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U.S. Warns Iran About Confrontation; Bush on Middle East Peace Mission; New Hampshire Voters Shake up Race; Three Dead in Massive Florida Pile-Up

Aired January 09, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: ... international incident. Iran calls it a fabrication. The U.S. calls it a provocation. Now, Washington is warning Tehran against a high-seas repeat.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now.

And Barbara, you first told us about this story a couple of days ago. What are U.S. officials saying now?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Heidi, the concern about this incident really only continues to grow. A senior U.S. military official this morning telling me early here in the Pentagon this morning that he is very concerned about this situation.

When you look at that video, the Iranians may say it's fabricated. But what you do see in that video is Iranian speedboats, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on board, coming very close to U.S. warships. U.S. warships right on the brink of firing at them, an altercation on the high seas.

In a further development, earlier, the national security advise, Stephen Hadley, traveling with President Bush on the way to the Middle East, spoke to reporters. And let's just tell you a little bit of what Stephen Hadley had to say about this and the Iranians.

He said, quote, "They're going to have to take responsibility for the consequences if they do it again. That's not a threat. That's simply a description of facts and a description of the seriousness of what they did."

And, Heidi, that's what really has the U.S. Navy concerned right now. What might happen next, if the Iranians were probing to see what the U.S. Navy's reaction would be? The next time, what happens if this goes a step further? What happens if this really does become a shooting war in the Strait of Hormuz?

The navy is not interested at shooting at the Iranians, but they have made it very clear, the Bush administration, they're not going to tolerate these speedboats harassing U.S. Navy warships, on international waters, of course.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes, and that's the crux of it, is it not? The fact that it's international waters. I mean, I know they tried to warn them with the alert signals, and then they also gave a verbal warning from the U.S. Navy to the Iranians.

STARR: Right. You know, for people who have watched that video, it's really very compelling. The bridge to bridge communications, the U.S. Navy sailor who very calmly but very sternly warns the Iranians to identify themselves and to turn away.

This is, you know, really hair-trigger operations, because these small speedboats, if they are armed, can come up against a U.S. Navy warship within seconds. The U.S. Navy, of course, has been attacked in the past: the USS Cole out in Yemen several years ago. These small speedboats are a significant threat. It's something they're very concerned about.

COLLINS: Understandably so. All right. CNN's Barbara Starr from the Pentagon this morning. Barbara, thanks.

STARR: Sure.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Man on a mission. President Bush on a push for Mideast peace. We expect to hear from him live within the hour.

Right now live to Jerusalem and CNN's Hala Gorani.

Hala, great to see you. Mr. Bush has already said, while on the ground, he is both realistic and optimistic about the chances for peace accord on this trip. What are the president's real expectations for this visit?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: It's hard to say what the president's real expectations are. We know what the president says he hopes to achieve in the next 12 months, Tony.

He hopes that a framework for discussion for agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians to create two states that can live side by side, that that framework for agreement will be achieved in the next year.

But the expectations, as far as analysts, ordinary Middle Easterners and leaders across the region are concerned, are very, very low.

Critics say the U.S. president is coming to the Middle East for his first official visit in his presidency, seven years into -- after having taken the leadership of the United States, three years into his second mandate. Perhaps this is too little, too late.

Now, President Bush though, remains, publicly optimistic. This is what he said when he landed in Tel Aviv just a few hours ago.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I come as an optimistic person and realistic person. Realistic in my understanding that it's vital for the world to fight terrorists, to confront those who would murder the innocent to achieve political objective. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Now, the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, brought up the Iran issue very, very quickly and off the top of his statement he made on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport. And this is coming, of course, within the context of that incident in the Strait of Hormuz that you just discussed there with Barbara Starr.

And meantime, protests ongoing in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip, of course, controlled by the militant group Hamas. These are live pictures I believe you're seeing. There are protestors unhappy with the U.S. president's visit, Tony.

HARRIS: All right. CNN's Hala Gorani for us. Hala, great to see you.

And just another reminder for you. President Bush holds a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and you will see it live in the NEWSROOM later this hour, scheduled to start at 10:55 a.m. Eastern Time.

COLLINS: Comeback, it's the word of the day on this morning after the nation's first presidential primary. Here are the results now from New Hampshire, beginning with the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton rebounded from a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. She edged out Barack Obama, who entered yesterday as a frontrunner in many polls. John Edwards finished third.

Among the Republicans, John McCain finished first. His supporters greeted the news with chants of "Mack is back." Mitt Romney came in second, Mike Huckabee a distant third.

