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Three Dead in Arkansas Tornado; Mena, Arkansas Takes Direct Hit From Tornado; Five U.S. Soldiers Killed in Suicide Bombing; Memorial for Earthquake Victims; Captain Tries to Escape; Wall Street Journal Predicting September Recovery; Pres. Obama's Greeting Controversy; Changing Terms of Credit Cards

Aired April 10, 2009 - 09:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN , CNN ANCHOR: A deadly outbreak of tornadoes. This morning, a search for victims and a warning for everyone in the path of this storm.

Wildfires, they sweep across much of the American southwest. Dozens of people injured, dozens of homes destroyed, and another awful day looms.

Plus, a desperate race to freedom ends in failure. We have the latest on the American held hostage by Somali pirates.

Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. Heidi Collins has the day off. This is Friday, April 10th and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Let's start with this, some breaking news. The kidnapped captain has made a break for it. Richard Phillips jumped ship in an attempt to get away from those pirate captors of his. Well, he took his chances and he tried to swim to safety after two days trapped in a lifeboat off the coast of Somalia. And we'll have a live report from Bahrain coming up in just a moment.

But it is Good Friday and this is anything but a holiday for thousands of people after just a night of horror.

Look at those pictures.

A small town in Arkansas ripped apart by a powerful tornado. Three people are dead, two dozen injured. Fire crews are still trying to contain all of those wildfires that are roared through Oklahoma destroying one neighborhood after another.

And those powerful storms are moving east and there are more storms behind them. We got to get you up to speed. So let's take you to Rob Marciano right here in the CNN Weather Center.


NGUYEN: And we do invite you to stay with us, Rob we'll be checking in with you. Also, Charles Crowson with our affiliate with KTHV is getting a firsthand look at the damage in Mena, Arkansas, and our Ed Lavandera is in a fire-ravaged town in Oklahoma, all of it to cover today. So, let's begin with Ed in the border town of Midwest City. The police chief in Midwest City says it looks like a war zone and threat of more hurricane-force winds looms again today.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Betty, well, it's It's been a devastating day. And you can see that firefighters throughout the region are very nervous about the situation here.

Just in the distance here, you can see a firefighter. They've been dousing these two homes that have been destroyed by the fires. Just look at the debris and the damage that has been left behind. This pile right here is actually a car. Not even sure if you can even make it out there.

But the winds are continuing to be rather intense today. And until these winds die down, officials here in Oklahoma say the threat of more fires and more fires springing back up is a very real threat.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): Across Texas and Oklahoma, crews raced from fire to fire, kept on their toes by winds that at times reached hurricane-force.

JERRY LOJKA, FIRE MARSHAL, MIDWEST CITY, OKLAHOMA: We can't get ahead of it. When you have gusts to 40 miles an hour and there is brush involved, it picks those embers up. It creates a fireball that lifts it over the top of us and carries at a quarter of a mile past us.

LAVANDERA: At least five towns in Oklahoma were ordered evacuated as the flames swept across the dry flatlands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking. It happened so fast.

LAVANDERA: The massive fires, some stretching for six miles, also forced parts of Interstate 35 to be shut down. Firefighters from dozens of agencies tapped into pools and creeks to keep the water flowing and worked alongside bulldozers to create fire lines.

And despite warnings to clear out, some residents stayed behind to join the fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just started running buckets to the place behind us trying to help the firefighters.

LAVANDERA: The struggle and the size and speed of devastation taking a toll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a long day.

LAVANDERA: By nightfall, more than a hundred homes have been lost, many more damaged. But the fires were so widespread and moving so fast that firefighters were struggling to get a grip on the extent of the damage. In some areas where the fire had moved on, residents got a firsthand look at what the flames left behind and the work that lies ahead for them and their neighbors, some of whom don't yet know what awaits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's deployed. He's out serving our country right now, and he's got to come home to this.


LAVANDERA: And Betty, we've heard in Texas where they've also been battling these flames, two people have been killed because of these fires. Actually, one of the victims is a former television news reporter out of Dallas and his wife as well.

