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Hostages Freed from Colombia's Rebel FARC; What To Do If You're Unemployed; Zimbabweans Gather Outside U.S. Embassy in Harari; California Wildfires Continue to Cause Problems

Aired July 03, 2008 - 10:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: ...on the run down until we throw the rundown out. Medical checkups and family reunions for three freed Americans today. Colombian commandos rescued them after five years as hostages.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Ground breaking for the new Walter Reed Hospital today. President Bush is there. We have live coverage in just minutes.

HARRIS: It stopped at a low not seen since the Eisenhower era. Now whispers of bankruptcy. We look at ways to fix General Motors today, Thursday July 3rd. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Heart break and horror surrounding a Vermont girl's death. The body of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett was found yesterday following a week long search. The FBI says the girl's uncle had tried to involve her in a sex ring with adults. He is expected to be charged with kidnapping today. We are awaiting a news conference from prosecutors and we're going to bring that to you, of course, live as soon as it happens.

HARRIS: It will be the new Walter Reed National Medical Center. Digging begins this hour. President Bush on hand for the ground breaking. A live shot of the ceremony which will begin in just a couple of minutes. We're just minutes away from it. And we will bring it to you live right here as it happens. The ceremony kicks off a project to expand the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, the cost almost $1 billion. The new construction means the nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. will be closed. Deteriorating conditions there sparked a scandal and the resignation of the secretary the army. Again, we'll bring this event to you live when it happens right here on the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Back on U.S. soil, three Americans held hostage in the jungles of Colombia for more than five years being reunited with their families today. They were freed in a daring military operation. Ed Lavandera live now in San Antonio where the former hostages arrived last night at Brooke Army Medical Center. Hi, there, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on this day before the July 4th holiday, the first time in more than five years that these three men have woken up on U.S. soil. It's here at the Brooke Army Medical Army where they will begin a process of medical testing, physical checkups, as well as psychological evaluations. Perhaps more importantly for them, I would imagine they were anxiously awaiting the arrival of many relatives who we understand are in the process of coming here already. So we anticipate they'll be arriving at some point today, maybe even into this holiday weekend, as well. But it was an incredible time. They arrived not even ten hours ago. So it has been a quick ride for them as they landed at Lackland Air Force base and then were ferried by helicopter over there to this hospital where we presumed they got what should have been their best night's rest in more than five years.

And on that flight home from Colombia to San Antonio last night, one of the Air Force airman that was on that flight spoke after touching down here in San Antonio and said that all three men were incredibly good spirits.


STAFF SGT. DARUL BRADLEY, AEROMEDICAL EVACUATION TECHNICIAN: They're very grateful, very excited to be home. They can't wait to see their families. They can't wait too the differences in the United States. And they're just absolutely pleased to be home.


LAVANDERA: Now, Heidi, of course, their physical condition is what is of utmost concern. At this point, you know, that our understanding is that there might be some diseases that they might have contracted while being in the jungle there in Colombia for so long. As well as physical injuries suffered from their airplane crash back in February of '03, which led to their capture. Remember these three men were working as part of a counter narcotics mission in Colombia, working in conjunction with the Colombian government when their plane crashed. The reconnaissance aircraft crashed in the jungle there. And so, we've heard from other people who have been captured and have been held hostage with these men who had been released and said that some of them still suffered back and knee pain. One of them even suffering intense headaches from that experience. So, we imagine that all of that will be looked at today as they meet with doctors here in San Antonio.

COLLINS: Boy, you know, Ed, I don't know how you can stand it, sitting there and waiting for them to arrive. We're all waiting to hear from them as soon as possible, given what you just said, given that their health and well being, of course. We sure do appreciate it. CNN's Ed Lavandera for us, San Antonio today. Thank you, Ed.

