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Powerful China Quake; Oklahoma Twister; Will a Clinton Win in West Virginia Even Matter?

Aired May 12, 2008 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning again, everyone. You're informed with CNN.
I'm Tony Harris.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: Developments keeping coming in to the CNN NEWSROOM this Monday, May 12th.

Here's what's on the rundown.

NGUYEN: Earthquake with an enormous impact. A China quake felt for 1,000 miles, with thousands feared dead.

HARRIS: It was a Mother's Day weekend to remember for the wrong reasons. Dozens of tornadoes lead to cleanup in several communities and maybe the last straw for one town.

NGUYEN: And she has lost her lead in the superdelegate sweepstakes. What can a West Virginia do for Hillary Clinton?


Let's get straight to it. The death toll in the powerful China earthquake now reported, get this, this number, 7,600 and rising. Its not over yet.

We are looking into reports that a chemical plant has been leveled. Hundreds of people have been evacuated. Here's what we know so far.

Just minutes ago, President Bush extended condolences to the families of those victims, and the countless people who have been injured. At least 50 bodies have been pulled from the rubble of a high school that collapsed. Almost 900 students were buried in that rubble. And reports say some buried teenagers are struggling to break loose from underneath the ruins -- can you imagine? -- while others are crying out for help.

The 7.8 magnitude quake was felt in most parts of China. China's vast military is leading the recovery efforts.

HARRIS: Let's get right to CNN Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime Florcruz. Jaime, if you would, give us the latest information. Betty's just shared what we know. But from Beijing, what's the latest?

Jaime Florcruz is in Beijing. He is our Beijing bureau chief.

And Jaime, if you would, if you can hear me now, what is the latest from your location and what you're hearing from news agencies and from the government?

JAIME FLORCRUZ, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Tony, the death toll from the massive earthquake that hit the Sichuan Province continues to rise. Now the official media saying that as many as 7,000 people are believed to have died. And the death toll could still rise as the officials begin to assess the situation there.

They're trying to still get to the epicenter. The communications and transport links have been cut off. But another bad news is that somewhere near the epicenter, chemical plants were disrupted and destroyed. They were believed to have leaks there which forced the evacuation of some 6,000 people.

Hundreds are believed to be trapped there. A very serious situation there which could still raise the possibility of the death toll rising as more news comes, as dribs and drabs of information comes in from the epicenter in Sichuan Province -- Tony.

HARRIS: OK. Jaime Florcruz for us, our Beijing bureau chief.

Jaime, appreciate it. Thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, back here in the U.S., they are picking up the pieces today in the Plains and the Southeast after a series of violent storms and tornadoes over the weekend. At least 22 people killed across Oklahoma, Missouri and Georgia.

A deadly Midwest tornado ripped through this part of Oklahoma. The twister was a mile wide at times. And all that's left of this house right here -- well, pan down and you'll see it. It's just that, the bathroom.

Tornadoes also tore through Arkansas. The high winds crumpled sheet metal like it was paper, snapped utility poles like matchsticks. Several cars flipped over.

And Georgia declared state of emergency in six counties on Sunday. President Bush has already promised federal aid for those hardest hit areas. And the head of FEMA will be touring those regions tomorrow.

So, let's get you to Picher, Oklahoma, because it's one of the areas hardest hit. Our Susan Candiotti is there. She's been there all morning long.

And just, really, as we get a look at what's behind you, it's hard to believe that people were able to dig themselves out of that rubble and survive this storm. SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And yet they did. Six people did not survive. Of course, it doesn't sound like a very large number, but to their families and the people who knew them here in this very small community, it means a lot.

This, of course, is day three after that killer tornado swept through the former mining town of Picher, Oklahoma, on the decline for several years because of contamination from these gravel pits. Lead and zinc, air pollution, water pollution, even land cave-ins.

We want to show you some of the destruction here just across the street from some of those mines. Here we've got twisted metal. An example of that, all kinds of wood strewn all over the place with nails sticking out.

Look at this house here. There's barely anything left of it. And this was one of the houses that had been condemned a few years ago because the land here is simply not safe. It's not settled. There have been cave-ins, as I' indicated.

Now, authorities have summarized the loss of life here, those who did not make it. Here is someone from the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol.


CAPT. CHRIS WEST, OKLAHOMA HIGHWAY PATROL: We're standing at a fatality count of six. That's two males and four females. Last night, or yesterday afternoon, we ended the search. We had brought dogs in to go through some of the rubble to determine that everybody had been accounted for.


