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Voluntary Evacuations in Des Moines; Record Flooding in Midwest; Town Remembers Scout's Good Deeds; The Dangers of Phthalates; Insights on How Al-Quaeda Does Business

Aired June 13, 2008 - 13:00   ET


VELSHI: Stand by right now for breaking news in the CNN NEWSROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CO-HOST: I'm Don Lemon, live here at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. We start with breaking news this afternoon, this coming to us from Des Moines, Iowa. We have just learned from officials there that there will be voluntary evacuations. And everyone, if you want to get out, you need to be out by 6 p.m.

Our Reynolds Wolf is working that story for us. You can see him there, over my shoulder. We'll get to Reynolds in just a little bit. But first, we want to take you to a press conference happening in Des Moines now on the situation. Let's go there and listen to the officials in progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They will remain, regardless of whether the river overtops the levees or not. We do show all these other routes that are available to use during the evacuation. There's plenty of routes. Please proceed in an ordinarily fashion.

And please don't double back, which means generally, if you are east of the river, try to go to the shelters that's designated for your area, that would be east of the river. If you're south, stay south. And don't double back.

The exception to that, as the business community in the downtown area, those workers are released on a staged basis, there is enough room if they normally take I-235 across the river, they work in the west downtown area, and they need to go on 235 across the river, they should do that.

Likewise, if they work at the capitol and need to go west on 235, they should do that. Everyone can get home from their work prior to any of this occurring.

Beyond that, again, as Captain Willis mentioned, for people to then flock back to some of these centers where people are being evacuated to, will just congest those streets that are open. So please limit that.

And in addition, limit all nonessential traffic. As we have only those two routes open, it's going to be extremely important that they are available for emergency vehicles to use, and limit all nonessential traffic on those routes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to say to, also, everybody here, as you see our city council here, we also have senators here. We have Senator Matt McCoy. And I saw I think Jeff Hatch was here a little earlier. We've got Wayne Fort representative over here. You may want to say something in a minute. He's hiding behind the thing. Then we have Akay Abdul Samad (ph).

These gentlemen have been very, very involved in wanting to know and, certainly, to get information out to their constituents. We're trying to make it available to everybody on an immediate basis. And certainly, we want to continue to do that, but as we were down last night, almost all these individuals were with us as we were continuing to work on that.

LEMON: All right. As we continue to listen to this press conference happening in Des Moines, Iowa, right now, I'm just standing here right at the severe weather center. Our meteorologist, Dave Hennen, is working this story right in this area.

We're going to move over here and go over to Reynolds Wolf. Also, Reynolds Wolf, we've got someone standing over at our iReport desk, and they're going to give us some information. But Reynolds, take us through this.

This is a Google Earth, and this is the Des Moines River. It doesn't crest until, what, later on this week?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Later. We're going to show you that in just a moment. But my gosh, what an incredible story this has become. You've got the Des Moines River right here. We're going to zoom in using Virtual Earth.

And Don, you can see four major bridges that we have in the downtown area. Now, we have been showing viewers at home all the water that has been piling up against these bridges. There are those voluntary evacuations we've been talking about. What we can anticipate is this water to actually rise a bit more from all the rain we've had in the parts of the nation's heartland.

Now, question is how high is it going to go? Once you notice a couple of things in this graph that we have. Right here, this line to the bottom, you'll notice moderate flood stage. Moving higher up, got a major stage.

Got your record stage of 34.3 feet. That is the all-time record. We expect to surpass that at any point going to 35.25 feet. Don, this has been a story that has just been unfolding in many parts of the Midwest.


WOLF: We're going to see it happen here in Des Moines today. No doubt, people are going to be flooding away from the city.

LEMON: Yes. WOLF: Mandatory evacuations. And there's going to be up to 200 miles...

LEMON: Oh, my gosh.

WOLF: Two hundred miles along the Mississippi River that is going to be cresting over the next several days.


WOLF: This is not just a one-day event. We're going to be seeing this all over the parts of the Midwest from now through the rest of the week.

LEMON: This is only just the beginning.

WOLF: Yes.

LEMON: These voluntary evacuations. All right. Thank you very much, Reynolds Wolf.

WOLF: You bet.

LEMON: We've got our Josh Levs, who's over here just to my left, just out of camera sight. He's checking on the iReports for us.

CNN is your weather central this afternoon -- Fredericka.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CO-HOST: Actually, the flooding situation there in the Midwest in a moment. But first we're following some other breaking news that's taking place on the East Coast in North Carolina this hour.