HARRIS: Well, she was running for president in Colombia when she was captured by leftist rebels more than six years ago. Just moments ago go, what a scene, freed hostage Ingrid Betancourt was reunited with her family in Colombia. Susan Candiotti with us by broad band from Bogota. And Susan, what can we say? A family reunited live right here on CNN. It was wonderful to see.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Truly remarkable. We certainly don't get to see it very often and it evokes the Paul Simon song, doesn't it, mother and child reunion and in this case, two children and Ingrid Betancourt now seeing her children for the first time in so many years and recalling as she stood there with the younger of the two, her now teenaged daughter, Melanie, what it was like not have being seen them in such a long time. They look so much different now. Here's what she said.


INGRID BETANCOURT, ESCAPED FARC HOSTAGE (through translator): At the time I saw my children, Lorenzo was very small. He looked like my nephew right here. And I could lift him up and I could hug him in bed. But today, I've just told Lorenzo that I'm going to hug him again in bed and I hope his girlfriend doesn't get jealous because I want to have that touch with my children again.


CANDIOTTI: Certainly a special time for this family now reunited. That plane flew over from France with her two children as well as her ex-husband and some French officials arriving just within the last hour. It remains unclear exactly when she plans to fly back to France, but she will be going back there very soon, she said, and it will be to a big reception being staged by the government over there at a military base when she does go back. Of course this is a woman who is very well-known. People have followed her so much and her saga during these past six years.

And even before that, this is a woman who received more votes than any other congressional candidate when she ran for the government many years ago. She fought hard against corruption in the government. She bravely went into the rebel territory which is where she was kidnapped more than six years ago at a road block with her assistant who was released earlier this year. And now she is reunited with her family, soon to go home. Will she run again for president? Perhaps she said sometime in the future. Back to you.

HARRIS: All right. Susan, thank you. And just a quick note. Our thanks to our very own, Myra Cueves, one of our bilingual editors here at CNN on our national desk for providing that translation on the fly for us. Great job.

COLLINS: Quickly to Burlington, Vermont now. Federal and state prosecutors talking about the death of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. Let's go ahead and listen in.

THOMAS ANDERSON, U.S. ATTORNEY: Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Bennett family and the people of Randolph, Vermont. However, even in the midst of this hat tragedy, Vermonters have something to be proud of, the men and women of the Vermont State Police and the men and women of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have worked around the clock to find Ms. Bennett. They worked as a team and many of them have not slept in days. At yesterday's news conference announcing the recovery of Brooke Bennett's body, you could see the anguish in their faces. Vermonters should be proud of them.

I also want to acknowledge the work of internet crimes against children task force which is led by the Burlington Police Department. It was their forensic examination of computers seized in this case that helped break the case open. Two years ago, law enforcement in Vermont, federal, state and local committed to establishing a computer forensics lab in the state. A year and a half ago, Senator Leahy was instrumental in securing grant that allowed for the ICAC Department to partner with (shampling) College for computer forensics.

Last year, the Department of Justice provided additional funding for the ICAC. Today those investments paid off. I also want to thank the dedicated prosecutors in this case. First assistant U.S. Attorney Paul van De Graff, Assistant U.S. attorney Craig Nolan, Assistant Attorney General Cindy McGuire, and Assistant attorney general John Treadwell. I can't begin to describe to you the dedication of these remarkable prosecutors to the cause of justice. Thank you, and I'd like to turn over the podium now to the Attorney General William Sorrell.

WILLIAM SORRELL, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VERMONT: Thank you, Tom. My remarks are going to sound very similar to the remarks you just heard from the U.S. attorney. Let me first on behalf of all of Vermont law enforcement except our sorrow and our regrets to the family of Brooke Bennett, to the residents of the Green Tree Randolph area, indeed to all Vermonters. A terrible crime of this sort involving the senseless death of one so young truly wounds us all. I must take a moment to express my gratitude to the many who have worked tirelessly so far in this investigation. I particularly want to thank the members of the Vermont state police, Burlington police, members of the unit for special investigation, and other Vermont law enforcement, and also particularly to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All of those groups that I've mentioned worked so cooperatively and efficiently together.

