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More Troops or Fail Ultimatum from McChrystal; Flooding in Georgia; Some World Leaders Not Welcome at U.N. General Assembly Meeting; World Alzheimer's Day

Aired September 21, 2009 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan is warning, that unless he gets more troops within the next year the war will "result in failure." The document from General Stanley McChrystal was obtained by "The Washington Post." "The Post's" Bob Woodward spoke earlier on CNN "AMERICAN MORNING."


BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is a striking thing for a general to say to the secretary of defense and the commander in chief, it really takes his finger and puts them - puts it in their eye, deliver or this won't work.


COLLINS: CNN's Barbara Starr is joining us now with more on this story. So Barbara, it's a pretty blunt assessment from General McChrystal. And as we heard from Bob Woodward as well, and really pointing a finger to it. But then the White House still at this point really not wanting to hear it.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, not publicly, at least, Heidi. And you know, General McChrystal, one way or the other, certainly has put the White House in a bit of a box.


STARR: You remember back in the Iraq days, a lot of generals came in for criticism for not speaking their mind publicly and then complaining about it afterwards. General McChrystal may be learning that lesson and not willing to become part of that group. He has put his marker down. He has said the war is not working the way it's going right now and that he needs more forces and that he needs enough to be able to carry out a counterinsurgency strategy that will help the people of Afghanistan keep Afghanistan from becoming a Taliban safe halve.

Let me just read you one quote from General McChrystal's assessment.


STARR: He says, "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term, 12 month or so -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." It really doesn't get more serious than that, Heidi.

While General McChrystal is saying this, the word from the White House is that the president and the secretary of defense still want more time to think about all of it. Heidi.

COLLINS: How unusual is that? I mean, just last week we were talking with you, about potentially 30,000, 40,000, extra troops needed, talking about specifically Afghan taking care of their own security and the current situation with how far along they are in their training. I mean, is this highly unusual or not so much as far as the White House/Pentagon?

STARR: You know, as the clock ticks on, as days and weeks go by and no decision might be made, it will become unusual. We don't know how soon the president plans to make a decision. But now the general has really again put this marker down. And the real mark on the calendar, if you will, is that 12 months out there. Because they had been saying 12 to 18 months to show progress.

But they've been saying that for many months now. So, Now we're down to 12 to 15 months. And what happens just about 12 to 15 months from now? The November 2010 midterm elections. General McChrystal's looking at that calendar as well. He knows that Congress is getting more and more concerned about it, and he knows every day that goes by without decisions being made is one less day to try to make progress in the war. Heidi.

COLLINS: There's no doubt about it. All right. I know you're staying on top of the story. Thanks so much, Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon this morning.

Also, President Obama talking with CNN's John King says the strategy review in Afghanistan must be completed before the issue of additional troops is considered.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When we came, and I think everybody understood that our Afghanistan strategy was somewhat adrift, despite the extraordinary valor of the young men and women who are fighting there. So, what we've said was, let's do a soup to nuts re-evaluation, focusing on what our original goal was, which was to get Al Qaeda, the people who killed 3,000 Americans.

To the extent that our strategy in Afghanistan is serving that goal, then we're on the right track. If it starts drifting away from that goal, then we may have a problem.

COLLINS: President Obama on his way to upstate New York, this hour, at 11:30 Eastern, he'll be touring Hudson Valley Community College in Troy with Jill Biden, wife, of course of vice president Biden. 20 minutes later, he'll make remarks about the economy, we'll carry that live. And then this afternoon he'll tape a segment with David Letterman for "The Late Show" tonight.

Those remark from the president now about an hour and a half away. So you make sure you keep it here for that. We'll bring you that speech live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Boy, oh boy, it is raining in the southeast days of downpours in the south leading to flooding now. The worst-hit area, North Georgia, which has had as much as 20 inches of rain over the last three days. Schools in four counties are closed today, a number of roads in the Atlanta area have been shut down. A major inter state as a matter of fact.

Emergency workers actually found one woman dead in her car. That car was submerged in the water after having been swept from the road by flooding. I want to take a moment to get out to Reynolds Wolf now, our meteorologist, who is in Powder Springs, Georgia.