The Associated Press is reporting that two people have been killed in a shooting at a soda bottling plant in Concord. That's just outside Charlotte. And we have new video right now, coming in of the scene right there. The shooting occurred at the Sun Drop Bottling Company.

Police say the shooter ran. They are searching the area with dogs and helicopters. And we'll bring you, of course, more information as soon as it becomes available.

LEMON: Well, you can practically shoot the rapids in Cedar Rapids. There is no line today between the normally sleepy Cedar River and the city. Well, they are one. The water has already made history, reaching to 31 feet. And except for rescuers and emergency crews, zero people -- zero people -- are in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today.

The only thing those who live there are people who have to work and do anything that they can until they get out. We're hearing that there are voluntary evacuations in the area.

Now, until those waters recede, only thing people can do there is wait. Across the state of Iowa today, nine rivers are at or over historic flood levels. And historic high water, that's interesting only to historians at this point. For everyone else across most of eastern Iowa, it is a disaster, ruining homes, putting people out of work. And one that will cost millions and millions of dollars.

Here are a few numbers for you. In Cedar Rapids, the river usually running through today runs over 100 square blocks of city, minimum, are under water there.

One hundred thirty miles away in Des Moines, a neighborhood of about 200 homes was ordered evacuated. Volunteers and National Guard troops are working nonstop to shore up river levees with sandbags today.

And the bill from all this damage, well, when will it be over? That's going to be painful once they find out. Guess what? Here's what early estimates predict: a half billion -- with a "B" -- will be needed to recover from this flood.

It's the flood of the century. It's even the flood of the last century. Nothing but water in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today. And nearly the entire state -- the entire state -- is, as the governor declared, a disaster zone.

Right in the middle of it all, live in Cedar Rapids, is CNN's Brianna Keilar. She joins us there for the very latest.

Brianna, what a mess.


It really is. And you know what? You can see the water kind of creeping up J Street here in Cedar Rapids behind me. Would you believe it? This is ten blocks away from where the Cedar River should be winding through downtown there in downtown Cedar Rapids.

This river crested at about 32 feet. That broke a record by 12 feet. And that's really why people here didn't even believe that this would really happen to them.

Obviously, these houses over here, a total mess. But you may look at this house here. You see the grass appears to be dry. You may think there are no problems, but you know what? This is a home that has 30 inches of water in it. This is the case in the basement in many homes around here.

Deb Cook, this is your home. And I see over here you've got some people helping you bail water out of the basement. Who did you recruit?

DEB COOK, CEDAR RAPIDS HOMEOWNER: Everybody at work. They were not concentrating, so they came on over to help me bail.

KEILAR: And you didn't expect this?

COOK: No. I've never had water in my basement any time in the six years I've lived here.

KEILAR: Did you lose anything? Was this a finished basement?

COOK: It's not a finished basement, but it's got old furniture and TVs, washer and dryer, freezers. Everything.

KEILAR: And this is really a similar situation, right, for all your neighbors? Isn't it?

COOK: Yes, it is. We had -- some people moved all their stuff out. I had no place to take it so just left it here, hoping that it wouldn't get this bad. But it did.

KEILAR: OK. Well, of course we're hoping the waters will recede, Deb. We're going to let you get back to it, because I don't think they're going to want to work too much without you helping them out.

COOK: No. That's not fair.

KEILAR: Thank you very much for talking with us.

COOK: Thank you.

KEILAR: And this is really the case we're seeing here in Cedar Rapids: a lot of people just relying on help from others. We saw that with the sand bagging. We're now seeing that with people just bailing water out of their house and out of their basements.

There is a little good news here in Cedar Rapids: no fatalities reported, no injuries reported. The sun is out. We're getting a little break from the rain. Some good news there, but of course, it's not a rosy picture here, Don.

LEMON: I agree, Brianna. And I know you were right here watching this all from the anchor desk. I would imagine much different seeing it in person, this devastation.

KEILAR: Oh, it's so much different. I mean, it's so strange. This whole area here, it's a road, but it's really become a waterway. We've seen so many river rescues. It's really just -- you just really can't imagine it unless you're looking at it. And not only looking at it, but being surrounded by people who are coming to look at their house six blocks down the river under feet of water.


KEILAR: It's just devastating.

LEMON: All right. Brianna Keilar, we appreciate your reporting. We'll be checking back with you throughout the day. Thank you very much.

In the meantime, we told you we have some iReports to tell you about. Working right over me is Josh Levs at our hurricane -- or tornado desk, I should say, which has now become our flood desk, as well.


LEMON: Anything that has to do with weather, he is checking on it for us today. Tell us about those iReports, Josh.