Similarly, members of my office as well as Orange County and Windsor County state's attorney's offices and members of the U.S. attorney's office just as well as the police investigators have worked together professionally, confidently, and cordially. Tom, I want to thank you personally for your help. The cooperation I have described will continue. Although great progress has been made, there is much that remains to be done both in terms of investigation and prosecution. I think we need to learn from this tragedy and we need to redouble our efforts to protect our children both on line and at home. And we will do so.

As the U.S. attorney has mentioned, Mr. Jacques will be arraigned on federal charges relating to the kidnapping of Brooke Bennett. His pending state court charges of aggravated sexual assault will soon be dismissed without prejudice. Consequently, for the immediate and foreseeable future, he will be facing charges only in the federal court. Although the U.S. attorney and I will try answer some of your questions today, there will be many we will not answer. I want to assure you that this is not done to hide information from the public, but, rather, so as not to prejudice any aspect of the further investigation left to be done nor any court proceedings.

So I thank you for your anticipated respect for our decision. And we will try to answer many of the questions that you pose.

ANDERSON: Why don't we start here and work our way around the room. {inaudible]

ANDERSON: The penalty under federal law for kidnapping with death resulting is death or life imprisonment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you seek that?

ANDERSON: That determination will be made after the investigation is completed after the case is presented to a grand jury and ultimately that decision is made by the attorney general of the United States of America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk about Breckenridge?

SORRELL: If your question is there a Breckenridge society, the short answer is we don't know for sure. As both the U.S. attorney and I have mentioned, there's much investigation that remains to be done in this matter. But at the same time, we want to speak to all Vermonters, particularly in the Braintree and Randolph area, but all Vermonters and make very clear, there's nothing from this investigation that's been turned up nor otherwise are federal or state authorities aware of any on going efforts to recruit young girls or boys here in Vermont to have sex with adults.

And can you rest assured that if evidence is uncovered that we feel poses a risk to the public, we will be the first to raise alarm bells publicly.

ANDERSON: And I echo that. Based on the investigation as it stands right now, we do not believe there is a continuing danger to the public.


ANDERSON: The logistics of that matter are still being worked out between the federal law enforcement and the state law enforcement, but I would anticipate they'll be presented in federal court sometime next week.


ANDERSON: As again the investigation is on going and we don't - I'm not going to comment with respect to any other potential defendants or custody situations with respect to any potential witnesses or defendants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us any details on how long the body of Brooke Bennett had been dead and what the cause of death might have been from preliminary examination?

ANDERSON: As indicated yesterday, it's my understanding that an autopsy is being performed today, so the answers to those questions will have to wait until the autopsy is completed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you aware of any other adult males involved in this (inaudible)? ANDERSON: Again, the investigation is on going and we're not going to comment on any other potential defendants or any other potential individuals that might or might not be charged in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I ask why there's no murder charge?

SORRELL: As the U.S. Attorney has indicated, there's much investigation that remains to be done, including and most importantly the autopsy scheduled to be performed today. Those decisions about additional charges will be made in the future as the investigations continue.

ANDERSON: Let me point out that my office and the attorney general's office works very, very closely in cases like this, in cases where we have overlapping jurisdiction. As investigations proceed, we're in close contact, close consultation, and prosecutorial decisions as to where a case should be brought or made on a number of factors and based on the factors and evidence we have on this case, a determination was made to file the kidnapping charges in federal court.

COLLINS: So there you have it. At least a little bit of this press conference that we told you that we would be bringing you out of Burlington, Vermont, regarding the death of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. Such a sad, sad story. We'll have more on this and want to give you a moment to remember what happened here, the sordid details surrounding this little girl's death. Reporter Sean Kelley, of affiliate WCVB, has the story.


SEAN KELLEY, WCVB REPORTER: According to federal documents, Brooke Bennett's 14-year-old friend told investigators she last saw the girl going upstairs with Michael Jacques in his home. The teen said it was a planned initiation into a sex program known as Breckenridge. The girl admitted she'd been having sex with Jacques since she was 9. Bennett's walk upstairs is the last time she saw her.