Boy, Reynolds, how do things look there?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not too good, Heidi. I'm coming to you from just outside my home. You can actually see that right behind me, just a house that is sitting up here on a nice hill, far and safe, usually, from floodwaters. When we first bought this place about three years ago we were told we were far away from the 100-year flood zone. Well, I want to show you and the rest of America this.

Using just a little computer that we have here and my Skype cam, zoom around very slowly and let you see floodwaters that have come up right up to our lawn. Just to give you an idea, Heidi, for you and everyone else that happened to be tuned in via either the web or from wherever you happen to be, the creek is about 100 yards from the back of our lawn and then on the other side, you've got Taylor Farm Park, it's a nature preserve.

Well, obviously, the waters have escaped the banks, they've come up here. This is my daughter's swing set. And I can tell you this morning, the water was well below that seat that you see right there, the big blue seat right in the middle. Really just much, much lower in the slide. It's going up several feet in some locations. If you go again, a little bit more, you'll see some pepper plants and some tomato plants that we were making great use just about a week or so ago. But now obviously a total loss.

You know, it really is amazing, Heidi, but what we've been seeing here is pretty typical in this part of the neighborhood. In this neighborhood where I live we've had report of horses that have actually been running wild from nearby barns and actually have been escaping the floodwaters and actually going right down our street and even in front of the house.


WOLF: The rest of the neighborhood is just a mess. Hard to believe. Rain for the time being has really stopped considerably. But what we anticipate is that we may see some sporadic showers and the thing is we need a break. We don't need any more of this heavy stuff. So hopefully it will work in our favor in the next couple of hours. We'll send it back to you, Heidi.

COLLINS: Hey, Reynolds. Before we let you go what did it look like in your yard and in your neighborhood yesterday?

WOLF: Yesterday, you know, it wasn't that bad. Obviously we had some heavy rain. The weird thing was, you know it just kept going. Last night we had not only few scattered shower, it was almost a nonstop deluge for quite some time. (INAUDIBLE) from the backyard but what a mess.

COLLINS: Yes. Boy, it sure looks like it. Hey, that was a very interesting tour. Glad you were there and able to do it with all of that technology, you're the guy who knows how. Appreciate it so much, Reynolds Wolf.

We are watching the situation. Rob Marciano is certainly watching it from here in our severe weather center. That's what you've been saying, too, Rob, is that a lot of this rainfall, at least, down here in the south sort of happened overnight and then people like Reynolds wake up to that.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. And kind of the straw that broke the camel's back. Good to know that Reynold's summer job as AT&T operator has paid off. That's a great impromptu reporting, really good stuff, buddy.

All right. Let's, actually we're kind of fly a little bit here. Here's Powder Springs. This is northwest of Atlanta in Cob County. You know, there's only one real big river that runs through Atlanta. It's across the northwestern edge of the city. But there's a number of little creeks that seemed pretty mundane and boring 99 percent of the time.

When you get this much rain in this short period of time, those little creeks can inundate neighborhoods. I didn't quite see where we were going with this. But I think this is the Peach Tree Creek running through a couple of little golf courses here. That one's flooded. And then this is a major thoroughfare in Atlanta, Peach Tree Road, from Buck head to Atlanta downtown. And there's a couple of apartment complexes there have that been flooded because of the rainfall.

So and that's just, you know, one or two of the many creeks. Nancy Creek also near record flood stage or near major flood stage. Also the Yellow River, which is just east of Atlanta seeing some flooding and even some reports of mudslides both the 75 and 85 interchanges near 285, huge, huge lockups regardless of weather on any given day of the week. They are seeing at least partial lanes shut down, and if not entirely being shut down at this hour.

All right. We'll zoom into the Atlanta area. Shouldn't ignore Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, (INAUDIBLE) seeing a tremendous amount of rainfall here. Also kind of shot up the I-20 corridor and just north. And a bit of a break starting to form just west and south of Atlanta but generally speaking we've seen one cell develop on top of another cell and then run over the same area.

And this is over areas of real estate that has been inundated and saturated with moisture. So we've got a flash flood watch that's in effect through tomorrow morning but more importantly flood warnings are posted through noon time today and then hopefully after that we'll start to get a bit of a break. But a couple of more inches certainly possible.

All right. From one extreme to the other. This is a foggy shot from L.A. Fog's going to burn off, West Coast views are waking up, bring us some of that rain. You're not going to get it. As a matter of fact, you'll see record-breaking high temperatures, I think, later on today.