LEVS: Yes, Don, I mean, they're coming in fast and furious. I want to take you straight to some of the most dramatic pictures that we've been getting today from people in the stricken region.

We're going to start off right there in Cedar Rapids. Take a look right here. This is what we've been receiving from Lynn Nelson. Now, I know you're going to be able to pull it up in the control room. You'll be able to see some of the images that we have right there. This is what she's sending us.

She's telling us it's a tragedy where she is. She says everywhere you look it's tragedy. She tells us her husband is from Iowa, and he says he's never seen anything like this in his entire life.

Now, as we scroll through these photos that she's been sending us through our iReport system, what you see are the tops of buildings poking out. And there, the water is up way -- part way up the homes. You're going to see it throughout this.

You see boats like that driving down streets. This is now a water area. A lot of these people managed to flee their homes in advance. But some of them did not, as we're learning out there on the scene. You can see hospitals in these pictures, lots of these kinds of things, an iReport.

But as we know, it's not just Cedar Rapids that's been hit. So I want to take you now over to Nick Blecha's pictures. He has sent us some more information here. Let's take a look at this. He sent us this from Manhattan, Kansas. He is in this area where Kansas State University is.

Now, I want you to be able to see these pictures, as well, because what you have here are pictures from the university where cars were turned upside down. Trees toppled over. And in some cases, you can see parts of buildings that have been destroyed. That university is reporting $20 million in damage. Twenty million dollars in damage at KSU. That's in Manhattan, Kansas.

One more thing. Some of the iReports that we get are video, not photos. So let's take you over to that right now. This is video we got from Lincoln, Nebraska. Just comes through to us. And you can see when the storm was arriving. This is from Wajira Ratnayaki, sent us this just the other day. Actually, we've been looking at it today. He calls it the strongest storm he's ever seen in Lincoln in at least years and ever in that town.

And you can see, as you follow this video, you can see some of the clouds coming along. We're told that these clouds parted freakishly quickly. The rain started pouring in, and you could feel the storm arriving and suddenly pounding on throughout that area. We're going to let this video go for a little bit.

You can see literally hundreds of photos and videos from throughout the stricken region. They've been arriving today and throughout the day and really throughout the storm.

Now, I'm going to show you right here on the screen before I let you go, if anyone wants to send it in, it's really easy. We talk you through it. Go to the home page. Click on, which you can't miss. It's right there. It will take you through every step of the way. Send us your stories, your videos, your photos, and we, Don, will bring some of them to you here throughout the afternoon.

LEMON: Absolutely. And many times iReporters get to the scene first, Josh, and they bring us the very best and the earliest pictures. We appreciate that from our iReport desk.

Now we want to get you to Davies County. This is in Indiana. This is some developing news we have. Remember, we told you about those levees that have been breached? Well, check out this new video that's just coming in.

Now some people went up in air boats here, some of the photographers from our affiliate WEHT. They went up, out in air boats, to two levees in the area that they were breached. This is the White River. This footage is from Tuesday of the water going over the levee and then Wednesday, as well. There are pictures from the air boats.

So look at all of this water. It's not supposed to be there. And you're looking at it, you're saying, "Well, isn't that a lake, isn't that a river or what have you?" No. This is the water spilling over the levees. The White River there.

I'm going to check in with our Reynolds Wolf in just a little bit to find out exactly where this river was supposed to -- when it's supposed to crest and exactly what's going on in this area.

But again, latest pictures. Look at that. That's farm land that we showed you just seconds ago. Farmland, and the water spilling right over.

Again, CNN is your weather headquarters today. Everything that has to do with the weather, especially the devastation in the Midwest. We have it for you today right here in the CNN NEWSROOM -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Don.

Also straight ahead, more on tragedy from this weather system. A young Boy Scout's life cut short by a tornado. Now a small town in Iowa remembers all the good things that he did during his short life.

And Al Qaeda secrets revealed. We'll tell you about some confiscated information the terror group never wanted the U.S. military to get its hands on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The small town of Eagle Grove, Iowa, is in mourning as it remembers a hometown boy who was killed two days ago when a tornado struck a Boy Scout camp.

Eric Eilerts [SIC], one of the four scouts, who died in the twister, is receiving special tributes for his many contributions to that community. Eric Hanson with our affiliate KCCI has that story.


ERIC HANSON, KCCI REPORTER (voice-over): Most main streets might have heroes.

TIFFINI MERICLE, EAGLE GROVE RESIDENT: He was all about everybody else but him. He just wanted to make people's lives better.

HANSON: But a 14-year-old?

