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CNN Live Today

FEMA Closes Katrina Morgue; Hostage Situation in Detroit Store

Aired February 16, 2006 - 10:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take a look what is happening right "Now in the News."
A breaking news story out of Detroit. Police say a possible hostage situation is going on at a Family Dollar store. Police say two suspected armed robbers may have barricaded themselves in the store with an unknown number of hostages. Police have closed off the streets around the building. We'll continue to monitor the story and bring you updates as they come into us here at CNN.

A U.N. report out today calls on the U.S. to release terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay or bring them to trial. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights says the facility should be closed without further delay. The U.S. has defended the facility as a place to hold enemy combatants as long as the war on terror lasts.

Live pictures from Capitol Hill right now. That's Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, appearing before the House Defense Appropriation Sub-Committee. He's defending the Bush administration's proposed $439 billion Pentagon budget.

In Pakistan, tens of thousands take to the streets in Karachi in the latest protest against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. They wielded sticks and waved flags. Some torched effigies of President Bush and the Danish Prime Minister.

Just a few hours from now, the British man accused of murdering his wife and daughter is due to appear in a Massachusetts courtroom. Neil Entwistle returned to the U.S. last night after agreeing to extradition. An automatic plea of not guilty will be entered at today's arraignment. Entwistle had returned to England the same weekend his wife and daughter were found slain in bed. He is charged with their murders.

At any moment, the Senate is due to vote on the Patriot Act. It appears headed for overwhelming passage. The lone challenge to its renewal appears to be coming from a Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold. He wants to implement some limits on the government's law enforcement powers, which were expanded under the post-9/11 legislation. Supporters say the broader powers are essential to fight terrorism.

Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff faces more tough questions this morning. Chertoff returning to Capitol Hill for a second day of testimony about the government's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, he conceded the aid to the Gulf Coast was plagued by what he called many lapses.

Earlier this hour, he said it took time to look ahead.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Too often, I see we have a tendency in government to constantly fight the last battle. There were critics who said after 9/11 we were focused only on terrorism. There are people now who see Katrina as a suggestion we ought to focus on hurricanes. We have to do all of the things. We have to look at all of the threats.


KAGAN: By the way, if you want to keep watching this testimony with Michael Chertoff, you can just go to live streaming video of the Chertoff testimony. It's on It's our new on demand video service. Just go to for the link.

Well, also from New Orleans, this -- the decision to close a morgue for Katrina victims is not sitting well in Louisiana. FEMA says the facility has served its purpose, but the families of those that are still missing disagree.

Our Sean Callebs has that story.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A grim sign, and the only indication that, today, yet another body has been removed from a New Orleans home, nearly six months after Katrina.

DR. LOUIS CATALDIE, LOUISIANA STATE CORONER: Put this in the person's mouth.

CALLEBS: Normally, doctors would use forensic techniques to try to identify the body. But the state medical examiner, Dr. Louis Cataldie, says he no longer has the equipment. Why? FEMA built this enormous new morgue about an hour north of New Orleans to do just this kind of examination on what authorities feared would be 10,000 to 20,000 people killed in the storm. It cost $17 million.

But after examining only 60 bodies, FEMA shut it down Monday, saying its work was done, and keeping it open would cost $230,000 a week.

CATALDIE: Well, would I like to have the use of the facility? Sure. Do I understand that there's a timeline and there's a -- you know, they -- they need to pull their stuff out? Absolutely.

CALLEBS: FEMA officials didn't want to go on camera, but pointed out that they told Cataldie in December they would be closing the site. Still, FEMA has no clear plans for the facility, so the bunkbeds, washers and dryers and gym equipment for its staff are being mothballed -- the high-tech autopsy gear already shipped out.

Cataldie says, he thought, by now, most of the 2,100 people still listed as missing would have been accounted for. But, as it turns out, he's still expecting to find scores more bodies.