CANDIOTTI: Now, straight away, we want to show you some CNN exclusive video that we received of two of those twisters. The first one so dramatic, it is very wide. It is very dark.

This was shot by Wesley Schultz, who happened to stop to get gasoline here in Picher. Looked up, saw the funnel cloud, and quickly grabbed his camera and got some shots of it, and then got his family the heck out of town. So they were not harmed in any way.

And then we also got some exclusive footage from some other people who were driving from Oklahoma over to Kansas. And they also saw a much thinner funnel cloud as well.

These storms had winds up to 175 miles per hour, enough to even strip the bark off of trees, move homes off their foundation. And that is what you get a sense of here as you look through this town.

Today, damage assessment teams will be going through to try to figure out how much help to ask for from the federal government. And the question many of these homeowners also have is, those who were part of the federal buyout, their homes had not yet been purchased by the government because of the contamination here. Well, what's going to happen to that? What about FEMA aid and what about their own insurance, those who have it.

They're waiting for answers and they hope those answers will come soon.

Back to you.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN's Susan Candiotti.

Thank you, Susan.

HARRIS: Just so amazing in that last video to see how low the cloud deck was to the ground. You just feel like you could just reach up and touch that cloud deck.

Rob Marciano...

NGUYEN: Well, and then the tornado, how wide it was.


NGUYEN: They said it was a mile wide at times, Rob. It's just amazing. And we look at the death toll, what, 22 in three states?


NGUYEN: But in that particular area, to see how they were able indeed to survive something like that.



HARRIS: Politics now.

Boy, we've got a "Just In" for you. Minutes ago, Barack Obama won the support of another superdelegate. That breaks the tie we've been telling you about for most of the morning. It gives Obama 274 superdelegates, compared to Hillary Clinton's 273.

Obama's newest supporter? Representative Tom Allen of Maine.

It is a breathtaking reversal for Clinton. Earlier this year she led the superdelegate race by more than 100.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, will join us in just a few minutes with more on this breaking political news.

You know, for the first time in weeks, Hillary Clinton goes into a primary virtually assured of a big win. But is it too little, too late in her battle against Barack Obama?

Let's talk to Sean Callebs once more here. He previews tomorrow's contest in West Virginia, and he is also in the luxurious CNN Election Express in Charleston.

Sean, what are the polls indicating there for West Virginia? Is this shaping up to be a pretty easy win for Hillary Clinton?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, if you look at what the polling information shows right now, she's ahead by as many as 40 percentage points. So it could be a very significant victory. And clearly, Hillary Clinton is trying to up the stakes here in West Virginia, because she wants some kind of strong showing. She wants to show that she could perhaps take the lead in the popular vote.

Now, we had a chance to speak with a number of voters in the town of Huntington at an American Legion there, people with some pretty strong opinions. And they say they know exactly what they want from their next president, and that's someone who can breathe some life into this state's economy, an economy that was acting very sluggishly even before this recent economic downturn.


CALLEBS (voice over): He may be looking more and more like the Democratic nominee, but in West Virginia it's Barack Obama who's playing catch-up.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in our ability to perfect this nation.

CALLEBS: Here, in this labor-intensive blue collar state, Hillary Clinton's message plays well.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to get rid of any provision in the tax code that gives a penny to anybody who exports a job out of West Virginia.

CALLEBS: And at the American Legion lodge in Huntington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a fighter.

CALLEBS: You'll find a group who may not agree on issues, but all want to see the next president help stimulate their state's economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: West Virginia has a lot of assets. We educate our people and then we export them because we don't have jobs.

CALLEBS: The latest census figure shows West Virginia ranks 48th in household income, ahead of only Mississippi and Louisiana. Steel, coal and other industries have seen jobs erode here. The population is dwindling as well. But they say bills just keep going up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cost of health care is out of sight. Just like gasoline.

CALLEBS: In West Virginia, gas tops $3.85 a gallon. The plea from candidates from people like Charity Conner (ph) find a way to put more money in her pocket.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not good. I'm a stay at home mother of two children and my husband is the only income. And this is very hard on us. Gasoline, and not just gasoline, groceries, clothing, everything's went up.

CALLEBS: And as you may imagine from guys who gather at the American Legion, America's armed forces are on their minds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the problems with West Virginians are the problems that we have all over the country. And that's, we're trying to build a nation overseas in Iraq, when we ought to be trying to build this nation and rebuild this nation.


