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American Morning

Hurricane Wilma Downgraded to Category Four; Desperate Search for Children Authorities Believe Dumped in San Francisco Bay by Mother

Aired October 20, 2005 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Wilma downgraded to category four, still, though, with the potential for mass destruction. Changing position overnight. That could be important for the folks in Florida. We'll have the forecast just ahead.
A desperate search this morning for children authorities believe were dumped in the San Francisco Bay by their own mother. She is now booked on three counts of murder.

And one of the most powerful men in Washington fingerprinted and a mug shot. It could happen on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you see that National Hurricane Center has that projection for Wilma?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: And after Florida...

S. O'BRIEN: It veers sharply right.

M. O'BRIEN: After Florida...

S. O'BRIEN: And goes up the coast.

M. O'BRIEN: By 1:00 a.m. Tuesday, they have it, you know, off the coast of New England.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, Cape Cod, they've been pointing to, could be hit by hurricane Wilma.

M. O'BRIEN: So -- yes.

What was it, the storm of 1938? You remember that one? That was...

S. O'BRIEN: I don't remember it, but I...

M. O'BRIEN: It was a trick question.

S. O'BRIEN: I remember reading about it.

M. O'BRIEN: That was one that did similar and did quite a bit of damage up in that part of the world so.

S. O'BRIEN: Right. It did.

M. O'BRIEN: Anyway, we are watching Wilma very closely this morning. A monster storm, headed toward Florida for now. Not exactly sure when, where precisely it will hit. A new advisory just released.

We get the latest live now from Jacqui Jeras in the Weather Center -- good morning, Jacqui.


Winds are down a little bit again, so Wilma continues that slow weakening trend. But we're starting to see signs now that the eye wall replacement cycle may be completing itself and then it will start to ramp itself back up. So we're down a little bit, 145 mile per hour winds. It's about 175 miles southeast of Cozumel. But we are expecting this to strengthen again as we head through the afternoon hours for today. And it very well could become a category five again.

The forecast trend does bring it into the Yucatan Peninsula. And how far inland it goes has a huge bearing on the intensity of this storm, as it makes its way in a ways, then that means the storm could weaken pretty significantly. That would be the best case scenario from the U.S.

This is a radar picture that I got off the Web, Cancun radar. There you can see Cancun right up here, and the showers and thunderstorms are just offshore at this time and will slowly be making their way inland. And check out how much rainfall they're going to be getting. This is our computer model forecast showing all of these whites and these grays, indicating anywhere between 10 and 15 inches of rainfall. And that is going to cause some significant flooding.

What happens after the storm goes there? Well, we're expecting it to start to weaken a little bit because the wind field becomes a little bit less favorable. But it's also going to finally start to pick up some forward speed and make that beeline toward Florida, as we're anticipating.

I still think it will probably be South Florida or the Florida Keys, but there are still some significant uncertainties. Also, the timing on this has changed a little bit, Miles. We were initially thinking Saturday and now we think it will likely happen late on Sunday.

M. O'BRIEN: Late Sunday or early Monday? Or -- in other words, Saturday and Sunday overnight or Sunday and Monday overnight?

JERAS: Sunday.

M. O'BRIEN: Sunday to Monday. OK. Got you.

So it's slowing down quite a bit.

JERAS: Yes, big time. M. O'BRIEN: All right. I know how difficult it can be on those days, Jacqui.


M. O'BRIEN: We've had -- we've been down this road before.

JERAS: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: Is it Sunday? Is it Saturday?

JERAS: Well, it's still four days away, so a lot can happen still.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

All right, Jacqui, thank you.

People in Florida, of course, know the drill. Sadly, they know the drill. If we recall last year, you remember Charlie? Charlie was supposed to go to Tampa. We kept saying Tampa, Tampa, Tampa, and, of course, Charlie went to Punta Gorda. A year later, people there in Punta Gorda still on the road to recovery and not at the destination. Living in trailers, in many cases -- Allan, folks there, just the thought of a west coast storm has got to bring back some awfully bad memories and make people pretty nervous there.


When you say hurricane, people here in Punta Gorda, Florida think of Charlie and the devastation last year. In fact, not far from where I'm standing is a parking lot. It used to be a Holiday Inn, but all that remains right now is just parking spaces. There's a little fence there, as well, blocking off where the debris used to be. Charlie totally wiped out that hotel. All that remains, pretty much, are those parking spaces and a sign, which is also damaged.