CATALDIE: We certainly feel we have, depending on rough, rough estimates, 60 to 100 bodies in the Ninth Ward, so, folks that need to be recovered.

CALLEBS: But in a sign of just how many problems New Orleans faces and how those problems are so often connected, not only is the $17 million morgue off limits; the city also doesn't have the $400,000 it would cost to find the bodies, and hasn't been able to get the money from FEMA.

STEVE GLYNN, RESIDENT OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: It's -- it's extremely frustrating. And it has -- it has -- it has been frustrating since we -- since we shut down.

CALLEBS: Steve Glynn is the chief of the fire department special ops unit. From October until December 10, he worked with teams using cadaver dogs, going through the debris from splintered homes. He tells CNN, the dogs made at least 58 hits, meaning probable human remains.

FEMA says, the city should go ahead and look for the bodies, and then ask FEMA to reimburse it for the $400,000 it costs. The cash- strapped city says, it needs the money first, because it only has enough cash to pay firefighters for emergency operations.

GLYNN: You know, I have talked to a number of officials. And it always just kind of seems to go in a circle. We -- we always end up right back where we started.


CALLEBS: Lamont Marrero's invalid mother rode out the hurricane in her house. No one has seen her since. He's convinced she's buried in debris.

MARRERO: You have 58 bodies, and you're not trying to do anything. You're going to close a facility, and people haven't -- people are still looking for their family.

CALLEBS: That's right. The government spent $17 million to build this facility, but now is closing it before it has even figured out how to recover and identify the rest of the bodies still buried in the debris.

To families here, it all looks like yet another bureaucratic dead end.

(on camera): I spoke with a FEMA representative in Washington, D.C., and she says she believes that need $400,000 will quickly be freed up, putting firefighters back on the job and hopefully ending months of anguish for scores of families here.

Sean Callebs, CNN, in New Orleans' Ninth Ward.


KAGAN: And let's get back to this breaking news story. It's taking place in Detroit, Michigan. A possible hostage stand off at a Family Dollar store.

A reporter, Rod Meloni, with our affiliate WDIV, has more on what is happening.

ROD MELONI, WDIV REPORTER: Yes, we first heard on the first calls to the police department about, jeez, a good hour ago now, that there was a 911 call placed from inside the store by an employee reporting an armed robbery inside. We then shortly thereafter at Channel 4 received a tip call from one of the neighbors here who said that there was an attempted robbery, that they saw a woman and her child leave the front door of the store. And as police pulled up, that a man with a -- what appeared to be a rifle ran back into the store.

Now, when we got here on location, we ended up talking to a woman who says that she works at that store on a different shift, and that her brother, in fact, was on duty inside the store at the time of this armed robbery and that he apparently had escaped and was telling police what he knew about this armed robbery, and that apparently a shot had been fired inside the store, and that he is now over talking to police.

But she said that she thought that he had told her, in a phone conversation that he had before went and was spirited away by the police, that there were two gunmen involved in this attempted robbery at the store. She also said that the store had been robbed while she worked there and that, in fact -- just a couple of minutes ago, I had gone and sort of talked to some of the neighbors, and the neighbors tell me that this store has been robbed.

In fact, they say that many of the stores in this neighborhood, which is newly revitalized, the Auto Zone, the Family Dollar, are brand new stores. It looks like that Burger King in the back also could be fairly new, and that these newer businesses have been hit by armed robbers in the past, and so that they are -- they were disgusted and saddened by that development, because clearly they like having the stores in the neighborhood and don't like the see the robberies happen here.

And so that is basically from front to back what we now. You can see that there is a SWAT vehicle there. You can see that the police are in full SWAT regalia out here and are ready to go on a moment's notice, should they have to. But you can also tell that they certainly don't want this thing to get out of hand.