CALLEBS: And in just about one hour, Barack Obama is scheduled to speak just a matter of blocks from here at the Civic Center here in Charleston. Later on today, Hillary Clinton is going to be in the town of Fairmont.

Now, this as Barack Obama moves closer and closer to getting enough delegates to capture the Democratic nomination. But, you know, don't take anything away from John McCain just yet. Don't -- he's not conceding anything in this state, because, Tony, if you look back to 2000, 2004, Republican George W. Bush carried this state.

HARRIS: Just very quickly, Sean, $3.85 is the average there in West Virginia for a gallon of gas? I'm just wondering, did the whole idea of a gas tax holiday really help Hillary Clinton there?

CALLEBS: You know, people want some kind of break. So even...

HARRIS: Yes, they do.

CALLEBS: You know, we've heard all the experts say it's not going to amount to much. But you know what? Even mentally, if you're able to put 10 more bucks in your pocket for a weekend here, you know, do something for the family...

HARRIS: Right.

CALLEBS: ... it's a lot better than passing it on to the big gas companies. So people here want some kind of break.

It's not a wealthy state. And man, nearly four bucks a gallon. One lady we were speaking with, she's not doing as much driving as she used to be, and that's by design.

HARRIS: That's -- the national average is $3.71, $3.85 in West Virginia.

Sean Callebs for us this morning in Charleston, West Virginia.

Sean, good to see you. Thank you.

NGUYEN: All right. We do have some new information coming to us.

First off, let's look at these numbers at West Virginia. It's one of only six remaining contests for the Democrats. The stakes relatively small. A total of 28 delegates to the Democrats' national convention.

But interest, no doubt, is high. A record number of West Virginians have cast early primary ballots ahead of tomorrow's vote.

So, let's get back to the information I was telling you that's just coming into CNN. Reading about it right now, and you are looking at it live.

Former Republican representative Bob Barr is announcing that he is running for president as a Libertarian. The 59-year-old Barr must win the Libertarian nomination at the party's national convention. That begins May 22nd, but party officials consider him a front-runner thanks to his national profile as he developed it in Georgia as a congressman from 1995 to 2003.

Let's take a listen.


BOB BARR, FMR. REPRESENTATIVE: ... being spent over in Iraq, which, by the way, is largely borrowed money. It needs to be placed once again in the hands, the pockets, the wallets, the bank accounts of the American public.

Approximately $400 million every day that is spent just in Iraq, nation building and propping up the regime, the current regime in Iraq.

Yes, ma'am?


Would you pull out of armed bases, for example, in South Korea, in Germany?


BARR: The American people, as do I, do not believe in precipitous action. I believe in responsible action.

First of all, you don't signal to your adversary, regardless of the circumstances that brought you into that adversarial relationship, what your future plans and future timetable are. That is foolhardy. And only a fool would signal to whatever our adversaries are, whoever our adversaries are, exactly and how and when we would be drawing down our troops. But I do believe that it is extremely important and in the best interest of America's defenses and our security, and our relationship with our allies, that we do begin immediately setting in place a plan to draw down, dramatically decrease the military, the economic and the political footprint that we maintain in Iraq.

Currently, there is absolutely no incentive whatsoever for the Iraqi regime, the Iraqi government, to assume responsibility for its own economic affairs, for its own political affairs, for its own security affairs. So long as they have the American people and the taxpayer dollars... NGUYEN: All right. So you've been listening to former Republican representative Bob Barr making the announcement today -- you see it live right here -- that he is running for president as a Libertarian. He's taking some questions right now.

We want to bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, who joins us live from D.C.

Bill, we're going to be talking about Bob Barr in just a moment. But first up, we want to get to some of the other news that we broke right here on this show. And that is that Senator Obama has taken over the superdelegate lead from Hillary Clinton.

Talk to us about the significance of that.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he is ahead now, according to our count, by one among superdelegates. She had always counted on the superdelegates to help bring the convention over to her side, but she can't count on them anymore.

There's still some superdelegates left to decide. But as you can see here, Obama now has 274, she has 273. So right now in the count, in the Democratic primary, if you want to keep score, Obama is ahead by 168 pledged delegates. Those are the delegates elected by the primary voters and caucus participants. He's now ahead by one among superdelegates, with some, about 250, yet to be chosen. And he is ahead in the popular vote, although she's hoping that Michigan and Florida will eventually be included, and she hopes to score a popular vote gain there, so that she can catch up with him in the popular vote.

NGUYEN: But, Bill, isn't this also significant? Because at one point Hillary Clinton had, what, some 100 superdelegates over Obama's number?

