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Hurricane Felix Battering Region Along Nicaragua's Border With Honduras; President Bush & Iraq's Shadow; Exercise and Sudden Death

Aired September 04, 2007 - 09:00   ET


I'm Heidi Collins. Tony Harris is off today.

Watch events come into the NEWSROOM live on September 4th.

Here is what's on the rundown.

Felix taking a bite out of Central America's Miskito coast. The Category 5 storm crashing ashore a little more than an hour ago.

Teens facing decades behind bars accused of a schoolyard beating. The racially-charged case of Louisiana's Jena Six in court today. In a moment, live with the mother of one of the accused.

And AC full blast. The power supply melting fast.

Southern California sweats out a heat wave, in the NEWSROOM.

Along the Central American coastline this hour, a head-on collision with a fearsome hurricane. Right now, Felix is battering the coast alone Nicaraguan's border with Honduras, making landfall as a Category 5, a potentially catastrophic storm.

CNN has reporters across the hurricane zone.

We want to begin our coverage with Harris Whitbeck. He's joining us now from La Ceiba, Honduras.

Good morning to you, Harris.


We were just able to speak with the Nicaraguan minister of health, who is at a regional hospital in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, which is right in the path of the eye of Hurricane Felix. We spoke by phone briefly.

She said that everybody was holed up in this hospital. She was able to look out the window and saw lots of trees swaying. She said the winds was extremely fierce and the entire hospital staff was making efforts to take care of its patients, but they were not able to accept any new patients or any new people trying to get out of the storm's path.

Here in La Ceiba, the situation, as you can see, is much different. The winds are very, very calm here. However, people had been preparing for this for several days. People boarding up their homes and businesses.

A lot of tourists, a lot of American tourists who go to the island off of Roatan, just off of La Ceiba, for some of the world's best diving, had been evacuated as of yesterday. They were even taking flights not only to the mainland, but also back to the United States.

The authorities now are preparing to go into the Miskito area, right on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. They'll go in there as soon as conditions allow.

They're concerned about 14,000 or so Miskito Indians who were not able to evacuate before the storm bore down upon them. Yesterday, government officials here were scrambling trying to find fuel for boats that would evacuate these people. Either by land or by sea are the only ways of getting to that very, very remote and isolated part of Honduras.

Again, people waiting for the storm to pass so that they can see -- so that they can get in there and see what kind of damage it left in its wake -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Harris, we're going to be checking back with you to keep our eye on the situation there. Certainly do appreciate that, coming to us live this morning from La Ceiba. Appreciate that.

Rob Marciano is in the weather center now to give us an even better picture of how this thing is tracking.

Rob, huge. It's massive. We talked yesterday for quite some time about how quickly it developed and now here we are.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, here we are. And it is hammering the coastline of Nicaraguan right now.

The eastern eye wall coming ashore, so this is a process now. And it's really -- the worst of the storm now over the last hour and now the coming hour, and then once that happens, we'll start to see things decrease just a little bit in intensity.

So, here it is making landfall across Punta Gorda. You know, ironically enough, remember Hurricane Charley? Punta Gorda in Florida, a Category 4 storm, this one a five with 165-mile-an-hour winds. We do look for it to weaken here as we go through time.

The projected path is pretty straightforward. West, maybe a little bit north of west, and it's going to be a two-tier storm. It's going to be one that brings a storm surge, which it's doing now, brings some heavy winds, which it's doing now. Probably 120, 130 -- in some cases, 140 miles an hour. We could see gusts higher than that for sure with this Cat 5.

And then weakening quickly as it hits the mountains. Down to Cat 2 status by later on this afternoon, and then a tropical storm status shortly after that.

Then it becomes a rainmaker. And what we've seen time and time again with hurricanes that have hit this part of Central America with the mountainous areas, the rain can often do more damage than the wind in the form of land and mudslides. And unfortunately, that looks to be the bigger story as we go through the next day or two.

Hurricane Henriette about to hit Cabo San Lucas later on tonight, tomorrow morning. Only a Cat 1 there, but we will talk more about that as we head through this afternoon.

Right now, all eyes are on Felix, still a Category 5 storm making landfall across Nicaragua.

Heidi, back over to you.

COLLINS: Wow. All right, Rob. We of course will check in with you a little bit later on.

Just want to remind everybody, too, if you happen to see severe weather in your area, send us an I-Report. Go to and click on "I-Report" or type into your cell phone and share your photos or video.