COL. JAMES W. BAKER, DIR., VERMONT STATE POLICE: This death is clearly suspicious. It appears to be foul.

KELLEY: Detectives found enough evidence at Jacques home that led them to a shallow grave nearby. That's where they recovered Bennett's body.

BAKER: The fateful discovery of Brooke's body is tragic and heartful.

KELLEY: The 12-year-old's mother, Cassandra Gagnon spoke to the hundreds of people in Randolph who held out hope that Bennett would be found alive.

CASSANDRA GAGNON, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I was really hoping for a better outcome. I hope that Brooke knows that I'm still with her and I will always be with her. KELLEY: Jacques has been in custody since the weekend charged with aggravated assault against a girl other than Bennett.

GAGNON: And I want to thank everybody for all the help that they've done in trying to locate her. I just ask that justice be done to the person that took my baby away.


COLLINS: Reporter Sean Kelly reporting for us. Michael Jacques now face federal charges. We will follow that story for you, as well as two other stories today. This incredible story of three Americans who are now back in the United States after being held captive by a group in Colombia known as FARC, for five and a half years. We'll have the latest on that as well as comments from President Bush made just a few moments ago at the new Walter Reed facility. We'll have it all coming up in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: You know, a pretty significant ground breaking. A significant ceremony taking place just moments ago in Bethesda, Maryland. A ground breaking ceremony for the new state-of-the-art Walter Reed Military Hospital. Kathleen Koch has more from the White House and the President was there attending and taking part in the ground breaking. Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Tony, this is something that was very important to the president personally. He and the First Lady make a large number of trips not only to visit wounded service members at Walter Reed, but also at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda. And, of course, this new facility is going to really be state-of-the-art. 345 new beds. And it will combine the two facilities. The Walter Reed facility was already scheduled to be closed before the controversy obviously over, that was revealed by the "Washington Post" expose, the substandard deplorable conditions for some of the outpatients there, the difficulty that they were having in getting treatment. And this morning, the President at the ground breaking, made the point that this is going to be a place where service members could get what he called effective accountable care.


PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: This new medical center will be a place of compassion as Bethesda and Walter Reed volunteers organize holiday celebration, poker nights and field trips. They distribute care packages from thousands of Americans who want to show their gratitude for our troops. Recently schoolchildren from New York made pillows for soldiers at Walter Reed and sent letters along with the gifts. The children wrote you are everyone's hero.

Thank you for fighting for our freedom. At this new center, the Americans who fight for our freedom will get the compassion and support they deserve. This new medical center will be a place of courage. Our wounded warriors show that while the human body is fragile, the human spirit is strong. Anybody who has met the wounded at Walter Reed and Bethesda cannot help but be incredibly impressed by the courage and sacrifice of our troops. Recently I saw the strength in a young air force staff sergeant named Scott Lilly. Scott was serving in Iraq when an IED left him with a severe brain injury. I think it was last fourth of July that he came to the White House. I was the one who felt like this guy had no chance. And yet the doctors here used state-of-the-art technology and aggressive treatment to get Scott better. Their perseverance paid off and so has his. Welcome he and his mom and dad to the Oval Office the other day. He was more eloquent than I was, which isn't all that hard. He drives a car, he goes to baseball games, he loves to joke. His doctor calls Scott's recovery miraculous. And thanks to the extraordinary care he received at Bethesda, as well as his own extraordinary resolve, he is now back on active duty in the air force and we are glad you're here.


KOCH: Very touching words from President Bush at the ground breaking for this new facility that will treat service members from all branches in one central location just north of Washington, D.C.. The President pointed out that this project will be done in 2011 and it's going to cost them $970 million taxpayer dollars, but, again, he made the point and I think most Americans will agree that nothing is too good for our wounded service members.

HARRIS: Yes, cut the check, let's do it. All right. Kathleen Koch at the White House for us. Kathleen, thank you.

COLLINS: And yet another story to tell you about on this busy news day. Directly to Zimbabwe now with some information that just come in to the CNN NEWSROOM.