SCHNEIDER: That's right. She started out with a big league in superdelegates. Most of them are party officials and elected officials who are very loyal to the Clintons. Many of them were -- have strong ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, came out very early supporting her, but some of them have begun to switch as it looked more and more likely that Obama would get the nomination.

The superdelegates are legally and by the rules of the party allowed to exercise their own judgment in whom they support for president, whether it's Obama or Clinton. But in political point of fact, the political reality is they feel obliged to ratify the decision of the primary voters unless they can give them a reason in good conscience why they cannot do that. And at this point it looks like they're inclined to ratify the decision of the primary voters.

NGUYEN: Well, a decision has been made by Bob Barr today. The announcement just minutes ago that he is running for president on the Libertarian ticket as long as, you know, the party there approves of it on May 22nd. But given the fact that he has announced today, how does this change the game and who might this hurt? SCHNEIDER: It might hurt John McCain. Bob Barr is a former Republican congressman who clearly left the Republican Party to run for the Libertarian nomination. He's sort of a Ralph Nader-type figure.

Remember that because of Ralph Nader, Al Gore lost Florida, and therefore the election in 2000. If this is an extremely close election, even if Bob Barr only gets a handful of votes, it could make the difference as Ralph Nader once did.

He is a conservative who attracts mostly Republican voters. He is critical of the Iraq War. McCain supports the Iraq War. There are some -- many conservatives and Republicans who are critical of the war in Iraq, and some of them may decide to vote for Bob Barr to register their protests.

NGUYEN: All right. CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider.

As always, we do appreciate your insight. Thank you.


HARRIS: Tornadoes, floods, natural disasters. Who are you going to call? How about the army general who brought order and chaos post- Katrina?

The man once described as a -- "that John Wayne dude," there he is, Russel Honore. Hear what he says about dealing with disaster. That's next in the NEWSROOM.


NGUYEN: All right. So, tornadoes, earthquakes, the crisis in Myanmar, so many victims. How do you even know where to start to help these folks?

I'm joined now by someone who has a lot of experience at doing that. Retired General Russel Honore, remember him? He was in charge of the military relief effort for the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

A lot of people call you "that John Wayne dude," but to me you are General Honore. And we do appreciate your time today.

Let's start with China. We've got a lot on our plate, in a lot of different places. But China first up.

We're looking at, you know, nearly 8,000 people feared dead at this point. Some 10,000 injured.

Where do you even begin with a magnitude quake like this?

GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, number one is the government trying to assess the situation on the ground. China certainly has a lot of capacity in its military, in its infrastructure, to be able to respond. The type of capabilities they will be needing, such as search dogs, and I'm sure the international community will reach out dealing with earthquake victims and getting to them. Those that are trapped in the rubble, it's always hard, and getting the right heavy equipment in there.

So, we're counting hours now in terms of time to get to people that are trapped in the rubble. And it appears here that's the type of event it has been, with a large number of people trapped in buildings.

And that's going to be tedious work, well inside the capacity of China with the equipment and the people to do the work. Their challenge will be to get the right number of search and rescue dogs in there to help them find people that are trapped.

NGUYEN: Because you have students yelling from underneath that rubble.

HONORE: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: I mean, just a horrifying situation right there. But the key is getting that aid, getting that help in. And that's been a problem in Myanmar, trying to get -- it's been, what, 10 days since the deadly cyclone hit?

As you watch this, the U.S. was able to get one plane in today. Hopefully two more tomorrow. But do you watch with frustration?

HONORE: Absolutely. You know, the U.S. government, they're getting a plane on the ground today. And the American Red Cross got a plane on the ground yesterday.

Primary care, food, water, and some tarps (ph). So that's two airplanes.

We've got, number one, the distance to get to the country. And number two, the damaged area.

The infrastructure has been damaged. There's 61 airfields in Myanmar, and 21 of them are paved. The rest of them are dirt.

Then the impact of the water, that 12-foot wall of water that went into the country some 25 miles, right where the people need the help the most, they're challenged. So the use of waterborne craft, like the capability that's setting out there in the seventh fleet right off the horizon that's ready to go in and help, led by the USS Essex, the same type of ships in the Navy that we used in New Orleans with the Iwo Jima and the Bataan, they can get in there and put helicopters and capability on the ground.

