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American Morning

Hurricane Forecast for 2006 to be Released; Nagin Wins Re- Election as Mayor of New Orleans; Investigation Under Way in Kentucky Mine Explosion

Aired May 22, 2006 - 07:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And then there is this -- cold, hard cash. Little bit of cash in the freezer. Actually, a lot of cash in the freezer. That's what the FBI says it found in a congressman's home. And of course, now, his bribery investigation intensifies.
All right. Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: That was Sumi Das, we'll hear from her in just a moment.

S. O'BRIEN: A little audio problem with --

M. O'BRIEN: It was something about that start. That's not one of our better 7:00 a.m. Monday starts, but it is Monday and we're glad you're with us nonetheless.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's begin this morning with what's ahead in hurricane season, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Alright. We are bracing ourselves. The official 2006 hurricane forecast comes out about four hours from now and we expect it to predict a more active season than usual. We've been telling you that for sometime. I know you're thinking this sounds like a broken record, but this is the more definitive one. Of course we don't need to tell you it was the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record last year. Twenty-seven named storms in 2005. It was also one of the most costly seasons. Of course. According to FEMA, Katrina alone had insurance claims totaling $23 billion. Reconstruction costs totaling $200 billion. That's just one storm.

Let's get back to Chad Myers now. Chad, let's go through this one more time. We hear so many predictions -- Dr. Gray's prediction. Put this one in context with all the other predictions we've heard.

MYERS: The one that we're getting here today from the Hurricane Center will use all of the models that they have. All of the computers that we show you all the time and some that we don't get to show you and it will predict what the ocean temperature is doing, it will also take into account whether there's a La Nina going on, which is that cold build-up of water here and that cold build up of water actually occurs because the winds are blowing from east to west there. Blowing the warm weather over to like Darwin, over to Australia. And that makes an affect on the Atlantic season. That reduces the sheer over here. So that storms can actually build. There are so many things and I used some of them during Dr. Gray's explanation that they will use to give you a number. They'll give you a number of expected tropical storms, names. Also, an expected number of hurricanes and expected number of major hurricanes. They're not going to make too much I don't think yet on land falling predictions because, still, obviously this isn't the season yet, still about 10 days away. Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Alright Chad, thanks.

Just how confident are you in the government's ability to react to a disastrous storm? Out this morning a CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation shows that just 52 percent of Americans are confident that the government's going to be able to handle the damage. 45 percent say they are not confident. A new study on the New Orleans levees is out. Not flattering all. Design flaws, political bickering, all adding up to big trouble when hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast. Let's get right to CNN's Sean Callebs, he's live for us in New Orleans. Hey Sean good morning.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. We're here at the 17th street canal area where they're trying to put these flood gates in to protect the city. But if you ask a lot of folks, the flood gates are coming in one year too late. This new study is coming out, it's going to be made public in just a short while. People aren't going to be happy, because the report says a lot of damage here didn't have to happen.


CALLEBS: Katrina was a powerful storm. But it shouldn't have caused so much devastation. 80 percent of the flooding that destroyed New Orleans could have been prevented. That's according to an 8-month study by the National Science Foundation.

PROF. ROBERT BEA, U.C. BERKELEY ENGINEERING: That's the essence of the story is to say that undesirable, unanticipated breaching in the levees is what brought us to our knees.

CALLEBS: Bob Bea, a Cal Berkeley researcher is one of the authors of the study. During Katrina, almost all the water that poured into the heart of New Orleans was driven south, down canals leading from Lake Pontchartrain. Scientists say the reason flood walls and levees gave way, is simple.

BEA: Well we were trying to do this in a cheap way. Save money.

CALLEBS: We now know a design flaw by the Army Corps of Engineers allowed raging water to eat away soil far below the water line. The Corps had drilled cheep pilings 17-1/2 feet into the ground to guard against erosion. Scientists say it wasn't nearly deep enough.

BEA: Today we're driving them to deeper than 60 feet. CALLEBS: The Army Corps of Engineers says it won't comment on the study until it's read the entire document. Even with poor levee design, massive flood gates now going up along Lake Pontchartrain would have provided tremendous defense against flooding according to the report. But don't blame the Corps for that. Scientists say years of quidling back and forth among local governments killed flood gate plans.

