. The president signed the natural disaster declaration after midnight. The governor made her request. The congressional delegation weighed in and I've been pleased with the response so far. FEMA is on the ground and we have the director of FEMA in Greensburg tomorrow.

LONG: Will you be planning to meet with Mr. Paulison? And if you do, what are you going to ask for? What is your first step?

MORAN: Yes, I will be here when the director arrives. This is my third day in Greensburg. This is a community I represented as a state legislator, and now for the last 10 years, as a member of Congress. I know this community.

What we're going to be seeking from FEMA is a tremendous level of support. The devastation here is dramatic. It's significant and it's widespread. And for a community, the size of 1400 people to rebuild, it's going to take some significant dollars, particularly on the public's side. But we'll also be exploring what they can do to help businesses restart, to rebuilt, and what can we do to help people get their lives back together.

LONG: You need significance support you're saying. But how do you exactly proceed with 95 percent of the buildings gone? The homes, the businesses? What is step one?

MORAN: Well, I don't mean to minimize what we have here. It will be a tremendous challenge for the people of Kiowa County, for the people of this community to come back. Our downtowns across rural America, they struggle as it is in good times and to lose your entire downtown business district, it's hard to expect that that will come back, at least anytime soon.

But people in the national media have compared this scene to Katrina. I don't know the people of New Orleans. But I do know the people of Greensburg, Kansas. If there's any way they can make it work, they're going to try. It's important. You know, Kansans care about a place called home. And Greensburg is home to 1400 people who want that to continue. So my message to FEMA is, yes, we need your help, and we're going to be asking Kansans to be here in the near future with shovels and hammers. And we're going to be allies with the people of Greensburg to see that they have a future -- here.

LONG: You've mentioned, you've been representing this district for so many years. What is Greensburg like? What is the pulse of that community?

MORAN: You know, this is a community that's a county seat town. In many ways, it's a typical community in Kansas. Not large population, but a community that works together. People that have the civic club, the Chamber of Commerce, the churches. Just everyone knows each other. It's so sad to see people who are reuniting for the first time since the tornado.

It's a very personal experience for them because they know, care, and love their neighbor, love the people who live in their community. And everybody knows everybody's family. This is a community that is about Friday night football games. It's about church on Sunday. There's a real sense of community. And that's one reason I think there's a future for Greensburg.

LONG: Congressman Jerry Moran, joining us from Greensburg. Thank you so much.

MORAN: Thank you.

LONG: Now we're going to shift gears a little bit and talk about the chief of a big city police department. Before that, though, she was a dropout, and a teenage mom. Find out how she turned her life around, ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LONG: You know they say the cream of the crop always rises to the top. But in the case of a Washington -- District of Columbia's new police chief, ascension seemed a bit unlikely. Quitting high school, becoming an unwed teenage mom often hinders upward mobility, but not so for Chief Cathy Lanier. CNN's Gary Nuremberg introduces you. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Little Cathy Lanier got in trouble early.

CHIEF CATHY LANIER, POLICE CHIEF, WASH., D.C.: I dropped out after the 9th grade.

NURENBERG: Became a mother at 15, was good at it, she says, because of her own mother.

LANIER: You are the one person in my life who never gave up on me. Who was never embarrassed or ashamed of me, even when you probably should have been.

NURENBERG: Lanier got a high school equivalency degree, became a D.C. cop at 23.

LOU CANNON, D.C. FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE: She is the American dream personified.

NURENBERG: Lou Cannon is president of the Washington's Fraternal Order of Police.

CANNON: She could have just stopped and she could have said, I can't do this. I will be trapped in this life forever. She didn't.

LANIER: Instead of viewing those situations as negative, you just have to kind of move on.

NURENBERG: She did. Earned two masters degrees and began a fast climb, eventually coordinating huge security events like President Reagan's funeral, and catching the eye of a young D.C. councilman who admired her fight against sexual harassment in the police department.

MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY, WASHINGTON, D.C.: She is a person who can draw a line in the sand that she won't cross. She will compromise up to a point and she won't take anything, from anyone.

LANIER: So, I decided to come up with a compromise instead of this just being a -- this being a dictatorship.

NURENBERG: Lanier stayed on the streets during her rise, a vigil for a fallen officer would find her there earning rank-and-file respect for a white woman on a mostly black, mostly male force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's been out there. She's been on the front lines. She understands.

NURENBERG: When that young councilman was elected mayor, he remembered Lanier. FENTY: We have the best police chief in the country. I'm honored to swear her in.

NURENBERG: Her mother held the Bible, her son held her mother, the new chief asked the big question:

LANIER: Who would have thought 20 years ago I would be standing here today.

NURENBERG: The mayor calls her a role model. Drop-out, unwed mom, chief of police in the nation's capitol.

LANIER: Congratulations. Have a good time and be safe out there.

NURENBERG: Gary Nurenberg, CNN, Washington.


LONG: Very inspirational young lady.

Rick Sanchez is here with a preview of what's ahead. You're planning for 7 o'clock?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, at 7 o'clock we're going to have something interesting. There's this -- child molestation cases that are taking place in Detroit. And they're really -- they're really upsetting. It's an eight-year-old girl in this case, but here's the good news and we're only going to be too happy to show you this.