And I'm sure on the diplomatic and the government level, that's been worked. But there's a great capability in the USPACOM, Pacific Command, to help, as well as capabilities that can come in from Thailand, and from China. And as we see, China's dealing with its own domestic issues right now. NGUYEN: Right. Well, but, you know, here's the deal -- the help is willing and it's waiting and it's ready. Many countries have come on board to do this. But as we have learned with this single load of supplies from the U.S. today, they have to hand it over to the military junta. And that in itself can pose a problem, because there's questions whether this aid is being used as a political ploy, as a tool.

How do we know, how do you assess, especially in the shoes that you fill, whether U.S. aid is actually getting to the people who need it?

HONORE: That's most unfortunate, number one. And number two, the ability to distribute that food, people have been going on a week now without proper food and water. And those that were injured, and the elderly and young, will be susceptible to disease from waterborne bacteria. So, it is important that we get clean water and food in immediately, and the way to distribute that quickly is either by small craft or by helicopters.

You know, in Katrina, we had almost 300 helicopters in there by the weekend after Katrina in the area. There's a lot of capability that the U.S. brings, as well as other countries, if the area and the government will receive that help...

NGUYEN: Allow you in.

HONORE: ... and let us help do the distribution, because you can get it to the airfield, but they're going to have a big challenge with the 21 helicopters...

NGUYEN: Distributing it.

HONORE: ... they have in that country to get the food distributed.

NGUYEN: Right.

HONORE: Then to get water purification units in, into the villages where people can get clean water.

NGUYEN: Well, let's bring this back home now, because as you've been watching over the weekend, we've seen 22 people die in three states because of the deadly tornadoes that have struck so many people and their lives, torn them apart. I see you have some items with you.


NGUYEN: When it comes to, you know, locally protecting yourself and protecting those around you...

HONORE: Right.

NGUYEN: ... you've got some really good advice for folks out there.

HONORE: Right. It's hard for us to build a structure that will stand up to an F-5 tornado.


HONORE: So early warning and protection, particularly if you live in a rural area, which are normally undeserved by early warning, one of the best investments American people can make can be bought from the Red Cross online. It's a weather radio. Or you can pick one up at your nearest -- in many places -- grocery stores have them right now...

NGUYEN: Right.

HONORE: ... or a hardware store.

This weather radio could possibly give you 10 to 12 minutes so you can move to a safe area. Yet, as I go around the country doing public speaking, the majority of Americans don't own a weather radio.

NGUYEN: I don't own one. I know, I need to. We all should.

You're going to give this one to me? Thank you. I've needed one for a while.

HONORE: So pass it on.


HONORE: Now you have to buy one and give to someone else.

NGUYEN: Pass it on, yes. Absolutely, because this could save a life.

HONORE: It could save a life.

The other thing is this package here is a package for four people. You can go online and buy this for -- again, the Red Cross has them online.

NGUYEN: Or anyone would have it, yes.

HONORE: Within a couple of weeks the hurricane season's approaching. It's a good evacuation pack.

Or if you have to stay in your home for a period of time, there's food in here, there's packages you can fill with water. There's some tarp. You can make a shelter.

This is designed to help you and your family stay alive if you lose electricity, if you lose water, or if you evacuate and you have to go to a safe shelter. This will keep you alive.

NGUYEN: It's an essential kit.

HONORE: An essential kit.

NGUYEN: And you know what it's like to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. So as long as you can protect yourself and make it out, hey, you can always buy another home. You can always buy another car. But...

HONORE: Absolutely. Keep people alive.

NGUYEN: Exactly.

HONORE: You can also put some cash in here, because if you...

NGUYEN: Oh, that's true, because you'll need it.

HONORE: You'll need cash. If there's a disaster and you don't have electricity, cash will come in handy.

But we need to prepare. We live in a new normal. You know, when you look at what happened in China, what's going on with the cyclone in Myanmar, and the tornadoes here, disasters are going to happen. The weather has a vote.

NGUYEN: Equal opportunity, yes.

HONORE: And when it happens, hopefully we are prepared and we've done some preparation work so we can take care of our families and take care of our neighbors.

NGUYEN: Well, General, thank you for helping us take care of ourselves. Thank you for what you've done down in New Orleans. And we do appreciate your time today.

HONORE: Good luck to all those people. And there are a lot of Web sites up. CNN has one of them, where you can go in and donate, because the people in China will need help, as well as Myanmar, as well as the people in Oklahoma and Missouri and Georgia.