Now, next to that is a condominium under reconstruction. And this morning, the contractors are busy trying to cover up all of their supplies. They say they've got $50,000 worth of drywall there and they certainly want to try to protect that; another $50,000 worth of doors.

This condo had been devastated by hurricane Charlie. They've been trying to rebuild it for the past 14 months and now they have to confront with another storm.

So folks around here have a very vivid memory of Charlie.

And the police chief told us earlier today that because of Charlie, people here know they cannot fool around with Wilma.


CHIEF CHUCK RINEHART, PUNTA GORDA POLICE: It was devastating. You know, power lines, power poles, trees snapped off. Something I hadn't seen in my entire life of living here. But we're coming back and that's the main thing. We've got...


CHERNOFF: But another aftermath of Charlie, a FEMA trailer park just outside of town. About 500 families still living there, 14 months after Charlie. And that FEMA trailer park is supposed to shut down before too long. Of course, those people not in a very good position right now to confront yet another hurricane. And some of them are going to be going as far as they can, if they can. And, of course, that is an issue for some people, not only having a vehicle, but also getting the gasoline, which is beginning to be in short supply here -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: So, people are already, what, they remember Houston or something and they're filling up just in case?

CHERNOFF: The police chief told us that he saw one fellow yesterday with a Durango and he had 12 gasoline cans, separate cans, filling them all up. Certainly a little hoarding over there. There are some gas stations that have been running out of regular gasoline.


CHERNOFF: Just have premium.

M. O'BRIEN: Allan Chernoff in Punta Gorda.

Thank you very much.

Stay with CNN for complete coverage of hurricane Wilma. We are, of course, your hurricane headquarters -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, here's something the GOP does not want to see -- Tom DeLay in a mug shot.

Sean Callebs is outside the county jail in Richmond, Texas, which is where DeLay is expected to turn himself in today -- Sean, good morning.


Indeed, a pretty amazing sequence of events began yesterday when an arrest warrant from Texas was issued against Tom DeLay. And behind me, in front of the Fort Bend County Jail, the doors there, you can see a gaggle of media that have already gathered there, where if DeLay would pull up in front he would, of course, have to run the gauntlet, which means he'll probably pull up around the back of the building.

Now, all of this stems from conspiracy and money laundering charges. DeLay has hired a high powered attorney here in Texas named Dick DeGuerin. And the defense team is basically going on the offensive right now, basically saying that the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, that these charges are nothing more than partisan politics, going as far to say that Earle actually bullied members of two grand juries in an effort to bring these indictments. The indictments actually stemmed -- stem from a political action committee that DeLay and a couple of associates formed with the sole intention of winning a majority of seats in the Texas state legislature.

Now, why is that important? Because if Republicans controlled that, then they could redistrict the state and send more Republicans on to Washington as House members.

Now, for his part, Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor in this case, says that basically he is seeking justice, this has nothing to do with politics. He is a Democrat, but points out that 15 of the powerful political figures he has prosecuted over his 30-year career, 11 of those have been Democrats.

So we're expecting DeLay at some point today.

The big question is exactly when. We really don't know. We do know he is expected to show up in an Austin, Texas courtroom tomorrow morning at 9:00. And, Soledad, he will go through the formality of first designating who his attorneys will be.

But the judge -- and this is important -- could rule on a couple of key motions the defense has, including asking that these charges be dismissed -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, we'll watch that closely.

Sean Callebs for us this morning.

Sean, thanks.

From politics in this country to politics overseas now.

Let's get right to Carol Costello.

She has the headlines -- good morning.


Or a combination of both.

President Bush is set to host Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House in the next hour. The president expected to push Abbas to do more to end militant attacks against Israelis. CNN will have live coverage for you of a joint news conference with the two leaders. That starts at 10:50 Eastern.

The search continues now for the bodies of two young children believed to have been tossed into the San Francisco Bay by their mother. Authorities say they recovered what is believed to be the body of a third child. It was found just hours after a 9/11 caller reported seeing a woman tossing the children into the water. The "San Francisco Chronicle" is reporting the mother has been booked on suspicion of murder. Three suicide attacks leaving at least 10 Iraqis dead this morning. Iraqi police say one of the attacks took place outside the governor's office in Ba'qubah. At least four people were killed in that blast.

