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Anhydrous Ammonia can Burn, Kill; First Responder's Emotional Story; Boston Prayer Service

Aired April 18, 2013 - 10:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "Healing our city, an interfaith service" will begin right at the top of the hour. You're looking at pictures, live pictures coming in from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross here in Boston. The President and the First Lady, they will be making their way here. They've just landed aboard Air Force One in Boston. They're coming over to participate in this interfaith service.

We will be hearing from clergy representing all the major faiths here in the United States. Also remarks from the Boston mayor, the Massachusetts Governor, and the President of the United States. Musical -- a musical selection performed by Yo-Yo Ma as well. This is going to be a moving 60 to 90 minutes.

The governor told me, Chris Cuomo, yesterday it could last an hour, it could last an hour and a half maybe even more. But it is part of the effort to heal this city, heal this state and indeed heal the nation.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And the hope is that the effects of today last long, long past the hours of the service. One of the people who'll be speaking, they said, who will use unity and community to combat cruelty and violence.

So that is the collective prayer that all will have in this city and around the country as everyone's going to be watching what happens here as Boston gets back on its feet. Now at the same time that we're waiting for this ceremony here to begin, in the small town of West, Texas they are dealing with a very dire situation.

Just 3,000 people in this town dealing with a massive fire, an explosion at a fertilizer factory. We know there are injuries. And we haven't heard about any new waves of them. But well over 150 we've heard so far. And search and rescue is continuing.

We have Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the phone. You're looking at live pictures right now of what's going on down there. Some good weather and a lot of great fire fighting since 7:30 local time last night has reduced the flames. They say they're mostly embers now. Some are getting wind whipped and they have to keep addressing it. There was a massive explosion. They don't believe that there's a risk of another one.

So that's the good news that it seems to be getting better. But what remains to be seen is exactly what the human toll was down there. Now, I believe, Sanjay, are you on the phone with us? You're on your way to Texas?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes. I'm on my way to Texas, Chris. And you're absolutely right. We're hearing the same thing. And one of the things that we've really been paying attention to as well is obviously the concern about chemicals. And -- and I can tell you at least from what we're hearing from authorities on the ground, there is the -- it does not appear to be any as out of control chemical escape which is good news.

I will tell you, Chris, we talked about this last night. One of the things I worry about is something known as anhydrous ammonia. That is something that is typically inert, meaning it's not volatile. But if it's combined with fuel or in this case a fire it can actually be quite explosive. And that was a large concern.

But we're hearing that the gases were turned off and that there's not an out of control chemical. At least but Chris, you and I have been talking about what's happened in Boston all week. And you know, when you talk about explosions, we talked about the concern about a primary blast and then a secondary blast with regard to shrapnel. But here you're dealing with a few other factors. The fire, obviously, buildings that have been flatten. So people who may be trapped inside of there.

And then again, the chemical concerns which appear to have been allayed at this point. But that -- that's what they're dealing with. And like you said, we're going to be going there to try and see what's happening for ourselves and investigate some of this.

CUOMO: Well, good luck going down there. Be safe, doc. Especially when we don't really know what the condition is, especially with that anhydrous ammonia. They are giving us better signals and indications on the ground. They had a few people who injured with it early on. But since then we haven't heard much.

So good luck going down there Sanjay. I look forward to your reporting thanks for talking to us right now.

Wolf, back over to you. As we're waiting here, the lines have abated. Everybody's inside. Security's in place. And we're waiting now for the President and the First Lady. The crowd expectantly waiting so that the service can begin.

BLITZER: And I -- I think there's room for about 2,000 people, Chris, inside that Cathedral of the Holy Cross when they open it up completely, as they have done today. Is that the information you're getting as well?

CUOMO: 1,000 designated for officials. We have four former Massachusetts Governors who will be here. Jane Swift, Mitt Romney, William Well, then Michael Dukakis and of course the clergy as well as selected first responders to kind of make the point that you know a big reason that the city made this -- made through -- made it through this was because of those early actions by people who put their lives on the line. Then the other thousand seats were open to the public. So they were lining up since 4:00 this morning to get in there first come, first served -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It will be an emotional service, I'm convinced as well. Brooke Baldwin is standing by right outside Brigham & Women's Hospital here in Boston. And Brooke, you've been speaking with some people there. And tell us the story, some of the stories that you're seeing and you're hearing because especially now only moments away from the start of this interfaith service, these are emotional moments.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning. You know as the President will be speaking today about hope and heroism and he's meeting with some of these first responders, I met one of the heroes last night. He is a 41-year veteran with the Boston Fire Department. He is Charlie Buchanan Jr., Engine 24 here in Boston.

