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American Morning

Holiday Travel; Saddam Hussein's Attorneys Back Down From Threat to Boycott Next Hearing; FEMA Housing Reprieve

Aired November 23, 2005 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The travel rush is on. Millions of Americans heading home for the holidays, meaning crowded airports, train stations and highways. We're live with the very latest.
Meanwhile, pack your patience. Severe weather could make for some big delays. Plus, a possible blizzard in one part of the country. We've got your travel forecast straight ahead.

And it was ladies' night at the American Music Awards. The big winners on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Today is going to be an ugly day for anybody who's trying to make their way to their grandmother's house or a friend's house or across town or just home for the holidays, because today is a big travel today.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Thirty-seven million people are going to be traveling today. And that's just how many are going at least 55 miles. That's not talking about all those who are just going to take a short trip around the corner.

O'BRIEN: And we're not talking about weather, which, of course, factors in and most likely will make things even messier for people out in the Midwest. We'll talk about all of that ahead.

First, though, let's talk about how crowded it is already. As Rick mentioned, 37 million Americans getting away this Thanksgiving, and many of them are flying. We keep saying pack your patience. I think we said that like 10 times since 7:00 this morning.

Let's get right to Alina Cho. She's live at New York's LaGuardia airport this morning.

Alina, good morning to you. Pack your patience some good advice, right?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's very good advice, Soledad. Good morning to you.

Now, the good news if you're traveling at this moment, at least here at LaGuardia, is that the morning rush is over. There's a bit of a lull in activity right now here at LaGuardia. But make no mistake, it will get busy again, and travelers are coming prepared.


CHO (voice over): Elsie Smalls and her daughter Janice are headed to Charlotte, North Carolina, for Thanksgiving. This year, they're packing patience.

ELSIE SMALLS, HOLIDAY TRAVEL: Nothing you could do about it. So just relax. You get there when you get there safely.

CHO: They are a record 37 million Americans who will travel 50 miles or more this holiday weekend. An estimated 600,000 will go by train, 30 percent more than normal.

Jodi Robbins is headed to Maryland.

JODI ROBBINS, HOLIDAY TRAVELER: I just tell myself that this is the way it has to be, because I have to go home. I want good food.

CHO: Eighty-three-year-old Gladys Van Laggen (ph) is going to see family in Boston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I brought a good book.

CHO: A good idea. There will be delays, especially in the Midwest, where wintry weather will likely mean heavy traffic.

Bad news for drivers. High gas prices are a problem, too. At $2.29 a gallon on average, holiday travelers this year are carpooling, and in some cases, changing plans.

ROBERT SINCLAIR, AAA: They might be taking a Thanksgiving trip, but it won't be as long as the one last year. They might be going to a relative that lives closer.

CHO: Not Joe and Linda Goldstein. They're flying from New York to Florida to see their grandchildren. Whenever they think about the crowds, they remember why they're going in the first place: family and food.

LINDA GOLDSTEIN, HOLIDAY TRAVELER: You think of what's waiting on the other end. Just keep thinking of the turkey.


CHO: Some good advice. Now, some more tips if you're traveling today.

Try to get to the airport not one hour, but two hours before your flight. Try to print your boarding pass online at home before you get to the airport.

And Soledad, this is the one I hate. The government says, required or not, try to take your shoes off while you go through security, because it will save you some hassles on the other end.

O'BRIEN: You know what they say. You have your choice, take them off. But if you don't, it could cost you time. So you might as well just take 'em off.

CHO: Yes.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks, Alina. Appreciate it.

Let's get a look at the weather for the day.

Jacqui Jeras is at the CNN center. She's monitoring that for us around the country.

Hey Jacqui. Good morning.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey. Good morning, Soledad.


SANCHEZ: Thanks, Jacqui.

Well, some new developments in the Saddam Hussein trial. His lawyers are now apparently backing down from a threat to boycott the next hearing.

Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is live for us in Baghdad. He's been following this.