There are also reports a U.S. soldier was wounded. And three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack near the town of Falad Wednesday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving no indication when American troops could be coming home from Iraq. Rice testified Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, her first appearance in eight months. She says U.S. goals in Iraq are to break the insurgency and help Iraq turn the corner economically, and she refused to speculate on a time line.

And someone out there has a lot of reasons to be happy this morning. Try 340 million of them. There were some long lines ahead of the drawing. Of course, all those people were hoping to cash in, but there was only one lucky winner. The winning ticket was sold in Oregon. This is the largest jackpot in Oregon -- it is the largest jackpot in Power Ball history and the second biggest lottery jackpot in U.S. history. The biggest was for $363 million.

And in case you're wondering, the winning numbers were, or are, I should say, seven, 21...

S. O'BRIEN: No, were.

COSTELLO: I know. Seven, 21,43,44,49. And the Power Ball is 29. Now the odds of one person winning, one in 146 million.

S. O'BRIEN: We didn't win.


S. O'BRIEN: I wonder who it is, though. I always love hearing when people win and then they say much life isn't going to change.

COSTELLO: But it does.

S. O'BRIEN: But it does.

M. O'BRIEN: Rich. It usually goes right to seed.

S. O'BRIEN: Usually that...

M. O'BRIEN: You know it is, actually...

S. O'BRIEN: It usually does.

M. O'BRIEN: ... it's a miserable, awful thing. It's a good thing we did not win.


M. O'BRIEN: Let's bring some pictures in, live pictures coming in. A little bit of breaking news for you.

This is the Bronx. This is a five alarm fire. This is -- it's precise location unknown to us right this moment. It is near Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. And I'm not sure what the source is. I believe it's one of our affiliates. I'll try to credit whomever it is as soon as I get an opportunity to find out who it is.

But as you can see, New York's bravest, as they call them, FDNY, battling this rather significant blaze there in the Bronx right now.

And as soon as we get a few more details about this, on what's going on there and what might be the cause and who might be in peril right now, we will bring it to you.

Once again, a five alarm fire in the Bronx right now and we are watching it.

S. O'BRIEN: And Jerome Avenue at this time, I mean this is a high commuter zone, as it should be.

M. O'BRIEN: Is it? Yes?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. This should be heavily trafficked. And obviously, a five alarm fire, they probably blocked off the whole area and that, I'm sure, spiraling out of control. Look at that blaze.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, there's a rail line right beside it. I don't know if we control this customer. Do we? If we do, let's pull back and show the rail line. I don't see any trains going down the tracks, so clearly there's going to be some confusion. At the very least there'll be commuter issues regarding this.

S. O'BRIEN: Look at that.

M. O'BRIEN: Take a look at this. Something is happening there as they...

S. O'BRIEN: There we go. That's a better shot.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm going to guess that there was some kind of collapse that caused that, what you just saw there, because there is a combination of fewer flames and kind of that gray, powdery smoke there. So I think it might have been a roof collapse there. Let's hope those firefighters were well away from that, and aside a curb.

S. O'BRIEN: It almost looks like it's taking place in the courtyard of the building. You know, I mean it's in -- it's not in one of those buildings. It's...

M. O'BRIEN: I think it's a one story structure, is my guess. But take a look at -- there's a tower cam from our vantage point. This is from Time Warner Center, is that right?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: As we look north to the Bronx. And there you can see...

S. O'BRIEN: Wow!

M. O'BRIEN: ... how the smoke is just kind of casting a pall over the Bronx there.

Once again, five alarms and we hope everybody is safe and sound there. Certainly, at the very least, a commuter nightmare and perhaps much worse, as we watch that fire in the Bronx this morning.

Still to come on the program, hurricane Wilma -- a category four storm, headed toward Florida. It's slowing down. It might whip across Florida, it might be in Cape Cod by Tuesday, for gosh sakes. Cape Cod.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. Very unprepared for any kind of hurricane.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: The wrecked Louisiana Superdome is a reminder of what a hurricane can do and did. There is a plan now to fix the Superdome. Some people are saying, though, not so fast.

M. O'BRIEN: And we will take you about a different kind of documentary. It actually follows an Arkansas National Guard troupe from their homes to the war in Iraq and then back home again. It's a perspective that we can probably call unique. I don't think anybody else has tried this.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Right now the Yucatan Peninsula not a great place to be, as hurricane Wilma bears down on it. A category four now. It was a category five for a little while. By now, you're familiar with all the phraseology -- eye wall replacement going on. It probably will strengthen during the day. Then it's going to make, as they say repeatedly, going to make that right dog leg, head toward the west coast of Florida and then the latest projection from the Hurricane Center that went out this morning, if you look at it, it goes all the way across Florida and then gets into the Atlantic and heads up the Eastern Seaboard, perhaps even getting up into the Cape Cod area. That's perhaps threatening New England toward the mid part of next week.