And I tell you, a grown man talking to me through tears last night. He was feet away from the second explosion on Monday. And when everyone was running away, he was running in. The first little body he saw was that of eight-year-old Martin Richard. And he is the one who pulled the sheet over his face out of respect for this little boy and his family.

And right next to Martin was his little six-year-old sister, her leg blown off. He talks about that moment with me.


CHARLES BUCHANAN, JR., BOSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT: We stopped an ambulance. The ambulance was full. But we said, you have to take this girl. And they were great. They were Boston EMS. And this firefighter said, you know, she needs a tourniquet. We got a tourniquet small enough to -- I mean her leg is as big as your arm. All right? So they put her inside the -- the ambulance.

But as you say, the only thing that I could see and see to this day are her little eyes looking up at me. That's it. All right? And me thinking -- thinking about my own grandson, Malachi. And my Malachi is the same age as this young girl who is six years old. Who is -- first thing he did was give me a big hug when I went home.

BALDWIN: So you're thinking of Malachi as you're looking into this little girl's eyes. You describe this day as a bad day, Charlie. You've been doing this for 40 years.

BUCHANAN: Yes, ma'am.

BALDWIN: Was it the worst day you've ever seen?

BUCHANAN: It's the worst day in my career, yes, it is. You know, I can still see this little girl. I still see the little boy.


BALDWIN: Charlie told me he's not sleeping at night. He's now off duty getting counselling. But he told me really he's able to function because of his family, because of these firefighters, band of brothers. You know, this is a tight knit family here in Boston, Wolf. It's even his brother-in-law who's a Boston cop who's on the cover of "Sports Illustrated," the one word, "Boston." Charlie told me "The nation will learn from Monday's tragedy," he told me, "Boston will heal. Boston will move on" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will. And this interfaith service that begins right at the top of the hour will hopefully help in that process. I'm just looking at the program for the service. And it is -- it clearly includes the clergy from the major faiths. Reverend Liz Walker from the Roxbury Presbyterian Church. The Metropolitan Methodist, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, Reverend Nancy Taylor of the Old South Church. Rabbi Ronnie Friedman of Temple Israel in Boston. Nasser Weddady of the American Islamic Conference, Reverend Roberto Miranda of the Congregation Leon de Juda and Roxybury Bishop John Borders, Morningstar Baptist Church. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the Catholic Archbishop, the Cardinal here in Boston. We'll also hear from the President of the United States.

We're awaiting the start of this interfaith service. Our coverage will continue.


CUOMO: Everybody is getting ready inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross here in Boston 2,000 seats inside. It's a Catholic Church, of course, but this is an interfaith service we're having today. It's called "Healing Our City." And there'll be religious leaders from all different denominations and faiths will be here. There was long lines this morning since 4:00 this morning to be in there for this city to have a chance to hold each other and feel the pain that they've lived through and find the resolve to move forward.

"Resolve" the word that the President has been using to kind of capture where we need to be at this time as a nation. And as we wait for President Obama to come here, everybody expecting, waiting outside.

I am Chris Cuomo. I'm joined here by Jessica Yellin and John King. And Jessica, you have some new information about what the President has been up to.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE CORRESPONDENT: The President as you know landed just a short time ago. And arriving in Air Force One Chris he's juggling two major issues at once. He placed calls in relation to the crisis in Texas right now. He called the Governor of Texas first to extend his sympathies and say the sympathies of the nation are with the people of Texas.

But also to reassure them he issued a disaster declaration overnight. Extend any federal resources and tried to connect with the mayor there. I'm told the President was awakened very, very early, at least was told very, very early this morning about that disaster, about the fire in Texas. He's also been working on the flight separately on his remarks here. You know, he likes to rewrite and tinker himself. And so he spent some time thinking about what he wanted to say and updating it. And again, it'll be very heavily about American resilience and how we remember the people who were lost. And as a nation, we move on. We don't stop for terror.

CUOMO: John, obviously the President has his own connection to Boston. Not just as leader of the nation but he went to school here. Politically, you can say this isn't a political event but all events are when you're President of the United States. How do you balance message on a day like this with being strong and being soft and comforting? Not easy.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not easy for the President. It's not easy also for members of the political leadership here in Massachusetts.

It's been an interesting time for the President. He lost a big vote on gun control yesterday; he's in the middle of a very polarizing immigration debate. He needs to leave that aside. The Washington polarized politics aside. And he's getting some help here.