New now this morning, a pair of deadly bombings shaking Pakistan. At least 21 people killed, 74 wounded in the blast in Rawalpindi. That's just south of the capital of Islamabad and it is the headquarters of Pakistan's military.

The first explosion destroyed a bus that was carrying government workers. The second killed people in a commercial district. No groups have claimed responsibility.

Fresh off summer vacation, back into the debate over the Iraq war. The Senate relations -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee hears an independent assessment of the war's progress today. It's from the Government Accountability Office. The GAO's draft report says Iraq has not made much political headway in recent months. Military commanders may paint a different picture. They report to Congress, as you know, next week.

President Bush and the long shadow of Iraq. Minutes ago, he arrived in Australia for trade talks, but the distant war sparks anger and tests alliances.

CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano is in Sydney now for us this morning.

Good morning to you there, Elaine.

What is ahead for the president today?


Well, Air Force One did touch down about 40 minutes ago here in Sydney, Australia. President Bush in the coming days is going to be talking trade and economic issues with other world leaders. We're also going to be gathering here. But, of course, Iraq continues to be a main focus.


QUIJANO (voice over): Less than two weeks before he delivers a crucial Iraq report to Congress, President Bush hinted at a possible future troop drawdown.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we're now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.

QUIJANO: But later, the president was more cautious, saying no decision had been made.

Even before the president's surprise visit, Iraq was already overshadowing his trip to the annual meeting of Asian and Pacific leaders in Sydney, Australia, this week.

LEE HAMILTON, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: I think we are coming into a very important chapter, a new chapter in the Iraq debate, beginning with General Petraeus' report.

QUIJANO: To ensure he's in Washington ahead of congressional testimony on Iraq by lieutenant General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the president will leave the conference a day early. But he will have a chance to strengthen ties with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, one of his staunchest war on terror allies.

MICHAEL GREEN, FMR. ASIAN AFFAIRS ADVISER: Howard stood with the president very closely on Iraq. John Howard was in Washington on 9/11. So they were really working together based on this common experience.

QUIJANO: Yet, the president could lose the ally he calls a man of steel. With Australia's upcoming election, polls show the prime minister lagging behind opposition party candidate Kevin Rudd. Rudd says he won't back down on his party's call for a phased withdraw of Australian combat forces from Iraq.

President Bush also plans to meet with him.

GREEN: He may end up being prime minister, so it's absolutely appropriate for the president to spend time talking to him, as many American leaders have with labor leaders over the decades.

QUIJANO: But 9/11 commissioner Lee Hamilton says Iraq has limited the president's clout on the world stage.

HAMILTON: Well, I think there's no doubt at all that it has hurt it profoundly.

(END VIDEOTAPE) QUIJANO: Now, even as the president focuses much of his attention on Iraq and the war on terror, experts suggest that in 50 years, China and Asia will be the center of international power. And because of that, they say this administration and others must spend more time today managing relationships with Asian nations in order to prepare for that power shift down the road -- Heidi.

COLLINS: CNN's Elaine Quijano live for us this morning from Sydney, Australia.

Elaine, thank you.

Rescue on a rising river. Several boaters safe this morning after getting trapped by a fast-moving current in Hall (ph), Massachusetts.

It happened over the weekend. The kayakers were in danger of being swept down a culvert under a bridge. Rescue crews responded quickly. One firefighter got in the water to lift the boater out. Everyone did make it out safely.

Still ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM, a sleepy southern town and the racial divide splitting it in two. A young man fighting today to overturn a conviction.

A radical school grows in Brooklyn?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are paying with our public dollar for a religious school, a madrassa.


COLLINS: Controversy surrounds a public school with Arabic on the curriculum.

And grab a bottle of water. Maybe you'll cool down. Southern California is sweating out a major heat wave. And power companies just can't keep up.

Plus, athletes on the field and at risk. Questions about heart health.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta with some answers ahead right here in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: We all know exercise is good, but a new study finds rigorous workouts for athletes, coupled with an irregular heartbeat, can be deadly.

We're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta for details on this.

So, good morning to you, Sanjay. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

COLLINS: It seems like we all kind of when we hear these stories begin to rethink our own exercise regime.

GUPTA: Yes, and I think that is probably not the message here. I think for most people, exercise is still a very important part of your fitness routine in staying healthy.

People are quite interested in what happens to certain athletes. For example, I was fascinated and interested and saddened by Antonio Puerto, the soccer player, 22 years old. He was playing soccer, he collapsed, as many people remember these images.