So is this the first day of a whole new presidential race? CNN's Sean Callebs takes a look.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bolstered by a big turnout and strong support from New Hampshire women, Senator Hillary Clinton did something some thought she couldn't: capture the first primary of the campaign season.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Over the last week I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice.

CALLEBS: Senator Barack Obama in second place. He saw a fall- off in turnout among young voters compared with Iowa, where he won.

The chorus screams "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" but it didn't happen that way for Barack Obama in New Hampshire. Still, he is geared up for a nationwide fight.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two races down, 48 states left to go. CALLEBS: And Democrat John Edwards, who finished a distant third, says he is still in the race.

For the GOP it was a great night for Senator John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mack is back! Mack is back!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mack is back! Mack is back!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mack is back! Mack is back!

CALLEBS: His victory in New Hampshire moved him back into contention for the Republican nomination.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: However this campaign turns out, and I am more confident tonight that it will turn out much better than once expected...

CALLEBS: Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani left New Hampshire before most of the ballots were counted. He's looking to Florida for a victory.

And Mitt Romney says the race is truly nationwide now after finishing second for the second straight week. And now he's looking to Super Tuesday.

(on camera) Well, the candidates traveled en masse from Iowa to New Hampshire, but from here they span out all across the country. Some are doing fundraising. Some are retooling. But all are prepare for a big campaign swing before all-important Super Tuesday coming up on February 5.

In Manchester, New Hampshire, I'm Sean Callebs.


COLLIN: The influence of women: did Hillary Clinton sway the vote with some late emotion? We're going to be talking with a couple of experts on where the race goes now. That's ahead right here in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And unfolding this hour, fog, smoke, and a deadly chain- reaction crash in Florida. Authorities say at least three people have died -- man, these are some dramatic pictures -- in this 50-car pile- up on Interstate 4 in Polk County. The highway was blanketed by an eerie shroud of fog and smoke.

You know what? Let's take you to Polk County right now for a live news conference where we're going to get the latest information on this chain-reaction crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three citizens who are confirmed as fatalities as a result of this incident. We are at this point investigating. We have, as the sheriff has commented, in the area of 50 vehicles involved. Everything is very preliminary at this time, so I would ask you to give us some leeway on providing the most proper information to you that we'll try to get to you by late this afternoon when we sort out more.

We're really just getting into the scene now, because the fog and smoke has lifted.

We have, like I said, three confirmed fatalities. Numerous injuries where people were taken to all area hospitals here in Polk County. We believe we have anywhere from five to ten separate traffic crashes eastbound and westbound on I-4. Tractor trailers have burned up and caught on fire.

Working very well with the Florida Department of Transportation. Right now they're an assets. And we're going to do the best we can do with all the other individuals here working with us to see if we can get the interstate open and conduct our investigation thoroughly and timely and get the interstate open so that people can travel back and forth to Orlando from the Tampa Bay area.

HARRIS: Boy, so you get that update. Three fatalities connected to this chain-reaction accident.

The last word we received, nearly 15 miles of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando blocked by the accident, as you just heard, in both directions, east- and westbound.

Again, three fatalities and numerous injuries. We will continue to update this story throughout this morning here in the NEWSROOM. Man, what a scene.

COLLINS: Warm winter weather kicks up another round of tornadoes, rain and floods.

Appleton, Arkansas, a man was killed when a rare January twister rolled his mobile home off its cinder blocks and sent it smashing into trees.

Heavy rain and melting snow led to flash flooding in Indiana. Two small children died when the SUVs they were riding in stalled in deep water. Another man drowned when his truck was swept into a flooded creek.

Some people had to be rescued by boat. Hundreds of people remain out of their homes in the state of Indiana.

HARRIS: And Jacqui, I guess the story is that system is moving to the northeast now?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is moving to the northeast. But the flood waters are still going to be a problem for a while. Many of the rivers have crested, but they're still going to stay high.

And I put up some stream gauge data on top of our Google Earth to show you the area we're talking about. All the purple dots means that they're in a major flood. Red dots means a moderate flood. And this is the Tippecanoe River, and this is the area that we're worried about at this hour. And we're going to zoom in and show you some of that data here. And it shows you that the current observation stage right here is just over 17 feet.

Now, we'll put up the flow data that shows you on a graphical view. And here you can see where the low, steady flow was and how all of a sudden it just shot up here. Record stage, 15.1 feet.