In Oklahoma, they're reporting some 34 injuries, including a firefighter that has suffered severe burns over 35 percent of his body. And that firefighter, we understand, near the Stillwater area of Oklahoma, is in critical condition - Betty.

NGUYEN: My goodness. With those injuries and all the manpower being really focused on these wildfires, is there enough to help contain them?

LAVANDERA: Well, they've got crews out everywhere. You know, firefighters we've seen say that they've been working throughout the night trying to keep everything doused and under control. So, they are very vigilant at this point and they do understand that everyone, essentially, across the state in these regions have been called in to duty.

NGUYEN: Yes. I'm reading here that they are saying the crews, quote, "have been maxed out because of these wildfires."

All right, Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for that report.

And another breaking story to tell you about this morning. In Iraq, five U.S. soldiers are dead after a suicide truck bombing. The military says it happened in the northern city of Mosul where the truck rammed a barrier outside police headquarters. Two Iraqi policemen and Iraqi soldier were also killed. The U.S. military considers Mosul a last -- the last urban stronghold of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Well, money, jobs, recession and progress. President Obama calls in his economic team to hear about the challenges ahead and we're going to give you an update.


NGUYEN: All right, we do have some breaking weather news this morning.

Tornadoes in Mena, Arkansas. Mena is a small town just over the border from Oklahoma. Here is a map of it. Well, survivors say their town took a direct hit from the tornado last night. A curfew is in effect and National Guard troops, they are patrolling the streets.

Charles Crowson is there. He joins us now live.

What are you seeing or what are you not seeing since it's been destroyed by that tornado?

CHARLES CROWSON, KTHV CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, thank you and good morning, everyone.

We're not seeing much right now in first light because a large portion of Mena, Arkansas remains cordoned off. As much as a square mile is now being surveyed by emergency crews going through search and rescue efforts.

The town has been broken down into 19 different zones and the emergency crews are going in, going door-to-door trying to talk to survivors, seeing if they can find any additional injured to the already 30 that have made their way to local hospitals here.

Three people have been confirmed dead. Two from the collapsed - two, excuse me, from a collapsing building; one suffered a heart attack after the tornado.

We can tell you the storm hit around 8:00 Central time last night. And as you said, it took a direct path through downtown Mena. Some of the areas that had been hit -- the courthouse, the town's city hall, also the county's detention center. We learn now that the Polk County Detention Center had 18 inmates in there now. The sheriff is telling us that those 18 inmates are going to be taken to neighboring jurisdictions so they can get to more habitable settings. He's actually called the Polk County Detention Center, "uninhabitable" - Betty.

NGUYEN: Goodness. All right, let's talk about a larger, I guess, impact of this, possible gas leaks? What are you hearing about that?

CROWSON: Well, first light has shown more damage. The Associated Press originally reported as many as a hundred structures had suffered damage. That number is continuing to go up.

They've actually gone out to the industrial park this morning and found two plants have been complete leveled. In that, they have found gas leaks out there. Center Point Energy is on the scene right now out at that industrial park to get the leaks cordoned off and get the leaks sealed off there so they can begin recovery efforts there.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe will be touring this area later and much of Arkansas will be helping this town get back on its feet - Betty.

NGUYEN: yes, we're hoping to speak to the governor a little but later during the morning today.

Thank you so much for that. Charles Crowson joining us live there. Want to get you now back to the high seas and that hostage drama that's taking place and the escape attempt by the kidnapped captain. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now live from Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

All right, Barbara, bring us up to speed. Exactly how did this play out?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Betty, U.S. officials are saying that -- pardon me. U.S. officials are saying Captain Phillips did try to make a break for freedom last night, jumping out of that lifeboat where he is being held by four pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Apparently, it was all over very quickly. He jumped into the water, tried to start swimming. The pirates, by all accounts, quickly went into the water after him and quickly recaptured him.