There was an alert policeman in the area and we'll be able to talk to some of these police officers who saw what was going on with a man who tried to take this eight-year-old. They followed him and were able to bust him, arrest him. Stop the act in progress.

And it's just great. It's great that it happened and it's great to be able to show that story as it evolves and we'll talk to that police officer.

Then at 10:00, we've got Bill Richardson on tonight. You know, he says, I'm the most qualified candidate to be the next president of the United States.

LONG: Bet a lot of others say that, too.

SANCHEZ: It's interesting, because when you study his past, he sat down and negotiated with Saddam Hussein. He's negotiated with the Taliban. He's negotiated with North Koreans. Knows a thing or two about energy since he was the secretary of Energy. Worked at the United Nations. The guy's got his pedigree.

It's a matter of being able to cutaway from the rest, so to speak, because he's still in that middle tier. But it should be a good interesting -- and obviously we'll talk to him about immigration, being that he's -- if he gets elected, would be the first Hispanic- American to ever become the president of the United States. LONG: Impressive resume, that's for sure.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, he is. By the way, he's a funny guy.

LONG: All right. Looking forward to the comedy as well.

SANCHEZ: That's right.

LONG: See you a little bit later on the air.

SANCHEZ: All right.

LONG: Straight ahead, she beat cancer, lost her health insurance. Why thousands of Americans, maybe even you, seeing coverage disappear.

Also the war on terror. It's not the first place you would normally go looking for laughs. Coming up you will meet a group of comedians who are doing just that. Coming up in the NEWSROOM.


LONG: Good afternoon. Good evening. Hope you're having a good Sunday.

The health insurance crisis in America is making it harder and harder for the self-employed to find reasonably priced coverage.

In past years, self employed people often purchased their coverage by joining industry associations that offered group plans. But those plans are disappearing. Peter Viles explains why.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Realtor Marcie Garber is self-employed and a cancer survivor. For years, she's bought her own health insurance at a group rate by belonging to the California Association of Realtors. So imagine her shock when her carrier, Blue Shield of California, cancelled her coverage.

MARCIE GARBER, CANCER SURVIVOR: I got a letter and on the front it said your Blue Shield insurance is cancelled effective, whatever. So immediately I thought I had forgotten to make a premium payment.

VILES: Shock quickly turned to anger.

GARBER: I know the day I got the cancellation letter, I went on the Blue Shield website and there was an article about how much money Blue Shield had made that year. It made me sick to my stomach.

VILES: Blue Shield says the realtors failed to live up to their end of a contract, which required that 75 percent of its members who buy insurance must buy it from Blue Shield.

TOM EPSTEIN, BLUE SHIELD OF CALIFORNIA: The fault lies with California Realtors Association. They allowed their group to get so small as to violate their contract. They also had plenty of time to get replacement coverage.

VILES: What's so bad about a small group? Well, if the younger, healthier realtors aren't in it, the group might not cover its own costs, which is the whole point of group insurance.

EPSTEIN: If you don't have the healthier people subsidizing the people who are less healthy, you're going to end up with very high rates on those who are less healthy.

VILES: The Realtors sued and lost. They and Marcie are caught in a national trend. Group insurance policies offered by industry associations are disappearing because the younger members of those groups either don't buy insurance or find it cheaper somewhere else.

JOHN GRAHAM, AM. SOCIETY OF ASSN. EXECUTIVES: There's now only 24 percent of associations that are providing health insurance to their members; 20 years ago, it would have been closer to 60 or 70 percent.

VILES: Marcie Garber has beaten breast cancer twice. She knows she'll find insurance somewhere, but she's not sure how much it will cost.

GARBER: I'm going to have to do whatever I have to do until I reach the Medicare age. And I haven't found that exact solution yet. I'm looking everyday.

VILES: Peter Viles for CNN, Los Angeles.


LONG: Comedy and the war on terror, two things you might not think would mesh -- would work together.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whenever I get on the plane, I always know who Air Marshall is. It's always the guy sitting there holding the "People" magazine upside down looking right at me.


LONG: The funny side of the axis of evil coming up in the NEWSROOM.


LONG: Trying to find some humor during a time of war can be a challenge, but the "Axis of Evil" is making people laugh all across the country -- really. Listen.


ARON KADER, COMEDIAN: But then at Ellis Island they changed his name to Kader. So, my last name's Kader. So, if I ever have a child, if it's a boy, I will definitely name him Al. Al Kader, it's a good name.


LONG: Axis of Evil is a comedy tour. Brain child, of three standup comedians with roots in the Middle East, Iranian-American Maz Jobrani, Egyptian-American, Ahmed Ahmed, and the guy you just heard from, Palestinian-American, Aron Kader.

I spoke with him earlier and asked where they draw the line in their routine?


KADER: Sometimes big things happen in the news and you have to acknowledge it at a show. And there's no way around it. Like you had to mention the Amman, Jordan bombings. We had to mention the Danish cartoons.