And here's where we are right now. So we crested overnight tonight. And now you can see that starting to drop off just a little bit. So this really shot up overnight Monday, stayed through this record flood stage through much of the day yesterday, and is now beginning to pull down just a little bit. So some good news there.

Now, that system, as you mentioned, Tony, pulling eastward now. We had some severe weather across upstate New York early this morning. We had some video to show you out of Rochester, New York, where the winds gusted as strong as 75 miles per hour. A lot of trees down and power lines down.

We also got word out of Buffalo, New York, that the winds were so strong there they blew a 737 into the jet way. Yes, a little bit of damage with that one.

Let's go ahead and show you some of the stronger storms. This is what's left of that bow echo (ph) squall line. Still producing some gusty winds with it as it moves through western Massachusetts.

Boston, you're not getting wet just yet, but that wet weather is on the way. A live picture out of the Boston area right now, where your temperatures are around, what, 49 degrees or so. We had a record yesterday of 66. That's typical weather for mid-May in Boston.

Much cooler weather on the way. They're going to be back down there around the freezing mark by the weekend.

Back to you guys.

COLLINS: I don't know what to say.

HARRIS: Good voting weather in New Hampshire, huh?


JERAS: Sure was.

HARRIS: Thanks, Jacqui.

COLLINS: Jacqui, thanks.

A Georgia hiker held captive for three days before her death. New details in the gruesome murder case.


HARRIS: Good morning again, everyone. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

The McCain campaign looking ahead after New Hampshire. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Tonight we sure showed them what a comeback looks like.


HARRIS: And the best political team on television breaks it down in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Senator Hillary Clinton foils the pollsters with her win in New Hampshire. But what swung the race her way?

With us from Washington to talk about all of the election side of things, Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women's Forum and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

Welcome to both of you. Thanks for being with us, guys.


COLLINS: Let's begin with the story of Hillary Clinton. There are a lot of stories to talk about from New Hampshire, but let's begin there. Listen with me for just a moment, if you would, to her explaining why she thinks she did as well as she did in the race.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a debate on Saturday that really helped to clarify a lot of the issues in this campaign. And I campaigned really, really hard across New Hampshire, answered hundreds of questions, really had a lot of personal experiences with voters.


COLLINS: OK. So was that it? Or do you think it had more to do with that display of emotion in the diner that we have talked about so much on television, Michelle?

BERNARD: You know, I don't think the debate had anything to do with -- Saturday night's debate had anything to do with her performance among women voters in particular.

What I would say was it was the display of emotion. But also I think that, you know, as we take a look at the exit polls and really get a good idea of the age group of the women who came out in droves, obviously, to vote for Hillary Clinton last night, you're probably going to see a huge generational gap.

And you're going to see women who are a little bit older, who remember the time, for example, when women lawyers were famous for telling stories about graduating from law school and being unable to get jobs as lawyers. So for women who remember sex discrimination in the workplace vividly... COLLINS: Yes.

BERNARD: ... those are probably the women who came out to vote for Hillary Clinton.

COLLINS: Yes. And we are going to -- we're going to talk a little bit more specifically about the women vote in just a minute.

But Steve, what do you think? What do you think about the whole display of emotion? Did she really open herself up to some people who maybe hadn't thought they would vote for her when it came down to it?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I actually think she did. And I think what she did that was the most important turnaround moment for her campaign, if you will, is she kind of threw away the bubble.

She had been in Iowa. She wasn't really exposing herself to questions and answers from either voters or from reporters. And in New Hampshire, you know, when her back was against the wall, she decided to lift the bubble, to go out and answer every voter question that she could find, to engage more directly with reporters, to show a more human side of herself.

And everybody who knows her says she's charming and engaging, self deprecating, everything you love in a person, in person, but that wasn't coming across. And I think showing a little -- showing a little human emotion was probably very, very good for her.

Voters always knew she was very experienced. They always knew that she was tough. They knew she was smart. But they weren't sure that they would like her enough to close the deal. And I think she made herself a lot more likable.

COLLINS: You know, there are -- there are the people out there, though, who of course, are doubtful of that. They say, "Oh, it was all scripted, and it was planned." How do you get past that? It seems sort of like a, you know, no-win situation.

BERNARD: You know, I would say also, you know, the likeability factor, she did show human emotion, and people felt sympathy for her in New Hampshire. But the bottom line is, she can't cry in the other states as we move forward. Crying in the rest of the states that have -- have their primaries coming up is just not going to work.

And Hillary Clinton, for better or for worse, people either love her or hate her. And I think the tables might turn around again as we go state by state.