I think we have an image to show people of what these lifeboats are like.

U.S. official telling CNN, by all accounts, Captain Phillips is OK. They take that as a good sign that the pirates didn't harm him. But this situation is getting more delicate. There's negotiations between the pirates, the U.S. Navy, and FBI hostage negotiators. It's going on for some considerable period of time now and it remains to be seen how all of this sorts out.

By all accounts, the U.S. military has some photographs it has taken of the situation, but considers the whole matter so delicate, they aren't even publicly releasing that material until this is all over - Betty.

NGUYEN: It is a very delicate matter. But at the same time, I understand - what? - two U.S. warships are also on their way?

STARR: Right. Two U.S. warships on the way to join the USS Bainbridge, a destroyer already on station monitoring the situation. These two ships, we are told, Vice Admiral William Gortney, the head of the Fifth Fleet here in Bahrain, were already scheduled to go to the area. Admiral Gortney was beefing up the military show of force off the coast of Somalia anyhow because of the rise in pirate activity over the last couple of weeks. Now, all of the more urgent because of this crisis.

So they are on the way there. They will make a military show of force against pirate activity in the region. But quite importantly, these ships also have a medical capability. When Captain Phillips is finally brought out to freedom, he will likely go to one of these Navy ships first. They will evaluate him, see what medical care he needs, if any, if he is hurt, if he is ill, and these Navy ships have a very considerable ability to offer that kind of medical care.

Everyone hopes, everyone expects that Captain Phillips will then, very quickly, be on his way home to his family. But this remains an ongoing situation, of course - Betty. NGUYEN: And we are watching it very closely.

Barbara Starr joining us live from Bahrain. Thank you so much, Barbara.

You know, a U.S. official does tell us that the escape attempt is a positive sign in that it shows the captain is still in good health. And last hour, our Jason Carroll talked to one of the captain's friends about the escape attempt.


CAPT. JAMES STAPLES, FRIEND OF CAPTAIN PHILLIPS: No, I wasn't surprised by that. That just shows you Ritchie's - his character. He's not going to give up. He is going to be thinking all the time of what he can do to get out of the situation safely. He's not going to lay down. He's going to stay and fight until this is over and resolved and he's back home safely.


NGUYEN: Again, we have heard that Captain Phillips was unharmed during his escape attempt and is back aboard that lifeboat.

Well, we want to shift gears and talk about a special Good Friday service approved by the Pope. Italy lays to rest more than 200 people killed this week in that earthquake there. CNN's Paula Newton joins us from the scene of the mass funeral.

Paula, take us through the morning there. It's got to be a difficult one.

PAULA NEWTON , CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You know, the friends and family started arriving very early. We had 202 coffins laid out on the ground.

I should say, Betty, the reason we're here in the open air, this is actually a square in a military academy, is because there aren't any churches that were sound enough to be in. And quite frankly, even with a couple of tremors during the ceremony, it was actually best to just be in a place like this.

They came, they saw the coffins. A lot of them sobbing over the coffins, kissing the coffins. Saying all of those things they've wanted to say for so many days. You know, they weren't really allowed the rights of a funeral like you normally would have, a wake, just with all the chaos and the aftermath.

You know, the mass started with a special message from the Pope, Betty. And he said that, in fact, he's been praying for them since the moment that he felt the earthquake himself in Rome.

Everyone knows this has been a very long week for the survivors here and this was different. It was different because while the mourning continues, Betty, this was their almost one and only chance to say goodbye - Betty. NGUYEN: So what is next, Paula, for these towns? Do they have time to really think about what the progress is going to be? Will they rebuild after this earthquake?

NEWTON: You know, there are a lot of people still set up in tents. And you know, Betty, if you go around this region, a lot of the small towns, there are people whose homes did not suffer any kind of damage, they're still in tents. I'll tell you why. It's because of those aftershocks.

So until, really, the earth beneath their feet stops moving, no one is quite sure what to do. Where do you rebuild? Do you go bath back to the house that you were in, fix it up, make sure it's structurally sound and move on? Do you move to other villages maybe to other locations and build where it is safer?