Mitt Romney his opponent in the last election will be in this room. You'll have the former Democratic Governor Michael Dukakis. You also have several other former Massachusetts Republican governors. So Jane Swift and Bill Well is in there along with Governor Romney. These are political leaders coming together to say we may argue about other things, we may argue about policy, but it's time for the community to come together and to heal.

It's a very interesting time for the President to give a message to this community and to the country and to the world. We don't know exactly what happened. We don't know why it happened.

The President wants to say we'll get to the bottom of this. We're also going to help you. We're going to help the community heal, help the families put their lives back together.

It's also an interesting time here in the sense that Governor Patrick has taken the lead more than Mayor Menino. The mayor has tried. He's had health issues recently. Came out of the hospital for some of these conferences.

You haven't seen him around the neighborhoods. He wouldn't have passed. This is a very hands-on mayor for 20 years. He's not running for re-election. There's a giant splintered field running against him.

So I think a day of unity, healing, saying whatever your personal politics, whatever the debates we will have in the hours or days after this event, this is -- it's a symbol, a very important symbol. All the faiths represented, all the political parties represented. To say we all stand with you as you deal with this terrible tragedy.

YELLIN: And this is one of the environments, you know, the President actually, he knows he excels in. He's very good speaker. But he also able to reach for those words that bring people together. He flew in with Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Senator Ted Kennedy. Nobody symbolizes both Massachusetts history and, you know, sort of the spirit of what American resilience can be than the Kennedy tradition, whatever your party. That's something that really connects.

CUOMO: There's nothing like tragedy to really refocus on what matters. You know, it is the pain of perspective. And it gives you an opportunity to come in as partisan as everything is right now, maybe about as bad as we've seen it in recent history, and drop all of it.

Obviously the regret is always why does it take occasions like this for us to come together in a way that we should always be? At least we do have this moment, Wolf. We're looking forward to hear what the President says and the cardinal and everybody else and hopefully the sentiment lasts a long time, the one that's passed through today, Wolf.

BLITZER: I have no doubt, Chris, the mood will be inspiring. The words that we hear from the clergy, all the various faiths represented, the words we hear from the President, the governor, the mayor, obviously will be very, very powerful. Emotional, given what's happened in Boston here over the past few days.

In addition to the musical selection by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, we will also hear from the Boston Children's Chorus. They will be performing up to the mountain. this is going to be a powerful hour, maybe hour and a half. And our special coverage of this interfaith service will begin right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Looking at live pictures from inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. This interfaith service getting ready within the next few minutes to begin. We'll hear music, we'll hear words, certainly hear from the President of the United States.

As we await their arrival, about 2,000 people have gathered inside, including distinguished visitors, survivors, family members from the Boston Marathon bombings. Others as well including first responders. The former Republican presidential nominee, former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is inside as well with his family. He's here with other former governors of Massachusetts.

Juliette Kayyem is here, our homeland security analyst, a columnist for the Boston globe. Jake Tapper is here, anchor for "THE LEAD". The last time the President and Mitt Romney, Jake, were together was when after the election when Mitt Romney was invited to have lunch with the President at the White House.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's right November 29th Mitt Romney came to the White House. Had a private meal with President Obama, a lunch in the private dining room. They talked about the future of the country. They had a conversation that was pretty much kept off the record. And talking about Romney talking about ideas he had for the country and things he wanted to have done had he been elected. This will be the first time they've been together since that moment. But it's moments like these that really put aside partisan labels. And you have Democrats, Republicans, coming together and not even thinking about politics.

BLITZER: No politics on this day. Mitt Romney is there. There are Democrats, Republicans, but they're Bostonians, they're people from Massachusetts. First and foremost, their hearts go out to those who have suffered.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly. I mean today is about obviously remembering what happened Monday. But it's also, I sort of also view it as preparing people for what might happen in the days and weeks to come. The reason why you want a united front of right, left, center and all denominations and all backgrounds in Boston is eventually someone's going to be caught or some people. They might be from some group or another. They might be from the right or the left. We don't know.

I think that this message of having everyone come together and say, you know what? It really doesn't matter. This happened. We're together as a community. Whoever did this is not going to sort of separate all of us. I really think this has symbolism for the future.

BLITZER: The President's words, I'm sure he's worked hard on his speech that he's going to be delivering. His regular speech writer, John Fabros, no longer on the payroll over there at the White House. Although they might have called him in to help with a few paragraphs.

TAPPER: He has a new speech writer. But President Obama likes to think of himself as his own best speech writer.

BLITZER: And he's very good at it.

TAPPER: And he tinkers with these things up until the very last moment. So I'm sure on Air Force One he was writing it. I'm sure in the car he's writing it.