So, there we are with another killer storm out there and we're trying to figure out where it's going and what damage it might cause.

Joining me now is NASA meteorologist Jeff Halverson.

He's at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where they spend a lot of time looking back at Earth from space.

Jeff, good to have you with us. Jeff, this storm, the rule of thumb, I'm told, is a category a day increase, right? And this one went from category one to category four in about 12 hours.


M. O'BRIEN: What happened?

HALVERSON: This storm violated a lot of what we think of as the conventional wisdom. This is a near record world holder in terms of intensification. Nearly 95 millibars in space of 24 hours, or about eight millibars per hour, for a short time.

Here you can see this incredibly tall clouds, this red clouds you see here next to the eye wall, when the storm was forming. Extremely vigorous, extremely tall system. A lot of energy coming out very early. This is an amazing system.

M. O'BRIEN: So when a system is tall, it has more power, is that -- that's a simple way of boiling it down?

HALVERSON: What we just saw were what we call hot towers, which are giant thunderstorms. And when these clouds erupt, we can see through the clouds now and look at these features. They release a vast amount of energy in the eye wall. And that leads to warming inside the eye. And when the eye warms, the surface pressure must drop very rapidly. And that's why we saw the incredible wrath and intensification of this system.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about, you know, we've been talking about this right turn that it's supposed to make. Tell us how we know that.

How do we track these things? How do we predict?

HALVERSON: Well, these come from the forecast models. The Hurricane Center runs perhaps a dozen of these predictive models. And they're based on data that come from weather balloons and aircraft that get into the models. In particular, there is an aircraft that flies pretty high up in the atmosphere. It drops packages called dropsons. And these measure the winds as they fall down through the atmosphere.

And those winds are really important for providing missing data in the blind spots over those oceans.

M. O'BRIEN: Tell us about how accurate that is, though. We still have that, we call it the cone of uncertainty.

HALVERSON: Right. There is certainly a cone of uncertainty, but that accuracy has been getting a lot better over the past 20 or 30 years. What we don't do very well at this point is understanding the intensity change. And obviously no one foresaw the rapid or explosive deepening that this storm went through.

These are the physics that we still need to learn about these storms. We use computer models, as you see here, to try to better understand the formation, what we call the genesis of hurricanes, particularly as they come off Africa, and around the globe, for all that's concerned.

And there's still a lot more work that needs to be done to understand intensity change.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, help me understand this. Yesterday we were talking about the barometric pressure being the lowest ever recorded, which is a big deal. And then I sort of got into a discussion with Chad Myers here about, you know, how you would define a strong storm. He said wind speed is the more real way of doing it, because that, after all, is the most relevant measure, because wind speed is what you feel.

Nevertheless, having a low barometric pressure storm is a big deal.

HALVERSON: Yes, it's a tremendous big deal. And like I say, this is probably the new record holder for the Atlantic. It beat out Gilbert in 1988. And Gilbert had a low pressure of 888 millibars. This one, we think, down to about 882 millibars or so. That has to be carefully validated. But certainly, you know, the wind and the pressure, they work together. The lower the pressure, the stronger the wind. The wind is what we feel, but pressure is certainly the best way to compare storms.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, a final thought here. You know, we're in the midst of this amazing killer season. The water temperature is a little higher. Connect some dots for us.

What do you think is really going on here?

I mean I've heard all kinds of conversation about whether this is a natural cycle or a natural cycle perhaps coupled with climate change.

HALVERSON: Well, there certainly is a natural cycle in every 10,15,20 years, we know the Atlantic goes through these phases where there's years of more activity followed by years of less activity; certainly in that high cycle. There could be some climate change entering here, although when you look at just a few storms in any season, any discrete event, you can't really tie that to long-term climate change trends.

But certainly the ocean temperatures play a role. And also the fact, this is a non-el nino year. The winds tend to be weaker in the atmosphere and that helps these storms hang together a little bit better.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Jeff.