BEA: Well it's petty, we've been dysfunctional, we forgotten really what the name of the game is and that's to protect the public.

CALLEBS: The lower ninth ward and St. Bernard Parish hit hardest by flooding. The study says in large part because the Army Corps used cheap, porous soil, instead of more stable clay on earthen levees that eroded quickly. He knows firsthand of what he speaks. He lived in New Orleans in the 1960s and saw his home flooded by hurricane Betsy. So with the new flood protection plans going on, would he move back?

BEA: The answer is, no. I wouldn't come back here and buy a house. I would come back here and rent a second floor apartment, which says I would proceed cautiously.


CALLEBS: Now think about that. A scientist who has four decades of experience in risk specialty. He wouldn't move back here and buy a house at this point. After reviewing a report, he says the damage here was not only preventable, it was predictable. Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Scary, scary word, isn't it Sean? Let me ask you a question. Now that you know or they know what went wrong, what's the plan to actually fix the problem?

CALLEBS: Well, the big plan is putting these flood gates in up in this area. Because you know as the counter clockwise spin comes in and would move north of the city, it would push all that water from lake Pontchartrain down these canals. There was nothing here to stop it before. People had reported for years that there were spots all along these canals where water was seeping under, where they were mushy on top. So they're trying to keep the water out from that area. However, when we heard about the steel pilings going down into the ground 60 feet, they're only doing that on along 800 feet of the canal. The other 20 miles, it's still at 17-1/2 feet.

S. O'BRIEN: Sean Callebs for us this morning. Sean thanks. Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: Well now that he's won a second term, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is turning his attention to the coming hurricane season and the post-Katrina rebuilding still to be done.

CNN's Susan Roesgen live now from New Orleans. Susan, I assume this surprised quite a few people there?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly did, certainly all the Mitch Landrieu supporters. It was a very close race Miles, but now Mayor Ray Nagin goes back to work.


ROESGEN (voice-over): Mayor Ray Nagin used to say that after hurricane Katrina no one would want his job. In the end, he barely held on to it. Nagin defeated Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu by fewer than 6,000 votes.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: It was a hard-fought battle and I want to reiterate my thanks to Mitch Landrieu for running a very good campaign. And we stayed on the high road. So I think that was pretty unusual for New Orleans because, you know, everywhere we would go, people were saying when are you all going to mix it up a little bit more? And we decided to kind of stick with the issues since people were dealing with so many tough issues.

ROESGEN: The issues are obvious and everywhere. Piles of trash on the streets. Thousands of flooded and abandoned cars. And neighborhood after neighborhood empty. Still enough of the voters believe Nagin deserves another chance to make things right. Nagin received more than 80 percent of the black vote. And just 20 percent of the white vote. But that 20 percent was key, Nagin was able to convince conservative white voters that Landrieu, part of a political dynasty in New Orleans with roots in the civil rights movement, was too liberal to be trusted.

SILAS LEE, POLITICAL ANALYST: It was a political shotgun marriage essentially where you had conservative whites coming together to support Mayor Nagin because he was closer in terms of political philosophy with them than Mitch Landrieu.

ROESGEN: Mayor Nagin, a Katrina survivor, is now a political survivor.

NAGIN: Ghandi said it best. He said, first they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. And then you win. God bless you!


ROESGEN: President Bush called the mayor to congratulate him, Miles, and the mayor says he also reached out to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. There's been some friction between the two of them but they really need each other to help New Orleans get back on track.

M. O'BRIEN: So what's that relationship like right now then between Blanco and Nagin?

ROESGEN: Well it's apparently nice at the moment. The mayor says he had a good talk with the governor, but you know there's a lot of politics in everything. But we have to hope that they have put some differences aside so that they can help the city recover.

M. O'BRIEN: So much to do there. What's he going to do first?

ROESGEN: His first three priorities, Miles, are housing, getting more housing for people here in New Orleans, getting businesses to come back. And getting people ready for the start of hurricane season.

M. O'BRIEN: Alright, Susan Roesgen. That's a lot of work to do right there I should say. Thank you very much. Stay tuned to CNN for more on the upcoming hurricane season. We've got correspondents on the scene. Jeanne Meserve with preparations in New York. Yes, New York. And John Zarrella on preparing for the hurricane season in a more familiar place to us, Florida. CNN remains your hurricane headquarters.