He was taken to the hospital. He ended up dying three days later. The question was, what happened to someone like this? This is an athlete, a young man as well.

What seems to be happening, at least according to a new study, is that athletes may have -- athletes, like anybody else, I should say, may have an underlying heart condition that is irregular heart rhythm. In most people, it's without consequence. It's really no problem.

But you add to that this adrenaline, all of the surge that athletes put their bodies through, and all of a sudden, what may have been an otherwise harmless heart rhythm can actually turn deadly. And that may have happened with Antonio Puerto, other athletes as well.

In Italy, you may not know this, but in Italy, they actually mandate that all athletes get an EKG before they start playing. And what they've noticed is that the death rate from sudden cardiac disease has gone from four in 100,000 to .4 in 100,000.


GUPTA: So, it seems to make a difference, just doing these EKGs.

COLLINS: Yes. It doesn't seem like a bad idea.

GUPTA: Right.

COLLINS: But it's weird, because these athletes that we're talking about are some of the finest in the world. I mean, tip-top physical condition. It seems like they would be able to sort of bounce back.

GUPTA: Right. And we thought the exact same thing. And the question, what happens at the event? What happens at the time that this has actually occurred?

The body has just been through this amazing sort of trial. You know, they've been through an athletic event of some sort, and as a result, their body may be in what is called an oxygen-deprived state.

So, while they should be able to sort of bounce back, as you say, Heidi, from some sort of event like this, because their body has just been taxed so much, they don't have enough reserve, they don't have enough oxygen actually in their bloodstream at the time to be able to combat something like this. Again, turning what otherwise may have been a harmless or certainly not fatal event into something that can kill somebody.

COLLINS: Yes. It's so scary.

And then there is the story of Jim Fixx.


COLLINS: Some people might remember, but the gentleman who wrote a book about running, and he was this avid, avid runner. And then he died of a heart attack while jogging.

GUPTA: Right.

COLLINS: Him, of all people. It really does make you question what you're doing for yourself.

GUPTA: It does make you question. And I think, again, the message that we don't want to send here is that you need to worry about this.

This is very rare what we're talking about here. The case of Jim Fixx obviously a very unusual case, which is why people are still talking about it so long after it happened.

I have a few numbers here.

There's about 10 million joggers in the country, and about one in 15,000 actually collapse and die. So it is still pretty rare. That could be several hundred deaths a year.

What causes these deaths very much seem to be dependent on age. In a young person, it may be some underlying heart condition. In an older person, it could be that they did not -- they had coronary artery disease or they had blockages and didn't get it checked out. I think the message here is for everybody who's certainly going to engage in any kind of rigorous physical activity, or if you have a family history of some sort or some risk factor, get your heart checked out beforehand.

COLLINS: Sure. Yes, don't just run out and start training for the Boston Marathon or something like that.

GUPTA: Or the New York Marathon or whatever.

COLLINS: Haven't you done...

GUPTA: Like I'm trying to do, the New York Marathon.

COLLINS: ... a couple of those? Yes, yes, yes. I knew you were trying to get that in.

GUPTA: I just thought I'd sneak it in. But the jacket is a little big.

COLLINS: Oh, boy.

All right, Sanjay. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COLLINS: Coming up next now, a shark attack in shallow water. One man's story and stitches.

Alligator on the loose in, of all places, Ohio?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard this scratch at the side door. Looked down, and there is a alligator's tail on the step.


COLLINS: And you thought door-to-door salesmen were a nuisance.

Live alligator comes calling after a break.


COLLINS: A key Taliban commander reported killed this morning in Afghanistan. Afghan police say 16 militants died in a firefight with coalition forces in the eastern Ghazni province. Among them, a man believed to be one of the masterminds behind the July kidnappings of 23 South Korean aid workers.

Reading, writing and Islamic fundamentalism? Critics say a New York City public school is teaching the wrong lesson.

CNN's Richard Roth explains.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, baby (ph). Help me out here.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): When New York City announced plans for a public school that would teach Arabic language and culture, Carmen Cologne (ph) saw a great opportunity for her 11-year-old son.

I know for a fact that any American who learns Arabic will make tons of money, whether it's translation, whether it's in the customer service area. I thought it was the best advantage I could give my son.