MCMAHON: But Michelle, I think it's -- I think it's not quite fair to say that it was the crying that did it, because it was also the laughter and the self-deprecating nature of her response in New Hampshire to that question about are you likable enough? When she said that hurts my feelings -- pause, smile, laugh.

So I think that she -- you know, certainly the breaking down or the emotional moment that she had in New Hampshire was a part of it. But the bigger part of it was she was -- she looked like a human being. She looked like somebody who was actually having a tough time, somebody who wasn't the caricature that so many of the people on the right like to paint of Hillary Clinton.

I think it's remarkable what she did. I was as surprised as anybody. And I think she did it because she was human.

COLLINS: Yes. Speaking about the other side of the fence here now, what about Senator McCain? This is a big win for him, as well. There are some people who say, well, not that surprise. Always knew he would do well in New Hampshire.

But does it change the race, you think, from here on out, Michelle?

BERNARD: Well, what it tells us on the Republican side of the aisle is that the race is absolutely, you know, wide open. I mean, Senator McCain's winning last night in New Hampshire was not unexpected.

But if you look at what has happened to his campaign over the scope of the last year, you know, he was -- he was the go-to candidate on the Republican side. Then he -- you know, he suffered all kinds of setbacks, had to fire most of his staff.

He's been doing this out on his own, basically completely ignored Iowa. To come back and win the way he did in New Hampshire was -- was enormous, and it will make the Republican primary as we move forward to Michigan and South Carolina very, very interesting.

COLLINS: Steve, how about for the Democrats? Does John McCain change anything there?

MCMAHON: Well, I think -- I think Michelle's right in her analysis. He -- you know, he came back up. He's Lazarus. He rolls up and he did well in a state where, you know, people -- after people had written him off.

I think he's, you know, he's somebody who is authentic and real. And that's his big strength. And you can disagree with him, and Democrats will, if he's the nominee, about you know, whether or not we should keep troops in Iraq for 100 years if we need to. But you can't ever argue that the man doesn't have core principles and beliefs and that he's not willing to stand on those beliefs, whatever the political consequences.

COLLINS: And to be clear, I think he said a presence in Iraq for the next hundred years and made comparisons to other places where the U.S. has a presence.

MCMAHON: Well, the presence would have to be troops, though. I mean, it's not going to be Girl Scouts.

COLLINS: Well, yes, that's true. There are lots of other places, obviously, in the country we still have a presence, obviously. I think that's what the comparison was he was trying to make, when American casualties are not occurring.

What about in South Carolina, though? So much talk about the state there and what will happen there regarding the African-American vote. What are your predictions on that, Michelle?

BERNARD: I've got to tell you, I cannot wait to see what's going to happen in South Carolina. I think it's going to be an absolute fascinating exercise in democracy.

On the Republican side of the aisle, what's going to happen with Huckabee? You know, truth be -- truth be told, Huckabee, from what I am told, received 40 percent of the African-American vote when he ran for governor in Arkansas. For a Republican candidate, that is enormous.

And in South Carolina you're going to have a lot of African- Americans who are religious, who are evangelicals, who are conservative, regardless of party affiliation, who are going to have somewhat of an affinity for Huckabee.

Also in South Carolina, you know, conventional wisdom up until recently has said that African-Americans were going to support Hillary Clinton, because Bill Clinton was the, quote unquote, "first black president."

Now African-Americans can look, and they can say that, in two of the whitest of the whitest states in the United States, if Obama could win Iowa and come in only three points behind Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, I think you're going to see a lot of African-Americans who can say, "You know what? He might actually be able to do this, and maybe it is time that we throw our support behind Barack Obama."

So South Carolina is going to be fascinating.

COLLINS: It will be. Steve, last thought here.

MCMAHON: I think Michelle's right. I think that the African- Americans who vote in the Republican primary probably do support Huckabee. Eighty-five percent or more of them, however, probably are going to vote in the Democratic primary.

There's a poll in South Carolina just two nights ago that came out that showed Barack Obama with a 20-point lead over Hillary. I think last night changes it, but I still think Barack Obama has a strong, strong start in South Carolina, because half of the electorate in the Democratic primary is African-American.

COLLINS: Very true. And we will all be watching it. I'll tell you what. Mixing it up. Getting exciting, isn't it?

MCMAHON: Yes, it is.

COLLINS: And it's so early. So many contests left.

Hey, guys, appreciate your time. Michelle Bernard and Steve McMahon. Thanks again. MCMAHON: Thank you.