COLLINS: Wow. Can I tell you I was really excited about a big golf tournament today to benefit the boy scouts. That got canceled.

MARCIANO: That's what happens when you don't invite the weatherman. You get rained out.

COLLINS: All right. Rob, we know you're watching all that for us. Thanks so much. We'll check back later on.

Jobs disappearing, people at their wit's end.

How world leaders may be greet in Pittsburgh ahead of a vital economic meeting this week.


COLLINS: Two teenagers face felony charges in the vicious beating of another student on a school bus in Belleville, Illinois. We showed you this video last week. Two African-American teens beating up a white student. At first, police thought the beating was racially motivated. Now they say it was a case of bullying.

Rescue teams at site of a small plane crash in Florida this morning. The "Associate Press" says as many as four people were on board when it went down in the Everglades yesterday. So far, no survivors found. The FAA says the plane was on the way from Gainesville to Ft. Lauderdale.

World leaders descend on New York City this week for the U.N. General Assembly meeting,, and some of them simply are not welcome. Adriana Hauser explains why certain heads of state will be getting the cold shoulder.


ADRIANA HAUSER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It will be the first visits to the U.S. for Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi since he seized power in 1969. The controversial trip comes weeks after the release of the only man convicted of bombing Pan Am flight 103, a Libyan national.

Joining Gadhafi at the U.N. summit, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be attending in the midst of the debate surrounding Iran's nuclear program, his disputed re-election and his continued denial of the Holocaust. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but a pressure group will be organizing a protest outside the U.N. MARK WALLACE, PRESIDENT, UNITED AGAINST NUCLEAR IRAN: Well-known that they are on the cusp of and developing an illegal nuclear weapon. Most recently there was an illegitimate election for a President Ahmadinejad and really a theocratic, thuggish regime stolen election from the Iranian people and there was a brutal repression in the sense and really brutal action towards Iran's own people.

HAUSER: Another leader expected to stir up emotions is Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. During his visit to the U.N. in 2006, Chavez called then president George W. Bush, the devil.

PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): .. and he smells of sulfur until today.

HAUSER: Chavez has since developed stronger ties with Libya, Iran and Russia. And recently announced plans to pursue a nuclear energy program.

HECTOR CONTRERAS, VENEZUELAN PROFESSOR: I think it represents a real threat to the United States but not only the United States but also to the world. I mean, this is -- nobody's watching Venezuela right now. Everybody's concerned about what happens going on in Iran. But nobody's watching Venezuela.

HAUSER: Activist groups and some residents are outraged. They have planned boycotts and several protests. They have pressed hotels not to host these three leaders and restaurants not to serve them. Even in these tough economic times, many businesses have agreed.

SOPHIA ARGYROS, OWNER, NATIONS CAFE: I would feel uncomfortable. I don't think I would want them here especially we have a lot of regular customers, they wouldn't not like that.

HAUSER: The U.S. has received petitions to deny them visas to enter the country but under diplomatic convention, it could be difficult for Washington to do so.

(On camera): Even though it's in midtown Manhattan, the U.N. is considered international territory. The host country, in this case, the U.S., and the international community have agreed that all delegates from member states should have access to the organization.

(voice-over): The week promises to be action-filled both within and outside the convention halls.

Adriana Hauser, CNN, New York.


COLLINS: Raising their voices, demanding jobs now. Hundreds of protestors calling for new job programs in Pittsburgh. This was the first major rally ahead of the G-20 summit there this week. Expect more and expect it to grow, too as the event gets closer. The G-20 meeting brings together leaders from the world top economies.

New numbers on the disturbing growth in Alzheimer's disease and going beyond the numbers, an actor talks to us about his father's and grandfather's battle with it.


COLLINS: A quick look at the top stories now this hour.

In the state of Washington, a schizophrenic killer who escaped during a field trip is back in custody. He spent three days on the loose after slipping away from staff during a trip to a county fair. Phillip Paul was committed to a mental institution after killing an elderly woman in 1987.

Authorities searching for a man after his wife and five children were found dead. The bodies of the family members were found in Naples, Florida, home over the weekend. The Collier County sheriff says the husband and father may have left the country for Haiti.