We are learning about 220 Zimbabweans have actually fled to the U.S. embassy. That is in Harari. They are seeking refuge from all these violence that we've been sharing with you related to the election there. That was just on Sunday when Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was reelected in a very, very controversial election. You may remember Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader withdrew from that contest and Mugabe held the elections any way. He was the only candidate and once again reelected. So the headline here, 220 Zimbabweans are now at the U.S. embassy seeking refuge, seeking safety in Harari. We will stay on top of this for you and, of course, bring you any information that we get just as soon as possible.

HARRIS: A stunned family gets the news.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My step-dad calls me says my dad's home. I didn't even know what to do. I just started freaking out.


HARRIS: That's what do you, you freak out. Americans free after five years as hostages. The daring, cunning rescue in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRIS: We want to take you to the New York Stock Exchange right now, on this day before independence day, July 4th, and everyone getting away for the holiday weekend. A light trading day is anticipated, shortened trading day to be sure. And look at this. Heidi, despite the fact that oil actually broke through the $145 a barrel threshold this morning in electronic trading, despite the release of the jobs report from the government indicating a sixth straight month of job losses, look at the Dow, up 60 points. The Nasdaq, I believe, up as well. Again early, but it's a good sign. We'll check in with Susan Lisovicz just minutes right here in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Some tough times on the job front we learn today. The nation's employers cut more jobs in June. As Tony was saying, it's the sixth straight month of losses. Our Gerri Willis is here now with tips what to do if you get a pink slip. Good morning to you, Gerri. What's the latest with the unemployment benefit?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, there are changes here you'll want to know about. President Bush recently signed into federal law a 13 week extension of jobless benefits. Now, you'll qualify if you're unemployed and you opened a claim as early as May 2006 and you run out of benefits. If you are currently receiving benefits or if you qualify for them and those benefits will run out by March 2009, you may be eligible. Call your unemployment agency and your state and if you don't know the phone number, call the Department of Labor at 1-866-487-2365 -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. So what's the -- how do you know whether or not you qualify?

WILLIS: Well, it's a little complicated. You know, first, you have to be unemployed through no fault of your own. You can't get fired.


WILLIS: So your job has to be down sized or you must have been laid off. You don't qualify if you quit. And you must have worked at that job for a certain amount of time. It's usually about a year in most states. You can check with your state unemployment insurance agency to get all the eligibility rules since they vary by state. To find one in your area, go to

COLLINS: All right. So what's the first piece of advice? You find yourself unemployed, I guess no matter how it happens. What do you do?

WILLIS: Well you know, first of all, don't be shy and don't be embarrassed about it because look, you've contributed to that fund, you might as well take advantage of it. And you need to go it quickly.

As soon as you get laid off, contact your state unemployment insurance agency. Again, that web site is It can take two to four weeks to have your claim processed so, the faster you file, the sooner you get your money. In some states, you don't even have to go the unemployment office, you can file a claim by telephone or over the internet. Keep in mind you'll be asked about addresses and dates you worked with your former employer, so make sure you have that information handy.

COLLINS: Yes. And certainly you can't fool them. I mean, I imagine over the phone you know, they're really wanting a lot of information to make sure there's no fraud going on.

WILLIS: Right.

COLLINS: How often do the unemployment office help though? Other things they can do?

WILLIS: Yes, well it's not just a check. Your town may also have a one top career counseling center set up to help jobless folks find jobs. Employment service can refer to you training programs, labor market data. You may also be referred to job openings in your area or be offered testing and counseling to determine other jobs you might like.

Now, here's the number to call if you want to find a one stop career center near you. Get out a pencil 877-US2-jobs.

COLLINS: All right. Very good Gerri. We appreciate that.

We also know you have "OPEN HOUSE" coming up this weekend. What are you guys going to be talking about?

WILLIS: That's right. You know, we're going to be talking about best wines for the holiday weekend.

COLLINS: Really?