HARRIS: Iowa and New Hampshire voters have spoken, so what is next in the race to the White House? Stay with me just a second here.

Next Tuesday, the Michigan primary, Mitt Romney is eyeing the 30 Republican delegates at stake in his native state. No Democratic delegates are up for grabs. That's punishment from the party after Michigan moved up its primary date.

On Saturday, January 19, it's the Nevada caucuses. And on the same day, the Republicans have their primary in South Carolina. The Democratic primary in South Carolina is the following Saturday, January 26.

Florida closes out a busy month. Its primary is Tuesday, January 29th.

As I mentioned just a moment ago, Michigan is next, and CNN is there. CNN chief national correspondent -- there he is -- John King is in Grand Rapids at an event for John McCain.

John, looking at Michigan, do we have a two-man battle there between Senator McCain and Governor Romney? That, at least, is the way it's being framed in the "Detroit Free Press" this morning.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This morning from Grand Rapids, Tony. That is the main headline there. You will have a rematch, if you will, in New Hampshire, New Hampshire winner McCain trying to once again beat a man who has significant roots in this community.

Mitt Romney was the former governor of Massachusetts. He also was born here in the state of Michigan, where his dad was governor back in the 1960s. So Mitt Romney has Michigan roots. John McCain has a Michigan organization from his 2000 win.

The economy will be the overwhelming driving theme of the race here. If you look up economic anxiety in this country right now, Michigan is the lab report.

So John McCain is going to have to prove he can sell his immigration plan, sell his views on immigration to voters.

On a plane on the way out -- Tony, he just landed a few moments ago -- he told reporters he's going to talk all about the economy, all about research and development, all about trying to help people who are struggling get new jobs in the new economy because of the decline of the auto industry and other manufacturing here in Michigan.

But this is the key test for John McCain. And it is viewed by everybody as largely a two-man race. But don't count out Mike Huckabee. There is a significant ultraconservative wing in the Michigan party, so Mike Huckabee could get his slice there. Most believe he won't win here, but that will be a factor on the race. I was just having a conversation with a pollster here in Michigan who knows this state well, who says, guess what? Ron Paul is spending a lot of money on TV ads here. So there are subplots, if you will, in Huckabee and Ron Paul. But for the most part, this is a McCain-Romney race.

McCain looks at it this way: if he can defeat Romney in New Hampshire, he believes that he can beat him here in Michigan. And Romney is pushed to the sidelines. And then you go to South Carolina for McCain-Huckabee, Tony.

HARRIS: Hey, just very quickly. I'm actually stretching and stalling just a little bit, because we're getting word, John, that Senator McCain is close at hand there.

I'm just wondering, do you sense anything in the room in terms of an energy in people that you've talked to, how surprised or not surprised are they by the showing by the senator last night?

KING: You hit a key point. You know, Senator McCain did win here in 2000. If you were here a year ago, he had a good organization. And many thought it would be a very competitive race here.

And then his organization went dormant, because in the summer months when the controversy over his views on immigration had conservatives furious at Senator McCain, when his support for the troops surge in Iraq had many independents saying he was out of step with the country, his organization in this state went pretty dormant.

But if you look around this room today, he's got a pretty good crowd for the morning after a New Hampshire victory. They have a band here. A big event here.

So McCain is hoping to get a bounce out of New Hampshire. We'll know in the next 72 hour or so whether that energy continues or whether the issues that derailed him in the past...


KING: ... specifically, immigration, excites conservatives again to come out against the senator. This is going to be a fascinating few days here.

HARRIS: Yes, I think you're right. I think you're absolutely right.

CNN chief national correspondent John King for us in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And maybe we'll get back to that event in just a couple of minutes. John, appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

And for more on the New Hampshire primary, and the next stops for the presidential candidates -- we're certainly focused on Michigan -- we will direct you to It is your one-stop shop for all things political. COLLINS: Your credit score helps determine your mortgage rate. Now it may play a role in your healthcare. CNN's Gerri Willis will explain.


HARRIS: Toddler taken to Chuck E. Cheese but not taken home. Two days later, Dad calls police. What's going on here? This story straight ahead.

Bottom of the hour. Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.


HARRIS: Credit scoring touches a nerve with many of us. Man, oh, man. Now the industry is extending its reach into your medical bill? Here to explain. You know, look, you're going to get me started. You're going to get me started. I've had a couple of -- almost two weeks off, and you're going to get me started here with credit scores, Gerri.

Gerri Willis, CNN personal finance editor with us this morning.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey good morning. Good to see you, Tony. Don't panic. Don't panic.