Protecting communities from the H1N1 flu, that's the topic as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs holds a field hearing in Hartford, Connecticut this hour. Members of the medical and business communities will testify as well as a parent whose children's schools were impacted by the H1N1 or swine flu outbreak last spring.

Today is World Alzheimer's Day. There are disturbing new numbers to go along with this year's theme, "Diagnosing Dementia." More than 35 million people worldwide will have dementia in 2010. That is a 10 percent increase in just five years.

Actor David Hyde Pierce knows firsthand about the heartbreak of Alzheimer's; his father and grandfather both had it before they died. David Hyde Pierce is joining us now from New York this morning.

David, I'd love to start off by hearing a little bit more about your dad and about your grandfather.

DAVID HYDE PIERCE, ACTOR, ALZHEIMER'S ASSOCIATION NATIONAL BOARD MEMBER: Sure. Heidi, my grandfather was the first, he had, you know, late in life in his 80s, started showing signs of losing his memory, losing his judgment, started wandering, started having sort of uncontrollable behavior and ended up in a nursing home where he died. And with my dad, it was slightly different. He had probably what's called vascular dementia, which is another form of dementia. It may have been Alzheimer's at the end.

With my grandfather we did an autopsy, with my dad, we never did. So, but either way, the symptoms are similar. And I know the affect on my grandmother and my mom was similar.

COLLINS: Well, I think that's an important thing to talk about here, especially on this day, is how this disease really affects the entire family.

PIERCE: It's extraordinary. Of course, it's true for any serious illness, but Alzheimer's in particular, because the person who is dying, it's a fatal disease is also losing their ability to take care of themselves in terms of memory, in terms of being able to communicate what's wrong with them.

CHETRY: Right.

PIERCE: And so, the husband or wife or child or partner, spouse, whatever, the burden shifts to them, and suddenly they become 24 hours having to not only take care of, but in many ways think for these people and it's rough.

COLLINS: Well, I can only imagine how heartbreaking. Our thoughts definitely with you and your family and your losses in all of this. Do you think Alzheimer's is getting enough attention?

PIERCE: No, no, it's not. The numbers are extraordinary, as you said 35 million right now worldwide. And those number are set to double every 20 years.


PIERCE: The Alzheimer's study group released a figure that by 2050, for Medicare and Medicaid, we will have spent $20 trillion just to take care of people with Alzheimer's, that's not research, that's not finding a cure. That's simply the expenses of the disease. So, that's like 20 stimulus packages.

COLLINS: Yes. Absolutely it is.

PIERCE: It's huge. I'm encouraged, there's this Alzheimer's Breakthrough Act that is being proposed in both the House and the Senate. It's bipartisan, as Alzheimer's is bipartisan, Barbara Mikulski and Christopher Bond in the Senate and Ed Marky and Chris Smith in the House sponsoring this legislation to make Alzheimer's a priority, to come up with some sort of national strategy, as they have in England, as they have in France, as they have in Australia, to fight dementia.

COLLINS: What's the success then there, by way of getting closer to at least more research dollars or even closer to some type of cure or potential pharmaceutical?

PIERCE: There are, like, 50 potential treatments in the pipeline, that's the good news. The bad news is we are so far from what we need in terms of research money, and it just hasn't been a priority. Meanwhile, the numbers of people keep creeping up and the affect of the disease on the economy it cost business like a billion dollars a year in lost productivity on top of what we alluded to at beginning the human cost, the emotional cost for families.

COLLINS: Absolutely. Well, I know you've been very involved and on the board of the Alzheimer's Association for 15 years. Everyone appreciates your work there. Before I let you go, I want to hear about your tie. "Who wears the purple best" contest. Tell me about it.

PIERCE: Yes. This is -- if you go to, which is the Alzheimer's Association Web site we're having a very silly contest where a bunch of us who are part of the champions campaign, trying to get the word out about Alzheimer's, we're all wearing our purple -- I'm wearing my purple hoodie, Bradley Cooper is there, Seth Rogen, Terrell Owens -- we've got quite a range of people, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a few others and the idea is you go on and vote who looks best in their purple.

And it's, you know, I'm destined to lose but it's OK. It's for a good cause. And hopefully people will find out more about Alzheimer's and the association while they're doing that.

COLLINS: Absolutely. I would have liked to have seen you here in the hoodie. So next time, we'll get you wearing that.