So many questions right now and you can imagine very, very difficult. Today is a day of mourning, but moving on to the weeks and months to come, very tough questions in a country, Betty, where more than half of the people are at risk of these kinds of earthquakes.

You know, the morning today was quite intimate. The holiday here, everyone was glued to their television sets. Everyone in this country knows they could be next in this kind of situation and trying to find strength for what's to come - Betty.

NGUYEN: That is a frightening thought there.

All right, Paula Newton joining us live, thank you so much for that.

Well, there are new signs back here in the U.S. that the economy is bottoming out. Really? Really? Well, the president sits down with his top financial advisers for a progress report and we'll have the latest on that.


NGUYEN: All right, time to talk money, your money. With the recession showing signs of easing just a bit, President Obama meets with his top economic advisers this morning. They're going to give him a progress report on the economic recovery efforts.

So, let's take you live now to CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

And Dan, you know, last week we saw the president overseas talking about the global economy. Now he's focusing on domestic issues, mainly our economy. What are your going to see coming out of this meeting?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Continuing to focus on the economic crisis there and meeting with not only his top economic advisers, but the head of the - the chair of the Federal Reserve. Also the head of the FDIC and other financial experts here at the White House. And again, to really talk about the ongoing efforts to stabilize the economy and get money flowing again.

Now this administration has been focusing on several key areas. First of all, the housing market. Trying to put an end to or cut down on all of these foreclosures and to keep responsible homeowners in their homes. The administration also pumping billions of dollars into the auto industry. And of course, putting heavy restrictions on them and forcing them to restructure in order to survive. Then there have been student and business loans and, of course, the bank bailout and trying to help these banks clean up their balance sheets to remove some of these toxic assets.

So, it's a chance to sit down and take a look at the progress. The administration believes that some progress is being made. They see money flowing again in certain areas. There's also the stock market that has been encouraging with a little bit of a rebound there. But they still believe there's a long way to go - Betty.

NGUYEN: All right, let's talk about the supplemental spending bill. Where is this money going? What's it for?

LOTHIAN: Well, the administration, obviously, saying this is money that will be needed for Afghanistan and Iraq. About 95 percent of the money will be used for the president's agenda in those two areas. First of all, winding down the war in Iraq, and then ramping things up in Afghanistan. The president now really focusing on going after al Qaeda in not only Afghanistan, but also Pakistan. And that is where they believe these funds will be needed and will be used.

NGUYEN: All right, CNN's Dan Lothian at the White House for us today. Thank you, Dan.


NGUYEN: OK, so a September recovery for the economy? Well, the "The Wall Street Journal" says it could happen, but what about jobs? Christine Romans will have a breakdown did he bottom of the hour. You don't want to miss that.

Also, homes destroyed, lives lost. A town faces the devastating aftermath of a powerful tornado. We're going to hear more from Mena, Arkansas.


NGUYEN: Severe storms, fierce winds and a whole lot of damage. A fire still burning in Midwest, Oklahoma. Once the winds die down, the National Guard plans to drop water from helicopters. More than a hundred homes and businesses have been burned so far.

Let's take you across the border in Arkansas. The town of Mena has been devastated by a powerful tornado. Three people are dead; 24 others hurt. One hundred homes, churches, city hall, the courthouse and a school all in shambles. Half the town is without power and gas at this hour.

And the threat for severe weather, well, it is not over yet, folks. Let's get you straight to Rob Marciano in our Severe Weather Center.


NGUYEN: And joining us right now by phone from the Arkansas capital of Little Rock is Tommy Jackson. He is the public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Mr. Jackson, are you on the line with us?


NGUYEN: All right. If you would, give us an indication of the damage. We spoke with a reporter a little bit earlier, and he couldn't really get to those areas that were blocked off. How bad is the damage there because of the storm?

