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American Morning

Blizzard '06; Cheney Shooting; Chicago Jail Break; Church Fires; Saddam Hussein on Trial

Aired February 13, 2006 - 06:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, I'm Miles O'Brien.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zain Verjee in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Millions of people still digging out this morning from a record snowfall in the northeast. We have complete coverage from all over the region.

Also ahead, two escaped inmates hold police at bay for hours outside of Chicago, but now police take control. We'll bring you the very latest on this developing story.

VERJEE: Vice President Dick Cheney shoots a fellow hunter, a campaign contributor, but why did it take a full day to disclose the accident? We're live with more.

A 10th church burned in Alabama. This morning, police turn to some unusual methods to try and get a line on some suspects.

O'BRIEN: And American darling Michelle Kwan forced to kiss her Olympic dream goodbye. We'll give you the latest on that.

We begin this morning with snow, lots of snow, not so glorious snow, and it may take a while for the northeast to shake it all off. About 24,000 homes still without power.

In the Washington D.C. area, Reagan National and Dulles Airport are open this morning, but expect delays. It's the same story in Baltimore, even though the downtown area escaped with just about 10 inches of snow. That's a light dusting by comparison.

Philadelphia's airport never closed on Sunday, but that didn't stop the cancellation of dozens of flights there. So of course expect heavy delays there this morning as well, and well into the afternoon as well.

And in Boston, more than a foot of snow fell around town. Schools are closed, but Logan International is now open.

And then there's New York, more than two feet of snow in some places, breaking records for a single storm that caused all three major airports in the area to close down. Newark and JFK opened late last night. Hundreds of flights had already been cancelled there and that will definitely carry over into today.

As for LaGuardia, it's scheduled to reopen as we speak, and that is where we find our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff this morning.

Allan, what was it like getting over there?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, no problem getting over here, but it may be a problem flying out of here. The airport may be open, but that doesn't mean that flights are actually taking off.

United Airlines is supposed to have three flights at 6:00 a.m., none of them are leaving, they're all cancelled. The first flight leaving for American Airlines is at 8:00 a.m., that's to Charlotte, and that flight was supposed to have left at 7:00 a.m. So lots of delays here. Most of the flights that are supposed to depart are actually cancelled. There are some flights arriving a little bit later this morning.

The plows are still out. They're still trying to clean off the runways. They've been working at it since late last night. And plenty of people had to stay the night here at LaGuardia Airport. There are cops upstairs lining a hallway, hundreds of people just laying in those cots trying to get at least a little bit of sleep, probably not all that successful.

JFK International, well, that airport was open overnight and yesterday, but certainly lots of trouble there. A Turkish airplane actually skidded off the runway. It landed in a grassy field. Fortunately, no injuries, 198 people were onboard that flight arriving into JFK.

So still the situation in New York somewhat dangerous, and the people here being very careful in terms of letting the flights depart and arrive -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Allan Chernoff at LaGuardia, thank you very much -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, winter's chill is raising goose bumps as far south as Florida. People there digging out coats and sweaters, bundling up against a cold snap, and more frigid air is moving toward the state. The National Weather Service expects temperatures in some areas to dive into the 20s.

Let's get a check on the weather forecast and go over to Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center.

Hey, Chad, it was rough.


It really -- and it still is. And it's going to be rough for a while.

One of the things you don't realize about what happened to LaGuardia is that the planes aren't where they are supposed to be now. Maybe they are stuck in Tampa or they are sitting in Kansas City because they never got into New York. How did this storm put so much snow down in New York City? Well, in fact on Saturday it slowed down. Unanticipated on Friday, slowed down on Saturday and then headed up the East Coast with a big left- hand turn.

The problem was, this is what we call deformation zone. This is yesterday morning, it just sat over New York City for a very long time, and it pivoted around New York City. So, New York City, you were always in that wheelhouse. The snow never stopped for you for 24 hours.

Look at Central Park, 26.9, a new record for any snowfall ever on record since we've been keeping records in Central Park.


Back to you.

O'BRIEN: Chad, Chad -- Chad.


O'BRIEN: Five-and-a-half hours Boston to New York. You told me not to do it.