What's going on here, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rick, after the last beginning of the trial of Saddam Hussein was suspended about 40 days ago, two of his lawyers, or two of the lawyers, the defense lawyers involved in the trial, were killed. The Iraqi Bar Association said the trial should be boycotted by the -- by the defense lawyers. Defense lawyers said they weren't going to go ahead with it unless they got security.

What has happened is, there have been talks. The U.S. has been involved in giving assurances to the Iraqi Bar Association, to the lawyers involved in the defense, that there is security available on offer to them. So it does appear that when the trial restarts Monday, the defense lawyers will turn up.

It doesn't mean we've heard the end of the security issue. It's quite possible they'll say they've been dealing too much with security to focus on the trial, give us another delay.

But what we can expect on Monday is the first of the witnesses to appear in the court. Not sure yet whether we'll see them on TV, if they'll be brave enough to do that. But the trial now set to begin again Monday -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: All right. Nic Robertson, following that for us.

We thank you for the update.

Now let's go over and get some other updates of stories. And for that we go to Carol Costello -- Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Have it right here, Rick. Thank you.

President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a family Thanksgiving. The president left the White House on Tuesday after performing that annual holiday rite, you know, granting the pardons to two Thanksgiving turkeys. One was named Marshmallow. I know that.

And we're -- we're hearing more than a dozen war protesters have gathered near the president's Crawford ranch. Cindy Sheehan is not there, but apparently her sister is.

We'll bring you those pictures when we get them in to CNN.

In the meantime, Democratic Senator Barack Obama joining the course of lawmakers calling for a timetable for reduction of U.S. troop levels.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: This notion that we should start reducing our troops is not and should not be a partisan issue. I believe that U.S. forces are still part of a solution in Iraq.

The strategic goal should be to allow for a limited draw-down of U.S. troops, coupled with shifts to a more effective counterinsurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.


COSTELLO: The Illinois senator also speaking out against the Bush administration for attacking the patriotism of critics of the war.

It's been more than two weeks since the runoff election in Liberia. But today, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was officially declared president of that country. That makes her Africa's first ever elected female president. Her opponent, a former soccer star, had complained of voter fraud. The elections were Liberia's first since emerging from a 14-year civil war.

What do Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, R. Kelly, Green Day, the Black Eyed Peas, and Eminem have in common? They won awards but they didn't show up to accept them at the American Music Awards.

Singer Mariah Carey was there, however, to pick up the prize for favorite female artist in the soul R&B category.

Her dress was something else, wasn't it? That's the only part I saw. And I went, woo!

Among the other artists who took home awards, Tim McGraw. You can see him here. His shirt was something, too, wasn't it?

O'BRIEN: Not as much as Mariah's shirt. COSTELLO: Ooh, he's nice looking man.

O'BRIEN: Tall drink of water.

COSTELLO: Yes, he is.

Anyway, most of the country stars who won awards actually showed up. But the big story of the night was all of the pop stars who didn't show.

O'BRIEN: Mariah Carey's outfit, I mean, what's that about?

SANCHEZ: I didn't notice it.

COSTELLO: It's about sex.

O'BRIEN: You know, she claims she hasn't had any work done. Did you know that?



SANCHEZ: You mean on the dress?


O'BRIEN: On the dress, yes. She claims the dress had not had any -- yes, we're going to -- we have to talk about that. You know what? Because everybody snickers and no one says, look...


COSTELLO: Well, I don't know how her dress is staying in place.

O'BRIEN: Oh, it's that double-sided tape.

COSTELLO: Yes, but still, you would think if you like squared your shoulders it would...

O'BRIEN: It took 80 stylists to get this dress to stay on Mariah for this event last night. And my goodness, she certainly looks healthy, doesn't she? All right.

Congratulations, Mariah. We're happy for you, girl.

Moving on.

SANCHEZ: I'm a married guy. I'm not even supposed to notice those things.