ROTH: But some are outraged over the school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are paying with our public dollar for a religious school, a madrassa. ROTH: Pamela Hall (ph) is with Stop the Madrassa. The group believes the Khalil Gibran International Academy will impose a radical Islamic agenda in its classrooms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Arabic immigrant student will be isolated. Whether that materializes instantly into terrorists, that's a huge statement to make. But are these students not assimilating and becoming part of the American fabric? And is that potentially a problem? We think so, yes.

DEBORAH HOWARD, KGIA DESIGN TEAM: There's no basis and fact for what they're saying.

ROTH: Deborah Howard and Reyad Farraj, both parents of Brooklyn public school students, worked on the design team for the academy and say it is not a religious school.

HOWARD: In terms of the curriculum, if it's a New York City public school it has to go by New York City standards. I'm Jewish. I would never be part of a school that would in any way, you know, be involved with Islamic fundamentalists.

ROTH: Much of the criticism was directed at the school's Arab- American founding principal, Debbie al-Mantasar (ph). Two local papers reported claims she had ties to Islamic extremist organizations.

The controversy reached a fever pitch when al-Mantasar (ph) was quoted defending the use of the word "intifada" on a T-shirt. She said in Arabic it simply means "shaking off". Soon after, al-Mantasar (ph) resigned and the city replaced her with a Jewish principal who doesn't speak Arabic.

REYAD FARRAJ, KGIA DESIGN TEAM: To be attacked so viciously has been unbelievably unfair. And quite sad.

ROTH: The verbal attacks caused Cologne (ph) to pull her son out of the school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people who are so against this school who, for me, seem more like the terrorists by terrorizing the community and making us feel that it's unsafe for our children to be there, they're the ones who are terrorizing us, not the school, not the principal and not the administration.

ROTH: Richard Roth, CNN, New York.


COLLINS: A boy gets out of his wheelchair to save his dad from fire. Eight-year-old Gregory Bridwell has cerebral palsy, but that was no handicap when it came to his heroism. The Kentucky boy was watching TV when the set exploded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GREGORY BRIDWELL, SAVED FATHER FROM FIRE: There was like this big old smoke, and then I ran outside to get my grandpa. And then I saved my dad's life.


COLLINS: Could he be any cuter, either?

Gregory can't walk, so he crawled to his grandfather. The grandfather rushed back in the house and got Gregory's dad out in time. Good for him.

Still ahead in the NEWSROOM, six African-American teens facing criminal charges in a small town in Louisiana. We talk to one teen's mother and the reporter who helped put the story in the headlines.

MARCIANO: Hurricane making landfall in Nicaragua. A Category 5 storm, Felix, now on shore but still packing winds in excess of 150 miles an hour.

We'll show you the track, what it means for that country, and where it's going after that when the CNN NEWSROOM returns.


COLLINS: A fearsome storm slamming into parts of Central America. Right now, Hurricane Felix is battling the region along Nicaragua's border with Honduras. It moved ashore as a Category 5 with winds at 160 miles an hour.

Just ahead of landfall, frantic evacuations, as you might imagine. Thousands of tourists and residents along the Honduran coastline were moved to higher ground.

Belize, Guatemala and parts of Mexico also expected to feel the storm's impact. Forecasters say the hurricane's heavy rains could produce flashfloods and mudslides all across the region.

Rob Marciano in the weather center for us this morning tracking this thing.

Boy, I'm just looking at some data here, something that we got in from NOAA. This is NOAA's report that says, including Hurricane Dean, we've now got Hurricane Felix, the first time since 1886 two Category 5s have hit land in the same season.

MARCIANO: And that likely means that, you know, since they've been keeping records, which, you know, who knows how far back it would have went after that?


MARCIANO: So, this is one for the record books. And not only that, but so close, Heidi, to where Dean came ashore just a couple of weeks ago.

Dean coming ashore right here. And this is where Felix is coming ashore, along the Miskito coast of Nicaragua.

There you still see the eye. It strengthened the last couple of hours before it made landfall, and then right there, Punta Gorda, ironically enough, the same name in Florida, Punta Gorda, Hurricane Charley back in 2004 tore apart that area.

All right. Well, look for the eye to dissipate here. Still a major hurricane, no doubt about that.

The tough thing with this area is that usually when a hurricane comes ashore, we start to get all of this data coming in. We get physical reports, we get instruments taking numbers, but there's not a whole lot here. And on top of that, one these things make landfall,. the hurricane hunter aircraft stop flying into them.

So, we really don't know just how bad the winds are. We can guess that they are likely 120, 130, 140 miles an hour around the center of this eye. And the wind field extends about 40 to 45 miles north and south of that.