PIERCE: It's a deal. I'll be back in my hoodie.

COLLINS: All right. David Hyde Pierce, thanks so much, bringing some more attention to an important topic, Alzheimer's disease today on World Alzheimer's day. Thanks so much, appreciate your time.

It's not easy dealing with nasty calls from debt collectors, but could they hound you to death? A Florida woman says yes. Her husband is dead, and now she's suing.


COLLINS: A Florida woman says a debt collect agency hounded her sick husband to death. Diane McLeod says calls from the agency were so abusive, frequent, and harassing, they triggered husband's deadly heart attack. She is suing.

Yes, they were behind on their bills, but those bills started piling up after a heart condition forced Stanley McLeod to quit working. But his wife says the collection agency went too far. Listen for yourself.


AUTOMATED VOICE: You have eight old messages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stanley McLeod, (INAUDIBLE) get your act together. Make your payment on your mortgage. Quit playing these games.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Friday, 5:40 p.m.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last conversation you had, you told someone you were on a life flight because you had a heart attack. You need to get in contact with our office and bring your account current immediately. Your daughter never came in to make the payment.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Friday, 8:54 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every time, Mr. McLeod, you set up an arrangement, you never set up an arrangement. Never once have you set up an arrangement that you kept. If you cannot deal with this matter, you can have your wife or someone else that can go ahead and do it for you. But yet again, you failed to do anything you said you were going to do, which makes me question your judgment.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Wednesday, August 24, 8 p.m.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have until 12:00 noon today to (INAUDBLE) $694 or you need to make other living arrangements. We will forward your account to our attorney if we do not have a result on this account today.


COLLINS: All right. We should clarify, these phone calls that have come in to us are from the attorney who is representing the family in this. They are also not all of the calls that came in to the family. That is just a sample of them.

In fact, these came from a company called Green Tree, and here is their response. They say "Green Tree's policy is not to comment on pending litigation." So, McLeod's attorney, Billy Howard, is convinced they have a case in all of this. He is with us in Tampa, Florida this morning.

Also in Tampa, attorney Chip Merlin, getting his microphone on. He'll be with us shortly.

And joining us from New York, personal finance editor Gerri Willis, talking a little bit more about consumer's rights here.

Quickly, I want to begin with you, Mr. Howard. Tell me what this case is really about. Is this case about potential death that occurred, or is this case really more about bullying?

BILLY HOWARD, DIANE MCLEOD'S ATTORNEY: This case is about the type of mafia tactics that these companies use to collect debts. And it's about stopping companies from this type of conduct in the future. And it's also about recovering the damage that they caused.

COLLINS: So, you're saying that this gentleman, Stanley McLeod, died from phone calls like we heard just a few moments ago?

HOWARD: Yes, ma'am. In the state of Florida, you take the plaintiffs as they are. Mr. Macleod was very sick, because of his heart, and this company knew about it and used it to his detriment.

COLLINS: I guess -- I certainly don't want to sound insensitive, there has been a death here, certainly -- but as an attorney, strictly on legal grounds, does it not make more sense for you to go after the debt collectors on the idea of bullying? Does it break any laws here?

HOWARD: Absolutely, they broke laws. You are not allowed to do anything that can be considered harassing to individuals across the country when you're collecting debts. Now, if this would have happened to the quarterback of the Gator football team, the damages would have been different. But this happened to somebody who they knew had horrible heart problems, and they used that against him.

COLLINS: So, they wanted more than their money? I guess I'm still unclear how you'll be battling this. I know you think you have a very strong case. How will you begin that case? What will be your first line of argument here?

HOWARD: Well, we brought this case as a straight collection harassment lawsuit. In the interim, Mr. McLeod died. And we amended our complaint to add a count for wrongful death because we all know in our country that stress can kill somebody. And stress is not healthy for the average American.

COLLINS: Yes. But clearly he was not an average American. I mean, he had a preexisting condition, correct? How big is the lawsuit?

HOWARD: And that's exactly the point. He was not the average American. And they knew that he wasn't the average American. And they referred to his medical condition throughout the harassing calls. And this is a very big lawsuit. It's a lawsuit for punitive damages...

COLLINS: Totaling what?

HOWARD: ... against this company for this outrageous conduct.

COLLINS: What is the monetary amount?