MYERS: Very sorry about that.

O'BRIEN: I did it. Yes, it was not good.

MYERS: Well, you know what, on Friday when I left, it looked like it was a D.C. storm.


MYERS: But then by Friday night it was clear that wasn't going to happen anymore. The computers changed their mind and I didn't call you.

O'BRIEN: And I -- well I do whatever you tell me and you did not give me an update.

MYERS: All right.

O'BRIEN: Also, now Sandy (ph) is stuck in Atlanta today.

MYERS: I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: Should she get on a plane this morning?

MYERS: Well, you know what, planes are everywhere they shouldn't be and crews are everywhere they shouldn't be.

O'BRIEN: Right.

MYERS: So now you've got to find a guy that can fly the 9, the DC-9, and you've got to get a crew that can do the 9,... O'BRIEN: Right.

MYERS: ... because the plane is not where it was supposed to be for...

O'BRIEN: So maybe she should just sit tight for a while.

MYERS: If you don't have a flight to get on a cruise or something really, really outstanding to get to today,...


MYERS: ... let things settle down to get the planes where they belong.

O'BRIEN: Good. I think that's good advice.


O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thank you.

MYERS: All right. All right.

O'BRIEN: An accidental shooting, that's what everyone involved is calling the weekend shooting of a fellow hunter by the Vice President Dick Cheney. It all happened on Saturday on a private ranch just outside Corpus Christi, Texas.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Corpus Christi.

Good morning, Ed. What's the latest on the victim's condition?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Miles.

Well Mr. Harry Whittington, who is 78 years old, is in the intensive care unit in the hospital behind me here in Corpus Christi. Officials here say that they expect him to be released at some point today. Mr. Whittington has been here since Saturday afternoon after being airlifted here after suffering that gunshot wound from Mr. Dick Cheney, the Vice President, on a hunting trip here at a ranch about 30 miles southwest of the Corpus Christi area.

Based from a witness that was there that afternoon who told us what happened, apparently this hunting group had become separated. Mr. Cheney was off to one side and Mr. Whittington was trying to get back to the group approaching from behind. According to this witness, Mr. Whittington didn't announce himself, even though he was wearing a bright orange vest.

Mr. Cheney had locked on to a quail that they were hunting and fired away. Mr. Whittington was hit with several pellets from that shotgun blast and that is what he is being treated for here.

But a family friend says that he's doing well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATHARINE ARMSTRONG, RANCH OWNER: He was alert. That I talked to his wife early this morning and she said he was fine. My sister went up and another guest to take Mrs. Whittington her toothbrush and all that sort of thing and that Mr. Whittington was sitting up in bed, cracking jokes and making light of the situation. And he will be just fine.


LAVANDERA: Now this ranch where they were hunting is the Armstrong Ranch. And, as I mentioned, it's about 30 miles southwest of the Corpus area, so a rather remote area. Part of Mr. Cheney's Secret Service detail and emergency officials that were traveling with the vice president treated Mr. Whittington until an ambulance arrived shortly thereafter -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, CNN's Ed Lavandera in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Hostages near Chicago are out of danger now. The last of six escaped prisoners who were holding them gave up early this morning. The men broke out of a maximum-security area of the Cook County Jail a little after midnight on Saturday. Three were caught quickly. The others took a woman and five children hostage in the Chicago suburb of Cicero.

Michelle Gielan of affiliate WFLD is live in Cicero.

Michelle, what happened?

MICHELLE GIELAN, WFLD-TV REPORTER: Well, Miles, it was a dramatic scene here this morning. There was three inmates in this house behind me. They took a family hostage, including the five children, and they demanded for one of the inmates to be able to see his child. They knew that the three of them were going to be going back to jail, and he said that's all I really want, I just want to see my child before I end up back behind bars.

Now it's pretty dramatic. They did let out three of the children and then eventually the mother and another child. Then those two inmates did eventually give themselves up peacefully. And so all six of the inmates who got out of the Cook County Jail here in Chicago are now back behind bars. But it has been an incredible last 24 hours. It took 24 hours for them to get back behind bars -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right, Michelle, tell us about the woman who was inside the apartment, did she know them? Was there any connection there?