So, it's a fairly compact storm, and if there is any good news with that, that's what it is. But it's going to be a twofold system in that.

Now we're getting the surge, we're getting those winds, which pretty much are EF-2 and EF-3 tornado-like winds around the core of the hurricane. And then it will decrease in intensity rather quickly, but it will turn into a rainmaker.

A very mountainous area here, and especially Honduras and the northern parts of Nicaragua. So mudslides and landslides are going to be a big issue with this.

And then here is Henriette. This will come in towards Cabo San Lucas later on tonight and tomorrow. Likely as just a Category 1, maybe a Category 2 storm.

The U.S. really not affected by either of these storms. We may get some rain from Henriette into the desert southwest in a couple of days.

If you're in Nicaragua by chance, or Cabo San Lucas, please send us your I-Reports at and we'll put your pictures on the air. And, of course, be safe while you're doing it.

Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. All right. Rob, thank you.

A power emergency as Southern California sizzles. Another weather story here for you. That emergency in San Diego as demand surges. Rolling blackouts could be on the horizon, too.

Reporter Rekha Muddaraj is joining me now. She's with our affiliate, KFMB in San Diego -- Rekha, what is the power situation this morning there? REKHA MUDDARAJ, KFMB CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Heidi.

The power situation right now pretty stable, although 2,000 customers are still without power. But here in San Diego, the weather has been hot and humid, which is very unusual. And people are coping with this by cranking up their A.C.s.

But SDG&E, which is San Diego Gas & Electric, is pleading with customers to go easy on their energy usage.

Crews are working around the clock to keep the power on for those residents. The recent heat, you know, causing people to use a lot of energy, and this is putting pressure on those power grids. Thousands of residents over this holiday weekend were actually without power at some point. We heard 20,000 residents was the highest number we had heard. And, also, today, SDG&E very worried because everyone is going back to work and to school. They're asking businesses and schools to go easy on their air conditioning.

And, of course, if it reaches a stage three emergency, we could see rolling blackouts today. So certainly San Diegans are very much on caution or they're very much being cautionary about their power usage today.

Back to you -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Going easy, though, with the air conditioning is so tough when it's that hot.

And what are we talking about for today?

Any idea of how long this will keep up or how hot it's going to get there?

MUDDARAJ: It's been pretty hot. It's been in triple digits over the weekend. We're actually expecting it to cool down today. But, again, this humidity, very rare for us here, so it's something people are having to cope with.

COLLINS: I wish they could all go to the beach. It's just right there. They just can't hold school on the beach, though.

All right, Rekha Muddaraj, appreciate that.

An important hearing now today in the case that's known as the Jena 6. A judge will be asked to throw out a conviction. This raising questions about justice in the Louisiana town.

CNN's Susan Roesgen explains.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Marcus Jones is outraged and frightened. His son, 17-year-old Mychal Bell, has been found guilty of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery -- charges that could send him to prison for more than 20 years. And it all stems from a high school fight.

Back in September, black students sat under this tree in the school courtyard, where traditionally only white students sit. The next day, three white students hung nooses from the tree and were suspended.

What the nooses meant divided the town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think a couple of the boys made a mistake, you know. But, you know, I think that it's all being blown out of proportion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very offended, because that's a racial slur against us.

ROESGEN: From there, things got worse. In November, someone set fire to the school, destroying one of its main buildings, though police don't know if there's a connection to the nooses.

Then in December, a school fight. A white student, Justin Barker, was knocked unconscious and kicked as he lay on the ground. Six black teenagers were accused of beating him.

(on camera) This is a copy of the school handbook here at Jena High School. It says the punishment for a school fight is three days' suspension.

(voice-over) But in this case, the six black teenagers were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Carwyn Jones, Bryant Purvis, Robert Bailey, Jr. Theodore Shaw, and a fifth teenager whose name hasn't been released because he's only 16, are charged with attempted murder.

Now, the sixth teenager, Mychal Bell, has been found guilty of the lesser felony charge of aggravated battery. But all the teenagers say they're innocent and one of them told us he didn't even see what happened.

ROBERT BAILEY, ACCUSED STUDENT: You know, like when the fight break out, every -- all of the kids were just running to see the fight. That's just how it was. And everybody was in one part and you really couldn't see nothing.

So when I'm running to -- when I'm running to see what's going on, I got down there to the fight and it was over with. The coaches and the students was breaking up the fight.