O'BRIEN: Right. You should just not talk about it.

All right. An update on a story that we've been following. It's about FEMA, so let's get serious for a moment. FEMA now giving Katrina evacuees an extra month to move out of hotels. But is a month enough? We're going to take a closer look at that story.

SANCHEZ: Also, we're going to meet a mother of three who may be doing a better job than FEMA. She's turned her home into a makeshift shelter. Our special series "Week of Giving," we profile her ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: A little bit of good news from FEMA. They are extending that housing deadline, the deadline when they're going to kick everybody out and stop paying for hotels and motels. But is it an extension that goes long enough?

Listen to what acting FEMA director David Paulison had to say on Tuesday.


DAVID PAULISON, ACTING FEMA DIRECTOR: Let me make this really clear. We are not kicking people out into the streets. We are simply moving them from hotels and motels into apartments that we will continue to pay for.

So we're not stopping money flowing, we just don't want to pay for hotels and motels anymore. We want to now start paying for apartments and move those families in there. And I think that is the right -- right thing to do.


PHILLIPS: The city of Houston, Texas, took in more evacuees than any other city in this nation. Mayor Bill White is the mayor of Houston.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.

MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TEXAS: Wonderful to be with you.

O'BRIEN: A little bit of good news, I guess. What do you make when you hear what David Paulison had to say?

WHITE: Well, FEMA is doing what we asked for weeks ago. We agree that we ought to move folks out of hotels and into apartments. In fact, we've done that with 80,000 or so folks already. So we ought to be able to continue to do this.

And we're glad we have FEMA's support for this. We ought to be able to move the folks we have in hotels into apartments over the next, oh, about 30, 40 days, so long as FEMA stands there and gives us the financial support that we need.

O'BRIEN: So a couple questions then. Is the deadline that now has been changed, is that going to be enough time for you? WHITE: Yes. We're having 500 or so folks a day move from hotels to the apartments. It's going to be tight.

We have hundreds of people working every day trying to help our Katrina survivors, people that are here get back on their feet, get a job, get back in the mainstream, return to Louisiana if they want to, or stay, whatever their choice is. And as long as FEMA just writes a check and doesn't tell us what to do, then we're in good shape.

O'BRIEN: Well, that's a pretty big "as long as," kind of, because you've been fronting the money, right? The city -- not you personally, obviously, but the city of Houston has been fronting the money.

Have you gotten money back from FEMA?

WHITE: Yes, we have.

O'BRIEN: How much?

WHITE: They've been supportive in -- well, it's been about $140 million on the housing program. Now, they've let some of the expenses languish. They tell us they're going to pay for the police. They tell us the check is in the mail. We haven't gotten it yet.

I wish they would just pay the necessary and reasonable expenses. But so far, you know, whenever we raise it to the top level of FEMA, then they respond. I wish they could just eliminate all those levels of bureaucracy.

O'BRIEN: It sounds very frustrating, clearly.

Why are people still being housed in hotels in Houston? Is it you just have a very tight housing market? Has that been the main problem?

WHITE: Oh, my goodness. I mean, we have 150,000 new residents right now. So there may be about 14,000 in hotels. At the peak of the evacuation there were over 60,000 in hotels.

So we have moved that population out of hotels. And yes, in answer to your question, it's an unprecedented issue of dealing with a population of 150,000 larger, and we need to find space for those people. We need to get the hotels -- the apartments outfitted, agreements in place with the landlord, inspections done, often improvements to the properties. But we've done a miracle here.

O'BRIEN: Yes -- no, I agree. And I would also imagine that apartments that don't -- aren't near public transportation are not super helpful for people who don't necessarily have any kind of transportation, they can't get to any jobs. I mean, there are a lot of things to consider, clearly.

WHITE: You bet. And especially the three and four bedrooms for some of the large extended families. FEMA just finally agreed about 10 days ago to allow the evacuees to pay a supplement over the sort of minimum low-cost amount that they could pay. That will bring more apartments on to the market. If the evacuees from their own money can supplement the FEMA reimbursement, we'll be able to get the job done.