WILLIS: Yes, we're having fun. And inexpensive home improvements. Things you can do for $50 or less. That's "OPEN HOUSE," Saturday at 9:30 am Eastern, right here on CNN. Join us, we've got some fun stuff going on.

COLLINS: Very good. All right, Gerri, appreciate it. Thank you.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

COLLINS: Good morning once again everybody, 10:30 Eastern time, now. I'm Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: And I'm Tony Harris.

Freed from the Colombian jungle after five years in captivity, Reuniting with their families today, what an amazing story. Three former American hostages arrive back in the United States late last night. They were rescued in a daring operation by the Colombia military. The men were taken to a hospital in San Antonio for medical tests and reunions with their family. I can only imagine. They were working as U.S. military contractors when their plane crashed in a remote region of Colombia in February, way back in 2003. Also rescued from the rebels, former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt. She was reunited with her family in Bogota, just a short time ago.

COLLINS: All that time in the Colombian jungle, two of the freed hostages have a really nasty disease that is very difficult to cure.

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, is going to be coming up in the NEWSROOM to talk more about that. Stick around.


COLLINS: Three former American hostages arrived back in the U.S. late last night. How did they come to be taken hostage by rebels in Colombia in that first place?

CNN's Joe Johns takes us back.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Spring 2003, Colombia. A small plane flies low over rebel-held territory on an anti-drug surveillance mission. More Americans are on board, private contractors working for the U.S. government's drug eradication program. The plane goes down in the worst possible place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Magic worker, magic worker. Mutt 01 is declaring may day. We have lost engine. We are north 0203 --

JOHNS: They're surrounded by gunmen, soldiers of the largest armed rebel force in the western hemisphere. A guerrilla group that goes by the name FARC. FARC controls huge areas of the Colombian jungle, earning money from the cocaine trade, waging war against the Colombian government. Its members kidnap and kill and the U.S. government has granted FARC a terrorist organization.

In this October 2003 video, one of the Americans describes what happened.

KEITH STANSELL: ... bags of the aircraft, I looked and I heard gunshots and the FARC were on the ground. They were shooting into the air.

JOHNS: The plane's pilot, an American and a Colombian intelligence officer are taken away and shot dead, execution style.

This never before seen footage of the crash site taken by a Colombian recovery team shows the wreckage and the bodies. The three surviving Americans, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Mark Gonsalves, are taken to a FARC camp. They've been held ever since. More exclusive footage obtained by CNN taken by the Colombian army after a failed attempt to rescue the hostages.

By the time the army got there, the men had been spirited away. Out of sight, all but forgotten for the next three years. May 2007, an incredible development. A Colombian police officer, part of a group of 60 hostages that includes the Americans, escapes and tells his story. Pinchao says the Americans are alive. That he has seen them just weeks ago.

JOHN PINCHAO, ESCAPED FARC HOSTAGE (through translator): I hope they make it back soon. One way or another, I know that someday they will see the light of liberty.

JOHNS: Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COLLINS: Quickly want to get back to the story that we've been telling you about. And great background piece there if you were not familiar with how it all took place to begin with. The freed American hostages and, also, Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate in Colombia. We had watched her reunite with her family members.

This now is video that we're just getting in. It appears to be of the very, very first moment that she saw her children after being away six years. And look how they've grown she's probably saying. This was in the airplane. I just can't believe that we have video of that. Boy that will choke you up, won't it? It's amazing. We're just let it play a little bit here. Her children, Melanie and Lorenzo. Former Colombian presidential candidate and as I said before, now former hostage, Ingrid Betancourt. That family reunion right there on the plane. The very first moment that she is reunited with her family.

HARRIS: Good stuff, good stuff.

COLLINS: There's nothing much more we can say there. But again, we are following this story throughout the day. Still waiting of course, to hear if at all possible, from the American hostages Mark Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell. They are at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio now. Having their health checked, of course. So once we learn more about exactly how good they are feeling, I imagine that they're going to want to speak, as well. And after they are reunited with their families.