JACKSON: The town of Mena, as you guys have been reporting, Betty, took a heavy hit on the west side of town. Then the storm traveled through to the downtown area. And then, actually, went north up Highway 71. And in its path in Mena, several homes were severely damaged or destroyed. It's a beautiful city. The residential area that was hit was a very established neighborhood with very large oak trees. And those, during the storm, toppled over onto the homes. And then, large two-story homes were also hit.

But in the downtown area itself, businesses, the courthouse of the county, city hall, a Masonic lot and a middle school complex in the town were also heavily damaged. We've got three confirmed fatalities in the town.

Our Governor Mike Beebe dispatched 30 Arkansas national guardsmen to help with security there. And other counties, as you know, Arkansas had a rough year storm-wise in 2008. And this seems to bring out the best in Arkansans and other counties are rising up to help Poke County.

NGUYEN: Well, that's good news, because you're going to need it. We're hearing from the Department of Emergency Management there that, and I'm quoting here, "It looks like a war zone."

I want you to take me back to the county hospital there and the damage that it sustained, and what kind of affect that is having on the area as people may be injured because of this storm.

JACKSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. We were reporting 22 injuries last night or early in the morning hours today. Twelve of those at the time were considered to be minor. Don't have an update on that in the last couple of hours. So hopefully -- I know the injured are getting very good treatment. Hopefully, you know -- hopefully, that will turn out OK.

NGUYEN: Yes, we do hope so. I know you've got a lot of work ahead on your hands. Tommy Jackson with the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. Thank you so much for your time today. We do appreciate it. And our CNN iReporters. They are on the scene of that deadly Arkansas tornado. We're going to show you their pictures. And, of course, we do want to remind you that you can send your own iReports when you see news happen, just go to

We also have new developments to share with you this morning in the pirate hostage standoff. Our Barbara Starr is reporting that the Captain Richard Phillips -- you see him right there -- well, he tried to escape the pirates. He jumped out of the lifeboat where he was being held, and tried to swim to safety. But he was recaptured by the pirates. We're being told that he was unharmed.

Now, it is believed that the captain was trying to reach the USS Bainbridge. The Navy's destroyer is nearby, watching the pirates. And the U.S. military has also been flying over the lifeboat. Two other U.S. Navy ships connected to the anti-piracy task force are on their way to the area. We are following this for you as well.

But we want to tell you this. The escape attempt isn't expected to affect negotiations with the pirates. The FBI joined those hostage negotiations yesterday, and CNN's Jeanne Meserve takes a look at how the negotiations are being carried out and who has the upper hands.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Captain Richard Phillips hostage, the FBI crisis negotiators strategize with the Navy and the owners of Phillips' ship.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The FBI people are here at Quantico. And so they're using, you know, telecommunication means to be in touch with them.

MESERVE: But how difficult is it for the U.S. authorities to communicate with the pirates. Will the radio on the lifeboat run out of batteries? Do the pirates speak English?

CHRISTOPHER VOSS, THE BLACK SWAN GROUP: If there aren't any English-speakers among the kidnappers, then you find someone that you can trust that can talk to them, someone that is comfortable, someone that understands the things that you're trying to get across.

MESERVE: Former FBI negotiator Christopher Voss says the pirates are probably negotiating for safe passage away from the area and the presence of the U.S. Navy is ratcheting up their anxiety.

VOSS: It's good for the situation overall for the kidnappers to know that they're there, that the alternative to a peaceful resolution is a negative one.

MESERVE: Namely that they will be arrested or killed. But others are not so sure.

JUAN CARLOS ZARATE, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think once the pirates have hold of a vessel or a hostage, the pirates have the upper hand. We value the life of our citizens. They may not value their lives as much.

MESERVE (on camera): The U.S. government will negotiate with kidnappers, but will not make concessions. It also discourages families and companies from paying ransom, but in some instances, that is the only way to win a hostage's safe release.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.