HARRIS: Don't panic?

WILLIS: Don't panic.

HARRIS: Why not?

WILLIS: There's a company called Fair Isaac. They develop this credit score, and they're developing a new scoring model that determines your ability to pay medical bills. Now, this isn't going to mean that you won't get treatment if you don't have a good score. That's what they're saying right now. Industry insiders say your score won't be seen until after you receive treatment.

Now the purpose, according to Fair Isaac, is to help hospitals collect money due them after the patient has been discharged. Right now the scoring model, which may be called Med Fico, isn't available yet. It's still in research and development. But some hospitals may begin to adopt test versions of this scoring model this summer. It may not be all bad news for consumers.

Credit experts that if the scoring model actually improves the hospital's bottom line, they may, could, if could happen, they could lower the cost of services for everybody. Of course we will be following to see if that actually happens.

HARRIS: Exactly. That it happens that way, and that we don't get to the point here where folks, you sign into the forms, you got problems. And before they take you in, they're running -- all right, so what is your advice to all of us as consumers?

WILLIS: Well, I know what your worry is. You know that credit reports contain reporters. You may be worried that your medical claims score can container errors, too. Now is the time to be proactive about your credit. Remember, you're entitled to one free credit report each and every year. Some companies may advertise it free credit reports, but the place you actually want to point your browser to,


HARRIS: Great. Now what is the first thing you should do. Gerri, if you notice an error in your credit report?

WILLIS: Well, OK, this is, you know, easy-peasy, come on. If you find mistakes in your credit report contact the company that reported the inaccurate info. You can put your complaint in writing, send it certified mail to the Credit Bureau. Include copies of documents that support your position. But of course you don't want to send the original documents. Don't do that. Your complaint must be investigated in 30 days. You get action. If you find an error in your medical bill -- and I have to tell you, there's a high rate of this -- you'll want to be just as proactive. Contact your insurance company. Make sure the error wasn't on their side. And if you don't have insurance, try to clear things up with the hospital or the doctor's office.

But if you don't seem to be getting anywhere, go to what they call a medical advocate. For more info on these folks, check out

And, Tony, if you have any questions about your credit score, credit report, is there a money issue that's just bugging you? Write me an e-mail. We love hearing from you.

HARRIS: Credit scoring is bugging me. and the fact that this number is dominating our financial lives here. It's...

WILLIS: You've got to take control of it. Take control of it.

HARRIS: That's a good point. Gerri, great to see you. Thank you.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

COLLINS: A hellish scene in Florida. A fiery pileup on Interstate 4. We'll tell you how it happened, coming up in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: And program note for you this morning. President Bush holding a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. You will see it live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM, scheduled to start in, oh, about 15, 20 minutes or so. COLLINS: We are getting new information about a horrific chain- reaction crash in Florida. Authorities say at least three people have died. This fiery 50-car pileup on Interstate 4, in Polk County. The highway was blanketed by an eerie shroud of fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire. The fog and smoke has lifted, as you can now, from this live shot coming into us.

But just a short time ago the sheriff said crews were still working to free an injured crash victim.


SHERIFF GRADY JUDD, POLK COUNTY, FLA.: We have had a very, very tense situation here. Our troopers, our deputies, our firefighters, and certainly our EMTs went into an environment where you could see absolutely nothing in front of you. It was as if hitting a wall of smoke and fog. As a result of that, there have been at least 50 vehicles involved in the major event.


COLLINS: Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando is shutdown now. We're going to continue to update you throughout the morning, but officials say it will likely be hours before the highway reopens.

HARRIS: Gruesome details coming out now about that death of a Georgia hiker. The suspect in her murder in court today.

Christopher King of Atlanta affiliate WGCL reports.


CHRISTOPHER KING, WGCL REPORTER (voice-over): Gary Hilton, clad in an orange jumpsuit and in handcuffs, was led into the Dawson County jail. Hilton faces grave charges, but the main thing on his mind, the quality of the jail.

GARY HILTON: Got good jails here?

KING: Hilton, who was being held in Union County for the disappearance of Meredith Emeson, is now accused of killing her.

SHERIFF BILLY CARLISLE, DAWSON CO., GA: Mr. Hilton is being charged one count of murder of Meredith Emerson. He has been taken to custody and brought to our detention center, where he's being housed at this time.

KING: Emerson disappeared on New Year's Day. The Dawson County district attorney says she died three days later. The details of the murder are gruesome.