Quickly also want to get to this story. Completely different part of the world to Zimbabwe. We told you just moments ago that we are learned 220 Zimbabweans have actually fled to the U.S. Embassy now in Harari, where they are seeking refuge from all of this violence that has gone on since the election. The election of president Robert Mugabe that happened on Sunday.

We actually have an journalist on the line with us now. An eyewitness to some of the scenes of what is happening there in Harari. We know that we cannot identify you, but tell us if you would, exactly what you're seeing around you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in front of the U.S. Embassy in Harari and about 200 or so people, including children, are just outside the embassy. They're saying they're going to stay put here unless the U.S. Embassy looks for somewhere where they can stay because they've been displaced or they have been victimized (INAUDIBLE) to the opposition MBC.

COLLINS: What does the scene look like though? I mean, I'm imagining people you know, carrying their belongings trying to get inside. We're talking about 200 people. Are they waiting to get inside, have some of them made it inside? And what are their faces, what are the expressions on their faces?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Initially they wanted to get in, but then they were told by security guards to remain outside until they've been addressed by U.S. Embassy officials.

They look (INAUDIBLE). They look very confused. They are people who are claiming that they have nothing other than what they have on them. Some of them just their clothes and a few with some bags. And there are children, too, and some people who are even injured.

COLLINS: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you. Does it appear that anyone is injured from where you're standing? I'm not sure how far away you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm less than 100 meters away -- actually less than 60 meters away from them. I've seen three people who are injured and one of them with a family.

COLLINS: Well, we are going to continue to follow this story obviously, as you are telling us from just a few meters away from where all in is going on at the U.S. Embassy in Harari. These people, about 200 or so, as you say, have been told to stay outside. And I imagine they're trying to get some of them in because obviously when you go to an embassy, are you trying to fight for your safety and that is the situation in Harari. We appreciate that.

A journalist there, an eyewitness, just a few meters away from all that is going there. We'll stay on top of that one for you, as well.

HARRIS: Want to circle back to the story of the freed hostages, the rescued hostages in Colombia. And particularly the plight of the three Americans. We are understanding that they may have encountered some pretty nasty jungle diseases.

Our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen with us.

And look, there are some pretty nasty things that you can catch in the jungle to be sure. And we're starting to get some details of what the three men might in fact, have.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. What we're hearing is that two of them might have had a disease called leishmaniasis. It's a parasitic disease, it is not surprising that they would get it after years in the jungle.

What you're seeing here is a very blown upshot of a sand fly. It really is one third the size after mosquito, so it's little but it packs as terrible punch and you don't see it coming. What happens when it bites you is that can you get two forms of leishmaniasis. A cutaneous form where you get terrible sores, we're showing you some of the nicer looking ones here. They can take months or years to go away. Sometimes you actually have to have plastic surgery to repair the damage that these sores do. And if someone gets the other version called visceral, it actually starts attacking the internal organs of the body. And for that version of the disease, if you don't get treatment there's a good chance that you will die.

HARRIS: OK. So again, we're talking about a disease and you wonder if this is a disease that can be cured.

COHEN: It can be treated. It absolutely can be treated. There are some excellent anti-parasitic drugs that will get someone over this disease. You have to give it certainly in time. You're kind of racing against the damage that's been done to the internal organs. If the hostages, or the former hostages that had type of disease, we don't know if they had the kind that's on the outside of the body and causes sores or if they have the internal kind and hurts the organs. But if they've gotten help in time, these drugs can really work wonders.

HARRIS: And look, part of the good news here is that they're being treated at a supreme facility, the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. So they are absolutely getting the best care possible right now.

Elizabeth, good to see you and thanks for that information.

COLLINS: Quickly want to get this information out to you, as well. I've been able to e-mail a little bit with Admiral James Stavridis of the U.S. Navy. He's the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, obviously in charge of the region that we're talking about with these American hostages. I want to go ahead and share with you part of the e-mail that he sent my way.