NASA's severe weather meteorologist, Jeff Halverson, joining us from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

HALVERSON: Thank you much. M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, it's been home to the Saints and a shelter of last resort during Katrina. Some don't want the Superdome repaired, at least not yet. We're going to find out why on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: In New Orleans, plans to repair the Superdome are now underway. Some say the repairs are going to be critical to bringing back the city to financial health. Other people say, though, it's an insult to focus on an arena when you have some people still in shelters or temporary housing.

Tim Coulon is the chairman of the Superdome Commission.

He's in Baton Rouge this morning.

Nice to see you.

Thanks for talking with us.


Good morning.

S. O'BRIEN: What kind of shape, exactly, is the Superdome in right now?

COULON: Well, basically the facility is clean of debris. We have an environmental cleanup contract underway. And, of course, we probably have the biggest blue roof in mankind. We have a temporary roof that's being installed as we speak. That will be ready in about 30 days.

So for all practical purposes it's clean. It's certainly not publicly usable.

S. O'BRIEN: How much money is it going to cost to bring it back to what it once was?

COULON: Well, the latest estimates are approximately $125 million. But it's really yet to be unknown. We're waiting for a design report of professional engineers how are taking a look at the structural and mechanical. So we'll know in the next two weeks more specifically the time frame necessary to rebuild the Dome and the estimated cost.

S. O'BRIEN: Now, you obviously know that there are contacts who have said you're going to put out -- let's guess -- $125 million into rebuilding the Dome when you have some people in the region who don't have homes, who -- and the money could go to, frankly, in their opinion, better causes.

COULON: Well, that's not necessarily correct. The money is, first of all, insurance monies. Hopefully FEMA money will assist those, that insurance can't pick up. Those two tasks are really -- there's nothing going on at the Dome that would detract from the citizens who are still dealing with recovery issues. And, in fact, the convention center is going through the same process.

We certainly understand those who want to criticize us. But at the same time there are those who are praising us for moving forward, recognizing that the Dome and the convention center are all economic symbols of the rebuilding of the city, especially the Dome. When we're looking at Sugar Bowls, Bayou Classics, Essence Fest, those are all important events in the city and its rebuilding.

S. O'BRIEN: There are some concerns the Saints aren't going to come back and play in the Dome. I mean you certainly have heard words from the owner, who might just take the team right out of state.

Wouldn't that be a waste of money?

COULON: Again, the Dome is more than just an NFL building. It has regenerated approximately $20 million to $25 million a year from self-generating events. Again, the Essence Fest, the Sugar Bowl.

The Dome will be rebuilt with or without the Saints. And, again, it's a necessity, as part of the rebuilding process of downtown New Orleans. And I don't think there's any question that the Dome should be rebuilt and will be rebuilt.

S. O'BRIEN: Mayor Nagin, and you know on this question about what's going to happen with the Saints, even though there is obviously income generated, whether you're talking about the Saints or outside of that, Mayor Nagin said he doesn't necessarily want the owner back if the Saints go out of town, but he does want to keep the name.

Do you agree with him on that?

COULON: Well, there's going to be lots of speculation. And I don't blame Mayor Nagin. His frustration is certainly representative of many of the fans and supporters, that over 30 years have supported the Saints. The future of the Saints really rests in the hands of Mr. Benson and especially the NFL commissioner. I don't blame, you know, it's very disturbing to see an owner of an NFL team not to step up to be part of the rebuilding process and then further demoralize an already demoralized city and state by making the comments about moving.

So, again, the Dome is going to be rebuilt with or without the Saints. I think there are some options we have to discuss with the commissioner when he is in town. And hopefully the mayor and the governor will join forces in a united front to make an appeal to the commissioner, when he's here, to give us some options over and above just having the Saints return.

S. O'BRIEN: So maybe the Saints return in name, but a whole different team.

Tim Coulon is the chairman of the Superdome Commission.

COULON: Well...

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for talking...

I'm sorry, go ahead.

COULON: No, no. It could be more than just that. It could be other options other than just having another team. But certainly we want to pursue all those options.

S. O'BRIEN: Tim Coulon, thanks for talking with us.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to -- sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt him. I apologize.

S. O'BRIEN: I think we were through.

M. O'BRIEN: I think we're done.

Still to come on the program, the ways and the woes of Wilma. Wilma slowing down, Wilma now a category four, Wilma probably strengthening. But will it hit Florida? Could it go south of Florida? Will it ultimately end up in New England? Lots of questions ahead. We're going to try to answer as many as we can ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.