GIELAN: What we are being told by a Cicero town spokesperson is that one of the inmates did know this family, did know the woman that lived in this house and that's how they originally found the house. The door was open and then they walked right in. And this woman has actually been taken into custody. And we are going to -- we're waiting to see if charges are going to be brought against her -- Miles. O'BRIEN: All right, Michelle Gielan with our affiliate WFLD, thank you very much -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, a 10th church fire but still no solid information on suspects. That's what faces police in Alabama after Saturday's burning of another Baptist church, this one in Beaverton. That makes 10 fires in 10 days.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken is in Beaverton, Alabama.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Investigators say they are sitting by the phone waiting for a call, an e-mail, even a letter from the two men they consider suspects in the arsons of 10 different churches in the last 10 days in Alabama, in different areas of Alabama. The most recent one here at the Beaverton Free Will Baptist Church.

They've all been Baptist churches, some have been predominately white in the congregation, some predominately African American. Officials say they are looking for a motive, looking for some understanding from the men they describe as probably in their late 20s or early 30s, people who have some sort of motivation that they would like to of course understand, ultimately leading to the arrest of these men.

Bob Franken, CNN, Beaverton, Alabama.


VERJEE: In California, a house destroyed in the deadly crash of a single engine plane. Just take a look at what's left of the home that's located about 16 miles northeast of Sacramento. It is utterly destroyed. You can see the ruins there smoldering. At least two people were killed. The two bodies appear to have been in what remains of the plane.

Now witnesses say that it looked like the pilot was trying to perform some sort of acrobatic stunt and just lost complete control of the plane. It's still not clear whether anyone was in this house at the time. A teenage boy who lived in the house is remaining unaccounted for. Neighbors saying that the boy's family was out of town for the weekend, and it wasn't clear if he was in the home when the crash happened.

O'BRIEN: The circus that is the Saddam Hussein trial under way again in Baghdad. The defendants forced to attend court today. Some of them were dragged in. They appeared to be in their pajamas. Saddam Hussein dressed in a robe and overcoat shouted down with Bush and cursed the chief judge, calling him a criminal.

Aneesh Raman has been in the courtroom. He's on the phone right now.

Aneesh, tell us what's going on right now. ANEESH RAMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we speak, Miles, we're hearing from the second of three witnesses, live witnesses. Earlier today, they read victims' statements, but these are witnesses who were former members of Saddam's regime. They have put up a number of documents, forcing Saddam and the other defendants to look at them, execution orders signed by Saddam Hussein, the death sentence signed by the Chief Judge Awad Bandar of the Revolutionary Court.

We see today, really, perhaps a turning point in this process. The focus, which is of course the crimes against humanity that Saddam Hussein faces, once again taking center stage.

This morning though, it was incredibly tense. Saddam Hussein, as you say, brought in against his will. He wasn't physically dragged. He was surrounded, though, by guards as he entered, not wearing a suit and shirt, but wearing a dish-dash, traditional Arab robe, and an overcoat. He screamed down with Bush, long live Iraq, throughout today's proceedings.

He shouted at the judge. But this is a very, almost military- style judge, who has rebuked the defendants anytime they interrupt him, has threatened to take them out if that be the case. And really we're seeing the process now push forward, the defendants really starting to adjust to the fact that this trial is going to take place and that they will have to be present -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, so given that, despite the garb and all the chanting and so forth, do you get the sense that this trial has turned a corner? Can it proceed?

RAMAN: I think so. And I think one of the main issues for this trial was not just the defendants standing up and screaming, but it was also the witnesses who were largely anonymous, for the most part, speaking behind those blue curtains, who were six or seven at the time that this failed assassination attempt took place in 1982, who didn't provide with meticulous detail the alleged atrocities overall Saddam Hussein faces.

We now are hearing from the chief of staff of Saddam's office who is detailing paperwork he saw. We are seeing execution orders, death sentences, more direct evidence linking Saddam to these alleged atrocities. So the court clearly is trying to push ahead.