NGUYEN: Now to the economy and bringing the financial gurus in. Well, President Obama will get a progress report on the economic recovery efforts this morning. He's meeting with his top economic advisers, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The White House says they will update the president on everything from efforts to stabilize the financial sector to the housing crisis.

So is it going to be a September to remember? Well, economists at "The Wall Street Journal" are predicting the recession could be over by then. So, is that really going to be true? Our Christine Romans joins us from New York with the details.

All right, Christine. September? Really?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, a survey of economists by the "The Wall Street journal" some 53, 54 economists found that September will be when the recession ends. But the job recovery won't happen for many more months. So a recession ending in September, but no job recovery until the second half of the year 2010.

You know, Betty, we often say that jobs are a lagging indicator, even after the economy begins to recover and after we see the economy start to grow. You can expect more job losses. These economists on average expecting another 2.6 million jobs lost over the next 12 months or so.

A couple of things that these economists in this survey found. Nine out of 10 economists surveyed by "The Wall Street Journal" said that the Treasury's efforts to boost consumer and small business lending were beginning to work. And also 72 percent of these economists said that the Treasury's plan to boost -- to rid the banks of the toxic assets that that would eventually help the economy. So everyone wants to put an expiration date on this recession.

NGUYEN: Right, because we want it over.

ROMANS: We want it over. We won't know. And keep in mind, we won't know until after it's over. And the National Bureau of Economic Research surveys all of the numbers and decide that they can put that real expiration date on the recession, but this is a survey by economists conducted by "The Wall Street Journal," and they say it's September.

NGUYEN: Hey, we hope it's September. But, you know, to be truthful about it, as you said, we won't know until it's over. But, in fact, we won't know until, well in the future because we weren't even told that we were officially into a recession until, what, a year after we were into it.

ROMANS: That's absolutely right. I mean, it's very difficult to predict these kinds of things, when you look at a lot of different kinds of data. There are also risks to this outlook. And these economists noting that there are risks.

I mean, if a major financial institution were to come into real big trouble or, God forbid, fail, that would be something that would put off any kind of recovery. There are a lot of different things that we still need to see worked out.

Keep in mind, once you're talking about the recession ending, you still have more worries about jobs after that. You still have more problems in the economy. This is not saying that we're out of the woods. This is saying we see where the end of the woods are.

NGUYEN: Well, hopefully, that bright spot is September. We'll be watching. Thank you.


NGUYEN: So the changing terms of your credit cards. Do you know what's in your wallet? A closer look now could save you some big bucks later on. We're going to have those details.


NGUYEN: Christians around the world are marking Good Friday, a day that commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to preside over a Good Friday service at the Vatican this morning. Last night, the Pontiff washed and dried the feet of 12 priests at a traditional Holy Thursday ceremony. The ritual symbolizes Jesus' gesture of humility toward his 12 apostles the night before he was crucified.

Catholic priests and thousands of their followers are protesting President Obama's planned commencement speech at Notre Dame University. They say his policies on abortion and stem cell research contradicts the most basic teachings of their church. CNN's Susan Roesgen reports.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Protesters at the University of Notre Dame are praying for divine intervention to keep President Obama away.

EMILY TOATES, PROTESTER: We do not believe it's right to celebrate a man who's gone so against Catholic principles.

ROESGEN: Like many presidents before him, Obama has been invited to give the commencement address at this Catholic university in May. But hundreds of devout Catholics, on campus and off, are outraged that Notre Dame would welcome a president whose public policies lean pro- choice on abortion.

BISHOP JOHN D'ARCY, DIOCESE OF FORT WAYNE-SOUTH BEND: The Catholic Church's position is that taking of a life in a womb is an intrinsically evil act.

ROESGEN: Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes Notre Dame, is especially shocked that the university plans to give the president an honorary law degree.

D'ARCY: But to honor someone with a doctorate of laws, and the only lays that he has made are laws which are against innocent life -- no one is allowed to say who's going to sit at the table of life, and, more importantly, who's not going to sit at the table of life. God didn't give us that privilege. He gave us many other privileges. That belongs to Him alone.