HOWARD: At this point, the -- it will be left up to a jury to determine what this is worth, the loss of Mr. McLeod, and it will also be a punitive damages case. And once you find out the net worth of a company, then you can put a number on how much you ask a jury for, because different companies, if you fine somebody with a punitive damages verdict that's low, it doesn't stop them.

COLLINS: All right. We certainly appreciate your time very much. Billy Howard, thanks to much.

HOWARD: Thank you.

COLLINS: Want to get the other side of all of this. Chip Merlin, criminal defense attorney, not involved with the case. I just want to know, Chip, how strong of a case do the McLeods have?

CHIP MERLIN, ATTORNEY: Well, actually, it sounds like they have a very, very strong case with respect to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act...

COLLINS: Correct.

MERLIN: ... because clearly, it seemed harassing and sing things like that. But the courts have been extraordinarily reluctant to allow wrongful death or personal injury cases where there's been a lack of some type of physical violence or criminal assault on somebody. They just haven't gone that far.

As a matter of fact, doing research, Bank of America said in all of the foreclosure actions that they've done, there's never one successful personal injury lawsuit brought as a result of those. So, that aspect of the case is going to be very difficult, although these are important cases.

What's go on out there is because the economy's so bad, companies are out trying to do all kinds of various tactics to collect their money. At the same time, debtors are having a problem because they can't pay. Harassing phone calls, obscene phone calls, calls where people are being almost threatened, like some of the tapes that we've heard from almost Mafia-type tactics -- and the counsel's correct. Those should be stopped because none of us should tolerate those activities...

COLLINS: But, I mean, there are already laws in place for all of that. So, I can completely understand why you would go to court and bring some of these debt collectors up on questions about that, and it seems like that is not subjective. I guess I don't understand trying to go to the next level here when, if possible -- and we don't have all the details -- it's possible you could have a solid case if there were rules that were broken.

MERLIN: Well, you know, historically it used to be without the prior laws that some debt collection practices truly were like the loan shark coming down and trying to get money from you. And in those cases, the court allowed the old common law tort of outrage and literally, a person pulls a gun on you for debt, and you have a heart attack right there afterwards, that's an actionable offense because it's an intentional tort.

COLLINS: Yes. Clearly that didn't happen here.

MERLIN: That apparently didn't happen here. It's the reason I'm suggesting this case on the wrongful death portion will be difficult, I think, for the plaintiff.

COLLINS: Yes. Hey Chip, quickly, how closely is the legal community watching this one?

MERLIN: I think everybody in the legal community's watching because we've seen a rise in lawyers taking these cases as debtors start to understand their rights and exactly what's go on out there. Many of these actions truly are outrageous, and it would be important for all creditors, all companies to watch who they hire to collect these debts.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. We appreciate your side of things as well. Chip Merlin, thank you so much. He's a criminal defense attorney, not involved directly with this case.

Maybe on to the other issue to talk about all of this, abusive debt collections. Did you know they are now the number one consumer complaint with the FTC? Personal finance editor Gerri Willis knows that, and she is here now with what you can do if they are knocking on your door.

So, Gerri, first off, we do know in this case the McLeods were behind on their debt, clearly. But what are some of your rights as a consumer? What are these rules? GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Well, look, you don't give up your rights just because you're behind on your debt. That's not the way it works. The Federal Trade Commission enforces this law.

Here are the kind of things that are trips, red flags, if a debt collector says you'll be sued. Unless they plan to sue you they can't say that. They can't say you'll be arrested if you don't pay. They can't curse or harass you, and they can't call you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. They can't even contact you at work unless you say it's okay by you.

And debt collectors always have to identify themselves. They can't masquerade as somebody else. They have to be up front about who they are. Heidi?

COLLINS: So I guess what you should do, it sounds to me, is take very good notes. If you are in a situation where you know you're behind on some of your bills and you're starting to get these calls, take good notes and sort of document when they're calling you, what they're saying, record them if you can, as we had here. How do you really get them to stop calling you if you can't pay?

WILLIS: You can do more than just take notes. Once you're contacted by telephone, you can demand that they tell you what kind of debt you owe, for what, who is the money owed to, all of the details of that to get them to stop bothering you. They have to respond quickly.