The witnesses, instead of having those complaint and victim statements coming into court, they just read 23 statements in the course of an hour. So it seems this new chief judge is really trying to keep things on track -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman, who is there watching the Saddam Hussein trial for us, thank you very much.

Coming up, Michelle Kwan calls it quits in Torino, an emotional moment. The figure skater pulling out of the Games because of an injury. What does it mean for her teammates? We're live in Torino with that. VERJEE: Also, good news at the gas pump, prices going down, but how much more relief can you expect?

O'BRIEN: And here's something folks in New Orleans haven't heard in a while, let the good times roll. A taste of the first post- Katrina Mardi Gras ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: It's a big mama of a snowstorm.

VERJEE: It's a...

O'BRIEN: And maybe a papa. I don't know.

VERJEE: It's a mess, but it is pretty out there. A blanket of milky white snow covering Manhattan and Columbus Circle.

O'BRIEN: It will be milky for about three more minutes and then it'll get kind of gray. Anyhow.

VERJEE: Miserable and sloppy.

O'BRIEN: Well it does have that affect...

VERJEE: I did enjoy it, though, sitting inside yesterday with a cup of hot chocolate and peering out the window.

O'BRIEN: It's -- yes, yes, it sure beats driving from Boston for five-and-a-half hours. That was quite a saga.

Let's get to Carol Costello in the newsroom. She's got some headlines for us.

Good morning -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Man, it was beautiful outside watching the snow. And I have to tell you the roads are clear this morning. Twenty-seven inches of snow and they got all that stuff off the roadways. That's amazing.

Good morning to all of you.

In the headlines this morning, tight security after a suicide bombing in Baghdad. The attack killed at least six people outside of a bank in Baghdad. More than 40 others are wounded. Police say the bomber joined a crowd of people lining up to get money for food rations.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is promising a full investigation into the alleged beating of Iraqis. A videotape made public over the weekend is reported to be from 2004. It shows British forces dragging, hitting and kicking some Iraqi teenagers. The tape was obtained by the "News of the World" tabloid newspaper. The British military is looking into the allegations. Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff is getting ready to unveil wide-ranging changes to FEMA today. In the meantime, the House is set to release a highly critical 600-page report. It blames the federal response to Katrina saying it was marred by flailing and organizational paralysis. The report is set to be released in full on Wednesday.

You may have a couple more cents to throw into your penny jar. Gas prices have dipped a big three cents over the last three weeks. The average price of gas is now about $2.30. Some experts say this is a lull, but do not expect prices to fall much more.

Kwan is gone from the competition. She's also turned down an opportunity to become a commentator for NBC. She says that she would only be a distraction. Michelle Kwan withdrew from the Olympic Games this weekend due to a repeating injury to her groin. She said she tried her hardest and she doesn't have any regrets.


MICHELLE KWAN, U.S. FIGURE SKATER: I don't think that I can be 100 percent. And I respect the Olympics too much to compete. And I don't feel that I can be at my best.


COSTELLO: Kwan will be replaced by Emily Hughes. She's the 17- year-old sister of Olympic champion Sarah Hughes.

Let's head to the Forecast Center to check in with Chad.

So, it's over, right?

MYERS: Yes. It is over, yes. It's still very windy today, but not really a ground blizzard, Carol.


Back to you guys.

VERJEE: Thanks, Chad.

O'BRIEN: Always listen to Chad. Chad said mid-Atlantic storm, go ahead and go to Boston. I listened to Chad. Got to listen to the latest Chad.

All right, let's take a -- let's go back to Carol. What's going on in "Morning Coffee" this morning.


Ever wonder why it's harder to open up a new CD than it is to break into Fort Knox? Coming up in "Morning Coffee," "Consumer Reports" listed the hardest to open items and the frustration that goes along with it. Stay with us for "Morning Coffee" next.


O'BRIEN: A little Lenny Kravitz this morning.

Good morning. Good morning. It's "Coffee Time."

COSTELLO: Good morning. It is "Coffee Talk Time."

O'BRIEN: Tea to you. Coffee. Yes.

VERJEE: Tea. Already had three cups.