O'BRIEN: Yes, kind of change the category that they're looking for.

FEMA has promised, right, to repay for these twelve-month leases that I know the city's been trying to get them to negotiate, is that right?

WHITE: Yes. Yes, they did.


WHITE: And they did -- they did in writing, and there was a little vacillation on that. But once they promised to do it, and once we entered into the leases with the landlords, then I don't think FEMA could back out of that. That wouldn't be right. And I think they've seen the light at the senior levels of FEMA.

Local folks have been great. At the very top it's been great. Sometimes it's a bureaucracy in the middle that's been a problem.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Bureaucracy I think is the word everyone's been using with FEMA.

Houston Mayor Bill White, thanks for talking with us. Appreciate your time this morning, sir.

WHITE: You bet.

O'BRIEN: Rick.

SANCHEZ: Another story that we're going to be following for you on this day, our holiday series on Katrina's aftermath. "Week of Giving." Today we're going to meet a woman who opened her heart and her home to almost a dozen evacuees.

That is next right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: All this week AMERICAN MORNING is celebrating a "Week of Giving," highlighting stories of hurricane victims and the kind of people who've really reached out to give a helping hand.

SANCHEZ: Something magical happens. You know, we're in a business where we end up covering tragedies all the time. But something happens after a tragedy.

And we were talking about this earlier. But people who oftentimes hardly even know the person living next to them suddenly become incredibly giving. And it's all of us. I mean -- and it happens to people. And it's a neat thing to watch.

Kelly Wallace following this for us.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is. And we've all been watching it. And you both spending a lot of time in New Orleans, you're seeing it firsthand. You know, people who are doing things, giving their time, giving their energy, uniting strangers and other families.

And today we're going to talk about, we think, an incredibly special woman. Someone who like thousands of others lost her job in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but decided to help out as many struggling people as she could.

We call her the woman who keeps on giving and has no plans to stop.


WALLACE (voice over): Spend time with 48-year-old Valerie Ryan, a mother of four in New Orleans, and you quickly learn she doesn't stop moving.

There are dogs to save...

VALERIE RYAN, HELPING PEOPLE AFTER HURRICANE KATRINA: We'll take you home and we'll bathe you. And we'll give you some food.

WALLACE: ... boxes to pack...

RYAN: I'm going to find every needy family I can to give all this stuff to.

WALLACE: ... and families to take care of. Families who are now living in her own home.

Valerie, who recently injured her arm trying to rescue another dog, has opened her doors to friends and strangers. Twelve in total now make up the Ryan household. At one time as many as 15 were here.

And let's not forget about the animals. Eight in all.

RYAN: I felt that god spared our house for a reason, and it was to help other people out.

WALLACE: When the hurricane hit, Valerie evacuated to Alabama. After learning her house was OK, she headed back home, inviting friends like Greta Joseph and her family, and anyone else she met along the way.

GRETA JOSEPH, KATRINA EVACUEE: You're walking out, it's like, hey, Greta, whatever. You know, it's not like you're surprised when you see a strange face. It's just, oh, you know, you kind of expect it.

WALLACE: And so, just about every day Valerie takes this trip through one devastated neighborhood after another, heading to a donation center to pick up essentials for her growing family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You folks all set?

RYAN: Yes, they loaded us up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. So you don't want any candy? OK.

RYAN: Yes, we'll take some candy. You know what? I think we need all the sugar rush we can get.

WALLACE: Back at home, everyone pitches in.

SCOTT WILEY, LIVING IN RYAN HOUSEHOLD: We are very much running out of space in here.

WALLACE: Scott Wiley, a television editor, met Valerie and her family when they fled to Alabama.

WILEY: She didn't even know what state her house was in or all of her family. And she was already saying, well, hey, I'm going to help you out, too. I mean, she's helping, you know, everyone that crosses her path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christ our lord, amen.