You can also write a cease letter. Once a collector receives your letter, they can't contact you again. There are two exceptions to that: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or let you know they or the creditor intends to take a specific action against you, like filing a suit.

Keep in mind, if you owe the debt, you're still responsible for it, but you can get that collector to stop contacting you. If you're still being harassed, make sure you report it to the Federal Trade Commission and your local state attorney general's office. Those are the folks in charge of going after these people when --what they're doing is just plain old illegal.

And as you said, this is the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, happens all the time, all kinds of threats and harassment go on to consumers. Be sure to complain if you are being harassed by a debt collector.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. All right. Gerri Willis, our personal finance editor, thanks to much.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

COLLINS: Also want to get you up to speed on the situation here in Georgia. Severe flooding happening now. It has been raining for days. We're going to stay on top of that and bring it to you in just a couple of minutes.


COLLINS: All right. Very quickly, we want to get you up to speed with the severe weather situation happening here in Georgia. We've been we've been talking about it, it seems like, for days on end. Some areas, however, in north Georgia really feeling the worst of it because there has been an incredible amount of rain over a short period of time.

In fact, one of our people from the NEWSROOM who handles a lot of our coverage throughout the day has had to leave the office early. She has gone home to an incredible mess. Stacia Deshishku is actually joining us on the telephone to tell us what you have found. Stacia, what's going on?

STACIA DESHISHKU, CNN DIRECTOR OF COVERAGE: Good morning, Heidi. Since I saw you last, I've come home to a flooded neighborhood, and we live on a cul-de-sac that opens up on to Cross Creek, which is on the west side of town. We are just right north of downtown, really, off of I-75.

This neighborhood traditionally gets - it's a little low lying, but we're on a 500-year floodplain, and in 500 years it hadn't flooded. But five years ago, it did. Today, it is now under water. My neighbors, you know, there's floating trash cans, floating everything. It's just a big stream down. Came home an hour ago. We were ankle-deep. Now it's knee-deep. The water's still continuing to rise.

COLLINS: Wow. Yes, when we were driving in in the morning there were a lot of us that got here late, quite frankly, and watching the situation on the major interstates as well: 85, 75, a lot of cars on the side of the road and that standing water was tremendous. As you were driving home, Stacia, what did the roads seem to look like?

DESHISHKU: Atlanta is traditonally known for its hills and valleys. So, there are some areas that are completely dry, and then you pull up to a street and it's absolutely underwater. The police have not been able to get around and block off roads. In my neighborhood, literally, neighbors are putting slow down for kids signs and telling people these roads are completely unpassable, do not come in this neighborhood. So, (INAUDIBLE) people are getting stuck and having to back out and turn around.

COLLINS: Yes, isn't it incredible, too, because as director of coverage, I know you were very involved in all of the reporting we were doing not very long ago that was the exact opposite of this. Absolutely no rain whatsoever. We had lakes drying up, people not able to use boats. Now, I'm look at a boat that is nearly completely submerged, picnic tables under water. It's quite a comparison.

DESHISHKU: You know, it's funny. You know, sometimes you wish for something and then you get it.


DESHISHKU: We -- this area has been so wet for the spring -- we had no rain last year and this spring, it's been very wet. The ground has stayed damp. And that's what the danger is here. It's not so much the water is going to come in the house through the front door, the back door. It actually seeps up underground and comes up through the wood (AUDIO GAP), and it rises in your total house.

And that's what happened here five years ago. And that's what we're all worried about. Everybody has all of their furniture up, as much as they can get. We have rugs off the floor, chairs on the tables and moving to the second floor, if you have one. We have neighbors coming out and helping low-lying houses. It's like a neighborhood (AUDIO GAP)

COLLINS: Wow. We are looking at incredible pictures coming in from the area that you are in and also other iReports there. This water is piling up like crazy. Stacia Deshishku, we certainly appreciate that. Normally here at work with us now, but had to leave. Just one story for many people in the area. Atlanta and the suburbs. Really, really getting hit.

We're going to stay on top of this for you. Our Rob Marciano is work on it in the Severe Weather Center. We'll bring you more shortly.

In the meantime, still ahead today, we'll get you to Detroit. That's a city that you know is ravaged by the economic downturn. As losses mount, some of the hopes are growing. Can the city actually find new opportunities amid some of the hardships?