ROESGEN: A spokesman for the university says there no plans to uninvite the president, but protesters say they will say one million rosaries until graduation day, praying that the president will become pro-life.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Chicago.


NGUYEN: Well, President Obama will not receive an honorary degree from Arizona State University, when he gives the commencement speech there next month. An ASU spokeswoman said the university awards honorary degrees to recognize individuals for their lifetime of work and accomplishments. She told the school's newspaper, quote, "Because President Obama's body of work is yet to come. It is inappropriate to recognize him at this time." ASU's Commencement Ceremony is May 13th.

Well, video of President Obama's greeting to the Saudi king at the G-20 has people doing a double take. Did he bow to the king? Or was it a bend? Everyone is weighing in, including the White House.


NGUYEN: So why does a week-old gesture by President Obama still have people talking? Because the White House insists it's not what it looked like. The president of the United States bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia. And if it was a bow, why are some saying, wow, and others, who cares? Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama greets the King of Saudi Arabia.

Did the president bow?

Did he bend?

Is it worth getting bent out of shape over? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flag doesn't bow and neither do we.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care. Whatever. It's just a bow. He's just being nice to the guy.

MOOS: Conservative blogs haven't been so nice.

Bowing, scraping, embarrassing -- what does it say to the world?

Did Obama bow to Saudi King Abdullah or was he cleaning the floor?

Some who look at the video didn't see much at all.

(on camera): Notice anything?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There could be something in the back of his pants.

MOOS: No, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is he doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever it was he did with the king of Saudi Arabia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he bow or didn't he?

MOOS (voice-over): The White House says no. It's just that the president is so much taller than the king

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He bent over with both to shake -- with both hands to shake his hands.

MOOS: But he appears to dip well before the two-handed shake. And most folks weren't buying the bend over to shake hands explanation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ray Charles can see that he bowed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like he's kissing his ring, but it can't possibly be that.

MOOS: Arab columnists thought it was a bow -- a show of respect. But the conservative "Washington Times" ran an editorial calling the move "a shocking display," an "extraordinary protocol violation" and a "servile gesture."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everlasting negativeness no matter what you do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is just more educated about their culture and more global in his thinking. MOOS: The conservative blog Hot Air posted a video called "A Tale of Two Bows," comparing how President Obama greeted the Queen of England versus the King of Saudi Arabia.


MOOS: The president himself has said...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that we have to change our behavior in showing the Muslim world greater respect.

MOOS: Remember how President Bush showed his respect for the Saudi royal prince -- holding hands.


MOOS: It's a sign of friendship in the Arab world, but President Bush paid a price.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Look, show that footage from this morning.

(SONG PLAYING): Love lift us up where we belong.


MOOS: Give that man a hand. But this is one bow...


MOOS (on camera): That's too low?


MOOS (voice-over): The White House would prefer not to take.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


NGUYEN: All right, you decide. Discuss amongst yourselves. In the meantime, though, there's a lot going on this morning. And CNN crews are working to bring it all to you. Let's take a look at what we're working on.

LAVANDERA: I'm Ed Lavandera in Midwest City, Oklahoma, where wildfires have blown across ravagely (ph) across Oklahoma and parts of Texas. Deadly wildfires. Betty, I'll have more details coming up at the top of the hour.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm Chris Lawrence live at the Pentagon. The American captain who is being held hostage by pirates jumps into the water to try to escape. What happens next? We'll tell you at the top of the hour.

NGUYEN: All right, thank you, everybody.

We're also keeping a close eye on the pirate drama off the Coast of Somalia. Now earlier today, the American hostage tried to escape. We have the latest on that.


NGUYEN: OK, even if you have a good credit score, your credit card terms, well, they could change and not in your favor. A recent study suggests more and more consumers are facing new credit card changes. CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis joins us now with details.

All right, Gerri, what kind of changes are we talking about here?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, hi there, Betty. You may have noticed your credit limit slashed, interest rates shoot up, even for cardholders with a decent credit score, and it's happening more frequently. That's according to a recent study from Synergistic Research Corp.