ROESGEN: The students' parents say whatever happened, the only reason their sons were arrested is because they are black.

TINA JONES, PARENT: Since I had never seen anything like this before in my life, you know, it just -- it's mind-blowing. You know, it's heartbreaking, you know?

THEODORE MCCOY, PARENT: No previous record of anything. And he's been taking it pretty hard, at times, because we visit every Sunday. Sometimes he's OK. And the next minute, he's taking it very hard.

ROESGEN: The parents believe their sons just can't get a fair trial, when they're the minority in a town that's 85 percent white. Even some white residents agree.

KRISTY BOYETTE, JENA RESIDENT: These are kids. They are kids. And now you're fixing to ruin these kids' lives.

ROESGEN: District Attorney Reed Walters released a statement after the incident, saying he had never charged anyone based on who they are. But he also addressed the six black students directly, saying: "You will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I will see to it you never again menace the students at any school in this parish."

Since the arrest last December, Jena has seen protests denouncing the criminal charges against the six black students as racially motivated.

But there is another side of this story that's gone unreported.

KELLY BARKER, MOTHER OF VICTIM: He was getting kicked and stomped.

ROESGEN (on camera): Why?

BARKER: I don't know. You tell me.

ROESGEN (voice-over): For the first time, the parents of Justin Barker, the victim, agreed to be interviewed exclusively by CNN.

BARKER: Several lacerations in both sides, both of the ears was kind of really damaged and both eyes. His right eye was the worst. It had blood clots in it.

ROESGEN: Kelly and David Barker say Justin has no idea why he was attacked, but his injuries have cost $12,000 in medical bills and his parents do believe it was a case of attempted murder. BARKER: I wish to goodness it wouldn't have happened. I mean, they have parents and, you know, me and David are parents of Justin, and I hate it for them parents. I mean, I can only imagine. But I also have to think about my child and my family.

ROESGEN: The trial for Theodore Shaw will be next, in a town where fear and suspicion on both sides have made Jena an uncomfortable place to call home.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Jena, Louisiana.


COLLINS: More about the case of the Jena 6 now.

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans. An article he wrote first brought the case to national attention.

Thanks for being with us, Jordan.

And Tina Jones is also with us. We just heard from her in Susan Roesgen's piece. She is the mother of Bryant Purvis, one of the young men facing charges.

Mrs. Jones, thanks for being with us.

I want to begin with you.

Tell us a little bit about your son's story. We know that he was initially one of the two students who sat under the tree, if you will.

What did he tell you about the nooses?

JONES: Bryant didn't actually tell me about the nooses. I had went to work and parents that were concerned about the nooses that were hung in the tree was telling me about it. When Bryant came home that evening, I asked Bryant were nooses hung in the tree and he told me yes. He said he didn't see the actually noose on the ropes, but he did see the ropes hanging from the tree.

COLLINS: What did he say the reaction was of the rest of the students or just in general at the school at the idea of nooses hanging from the tree?

JONES: All the black students were upset and angry about what had happened. And, you know, a lot of them called or e-mailed -- I mean or text their parents, telling them what had happened at the school. And then the parents got involved.

COLLINS: So then there was this fight in December that we heard about in Susan Roesgen's piece.

Tell me, was your son involved in that at all?

JONES: He wasn't actually involved in the fight, but he was named in the fight. Bryant said the day the fight actually took place, they were coming out of the gym. And when he was walking up the stairway going to class, he heard a lick and someone fall. So he said he jumped up on the side rail to see what had happened and he seen Justin Barker laying on the ground. And, at that point, he said teachers were hollering, you know, go to class. Your name is going to be written down. So he told his girlfriend and several other kids that he was with to let's go to class, because they were trying to go in the area where the fight was.

So soon after that, when kids were being arrested for the fight -- Bryant wasn't charged that day. They arrested him from school the following day.

COLLINS: Jordan, I want to bring you in here quickly.

How did you first learn about this story?

FLAHERTY: Well, Heidi, I live in New Orleans. So I heard about this story from advocates based in New Orleans who had talked about this case. And I think for everyone the first image they hear is this powerful image of these nooses hanging from a tree and what that represents, especially in a small town in the rural South.

And then the other image on top of that, which is less heard of, is this district attorney coming into the school, speaking to a school auditorium that's divided by race, with black students on one side and white students on the other, and directing his comments to the black students who had stood under that tree and protested the nooses and saying you have to stop making trouble or else I can make your lives disappear with the stroke of my pen.