O'BRIEN: Have you. You're jacked up. All right. That'll get you through.

COSTELLO: I know, because tea has more caffeine than coffee.

O'BRIEN: Is that true?

COSTELLO: So you're flying.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to try that then.

VERJEE: And it's only this early.


COSTELLO: But it's a beautiful morning, isn't it?

You know, over the weekend I was reading my "Consumer Reports" magazine. An interesting article caught my eye. As I read it, I could relate. It was about packaging and the frustration of getting inside the package.

"Consumer Reports" actually has a list of the hardest to open items. Tops on the list, clamshell packages.

O'BRIEN: Drive me nuts. I can't stand them.

COSTELLO: I know. You cannot -- I mean you just can't pull it apart in any way. And not only are toothbrushes packaged this way, but toys are as well.


COSTELLO: And you can't pull them apart. In fact, they couldn't even use a scissors to get these things opened. They used a blowtorch. No, I'm just kidding. They didn't...

O'BRIEN: And the poor action figure got melted and lost an arm.


VERJEE: Why do they do it?

COSTELLO: Who knows? O'BRIEN: Shoplifters. It's all for the shoplifters. Really, that's because you know otherwise you can slip the doll in there and it just makes it harder to slip stuff out. But it's ridiculous.

COSTELLO: It is ridiculous. It took them nine minutes to open up the clamshell packages.


COSTELLO: Another thing on the list hard to open, CDs and DVDs.

O'BRIEN: I hate those. They are awful.

VERJEE: I can do that just with a pen. A typical pen is easy, just rip it, but it scratches the surface of that, but it opens it.

COSTELLO: It does, but then it's taped all over the place.

O'BRIEN: Right. Right.

COSTELLO: So it's not just the plastic outer covering.

VERJEE: That's when you get your teeth out and you gnaw a little bit at it...

O'BRIEN: Blowtorch. Bring that blowtorch back, yes.

COSTELLO: That's the secret. Yes, bring the blowtorch.

OK, and then blister packs on pills. You know the pills where you have to like pop them out from the bottom.

O'BRIEN: Those aren't so hard.

COSTELLO: Sometimes you have to like...

O'BRIEN: When you have to peel them?

COSTELLO: ... peel them apart.

O'BRIEN: I don't like those, so.

COSTELLO: Yes, those are tops on the list.


COSTELLO: And then surprisingly, cereal.

O'BRIEN: Really?

COSTELLO: Yes, not exactly the outside part of the box, but the inside. Yes, because when you open this up...

O'BRIEN: Yes, because they have become very difficult, haven't they? Why?

COSTELLO: Well to keep them fresh. So they sealed them. They hermetically seal them to never be open.


COSTELLO: But if you pull it apart this way,...

O'BRIEN: No, you can't do it. So what's the trick? I've always wanted to know what is the trick?

COSTELLO: There is no trick.

O'BRIEN: Blowtorch.

COSTELLO: Blowtorch.

VERJEE: When it finally opens, it spreads itself...


VERJEE: ... and finds itself in numerous places on the floor.


COSTELLO: And then it gets stale, exactly.

So that was my reading material over this snowy weekend.


VERJEE: Did you have a hard time coming in this morning?

COSTELLO: You know I didn't, because they did a great job of clearing the roads. Because you know I come to -- I live in Connecticut, so I go up 95 or down 95, I should say, because it's south, and 95 was clear. Amazing. Twenty-seven inches of snow cleared.

O'BRIEN: You know they say it's a million dollars an inch in New York.

COSTELLO: Well worth it.


VERJEE: Yes, that's right.

O'BRIEN: So that's 26.9 million bucks. And people...

COSTELLO: It was worth it, from my perspective.

O'BRIEN: ... are still trying to dig out -- dig their cars out of the streets.

VERJEE: Made the record books.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it did. Yes, it did. VERJEE: Well the morning's top stories are straight ahead, including more on the blizzard of 2006. The East Coast got a harsh reminder that winter is not over yet. So what can people expect today?

And later, people in New Orleans take time out from Katrina recovery to have a little bit of fun. I think they deserve a taste of the first post-Katrina Mardi Gras. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.