He says, "It is indeed a wonderful morning and we're all very happy at U.S. Southern Command -- we've worked very hard over the past five and a half years for this, 20,000 flight hour, 4,000 surveillance sorties, lots of fleeting leads and operations, many of our team working full-time on this for years -- most of whom were in tears yesterday when the helo (ph) lifted on of with our guys on board."

He also goes on to say, of course, and give his congratulations to the Colombian military and says this was an extraordinary operation by the Colombian military, we are proud of our friends and allies there who have made history with this rescue.

Once again, Admiral James Stavridis, Head of Command for Southern Watch.

HARRIS: A family reunion six years in the making. Take a look at this video from just moments ago. Well, from maybe an hour or so ago, maybe a little longer. But new video to us here of this wonderful reunion. A mother, no longer a hostage, reunited with her children. More details on this developing story right here in the NEWSROOM.



HARRIS: Safe at last. How Colombia freed those 15 hostages right under the captor's noses.


COLLINS: Wildfires creating problems this morning in California. This is Malibu, where a fire has reportedly destroyed a beach front house and damaged two others. The fire has also forced the closing of the Pacific Coast Highway. No injuries reported.

In Big Sur, a mandatory evacuation in place now. 850 residents told to get out. An evacuation also ordered for Shasta in northern California. Firefighters have been battling wildfires that have burned more than 770 square miles. 64 buildings have been destroyed by the fire since June 20th. Officials in Big Sur say fires there could burn through the end of July. And I know some of them they are letting burn in those really dense areas where there aren't any structures that are threatened. And other places of course, they've got to fight like heck to put them out because overall, aren't we talking about 1700 fires or so Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I mean, in one way shape or form, most of those small. But the larger ones unfortunately, are getting a hard time getting a hold on. And the rainfall, which you see behind me, is nowhere near California. So they're not going to get much help as far as rain goes. They are officially in their dry season and that will last through October. So the best they can hope for are light winds, which they're kind of getting now, and a bit of a marine push for at least the fires along the coastal ranges as opposed to the ones that are inland along the Sierra Nevada.


HARRIS: Here's a question for you. Just how did those captives in Colombia come be pulled out of the heart of darkness? A bit of trickery. As CNN's Anderson Cooper tells us.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Military video released today shows the moment a helicopter carrying the hostages lands, ending years of captivity for 15 people, including three Americans.

It began with a breathtaking rescue, one that was planned by Colombia, monitored by the White House, and supported by the U.S. The operation was daring and deceptive. Rebel forces were holding the hostages in a remote jungle area. The guerrillas assembled them in a field where a helicopter would take them to another insurgent controlled location or so they thought. What the rebels didn't know, Colombian forces had infiltrated the insurgency. The trip was all a ploy to set the hostages free.

One senior U.S. official tells CNN that the U.S. provided specific intelligence to help pinpoint the exact spot where the hostages were being held. But it wasn't until they were in the chopper that the captives were told they'd been saved.

INGRID BETANCOURT, ESCAPED FARC HOSTAGE (through translator): The helicopter almost fell because we started jumping. We screamed, we cried, we hugged. We couldn't believe it. God carried out this miracle. This is a miracle.

COOPER: Ingrid Betancourt was held for six years. She was running for president of Colombia when members of the revolutionary armed forces of Columbia, FARC, seized her.

BETANCOURT: I would not be here if it wasn't for all the commanders of the army that had the bravado and the bravery to plan this extraordinary operation.

COOPER: The Americans, Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes, were military contractors, employed by the U.S. government on a counter-narcotics mission in 2003 when their plane went down and they were taken hostage by FARC. From time to time, FARC would release video of the men to prove they were alive. This one obtained by a Colombian journalist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you guys, and I'm just waiting to come home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our thoughts of our families carry us through the days. That's what we have.

COOPER: FARC has led a deadly campaign against Colombia, kidnapping hundreds, many still being held. But it appears that with U.S. help, the country is making gains against FARC. And today, in one of the most stunning and successful raids in recent memory, a long ordeal is over and these three Americans are coming home.

Anderson Cooper, CNN.