COLLINS: All right. We have been looking at pictures of major flooding in Georgia. Want to get you straight to them. Days of heavy rain now, overnight storms triggered this widespread flooding that we are feeling this morning.

Authorities are now reporting two people have died. And this iReport video just in to us shows how bad the situation is in Carroll County. Now that is one of five counties where schools are closed today. Another is Douglas County. And that system's superintendent, Donald Remillard, is joining us by telephone.

If you could, Donald, give us an idea of just how bad things are where you are.

DONALD REMILLARD, SUPERINTENDENT, DOUGLAS CO., GA. SCHOOLS: Well, a number of roads and bridges washed out. The water system for the county is in peril at this time. Water pressure's very low. We're under a boiled water advisory. One of the mainlines for Norfolk Southern Railroad has washed out in the western end of the county.

COLLINS: Wow. When's the last time you had to close the schools because of rain?

REMILLARD: Well, it was the hurricane...

COLLINS: Yes. REMILLARD: ... several years ago, and this kind of caught of by surprise. But it was a wise decision to call school off. There's power outages sporadically around the county and many, many roads washed out. It would have been dangerous to transport young children on school buses this morning.

COLLINS: Sure. Sure. Understood. We should mention you are a smaller school district but you are not alone. As we mentioned getting to you today, there are several others made this decision as well. Have you had a chance to talk with any of the other superintendents, and what is the plan if you are even able to make one right now, for the next few days?

REMILLARD: I have not talked with other superintendents. I've been talking with emergency management people in our county in the water sewer authority for the county. It looks doubtful we'll be able to have school tomorrow. In fact, it may be two or three days before we're able to resume school in Douglas County.

COLLINS: Wow. Wow. All right. Well, Donald Remillard, we sure do appreciate your side of things. Superintendent for Douglas County schools there. Thanks so much. We wish you best of luck. Certainly glad trying to keep all of the kids safe.

Rob Marciano is standing by now in our Severe Weather Center because, as the morning goes on, Rob, we are getting more and more information from people who are driving the roads and as you heard from superintendent of different school districts, some having to close down.

What about the interstates? Are you hearing anything? Because I know for a while, there major interstates -- 85 at least, have closed down. I think it opened back up. But a lot of people have left the newsroom. I don't know if you've noticed. They're having to go home and make sure that everything's okay.


COLLINS: Yes. It sounds like it. All right, Rob, we know you're working hard. Thanks so much. Appreciate that.

We are back in the CNN NEWSROOM in a moment. We're going to have more on the weather situation happening here in the South.


COLLINS: We've been following this developing story now as we get more information in the Atlanta area and the South in general. There is just a ton of rain flooding streets, roads, interstates, closing schools.

In fact, one of our meteorologists, Reynolds Wolf, is standing in his backyard right now, probably with waders on because, Reynolds, the situation where you are is bad. You woke up to what we're going to look at here in just a minute. REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, heavy rainfall. One of best things that we look at, the best measuring stick I guess we have, Heidi, is what you can see in the backyard. You can just see a little bit of a play scape (ph) that my daughter used to play on. In fact, they didn't have any issues at all. But now the water is all the way up to the very bottom of the slide. There's actually a blue swing, you might be able to make out there, the water's already at the bottom of that.

I can tell you, this morning it was about six inches below that. Water's rising fairly quickly. In our particular neighborhood, things have been really bizarre to say the least. Things are not as they should be. The front of the neighborhood is blocked off by floodwaters, many houses inundated by floodwaters also.

We've seen horses actually run through the neighborhood, right down the street, just escaping from the nearby farms. There have been people that have had pets that have died in basements. They've had one neighbor had a Pomeranian in the basement. Floodwaters came in; the dog unfortunately perished in the waters. It's a huge mess. As the rain continues to come down, that's the last thing we want to see. Heidi?

COLLINS: No question about that. More is not what we need indeed. Reynolds Wolf, giving us a good idea of the picture where he is, Powder Springs, Georgia.

Also, we should be clear here, there have been two deaths that have been reported in the area that are related to the flooding. We'll continue to follow the story very closely for you, right here. Raining in the South. Is that rain headed to where you are? We'll stay on top of that.

Plus, we will hear from President Obama on the economy coming up live next hour. For now, though, I'm Heidi Collins. CNN NEWSROOM with Tony Harris is next.