KAGAN: And that was Rod Meloni from our affiliate WDIV. We are hearing word now that police in Detroit do expect to hold a news conference on what is happening there. We will go live as soon as that becomes available. Also ahead, high gas prices are spurring all kinds of suggestions on how to break the world's dependence on oil. Ahead, a sweet alternative that has sugar-producing nations counting their future earnings.

And a run from the cops ends in a dramatic crash, caught on tape by police.


KAGAN: Drivers will be interested in this next story. Motorists in more than a dozen states may see gasoline prices take a dip. The Environmental Protection Agency is eliminating a mandate in the Clean Air Act. That means that these 14 states, and the District of Columbia, will no longer have to add corn-based ethanol, or MTBE, to gasoline to fight pollution. The additives add as much as 8 cents a gallon to the cost of gas. The EPA says the refineries have other ways to produce cleaner burning fuel.

The surging cost of gasoline has fueled worldwide interest into developing alternative fuels. Now some sugar-producing nations are salivating over new prospects, but the reality might be bittersweet.

CNN's Eunice Yoon has details.


EUNICE YOON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chocolate, cake and candies are full of it, and one day it may power your car. It's already the fuel of millions of Brazilian drivers. For investors and farmers, sugar is sweet again.

With President Bush looking to wean the U.S. off foreign oil, investors are betting big on alternative fuels, like ethanol and alcohol derived from sugar and other crops.

STEPHEN GOLLOP, CEO, BRIDGEWATER: There's a global will to get ethanol on to the landscape basically. Mr. Bush was talking about raising the figures from the around about 400 million barrels to 700 million barrels in the next five year or so. So that's going to happen regardless. So that's going to create a demand of its own.

YOON: Ethanol is brewed much like beer. Sugar or corn are milled or fermented. The alcohol is extracted and mixed with gasoline, creating a cleaner-burning fuel.

Sugar-producing countries like Brazil have invested heavily in ethanol projects to increase the production of the alternative energy. The Brazilians already convert more than half their sugar cane output to ethanol. Other sugar producers, like Thailand, also hope to produce ethanol output, as well as sugar prices. Welcome news for farmers, like Thailand's Sakorn Chaichali.

SAKORN CHAICHALI, THAI SUGAR FARMER (through translator): This year we got a far better price for sugar. I anticipate the price to rise. YOON: Sugar future prices are now at 25-year highs.

(on camera): Yet some energy analysts wonder if the rally in sugar prices is justified. They say, without government subsidies, making ethanol is not competitive.

GOLLOP: Even with oil prices where they are, it's still more expensive fuel to actually produce. Something like 80 percent of the energy produced by ethanol is used in making it in the first place. So there's a great deal of time and expense in actually producing it.

YOON: Most countries would also need to modify their gas stations to handle the new fuel. But with oil prices high, alternative fuels are becoming a more viable option, as well as one that can offer environmental benefits.

Eunice Yoon, CNN, Hong Kong.



KAGAN: And still just ahead, more to come on CNN LIVE TODAY. Checking the time, it's about 10:48 in sunny Philadelphia, 9:48 in bitterly cold Bismarck. Jacqui Jeras has your updated weather forecast just ahead.

And fresh from the Westminster Dog Show, one contestant lives up to her name. The search is on at one of the nation's busiest airports. Yes, one of the dogs from the Westminster dog show is MIA. That story is just ahead.


KAGAN: We have been watching a developing story out of Detroit, Michigan. A possible hostage situation at a Family Dollar Store. Now getting word from Detroit police that everybody except the gunmen are out of that building. Let's get the latest now from the deputy police chief in Detroit.

DEP. CHIEF JAMES TATE, DETROIT POLICE: The individuals who were inside, robbing the place, they realized that we were outside and they pretty much had nowhere to go. It kind of confused them a bit. Thankfully, again, we have to stress all of the customers and employees did get out safely, and they're unharmed.

QUESTION: You said you're 99 percent sure about, so you are positive now?