RYAN: Amen. Let's get the food.

WALLACE: There's certainly no shortage of conversation at the dinner table. About the only thing that's in short supply is space in her three-bedroom home, something that Valerie's 18-year-old daughter Dominique knows all too well.

DOMINIQUE RYAN, VALERIE'S DAUGHTER: I lose it almost every night. I come home from work wondering where I'm going to sleep.

WALLACE: But Valerie says the experience has made her own family much closer.

V. RYAN: Because we understand the loss that these people are going through and the devastation. And it's made all of us more thankful of what we had.

WALLACE: Still, it all takes a toll, even on Valerie.

V. RYAN: You want to cry, I mean, because you just look at them and you know they don't have a job, you know they lost their home. That's what it was like when that lady came up to me and all those kids were crying.

WALLACE: She can't quite get that lady out of her mind. She packed together clothes and the $300 the Ryan household chipped in and headed out to find her.

V. RYAN: I feel bad. I told this lady I would give her stuff and I can't find her.

WALLACE: But after spending time with Valerie, you get the sense she will never give up.

V. RYAN: Hello?

I'll find her, because now we've got money collected. I want to give it to her, you know? Or just give them the money, whichever they need, you know, for the kids.


WALLACE: Definitely an amazing woman. And I bet you all won't be surprised to hear this: Valerie is opening her doors on Thanksgiving, as well. She's expecting a crowd of just about 40 people on Thanksgiving.

And one message she really wanted us to get out. She said, if one out of the hundred or so houses that she's seen that are in pretty good shape could take in a couple of families, well think about those other families that could get back to New Orleans and start putting their lives back together. So that's what she said this is all about for her.

SANCHEZ: It becomes contagious, doesn't it? I mean, you see somebody helping somebody, you want to help them, as well. And suddenly a whole community's come together.

WALLACE: And Scott Wiley, the young man in the piece, I men, he's sort of staying there and taking on this role, as well, as sort of helper and right-hand man. So he's been staying there, too, in part kind of moved by what she's doing. He wants to help out as well.

SANCHEZ: That's a great story.

O'BRIEN: What did she say is the toughest thing about doing this? I mean, is it the emotional toughness? Is it the physical lack of space? What is it?

WALLACE: On the sort of more serious side, definitely the emotional part, you know, that you can't help everybody. On the lighter side, Soledad, she said she's a clean freak.


WALLACE: Oh, she said, "I've got to get used to unmade beds, dishes in the sink." She said her husband, who's a saint, keeps telling her, "Take a deep breath. This is all for a good cause."

So that what she says...

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's tough to be a clean freak.

WALLACE: You've got to get over that for awhile.

SANCHEZ: It's like having kids all of a sudden, huh?

O'BRIEN: Yes, Kelly, you've got to get over that, too.

Kelly, thanks.


O'BRIEN: Nice story.

WALLACE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Coming up tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING in our "Week of Giving" series, believe it or not, they say Katrina was a blessing in disguise. We're going to meet a young man who's battling a very aggressive form of leukemia and the city that has now been there for him at every turn.

That story is tomorrow.

Plus, if you were affected by this season's hurricanes, and if you want to thank somebody who helped you, please send us your story. Go to There you can read some inspiring responses that we have posted on our Web site.

Ahead this morning we're going to meet a couple who lost just about everything in Hurricane Katrina. But then, a little turn of luck. A winning raffle ticket, and a brand-new house. We get a tour just ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: That does look cold, doesn't it? That's Indianapolis.

I can't read the call letters from our affiliate. Oh is this WTHR, I believe, is what we're looking at here.

That looks like snow there. No? Yes?

SANCHEZ: Yes. Oh, yes.

O'BRIEN: It sure does. I thought so. Yes, my eyes are bad, but not that bad yet.

That is going to slow the commute for people today.

COSTELLO: Oh, my parents get some snow. They live in Ohio.