CARLISLE: Meredith Emerson died from blunt-force trauma to the head. Dr. Fairy (ph) indicated that after Ms. Emerson received the lethal injuries, she was decapitated.

KING: In the meantime, Georgia authorities are comparing evidence with officials in Florida and North Carolina. They're looking for possible connections between Emerson's death and the disappearance and presumed killings of a couple in North Carolina, along with a death of a woman in Florida.


HARRIS: Well the prosecutors says Hilton led authorities to Emerson's body in exchange for a agreement that wouldn't seek the death penalty in the case, but that deal would have no bearing if Hilton is prosecuted in other cases.

COLLINS: A 2-year-old left at Chuck E. Cheese. Will she be able to go home? The Texas girl was taken to a party at the restaurant on Saturday, but no one took her home. Police released a picture of the girl asking for the public's help in identifying her. The girl's father responded Monday. He said he'd been at work all weekend an had thought of one of his sisters had taken the girl home with her. No criminal charges will be filed against the parents. The toddler has been staying with other relatives. A hearing is set for Friday to determine whether she'll be able to return home.

And just ahead of the president's news conference in Israel, I want give you a bit of the flavor of the John McCain event happening right now. Yes, John McCain event happening right now in Grand Rapids, Michigan. When the candidate speaks, we will try to give you just a bit of it. But right now it is his wife who is leading comments right now. But when the senator speaks, we will try to bring you just a flavor of that.


COLLINS: Want to get you back to Grand Rapids in Michigan now. We see Senator John McCain on the stage talking with some of his supporters there. Let's listen in for just a moment.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to take care of the pork bill projects. You will see this come to a halt when I am president of the United States. My friends...


MCCAIN: Thank you.

My friends, my beloved Ronald Reagan once used to say -- I've stolen a lot of his lines. One of his lines he used to say Congress spends money like a drunken sailor, only he never knew a sailor drunk or sober with the imagination of members of Congress, and that's a pretty funny line and I use it all the time. And I use it so much that -- I am not making this up -- I received an e-mail from a guy about six months ago, and he said, as a former drunken sailor, I resent being compared to members of Congress. You can't blame the guy. You can't blame him, my friends. You can't blame him. You can't blame him. And, my friends, all this wasteful and outrageous spending affects interest rates. It affects your lives. It affects your future. And we've got to stop it. Because as I look out at your faces, I see the fact and I'm reminded of the fact that unless we fix Social Security, unless we fix Medicare, it will not be there for you. And I promise you, I'm going there to do the hard things, not the easy things. And that means, you're paying into Social Security today and you're going to get the benefits when I'm president and Medicare is going to be fixed and it's going to be repaired.


I want to be president to do the hard things, not the easy things. And we can't fix Social Security and we can't fix Medicare unless we go to you with clean hands, and say we've stopped spending $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but we're not going to do it anymore. And the tipping point...

COLLINS:: Senator John McCain making quite a few comments, some of them pretty funny there, too, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the winner of the New Hampshire primaries for the Republican side of things. You see his wife, Cindy, there standing behind him.

If you'd like to see more of this, you can certainly do that. Live at

HARRIS: Smoke, fog and a fatal 50-vehicle pile-up. A chain- reaction crash shuts down a major highway. Live from the scene after a quick break.


COLLINS: Coming up in just about five minutes from now. We are going to be looking for these two gentlemen to hold a news conference together. President Bush will be holding this news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. You will see it live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Well, dense fog, thick smoke, just an unbelievable scene we brought you here in the CNN NEWSROOM. Some of the pictures from earlier today. Look at this. What a mess. What a scene. A deadly 50-car pileup on a Florida highway, and it's a major one that we're talking about here. We dipped in a short time ago to a news conference from the state police and the Polk County Sheriff's Office where we learned of three fatalities, numerous injuries and eastbound, westbound crashes.

Jason Lanning of our affiliate there, Bay News 9, he's in Polk County.

And, boy, Jason, what is the very latest on this horrible scene?

JASON LANNING, POLK CO. FLA.: Yes, the good news is the visibility has improved very much so compared to just about an hour ago. And it was visibility and the thick smoke mixing with the early- morning fog that created that mess of a scene on the interstate.

We are actually set up at the Hilochi (ph) Wildlife management area, which is just north of Interstate 4, in between Orlando and Tampa. This is where Florida Division of Forestry Firefighters have been staging -- this gate that you're looking at right here is the main road into this area. Firefighters, in the past 30 minutes, have started to enter this property, once again, to try and continue containing and battling the brush fire that's happening back there.