ERIN HALVERSON, NEIGHBOR: He donates to the fire department, to the police department.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He always wanted to write a cookbook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was nervous sitting down.

HALVERSON: Food drive. Whether it was starting collections at schools.

HANSON: Folding napkins at the senior center.

Three years ago a teenager moved to town from Nebraska. Aaron Eilerts' impact started immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and my brother tried to set up a tent, and we had no idea how to do it. And we started beating each other up, and he gets over there and gets it up in about two seconds.

HALVERSON: Not your average 14-year-old kid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This one is probably one of my favorites with the fish.

HANSON: What other boy would put down PlayStation to start sewing?

Two years ago Aaron called the local hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His mom said, like, "That's Aaron."

HANSON: Ever since, every Wright County kid who stared at scary instruments rested their head on a pillow case from Aaron.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wanted them to feel like they were in a very safe place and that they had something very cheery when they were experiencing an uncomfortable or a possibly painful situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of times we'd call to see if he wants to come over and he was -- he was working on them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, this is a great one for girl.

HANSON: He sewed pillow cases for every teacher in school and every firefighter on the force, paying for them himself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was selling jams and jellies that he made with his mom during the summer.

HANSON: He was a boy who would do anything to help others, even shield them from a storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the tornado went, right there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just -- I had goose bumps. I mean, I just -- I didn't even know how to respond.

HALVERSON: Anybody you talk to, they just can't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just can't believe it.

HANSON: Eagle Grove is hurting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't know him personally. They knew him for what -- what he's done.

HANSON: Three years in town, 14 years on earth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And this kid truly was a difference-maker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just -- he was, like perfect, you know. He knew exactly what to do all the time.


LEMON: And that was Eric Hanson from our affiliate KCCI. At last word, at least a dozen people injured in the Iowa tornado were still in the hospital.

What's happening tonight in Cedar Rapids? Water world, that's what's happening. It's deep and getting deeper. We're live in Iowa's flood disaster zone.

WHITFIELD: And no end in sight to the housing crisis. Thousands more Americans lose their homes, and even more are put on notice.


WHITFIELD: Sadly, thousands more Americans have suffered the anguish of losing their home. A private tracking firm reports more than 73,000 homes were lost to foreclosure just last month. That's 2 1/2 times the rate from 12 months ago, and more than a quarter million owners were put on notice that repossession is looming.

California still leads the hardest-hit state. Others include Florida, Nevada and Arizona, where thousands of people bought as values peaked. Analysts say the bottom is just months away.

Some say the government could help matters by trying to stimulate buying. But just yesterday, 30-year fixed rate mortgages climbed to an eight-month high.

So let's take a look at some of the numbers right now. Not too encouraging, but at least it's on the up side. The Dow up 85 points. Susan Lisovicz is watching the numbers and, boy, they're just kind of ebbing and flowing rather quickly.

Well, we're going to try and check in with Susan in a moment. She's just tying up a few loose ends there on the floor. And of course, we'll bring you the very latest on the economy and how it's all affecting you.

Oh, but guess what? She's so quick like that. Susan Lisovicz is now back with us.

Susan, what've you got?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what we're seeing in the Midwest actually, with all these floodings, all this flooding in the nation's heartland, Fredricka, it's going to contribute to inflation in the future. But we have seen dramatic evidence of what has happened already.

The May consumer price index, our cost of living shot up .6 percent. That was the biggest jump in six months. And of course gas is the major culprit. This coming on a day when gas prices are at another record above $4.06 a gallon.

But you know what? Stocks are rising, too. Check out the big board. The Dow industrials right now up 90 points. NASDAQ up 35 points. Why is that? Because the core rate, which strips out food and fuel because they're so volatile, actually just rose ever so slightly. So economists may be happy about that, but I don't know anyone who doesn't consume food and fuel. And the bottom line is, they're rising sharply -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And everyone is impacted no matter what way you look at it. And when we talk about gas prices, we are being accustomed to lately, that's going up constantly. But it's not the only thing.

LISOVICZ: That's right. And that's one of the big concerns about inflation, is that it tends to feed upon itself. But let me give you a few examples.

Gas prices rose nearly 6 percent last month. That was the biggest jump in six months. And also home heating oil, natural gas also up sharply.

But airline tickets. We've been talking about price increases every day. They're up 3 percent. Beef up 1.5 percent. That was the biggest jump in one year.

And we have seen corn futures today hit another record again today. And guess what? Illinois and Iowa are the two biggest corn- producing states, and they are besieged by this flooding.