Here's what's going on. Twenty-one percent of consumers said they had an interest rate hike. Another 17 percent reported an increase in minimum payment due. And nine percent say they had a decrease in their credit limit - Betty.

NGUYEN: OK, so what can people do to protect themselves against these practices? Can anything be done?

WILLIS: Yes. I know this is frustrating for people out there, because they're under such financial pressure. But what you have to do is read your mail carefully. You may get updated terms and conditions in the mail, but it may just look like junk mail. Here are the words and phrases to look out for "as of x date, "x is changing." It may be a brochure. "Modifying" is another word to watch for. Also, "dates going forward." All three, and you get the idea.

Now what you need to think about here is don't close out those old accounts.

NGUYEN: Really? Why not?

WILLIS: Because that decreases the amount of money that you have available to you to spend. It makes your debt look bigger by comparison, so it reduces your credit core.

NGUYEN: But doesn't -- yes, I was going to say, how does that affect your credit score? Because I was told the more, you know, availability you have to funds that could affect it.

WILLIS: Yes. By closing old accounts you just make yourself look like a bigger risk to credit card issuers out there. That's the problem. And so you want to make sure that you hang onto the cards, maybe you just put them in your back pocket and you never use them.

NGUYEN: But you don't want too many, though, correct?

WILLIS: That's right. That's right.

NGUYEN: Manageable. OK.

WILLIS: Yes, you want to keep it manageable. But also here, Betty, you want to look into hardship programs. These are new. To qualify, you generally have to be delinquent and have a sizeable balance, maybe $2,500 or so. These hardship programs could lower your rate. You may be put on a payment plan. Call your issuers since they're not advertising, but a lot of these companies are doing them now.

And also, Betty, key here, change your mind-set. Don't use your credit cards every month to cover a portion of the family budget.

NGUYEN: Freeze them.

WILLIS: This happens all the time.


WILLIS: And I think you probably see it on your shows. People carrying a balance, they add it every month, they dig themselves deeper into debt. You got to stay away from that.

NGUYEN: Yes. And some people, you know, have given them up completely. Like I said, freeze them. Put them in the freezer, literally. Block of ice so you can't get to them.

Gerri Willis, as always, we do appreciate it.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

NGUYEN: All right. We want to get you now to Rob Marciano. He's following a developing story weather-wise.


NGUYEN: All right. What a busy day, Rob. I want you to check this out. We're going to take our viewers to a live picture right now of a highway chase. Actually, these are taped pictures. But look at that. You see the car spin out, turn around, and then it hit a patrol car. My goodness.

Well, let me give you a little background here. There is a female driver behind the wheel of that car. This all started as a domestic violence car. And you can see the officers right there trying to do the takedown.


NGUYEN: They've been chasing this woman for a little over half an hour. Again, happening in Southern California, at speeds, Rob, up to 100 miles per hour. And we understand -- wow, look at that. They're banging on the doors, and he's on top of the roof of that vehicle trying to get the driver out of the car. Again, we don't know -- now, they're getting in on the other side.

Don't know exactly what started this. But we do know, it did begin as a domestic violence call. And now, they're pulling her out of the car, right now. Boy, she is not going willingly at all. They had to physically pull her out of the car after an officer being on top of the roof of that vehicle. Now, she is on the ground. Obviously, she is going to be hand cuffed and taken in. Don't know the charges as of yet.

But we also understand that while it was a domestic violence call, this chase started, and you're seeing parts of it right now on this tape, after the driver attempted to crash into a long beach patrol car. And as it ended, she did crash into one of those patrol vehicles. But let's watch it one more time as these officers -- they are wasting no time at all. Again, they don't really know what's on their hands. All they know is they've been chasing this woman for about a half-an-hour or so at speeds over 100 miles per hour. But you'll see very shortly that one of the officers jumps on to the roof of that vehicle right there.