NGUYEN: And Georgia. All right, thank you so much, general. We do appreciate it. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. More help for Florida fighters today. One-hundred additional firefighters are being called in to help battle brush fires in Brevard County. Fires have burned more than 2,000 acres there and threatened many homes. Farther up the East Coast, brush fires forced the evacuation of about 400 homes in Cocoa, Palm Bay and Daytona Beach. Heavy smoke forced the closing of Interstate 95 along a 15-mile stretch in Brevard yesterday. But a bit of good news, it is back open this morning.

Warnings ignored.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty -- it's difficult not to get completely paranoid and ridiculous here, because you kind of feel like everyone is potentially military intelligence and they're all looking for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS: CNN journalists putting themselves in danger. See what it takes to bring you the hidden stories inside Myanmar.


NGUYEN: The death toll in the powerful china earthquake now at more than 7,600 and still rising. That is according to China's state- run news agency.

Here's what we know so far: The earthquake has buried hundreds of people in two collapsed chemical plants, and more than 80 tons of ammonia has leaked out. At least 50 bodies have been pulled from a high school that collapsed. And almost 900 students were buried in the rubble. Reports say some buried teenagers are struggling to break loose from underneath the ruins, while others are crying out for help.

The 7.8-magnitude quake was felt in most parts of china. The country's vast military is leading the recovery effort, and President Bush has issued a statement expressing his condolences.

HARRIS: So many impacted areas from the weekend's storms. One of those areas impacted in Georgia, Ellenwood, Georgia. That's in Clayton County, a little south and east of Atlanta.

Let's check in on the recovery effort in Ellenwood.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning we met in the emergency operations center. Representatives of Clayton County fire, emergency management, police department, community development, and transportation and development, along with the corrections department, met.

Our game plan is this: We have broken this area down into three sectors. We have identified our priorities. The sector that we are in right now is sector two. Sector one is Catherine Village, which is the subdivision directly behind you. Sector three is the subdivision just south of us, which also includes Rex Mill Terrace.

We are coordinating our efforts to address these issues first and foremost. Safety is paramount. We have discovered that as Georgia Power brought power back onto the area, that certain homes which were previously not identified as having electrical problems, that some of those problems have arisen.

Fire officers, along with community development building inspectors, have been going by and individually cutting off the meters to those individual homes and addressing that need. Our second safety concern has to do with the buildings such as the one to my right, which are obviously structurally untenable and unsound. Community development, it will be going through the neighborhoods, street by street, red carding these homes. They will be followed by crews from the special operations crews of the Clayton County fire and emergency services department, which they will provide temporary shoring to prevent a chance of a secondary collapse. You all are out here, you feel the wind. We have reports of wind gusts up to 50 miles an hour. We're concerned about that wind catching and blowing out a wall that normally to a building that normally would have been stable, that is presently unstable. So we're addressing those needs.

Behind those crews, we will have cleanup crews coming through, clearing the streets. These crews are from the transportation and development department of Clayton County government, augmented by inmates from the Clayton County Corrections Department.

If the neighbors, the residents here can carry their debris to the street, it will be picked up by these crews.

I also want to take a moment at this time to say that we have received the -- we have received help from -- volunteer help from Home Depot. They called this morning...

HARRIS: Officials in Georgia just south and east of Atlanta in -- that's Clayton County, Georgia, Ellenwood, Georgia, to be very specific about it, giving everyone a bit of an assessment of where things stand after the weekend of storms. And what a weekend for so many of the communities. The officials in Georgia and in Ellenwood have created a bit of a grid here. Three sectors to begin assessing all of the homes, as you can see here, that have been damaged. Beautiful homes. So many of them damaged, for their safety and structural integrity. This is the kind of work that you see here in Georgia that is going on in a number of states, three states. I'm thinking Georgia, and Mississippi and Missouri as well. Oklahoma as well. Thank you, Tom, Oklahoma. And we've spent a lot of time in Picher, Oklahoma, as that town was really ravaged by the storms this weekend. But this is the kind of work going on right now, and we'll continue assessments of these communities and homes for days and days to come.

If you would like to watch more of this news conference going on right now in Ellenwood, Georgia, just go to

Still to come, R&B superstar R. Kelly on trial for having sex with a minor. The reporter who broke the news of the singer's alleged affair, in the NEWSROOM.


(INSERT 11:40 & 11:50)


HARRIS: Six years ago, R&B superstar R. Kelly was accused of videotaping himself having sex with an underage girl. That case finally going to trial. Today, lawyers for both sides are picking the jury. Abdon Pallasch is with the "Chicago Sun-Times" and he broke the story back in 2002.

Abdon, thanks for your time this morning.