Horrible situation because this was a controlled burn, Tony, we should point out. It was a controlled burn that started late yesterday morning. We had no major red flag warnings or fire danger warnings. This fire simply jumped the safe perimeter of the controlled burn zone, which sparked two separate out-of-control brush fires, one of them 280 acres in sizes, the other about 20 acres in size. Firefighters and the Division of Forestry dumped as much water on this property as they could. They cut a number of fire lines overnight.

The good news is, the fire appears to be contained, but smoke could still be a problem. We're told, as firefighters call it, there's a lot of muck and duff on the ground. And actually, there's a lot of cyprus swamp back on this property. It's very easy property to navigate. However, it takes time to get back into the area where this fire is still smoldering. And of course, the Division of Forestry's main priority is to get rid of the smoke conditions, which means they have to get this situation fully contained where we could see a similar problems with smoke mixing with fog. We're told that the smoldering could happen here for the next several days.

HARRIS: Well Jason, I have to say, listening to your report, the Division of Forestry there must be beside itself right now. And I'm just wondering, do we know exactly how the controlled burn jumped the containment areas? Was it wind aided and is that something that could have been predicted?

LANNING: Not really. And there was no wind yesterday. Again, we weren't looking at incredibly dry conditions. The Division of Forestry is a great group here in the state of Florida. They do control burns all across the state, year round. We do know that this area has not seen a controlled burn since 2001. And of course in 2004 we had three hurricanes across in this area, which really knocked a lot of timber over and created a mess. In the past three years, four years, all of this timber and debris on the ground has just been drying. And they wanted to get rid of it through this controlled burn. Investigation still under way though as to how this fire jumped the fire line yesterday.

HARRIS: Absolutely. All right, Jason, appreciate it. Thank you.

COLLINS: President Bush in Israel. A grand welcome before the hard work. His news conference live, coming your way in just a few moments. Right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: Stocks took a tumble on Tuesday pushing the major averages into a full correction. Susan Lisovicz is on the New York Stock Exchange to explain what's going on.

Susan, just want to let everybody know, we may have to cut you short because we're going to have to get to the live news conference coming out of Jerusalem with President Bush and prime minister of Israel. So bear with us on that.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Totally understand. In the meantime, let me just tell you, it was just three months ago, Heidi, that I was working the cow bell because the Dow and the S&P 500 hit all-time highs. Yesterday, the Dow, the S&P and the NASDAQ entered into what is a correction, a ten percent decline from their most recent highs. It's actually the second time in two months that we've entered into a correction. Just -- fairly common historically.

But the big question is, is this a buying opportunity because stocks are now cheap or is there more selling to come? Because we're halfway to a bear market, which is a 20 percent decline from the most recent highs. A lot of fears out there, Heidi. Among them, that cheap dollar which makes so many imports so expensive. Of course oil hit $100 a barrel just last week. We have tightening credit for consumers and corporations alike. We have a full-blown housing recession. And by the way the unemployment rate jumped to five percent last week.

Despite that, we have buying on the dip today after a terrible start. The first five days of the year, the Dow is up 71 points, still in correction. The NASDAQ is up 12 points. It's been down seven straight sessions already. The S&P is up, too. And it was the worst five days ever for the S&P 500, Heidi. And the S&P 500 is what a lot of mutual funds track. So very ominous signs, indeed.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. So what does it all mean for the economy, Susan? Everybody is asking, are we in a recession or are we not?

LISOVICZ: Well there's a big debate out there and that's why you're seeing the selling. Investing is psychological, fear and greed. And you can certainly say fear has the upper hand right now. And fear is -- the fear is about whether the U.S. economy will go into a recession. Recession, our definition, the most common definition, is two consecutive quarters of contraction in the GDP. So, we haven't seen that yet.

But Goldman Sachs, the big power house brokerage investment bank, said today that it expects the U.S. economy to enter a recession. This year the second quarter and third quarter expected to be pretty brief, though, because it expects the Fed to act aggressively and to cut interest rates by another one and three quarter percentage points. And that's really the difference, a lot of economist say, as to whether we will be able to skirt the recession and how quick or how long-lived it may be. So that's why that meeting later on this month is especially important by the Fed -- Heidi? COLLINS: All right. CNN's Susan Lisovicz on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Thank you Susan. We will be looking forward to that meeting, for sure.

HARRIS: And we are just moments away from a press availability, news conference between President Bush and prime minister, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert. That is scheduled to happen any moment now. When it begins, we will bring it to you right here in the CNN NEWSROOM. But first, a break.