LISOVICZ: And so you can be sure that it is going to affect corn prices in the future and of course, ethanol prices -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Gosh, this is a painful spring and now leading into the summer, isn't it? This doesn't seem to be letting up. Susan Lisovicz, thanks so much.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, it's a frightening view inside the world of al Qaeda in Iraq. Stay with us for a look at some secret files al Qaeda never wanted you to see.

LEMON: And Fred, we've been seeing it: floods and fires and tornadoes, all this weather. What is behind this awful weather we have been seeing lately? Well, we'll find out about the Omega Block and what it can do to really mess up the natural order of things. Our Reynolds Wolf checking in.


WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredericka Whitfield, live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

LEMON: And I'm Don Lemon here at the severe weather center. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: It is 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Here are three of the stories we're working on in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Work-place killings. Two people shot and killed this morning at a soft-drink bottling plant in Concord, North Carolina, near Charlotte. Police are looking for the killer, who reportedly ran away with a box of cash.

And a candlelight memorial in Omaha, Nebraska, for the four Boy Scouts killed in Iowa when a tornado hit their camp site. Three of the scouts were from Omaha.

And floods continue to plague Iowa. At least 438 blocks are under water in downtown Cedar Rapids. And voluntary evacuations have started in downtown Des Moines.

LEMON: Well, it is the flood of the century. It's even the flood of the last century. Nothing but water in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, today. And nearly the entire state -- that entire state, as the government said, is declared a disaster zone today.

And right in the middle of all of this for us, she was here on the anchor desk today. Now she is really almost knee deep in water, our Brianna Keilar joins us now.

Brianna, you rushed out of here. It must be an amazing thing to see in person. I can only imagine how the people are dealing with it there.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Don, it's really starting to become evident what a mess this is. There is really nothing but water here. I should let you know, you can probably see, we are getting a whole lot of sun now, obviously some respite from the rain. So that is very good news.

But there is about 100 city blocks here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that are under water. And this is not clean water. We've seen increasingly, over the last couple of hours, that is has taken on a sheen on the surface, maybe from oil, maybe from gasoline. We caught up with some army reservists from Davenport, Iowa, who are making it their job to tell people this is offlimits.

LEMON: So Brianna, apparently it's -- obviously they are saying all that stuff that you are talking about.

But as we wait for that, we are trying to get that in for you. Talk to us a little bit about what you are seeing there.

KEILAR: Don, I'm sorry I can't hear what you just said. Can you repeat it?

LEMON: I said talk to us a little about what you are seeing as we wait for the person that you mentioned --

KEILAR: It's interesting because you are seeing so many different things. Here in the water, it really just blew my mind, Don.

I'm not kidding, about a minute before you came to me, we saw a couple of people who were -- and actually you can see our Sean Callebs doing a live shot behind me. But we saw a couple of people just dressed in their street clothes, wading through this. We've seen them bicycling through it. We have seen them walking through it. Some people just kind of getting their feet wet, other people we've seen them up to here with this water.

As we are about to hear from an army reservist, that is not what they should be doing.


KEILAR: Tell me what is in the water that is so dangerous.


KEILAR: From gas station?

ADAMS: Gas stations, cool offs, stuff like that. (INAUDIBLE) that are blown up, tanks floating in the water, fuel is leaking out of that.

We've got biochemical stuff that is going in -- bacteria. Differently types of stuff. Let's say somebody had an infection or something like that, go in the water, they could come back out. You never know what could happen after that.

KEILAR: So stay out of the water?

ADAMS: Stay out of the water.


KEILAR: Now they are very serious about this, Don.

Obviously, a concern that it could be a public health issue. But still, as I said, we've seen people kind of coming and going, bicycling, wading through it. Something they shouldn't be doing.

LEMON: All right.

Brianna Keilar, we appreciate your reporting, and we understand you have -- especially when you're in weather like that -- you have some technical difficulties just because of the weather. You never know what's going to happen.

You be safe out there in the water as you are telling people to do, as well, Brianna. Thank you.

All right. So we have seen all of this, this heavy rain, this flooding, the tornadoes. So what is behind this extreme weather we have been seeing lately?

Let's turn now over here, let's go to the severe weather and Reynolds Wolf.

Reynolds, it's kind of weird because you are talking about this thing called the omega block? You drew it for me. It's just like the numeral, the omega.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. It's tremendous. It's really a big, big effect that we have on the atmosphere.

It is basically a path that we have with jet stream. And if you look close, it's basically the shape of the omega letter. You get a big bridge of high pressure that's building in the southeast. Very dry conditions that you have here.