HARRIS: So finally, here we go, six years or so later. The young woman allegedly in the videotape, now -- then a girl, now a young woman. We think of about 23, 24-years-old. Maybe you can sort of set the back story on this as to why it has taken so long to bring this case to trial and some of the twists and turns involved.

PALLASCH: And -- we're still kind of curious ourselves about why it's taken so long. Probably the longest sex crimes prosecution -- genesis of a case in Cook County history.

It started out -- Rock critic Jim DeRogatis and I had done some stories in 2001 about R. Kelly's issues of underage girls, dating them, some of them had sued him, settlements out of court. And we became aware there was a tape out there of him and this 14-year-old girl who he refers to as his goddaughter on one of his albums. The tape fell into our mailbox and we did the stories and the prosecutors brought charges in June of 2002 --

HARRIS: This is a 14 count indictment, correct?

PALLASCH: Yes. It started out 21 counts, now it is a 14-count indictment.

They decided to go with child pornography instead of statutory rape, because they don't know exactly when this tape was made, and that was less of an issue with the child pornography charge. Same potential jail time --15 years if he's convicted.

But -- what's interesting is over the course of six years, with no trial, they kept setting trial dates and they kept getting delayed for various reasons. At any point in the last six years, R. Kelly's attorney could have invoked the Speedy Trial Act and said we demand you bring us to trail within four months, or drop the charges.

And they never have because the delays really work to their advantage. This girl, as you say, is now -- she's going to be 23- years-old when she takes the stand. She's not going to look like the 14-year-old victim. The longer the trial goes, the more the witnesses' memories fade and --

HARRIS: But let me jump in for just a second. That's part of the issue of this case. The young woman now that we described as the alleged victim doesn't consider herself a victim at all. In fact, she says that's not me on that tape.

PALLASCH: Yes. And that's why this case is not going to be a slam dunk by any means.

The prosecutors essentially said let the tape speak for itself. It's 26 minutes of crystal clear R. Kelly doing various things to -- the man, if it's not R. Kelly, it's his double -- doings things that --

HARRIS: But you've hit on that issue as well, that R. Kelly is simply saying the same thing: that's not me on this tape. And you've just described that tape as being crystal clear.

How can there be confusion here?

PALLASCH: You know -- with Rodney King, how was there confusion? The tape is pretty clear. And they'll show the jury the tape. And then the defense will put on the girl who will say that's not me. They'll put on the girl's parents who will say that's not her.

And the prosecutors what they will have to do now is put on a whole parade of family members, neighbors, friends, parents, who all say, yes, that is the girl, that was her when she was about 14-years- old. We remember because that was the hairstyle she had that summer --

HARRIS: Are family members willing to come forward and say that?

PALLASCH: I believe they will have some family members that will be testifying.


PALLASCH: It's an ever-changing list of witnesses, but we'll see.

HARRIS: Is there a third person who has come forward who says, I was in the room, and I can place all of these actors in that room and on that tape?

PALLASCH: Yes. My colleague Eric Chroman (ph) broke that story last weekend.

One of the witnesses, the prosecutors now have, is a girl who says she was in a three-way session with R. Kelly and the victim when they were 14 -years-old. And so she'll testify.

The defense has not yet had to say exactly how they are going to defend this; if they're going to say that it's not R. Kelly, that it's not the girl or that the girl is not as young as she was because the tape was made more recently. They've not had to say yet exactly what their defense is going to be. But if they opt to say that is not the girl on the tape, this new witness is going to be a real complication for them because she'll say well, I was there when it all happened.

HARRIS: And finally, after six years and multiple delays and problems with one of the judges that was to actually hear this case, we are finally under way. Let's leave it there for now.

And -- let's sort of reach back out to you from time to time to get an update on this case, all right? We appreciate your time.


HARRIS: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, driving to the post office to mail a letter, you better bring some extra cash today, because it's costing a little more to do both this morning.


NGUYEN: All right. This just in to CNN, breaking news for you. We understand the death toll has risen in China following that massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake. According to Chinese media, which is quoting the local authorities, the death toll in southwest China in the Szechuan Province, has climbed to 8,500.

Now, this is in addition to more than 3,000 in another nearby province who are already reported dead. That particular area, 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed by the quake.

But back to the Szechuan Province for just a minute because the number of casualties there is expected to rise. Authorities have yet to reach the epicenter of this earthquake. And to give you a sense of how many people were there at the epicenter, that population is about 112,000 people.