And that's what he has been proceeding to do.

COLLINS: Yes. And to say that in public in front of all those people, I know that there were something like 44 witnesses that have been interviewed about this entire event, that seems, as we say, to have been going on for a very long time. But the first incident in September and then the fight in December, several months.

Let me get back to Tina quickly.

We know Mychal Bell is in court today. It's actually a motion where they're trying to overturn his conviction.

What do you feel about the chances of that happening?

JONES: I'm going to try to stay optimistic about it, because he do have a set of new lawyers. So hopefully things will change and get better for him.

COLLINS: Jordan, how about you?

Can he get a fair trial?

FLAHERTY: I'm really concerned. I'm concerned about the judge in this case. I'm concerned about the district attorney, who is on this seeming vendetta to persecute these kids. I'm concerned -- you know, I think the people of Jena don't want their town to become synonymous with racism. But I think District Attorney Reed Walters has that happen. And he's made it by pursuing these kids relentlessly, by pursuing attempted murder charges for a school fight and that, you know -- I feel -- I feel for the parents and what they're going through, and especially parts of these accused kids, all who are great students, who were planning on going to college and now are facing a lifetime behind bars.

Mychal Bell has now already spent about nine months behind bars for a school fight.

COLLINS: Any of them have previous trouble with the law?

FLAHERTY: They had basically clean records. The are some -- some things that they have tried to bring up with Mychal Bell's case. But basically all these kids have been no disciplinary problems, great students, athletes on the football team, scholarship offers coming in from colleges. COLLINS: Tina, where is your son now and what's next for him?

JONES: He is currently in Dallas, Texas. He started school, actually, last week. And as for court, we don't have a court date. But the D.A. Did file a motion to present evidence in Bryant's case. So we should be hearing from that any time.

COLLINS: How is he doing?

I mean do you have an opportunity to speak with him?

JONES: I talk to him almost daily. He, you know, he gets down sometimes. But, overall, you know, we're trying to get his life back to normal, to pursue his education and, hopefully, you know, he'll be able to play ball. You know, that's his dream, to play professional basketball. So hopefully, you know, we'll get that done.

COLLINS: Jordan, as we look at the larger implications here, what do you think is going to come out of this incident for the town of Jena?

FLAHERTY: Well, Heidi, this has really struck a nerve with people around the country, and people especially from the rural South have come around, from Shreveport, from Monroe, from Lafayette and, of course, from New Orleans, from Houston. And it's -- you know, it's really, I think, shown an example of the problems we have in our justice system.

And I hope that Governor Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, will intervene and do something and, you know, I think investigate this district attorney and the abuse of power that he's shown.

I hope that this attention really shines a light and that we can really continue this into a conversation about race in this country, a conversation about our criminal justice system, a conversation about these fundamental issues of fairness.

COLLINS: Tina, I have to ask you the same question.

Certainly as your son is in Dallas now away from you, what do you see for the future of the town that you live in?

JONES: If we don't do something with the D.A. And the judge and other political leaders, then, you know, things aren't going to change. But my main concern is trying to get these charges overturned on my son and furthering his career. So that's my main focus at this time.

COLLINS: Understandable.

Tina Jones.

She is the mother of Bryant Purvis.

He is one of the Jena 6.

Appreciate your time.

And Jordan Flaherty, the editor of "Left Turn Magazine."

FLAHERTY: Thank you, Heidi.

COLLINS: Thanks very much to both of you.

Still ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM now, President Bush leaves behind Iraq, but not the controversy of the war. His latest stop, his latest test.

Oh, dear, there's an alligator at the door -- not something you hear too often, thank goodness. The surprise visitor is coming up in THE NEWSROOM.



COLLINS: A terror attack foiled -- that word from police in Denmark now. They say the eight people they arrested were Islamic militants with international contacts. Some of those contacts said to include leading members of Al Qaeda. Police also seized what they called unstable explosives stored in a heavily populated area of Copenhagen.

President Bush on the road under the shadow of Iraq. The debate over the war follows him to Australia. He's there for trade talks, but will also meet with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a key ally. But the prime minister's support of the war could cost him his reelection bid.

President Bush just wrapped up his surprise visit to Iraq. There, he hinted the number of U.S. troops could be reduced.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media. In other words, when we begin to drawn do you troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from the position of fear and failure.


COLLINS: Next week, Congress will hear a progress report from the top military commander in Iraq.