And then you'll notice it's going to stay very dry in the southeast, but it's going to pull a lot of moisture up from parts of the Gulf of Mexico. And right near this boundary is where the rain is really going to pile up. And that rain is what has been causing all the issues in parts of the Midwest, including in spots like Des Moines.

Take a look at the latest we have here, some breaking -- this breaking situation we have in the city of Des Moines. You see the river right here, the Cedar River. You see the bridges. There has been an evacuation, a mandatory evacuation, from the hospital, that of course is Mercy Medical Center. We have a dislocation of 176 patients, Don, 30 of which were actually in the nursing home that they have at the medical center. They have all been evacuated. Some 10 city blocks in the city, completely under water at this time. We are expecting the river in terms of the level to rise up a little bit. In fact, we've got a graph we're going to show you where the stage of the river is now, where the old record was, and where it is expected to go.

Now the record stage, about 20 feet. Just to give you some perspective, Don, this is the latest -- 31.8 feet. And then we are expecting to go up just a few more inches before it begins to draw back as we make our way into Monday. But notice this, you follow this green line going back, it looks like it's still a tremendous improvement. We are looking at 7:00 a.m., then midday, midday on Wednesday. It drops considerably.

But we are still talking about a record flood level. It's really hard to try to wrap your mind around something this incredible.

LEMON: That's unbelievable just looking at that.

And standing here talking to you -- Reynolds, thank you. Standing here talking to you, learning a lot -- the viewers as well - from you, and also from Dave Hennen (ah) over here. Dave has been helping out, as well. And Dave says this omega block, everyone knows about this, right? All the meteorologists? But you said this one is a particularly -- what is the word that you use?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's like a block in the atmosphere, Don.

LEMON: But this one won't go away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, exactly. And that is a problem.

It's been stuck in the Midwest for days. So you get over and over amounts of rain. Reynolds mentioning back into Cedar Rapids the flood, the record flood, was back in 1850. We have gone 12 feet above that. So it's just amazing.

LEMON: All right, good.

Dave Hennen. Dave -- we call him Oz because he's the man behind the curtain here. This is our weather staff, our weather experts here. We appreciate all your reporting day. We are going to be relying on you throughout the day, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Let's talk now about high gas prices. They are prompting many Americans to think of alternative ways to get around. It is an issue that is front and center in this year's race for the White House. We have seen that.

We have CNN's Josh Rubin is listening to commuters in this week's "Election Express Yourself."


JOSH RUBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): How do you get to work in the morning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I come through metro.

RUBIN: Why do you take public transportation as opposed to driving?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you kidding? Have you seen the gas prices? Nothing stops it from getting to $4, I don't suspect that there's nothing that's going to stop it from getting to $5.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I take metro because the gas prices are pretty high right now, and just the hustle and bustle of the everyday getting to work and the traffic. I think metro's good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four bucks a gallon, you can't, you know -- but that's not the issue. The issue is, if I drive in, the aggravation of sitting in -- behind all these cars.

RUBIN: Is it more crowded than it used to be?


Are you kidding? Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is packed. I've had to wait for three trains sometimes. It's ridiculous. And everyone complains about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The platforms are jam packed. The buses are crowded. You have to wait longer in the bus lines. The lines are getting longer and longer and longer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Metro is very crowded right now, only because I think other people are thinking the same way I do -- hey, we are all going to jump on the metro. So yes, very crowded.


LEMON: This campaign news is right at your fingertips, just go to We also have analysis from the best political team on television. Of course it is all there at

Now we want to talk to you about a frightening view inside the world of al Qaeda in Iraq. Stay with us for a look at some secret files al Qaeda never wanted you to see.

And here is one of those, you've got to be kidding me stories. Could your new shower curtain with that new shower curtain smell, be toxic? We'll go behind that curtain, straight ahead, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: Do you have a toxic shower mate and not even know it? That is a weird question.

Well, it may be that new vinyl shower curtain you just bought, or was given as a gift, could be toxic. CNN's medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, goes behind the curtain for that study.

And you've got one here.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's got that new shower curtain smell, doesn't? It really -- it just leaps right out at you.


COHEN: Now, some people worry --

LEMON: Should I not be smelling that?

COHEN: Well, you look OK. How many fingers do I have up? You are fine.

But some people have wondered, what is that shower curtain smell. And now there is actually a new study out. An environmental group went out and bought five shower curtains and tested them for chemicals called phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that make plastic squishy. Like the ear buds you wear for your iPod, or shower curtains, or whatever.

And there have been some studies that link phthalates to all sorts of medical problems, such as reproductive issues, nervous system problems, respiratory problems.