TATE: We're pretty much positive. Absolutely. We've talked to all the employees that were inside. It was -- it would be a complete shock, surprise, if anybody was still inside the location. And we have not gotten anyone who's come up and said that any of the relatives or family members were inside the location. So we're pretty sure that all of the employees and customers are out of the location.

QUESTION: How are you trying to make contact? Are you calling into the store, using a bullhorn? How does that work that out?

TATE: Well, we don't want to go into all that right now. Would he are trying to establish communication.

QUESTION: James, are you negotiating with this guy?

TATE: Well, we're trying to establish communication with him. We have not been able to do so at this point.

QUESTION; Can you talk about what was going on precisely when the robbery happened, and how quickly the response was? And in fact, was it because the response was so quick that this now ended up with these guys inside the building?

TATE: Yes, we got a call that there was a robbery in progress, and the officers got here pretty swiftly. At that point, the individuals were still inside of the location. And at that point, they became a bit confused and didn't know what to do at that point. Thankfully, the employees and customers who were inside were either allowed to escape or they escaped on their own. So just want to stress, no one injured, no one harmed. And we are hopeful that this will be resolved in a peaceful manner.

QUESTION: There was a shot fired. Do we know in what process that happened?

TATE: Well, we believe that it was the -- one of the gunmen fired a shot. Unsure if they fired it at a cash register or fired it into the ceiling. But, you know, the main thing we want to do right now, since we do have the customers and employees out -- we're 99 percent sure that's the case -- we want to make sure that we establish communication and resolve this as peaceful as possible.

QUESTION: So haven't established communication yet?


QUESTION: And you're working on that.

TATE: We're working on doing that.

QUESTION: There was a sort of level of tension here a little bit earlier about this situation. Has that come back down a little bit? Are you feeling like you can resolve this peacefully?

TATE: Well, you know, whenever you have a situation where you have people inside trapped with gunmen, you know, it always raises that level of tension. And we do -- we have eliminated that at this point. So we do feel a little bit better. We can wait this out a lot moreso than we did yesterday in a situation that we had over at the bank. So we are hopeful.

KAGAN: That was the Deputy Police Chief James Tate from the Detroit Police Department. Talking about an instant yesterday. It's been a very tense couple of days for the Detroit SWAT team. Yesterday, a man who robbed a bank in southwest Detroit was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. It was fired by police and the SWAT team, SWAT team member, after taking about ten customers and employees hostage. All the hostages did get out of the bank safely on Wednesday as well.

So we'll continue to follow the situation currently taking place in Detroit with that one gunmen hold up inside the store, and bring you the latest as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at other stories making news coast to coast.

First to Chicago. A guard accused of helping six dangerous inmates escape from the Cook County Jail is free on a $500,000 bond today. Darin Gater did not enter a plea during the bond hearing last night.


DARIN GATER, GUARD ACCUSED IN JAIL ESCAPE: The only thing I want to say is I'm innocent. I just want to get home to my family. I'm tired, I'm hungry. And that's it. That's all I want to say right now.


KAGAN: Gater had worked for the sheriff's department for 11 years. The escaped inmates have all been recaptured.

Take a look at this police tape. It's from Douglas County, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. Police say this truck was stolen. They gave chase along interstate 20, and you can see the truck as it was traveling against oncoming traffic. As it swerved into the median, it comes to a bad end for the driver. That driver is now in custody.

The search continues for a show dog that escaped from her cage at JFK Airport in New York. The Whippet was a contender in this week's Westminster Dog Show. At one point, a helicopter searched the marshland around the airport, and the dog was briefly spotted. Part of the elusive dog's name is C'est La Vie.

Ahead, the U.N. takes aim at the U.S. and Guantanamo Bay and its treatment of detainees being held there. The fall-out, up next.

And hundreds of mobile homes intended for Katrina victims may soon become a multimillion dollar pile of trailer trash. We'll explain why. The second hour of CNN LIVE TODAY begins after a quick break.