This is an important moment for any president. We talked about this earlier about how a lot of people credit President Clinton, his presidency having turned around. It was in a bad political trajectory when he offered his speech after the bombing in Oklahoma City.

This is an important moment for President Obama. People want him to rise to the occasion. People on the left and right.

BLITZER: Which reminds me not that long ago when he was in Newtown, Connecticut, at that interfaith service as well.

KAYYEM: I think that's -- this President has unfortunately had a lot of opportunities to give speeches like this. Just given the nature of what's happened over Hurricane Sandy, over the last couple of years. And so he's good at this and he knows -- he knows people want to hear his message. Because he -- he is the leader of this country. So it will be an important day.

I think then whatever happens in the next couple of days or weeks in terms of an investigation and a trial, which is all going to happen here, I think the city is ready for it.

BLITZER: The President is there. You can see him at this cathedral as he gets ready to -- this service gets ready to begin.

Just think about this for a moment. Jake, he's got so much on his mind, on his plate right now in addition to what's happened in Boston. Now what's happened in Texas. These ricin letters, supposedly, that have been sent to him and a United States senator. A major setback on gun control yesterday in the U.S. Senate. He's got budget issues. There's a lot on his plate. And there's national security issues out there as well.

TAPPER: You see why presidents age differently than the rest of us when you look at pictures of George W. Bush at the beginning of his presidency and at the end, it seems like much more than eight years passed by.

BLITZER: So he's meeting with some of the dignitaries who are there, some of the family members. Some who have suffered so much. The President will take his seat. This service will begin, and it will begin, we are told, with music, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." And then welcoming remarks and opening prayer by the Reverend Liz Walker of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church.

Everyone will listen. Everyone will pray. And everyone will hope for the best as we watch this cathedral. Hopefully folks coming together and hopefully the nation coming together as well. This is one of those moments so many people will remember and reflect upon. It will be a powerful, a powerful moment.

Look at how majestic, Jake, that cathedral is. This is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, obviously a Catholic -- a Catholic church. But representatives of other faiths, they will have prominent roles here, including Protestants, Jews, Muslims; others will be here as well.

TAPPER: That's right. Just to get some background on the cathedral, it's the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, the seat of Cardinal Archbishops. It's in the south end neighborhood of the city. It was designed by the 19th century Irish-American, ecclesiastical architect, Patrick Keeley.

And the reason it is where it is, in 1860 bishop John Fitzpatrick realized Boston had outgrown the cathedral on Franklin Street, so they moved it. About 2,000 people can sit in this cathedral.

BLITZER: They're just beginning. Chris Cuomo is over there. Chris, Cardinal Shawn O'Malley will also address this group. His remarks are called reflection.

CUOMO: Yes. The cardinal will be here. He's going to give the blessing at the end of the service as well. That's going to be big for the community. Obviously the cardinal beloved here and made a great name for himself in Rome where as a Franciscan in his brown habit he was walking around and was part of the discussion of the papacy which was the first for an American cardinal.

Obviously New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan was also being mentioned. But today is Cardinal O'Malley's day. It's important that everybody's here, Wolf. That's the thing. 2,000 inside. Millions outside. All of one heart and one mind on this day. And that's what it's all about and have the President here means even more, obviously.

BLITZER: It will wrap up with "America the Beautiful" which I think is appropriate for this very special day here in Boston coming only a few days after the Boston marathon ended with those two bombings, killing three people, injuring more than -- almost 200 people. And many of them remain in critical condition in a hospital -- at hospitals here, including young kids. Awful, awful injuries as a result of those bombs that went off.

We'll be reflecting and we'll be praying as we get ready for the start of this service. Its official title, "Healing Our City: An Interfaith Service", right over there at the cathedral of the Holy Cross. One of those days a lot of us will always remember. April 18th, 2013, a moment of reflection. A moment of prayer. And a moment to remember.

Remember those three, three people who were killed. An eight-year-old boy -- eight-year-old boy; 29-year-old woman; and a 23-year-old graduate student, Jake, from China.

This is the processional as it begins. And this service will take place.

TAPPER: And, in fact, for that Chinese graduate student, we're told that the State Department is expediting the visa procedure so her family can come to the united states and in a quick manner. The tragic, tragic circumstance.

BLITZER: Juliette, you live here and you're going to watch and you're going to pray along with us. I think the service is about to begin. Let's listen in.

CUOMO: Today's service will be led by Reverend Liz Walker, award winning journalist, former anchor at WBZ, the CBS affiliate here in Boston of Roxbury Presbyterian Church.