Here are just some products that have phthalates: toys, vinyl goods, like shower curtains, food packaging, ear bud tubing, hair sprays, soaps and shampoos. And in fact, the European Union and California have banned some phthalates in some products. So that's the -- it sort of leaves consumers in a weird place because there is no definitive science that links them, but there is that concern out there.

LEMON: Oh my gosh.

OK. So, let me ask you this. I saw all those things, that's stuff we use every day.

COHEN: All the time.

LEMON: In the morning, you shower, and then you put your ear buds in or whatever. People have ear pieces. I'm wearing one right now for TV. But you have it for your phone.

So how do you stay away from them? Should we stay away from them?

COHEN: Look, here is the bottom line. There is no definitive link between phthalates and any kind of health problem. The environmentalists think that there could be a link. The industry who makes these things say there is no link. The CDC is very clear about it, they say there needs to be more research.

So where does that leave us? If you want to, you can go looking for phthalate-free products. They do exist. A lot of ear bud companies, for example, are switching over to that. And if you are worried about that shower curtain, here is the trick. Air it outside, put it outside for a day or two. That smell will go away. If you are worried about the smell, then you won't be worried anymore.

Now, I should also mention, phthalates don't smell. So this shower curtain smell -- who knows what it is. But if -- some people really worry about. If you're worried, just let it air out, and then bring it inside.

LEMON: You know what's weird? As I smell it, I guess it is a plastic, but it's -- we like the new car smell. This is what some people might like. And also diapers have this sort of smell, too.

COHEN: Dirty diapers or clean diapers?

Sorry, I had to ask.

LEMON: The clean diapers -- the plastic smell.

COHEN: The clean diapers, you think so?

LEMON: Yes, a little bit.

Not that -- I don't have any kids, but I have changed my share of diapers.

All right. Appreciate it -- good information to know. But don't -- we shouldn't --

COHEN: Right, no panic. No panicking necessary.

LEMON: Thank you. Our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Thank you very much.

We are following breaking news here when it concerns the weather, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We told you about those voluntary evacuations going on in Iowa. Let's get to Frank Cownie, the mayor of Des Moines, who is going to update us on the situation there.

Thanks for joining us, Mayor.


LEMON: Hello, thanks for joining us today.

Now listen, tell us about these evacuations.

COWNIE: Well, we've been watching the floods very carefully over the last three, four days. And certainly the flooding areas not only that are happening here in the city of Des Moines, but around the state. The Des Moines River and the Raccoon River (ah) come to a confluence at the south edge of the downtown. So we've been watching those areas and certainly there's been a number of storm systems that have moved through that have gotten into the basin, especially the one that we are watching right now is the Des Moines River Basin.

And -- we had some estimates of rainfall in that basin over the last 48 hours. A lot of that is expected to fall a little further north. Now as we were watching crests and the possibility of what those amounts might be and when it might occur, we've been watching -- at that time it was days and feet. Now we are down, because that rain event happened further south than we had anticipated, it ended up being, moving that time frame from Sunday, then we moved it to Saturday, yesterday. And estimates today, after we evaluated all the data, appears as though our cresting is going to occur more like in the next 12 hours, than 24 to 48.

LEMON: And Mr. Mayor, I've got to ask you this. We know that these evacuations are voluntary, but are you -- I don't know if there is any way that you can be sure, but are you sure that's enough?

Should these be mandatory? Do you think people will leave? Oftentimes, in situations like this, we hear that people don't want to leave their homes.

COWNIE: Right.

What we are doing, and we discovered through experience of our '93 flood, that a lot of people don't want to leave their homes under any circumstances, we are not prepared to arrest anybody, but we are certainly out there telling them that based upon the data that we have, that our levees are going to be at or very close to the top of the levee system that protects all those 500-year flood events.

LEMON: And you want people to be out by 6:00 p.m., correct?

COWNIE: That's what we are telling them.

We would like them to certainly acknowledge -- that we are contacting all the businesses, all the residences. We are home- calling as we speak every one of them. We are police door knocking all the areas. Just letting them know that there is a very serious possibility of flooding in those areas that would either equal or exceed the 1993-500 year flood event. And --

LEMON: What we call the Great Flood, right?


LEMON: Frank Cownie, who is the mayor of Des Moines, some very good advice. Voluntary evacuations happening in Des Moines, Iowa.

We appreciate you calling us, and we thank you very much. Our thoughts and prayer are with you, sir.

COWNIE: You bet. We appreciate your coverage. It helps let people know the circumstances here because we know you have a lot of viewers here in the Des Moines area, as well.