AHMED AHMED, COMEDIAN: We'll acknowledge them. We will not necessarily poke fun at them. We did a show right after the bombings in Jordan and -- because I host most of the shows, I just wanted to make sure that we acknowledged it, so we did. Didn't make any jokes about that.

KADER: Sometimes it can be an elephant in the room, though, if you don't acknowledge it. You know, it's a Middle Eastern crowd, we're Middle Eastern guys. If it's something tragic, then you can't make a joke about it, but you still have to acknowledge it.

MAZ JOBRANI, COMEDIAN: We don't make fun of victims ever. We always try to expose any kind of hypocrisy that's out there. So, if you read something in the news about the Middle East, whether it's the term "Axis of Evil," whereas with an Iranian, I hear that term and I go, how did we end up in the Axis of Evil? The hijackers were Saudis and Egyptians.

Not that any -- not that Saudi Arabia and Egypt should be in the Axis of Evil, but the point is, the joke was, I was watching, and I see it. And I go, how do we end up there? What did we do? Then I go, OK, fine, we had a nuclear program, all that stuff. But the point is, that's something that you sit there and you go, it doesn't make sense to you, so you want to expose it and you want to poke fun at it.

LONG: Really the heart of your material, you're poking fun at yourselves.

AHMED: Yeah. It's humor. Most of -- my material is all just about, you know, having to travel, being named Ahmed. It's all sort of poking fun of. People can't get mad at you when you make fun of yourself.

LONG: Let's actually talk about that. You have some travel issues when you try to fly.

AHMED: Yeah, you should have been with us this morning. It took us forever to check in. LONG: That's because of your name?

AHMED: Yeah, if you Google my name, my web site comes up and right under that there's a link for the FBI's most wanted. If you click on that, there's a guy in the Middle East that's using the name Ahmed Ahmed, and Ahmed the Egyptian. And the picture comes up, we kind of look a like.

KADER: A little bit.

AHMED: A little bit.

AHMED: So, that's why my name's is always getting flagged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go to the airport and do the automatic check-in?

AHMED: Uh-huh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'll go and he'll try. Every time he'll try and it will go, "you need find an assistant."

AHMED: Go to the ticket desk.

LONG: When you're on these tours, traveling the country, you must have learned a lot about the country itself. And also about yourselves, have you taken anything away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, last night we did a show in Ft. Lauderdale, out of all of the shows we've ever done -- excuse me -- out of all of the shows we've ever done, last night was our first 50 or 60 percent crossover of mostly white.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Audience members, which I thought was interesting. Because when we first started our shows, it was only Middle Eastern people. And now it's a complete crossover.

JOBRANI: I think as you go around the country, we're starting to realize that people are curious about this voice and people are sick of seeing the same representation of Middle Easterners on TV. And so they're coming out. And they realize that the world is not black and white the way Bush had presented it, as the axis of evil, us against them. But the world is gray. So when they see us, they realize, wait a minute. A lot of Middle Easterners are good people.

KADER: A different voice. And it's different. I've learned something about the Middle Eastern community traveling around all of the different communities in the country. Like Michigan is supposed to be the biggest population of Arabs and Muslims and there are like these girls in Hijab that sound like they're from Wisconsin. They're like, oh, I'm from Upper Michigan, in their little Hijab. It's hilarious.

LONG: You mentioned something, and I know that we're out of time. I just want to get this in case -- it's important in case you have a unique perspective. You mentioned television, the perceptions on television. What is your perception of the way the news media reports on the major issues today in the Middle East?

JOBRANI: Well, you know, I always joke about whenever they show us, they always --

AHMED: Funny you should ask.

JOBRANI: They always show us --

KADER: Mostly positive, I'd have to say.

JOBRANI: They always show us like burning the flag and you know, going, America's the Satan, or whatever. I say, just once I wish they would show us doing something good like baking a cookie, you know? We were talking last night on the show and I'd done that joke about that. And I said actually -- and in a joke, I say, just once I wish CNN would say, let's go to Mohammed in Iran. And they go to some guy and he goes, Hello, I'm Mohammed and I'm just baking a cookie. I swear to God, no bombs, no flags. And back to you, Bob. And that would be the --

But last night after the show, after the show was ending, I said tomorrow we'll be doing a CNN interview and I said it's a positive depiction of Middle Easterners. So thanks for doing this.

AHMED: Thanks for having us.

LONG: My pleasure.


LONG: The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.

Tornado warning, keep you up to date. Jacqui, this one's in southern Florida?

JERAS: Yeah, we have southern Florida, but just off of the printer right this second. I want to tell you about Pratt County in south central Kansas. This isn't that far from Greensburg. It's the county to the north and east of there. And they got hit last night with likely a tornado. And now trained weather spotters are reporting a tornado three miles northeast of Sawyer, and it's moving northeast at 45 miles per hour. So we have a confirmed tornado again. This is eastern Pratt County in Kansas.

Now we also have tornado warning in effect for Broward and Palm Beach Counties. This is in south central parts of Florida. This is moving to the south right now and it's heading toward the Coral Springs area, just to the west of the Saw Grass Expressway. Back to you, Melissa.