Primary battles -- the fight to be first may leave some states on the outside.

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): What if you gave a primary and nobody came? That could happen in Florida and Michigan, which are trying to hold early primaries.

Six Democratic candidates have signed a pledge not to campaign in states that jump the gun.

Wait a minute. Democrats are saying they're not going to campaign in Michigan, the homeland of organized labor, and Florida, where Al Gore was just a few chads short of becoming president? What does that mean?

It means that Iowa and New Hampshire are still as important as ever, maybe more important.

Want evidence?

Look at where the candidates spent Labor Day weekend.

Iowa -- Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, Republicans John McCain and Fred Thompson.

New Hampshire -- Democrats Barack Obama and Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, Republican Mitt Romney.

Anybody in Florida or Michigan?


Will the candidates dare to ignore those vote rich states?

Yes. It costs a lot of money to campaign in those big states.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It should be based on substance, real ideas and who can actually change the country, who has the personal characteristics to be president, not on fundraising like this.

SCHNEIDER: But Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama signed the pledge and they've got the money to campaign in Florida and Michigan. But they dare not insult Iowa and New Hampshire.

Obama and Edwards are hoping to score a breakthrough in Iowa, where the top three Democrats are virtually tied. If that happens, Clinton will have to rely on New Hampshire to make her the comeback kid.

Everyone agrees the primary system needs fixing, but they also agree on something else.



MCCAIN: We need to fix it and we need to preserve the Iowa caucuses.

SCHNEIDER: Don't mess with Iowa and New Hampshire. They still call the shots.

(on camera): The whole idea of letting Iowa and New Hampshire go first is that they're small. They require face-to-face campaigning. To run in Florida and Michigan, you've got to spend a whole lot of money on TV ads. But those poor voters may not see as many ads as they had hoped.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


COLLINS: Usually, we expect to see an alligator at home in a swamp. We don't expect one -- to see one knocking at your back door.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was scratching at the door, like, you know, trying to get it to come open.


COLLINS: Did he do that to the door?

Jeez. A scary and scaly visitor drops by.


COLLINS: We want to get to a story that we are learning about here at CNN in Ohio.

T.J., Holmes is working on this.

A plane crash search, Lake Erie, I believe it is, right -- T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Lake Erie. The plane took off from Kelleys Island, Ohio and went down last night about a half mile from where it did take off.

Now, on board, we understand, was a father and his two sons, a 7- year-old and a 9-year-old. What we know now is that the 7-year-old was rescued shortly after the plane crashed. Apparently someone onshore saw the plane go down and went out to try to help and actually rescued the 7-year-old boy.

The Good Samaritan went out, actually, on a row boat and picked the 7-year-old up. The 7-year-old is helping in the investigation now and is apparently in pretty good condition.

Now, authorities don't know exactly how the 7-year-old -- or are not telling us right now -- exactly how the 7-year-old was able to get out and able to survive, but the father and the 9-year-old son right now are still missing.

That search continues now. Divers are in the water. Other boats and also a helicopter have been participating in this search.

But right now, no sign of the 9-year-old and also of the father. They are concentrating on an area where some wreckage has been seen and also an oil sheen has been seen. But right now, still no sign of the father and no sign of the 9-year-old son.

Don't know where this group was headed. But last night, again, this was about 9:30 last evening when this plane -- it was a small plane, a Cessna aircraft that took off last night. And, again, around 9:30.

They did start the search last a bit last night. But, of course it was dark. Divers -- only so much they could do at that point. But they did get back into the water this morning. We understand they are in there -- in the water right now still searching.

But a good story there in that the 7-year-old was able to get out and is now helping. And the 7-year-old is in good condition. But we still don't know the fate of his father and, also, his 9-year-old brother.

We are watching this story.

We'll bring you more details, hopefully some positive details, we'll have to pass along to you here shortly -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, hopefully.

Boy, that's an amazing rescue.


COLLINS: All right, very good.

T.J. Holmes, I know you'll be following that for us.

Appreciate it.

HOLMES: All right.

COLLINS: Politics and the battlefield -- what's working in Iraq, what's not -- a key report to a Senate committee.

And getting out of harm's way -- a big evacuation ahead of a fearsome hurricane. A live update on Hurricane Felix.

Hurricanes the topic of our news quiz today. In fact, the question: when was the last time two category five hurricanes made landfall in the same season?

Now, I gave you this answer a little while ago. So if you were watching, you might know. We'll tell you the answer after a quick break.