Thank you very much. We'll keep you updated. Appreciate it.

LEMON: Absolutely. Anything we can do.

CNN is your weather central today. Make sure you keep it right here tuned to CNN -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Don, more on the flooding in a moment.

But straight ahead, a frightening view inside the world of al Qaeda in Iraq. Stay with us for a look at some secret files al Qaeda never wanted you to see.


WHITFIELD: The Bush administration's bid to sign a long-term security agreement in -- with Iraq, rather, is in trouble. Speaking with reporters during a visit to Jordan today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said negotiations are deadlocked. He says they'll stay that way until the U.S. comes up with a proposal that preserves Iraq's sovereignty. Many Iraqi law makers complain that the current U.S. plan would give Washington too much political and military control.

With over the last two weeks, CNN's Michael Ware and his Baghdad Bureau colleagues have been very busy looking at the contents of computer hard drives obtained by CNN. Hard drives filled with materials seized from al-Qaeda by U.S. allied Iraqi militias. Well, those militias provided copies of the al-Qaeda hard drives to the U.S. military and also CNN.

And as CNN's Michael Ware tells us, among the thousands of documents and hours of sometimes very graphic video, some fascinating insights about how al-Qaeda does business. We should warn you however, that some of the video is hard to watch.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Al-Qaeda gunmen brought this man here to die. Staged for maximum impact, he's to be executed on this busy market street. We don't know why. The al-Qaeda members who recorded this tape offer no explanation. But, the anticipation is agonizing. Leading to a moment we cannot show you. A punishment for betraying al-Qaeda or for breaking their strict version of Islamic law. Either way, it was public executions like this that would help lead to the unraveling of al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda knew it.

Its leaders recognized their greatest threat was not the U.S. military, but the men in the crowds who witnessed the slaughters and who would eventually turn against them. In fact, in this secret memo three years ago, a senior al-Qaeda leader warned against a backlash for the public executions that were being carried out he wrote, " the wrong way, in a semi public way, so a lot of families are threatening revenge and this is now a dangerous intelligence situation." But U.S. intelligence did not pick up on this weakness for more than a year. Most of these men were once insurgents, some even members of al-Qaeda, but now they're on the U.S. government payroll, paid to assassinate al-Qaeda. All of these secrets come from here the town of Ramadi. Al Qaeda computer hard drives were discovered here when one of these U.S.-backed militias overran an al-Qaeda headquarters. As for the al-Qaeda members, they showed them no mercy.

Eventually the secret hard drives were passed along to both the U.S. military and to CNN. Until recently,this man, Abul Saafe (ph), was a senior al-Qaeda commander. He's now changed sides and confirms these are genuine al-Qaeda in Iraq documents. Documents that reveal a network that's sophisticated, well organized, meticulously bureaucratic and thorough.

Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll, is the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

REAR ADMIRAL PATRICK DISCROLL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Well, it's unique what you have it. Because you have kind of a comprehensive snapshot of al-Qaeda at a time where it was a network or a unit.

WARE: In one local headquarters alone, more than 80 execution videos were cataloged. Not for propaganda. They were never made public. But it's proof of killings for al-Qaeda superiors.

DISCROLL: I was kind of surprised when I saw the degree of documentation for everything, pay records, those kinds of things.

WARE: In addition to pay sheets, hit lists and membership application forms, there are detailed lists of prisoners held, tried and executed. And then this, architect schematics for storage bunkers on a U.S. base, proof al-Qaeda has infiltrated inside America's compounds. And despite the administration's insistence al-Qaeda in Iraq is dominated by outsiders. In the secret correspondents obtained by CNN, the orders are given by Iraqis. Non-Iraqi fighters are used mostly in frontline roles such as suicide bombings. And these pages contain a conflict strategy for planning and executing a three-month wave of simultaneous al-Qaeda attacks.

DISCROLL: When you're talking about an organization that's a network of networks, it's pretty resilient. And they are still determined elements in the al-Qaeda hierarchy in that want to pull in Iraq.

WARE: Wing to restore their own harsh justice. Here, al-Qaeda gunmen punishing thieves, dangling from an overpass and shooting them from below. While al-Qaeda today no longer wields this power, the U.S. military is weary of its return.

DISCROLL: A threat of al-Qaeda, if not watched carefully and not pursued aggressively, will come back and be the largest threat.

WARE: Though al-Qaeda in Iraq is now under pressure as never before, these documents and videos warn its threat is more organized and more menacing than many ever imagined. After all, al-Qaeda remembers when not so long ago it was welcomed by waving children.

Michael Ware, CNN, Baghdad.