So again, if I do some quick math here, we're looking at 11,500 people reported dead so far, according to Chinese media. Again, this was a very large earthquake, and people are still trapped underneath the rubble. We will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest information just as soon as we get it.

HARRIS: OK. Let's talk about issue No. 1 for a moment now. Another day, another record high for gas prices. Regular costing about $3.72 a gallon this morning, that according to AAA. A year ago it was a little more than $3.00. Same story for diesel -- $4.36 today, $2.90 a year ago. Boy, sounds like a bargain now.

Mailing any bills today? Better make sure you've got the right postage. The price of a first-class stamp goes to 42 cents today, a penny increase. Mailing a postcard will cost you a penny more as well, now 27 cents. But, if you bought some of those forever stamps, you can still use them, and I guess you can save your pennies for gas.

NGUYEN: While those gas prices do rise, the economy slows, and some automakers are putting the brakes on key projects. Stephanie Elam is at the New York Stock Exchange with the details on this.

Hey there, Stephanie.


Yes, we know all the car companies are having a tough time in the current economic environment. There are reports South Korea's Hyundai is scrapping plans for a new pickup truck. That vehicle was to be made at a Kia plant in Georgia. Rising gas prices seem to be dooming Hyundai's plans. Hyundai will reportedly consider building a smaller car -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well it seems consumers will be shifting to those smaller cars, even hybrids. It seems like that is kind of the way to go these days.

ELAM: Yes, that is true. There's definitely some evidence of that, and for good reason.

With record gas prices, automotive Web sites like say the time it takes for buyers to recoup the difference between the cost of a hybrid and a standard model is shrinking. Hybrids are more expensive up front, but the difference can be made up in gas mileage. It now takes less than two years to recoup the cost of a hybrid Camry, and a little more than two-and-a-half years to recoup the cost of a Prius. And it takes a little more than three years to make up the cost of the Nissan hybrid Altima. Obviously these numbers change as the price of gas moves around.


NGUYEN: All right. At least it's in positive territory so far on this Monday.


ELAM: We'll take it. We'll take some green.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: Yes. Thank you, Stephanie.

ELAM: Sure.

HARRIS: A couple have considered selling their possessions just to stay on the road.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're even thinking about downsizing all of that, and -- so we can realize our dream.


HARRIS: RV owners hit hard by high gas prices.


HARRIS: Time now to take a look at some of the most clicked-on videos at A CNN correspondent on the ground in Myanmar reports on the country's widespread death and destruction.

Mighty blessed -- that's how President Bush says he feels after the weekend wedding of his daughter, Jenna. Lovely bride.

And did the D.C. Madam kill herself? Many blogs are questioning whether Deborah Jeane Palfrey really committed suicide.

Now, for more of your favorite video, just go to And of course, you can take us with you anywhere on your iPod with the CNN daily podcast. The CNN NEWSROOM podcast available to you 24/7 right on your iPod.

And CNN NEWSROOM continues one hour from now.

I'm Tony Harris.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen.

"ISSUE #1" with news on the economy. It is "ISSUE #1." It begins right after a check of your headlines.

Chinese media say more than 8,500 people were killed today when a massive earthquake hit central Szechuan Province. The 7.8 magnitude quake struck in the middle of the afternoon. Schools and office towers -- they were full of people. Almost 900 students were trapped when a high school collapsed about 60 miles from the quake's epicenter. Now the official Chinese news agency reports 80 percent of buildings collapsed in one county alone.

Wretched weather to tell you about. Flooding in the Mid-Atlantic and violent storms and tornadoes in the plains and southeast. Take a look at this, the coastal community in Delaware is under water today because of the high tide and heavy rain. More than 100 people have been evacuated.

Meanwhile, in the Midwest and south, picking up pieces after a series of violent storms and tornadoes over the weekend. At least 22 people killed across Oklahoma, Missouri, and Georgia.

A deadly Midwest tornado just ripped through this part of Oklahoma. The twister was a mile wide at times.

President Bush has already promised federal aid for the hardest hit areas. And the head of FEMA and Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, they will be touring those regions a little bit later today.

More help for Florida firefighters to tell you about. One hundred additional firefighters were being called in to help battle brushfires in Brevard County. Fires had burned more than 2,000 acres there and threatened homes. Farther up East coast, brushfires forced the evacuation of about 400 homes in Cocoa, Palm Bay and Daytona Beach. Heavy smoke forced the closing of Interstate 95 along a 15 mile stretch of Brevard yesterday. But it is back open now.

That is the news for now. I'm Betty Nguyen.

"ISSUE #1" starts right now.