S. O'BRIEN: FBI agents searching a Louisiana congressman's D.C. home found more than frozen meat in the guy's freezer. The agents found $90,000 in cash in food containers in William Jefferson's freezer. An affidavit says the money was found last August. That affidavit used to obtain a warrant for the search of the Louisiana democrat's Capitol Hill office on Sunday. Jefferson is the focus of a bribery investigation. His lawyer says he's going to respond at the appropriate time if he's charged with any wrongdoing.

Investigators in eastern Kentucky hope to get their first look inside a mine disaster today. Five miners died in the explosion. It's the way they died though that's upsetting many, many people. Let's get right to CNN's Sumi Das she's live in Holmes Mill, Kentucky. That's about 225 miles west of Winston Salem, in North Carolina. Hey Sumi, good morning.

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you Soledad. , Well the Darby Mine accident brings the total number of coal mining fatalities in the U.S. this year to 31. Lawmakers describe the death toll as grim. But here in the eastern hills of Kentucky where many knew the miners, the numbers hit even harder.


DAS (voice-over): Three of the five miners killed in the eastern Kentucky mining explosion likely survived the initial blast, but later died of carbon monoxide poisoning, that according to the Harlan County coroner Philip Bianchi. That's little comfort to Tilda Thomas, whose husband Harris was among the three initial survivors.

TILDA THOMAS, WIDOW: I think of all I'm going to have to do with without him. I've just been with him since I was 16. The only man in my life I've ever known.

DAS: Two of the miners are thought to have died as a direct result of the explosion. A sixth miner Paul Ledford nicknamed Smiley survived the accident. The cause of the explosion is not yet known. But state officials say they're looking into the mine's methane level. It appears some of the miners used or tried to use self contained rescue devices after the blast. Paris Thomas' brother-in-law also works in the mining industry, though not at the Darby Mine. He says the emergency breathing devices for miners are insufficient.

RUSSELL TAYLOR, BROTHER-IN-LAW: I think they need to be improved. One hour is not long enough. If a man works an 8-hour shift, he should be able to last eight hours.

DAS: Russell Taylor says the mine where he works has taken steps to improve safety. But he questions why the government isn't doing more.

TAYLOR: If they had to do what we had to do, the laws would change real fast.

DAS: Do you think they're dragging their feet a little bit?

TAYLOR: I think they're dragging their feet because they don't want to spend a dollar.


DAS: In the last month, the Darby Mine has been cited 10 times by federal regulators. The citations vary in nature but the Mining Safety and Health Administration says the figures aren't unusual for a mine of Darby's size. Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: There's one survivor. His name is Paul Ledford. How is he doing today, Sumi?

DAS: Well, he has not spoken to the press directly. However, his siblings have. He apparently is taking this very hard. This is a very close-knit group of workers. It's a small community, as I mentioned before. Everybody really knows everybody else. And, apparently, his nickname is Smiley, as I mentioned. And, you know, he suffered some burns to his face and chest and arms and he's really taking the time to recuperate at this point. He apparently told his sister, Connie, that he believes he was unconscious for a couple of hours and that his breathing apparatus only lasted for about five minutes. Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: But he suffered some burns. Alright, well maybe we'll get a an opportunity to hear from him. Sumi Das for us this morning. Sumi thanks. Miles?

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, a new twist and a new suspect in the Natalee Holloway case. We'll tell you why authorities in Holland are involved.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, a California county's broken jail system. Some inmates being released so quickly that even they say the system's too soft on them. That's ahead.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Carol Costello. Barbaro, you saw the spectacular break. How did he make it through surgery? We'll have it for you just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Here's a look at some of the stories making news this morning. British Prime Minister Tony Blair makes an unannounced visit to Baghdad. He was there to show support for the new cabinet that was named over the weekend. Finally some relief for you at the pump. Not a lot, though. The first drop since late February. The Lundberg Survey shows the price of gas has dropped nearly two cents over the past two weeks. The average is now $2.93 a gallon.

Day six of the search for Jimmy Hoffa's remains on that Michigan farm. The FBI has dozens of acres left to search. So far they have not reported anything turning up in that 30-year-old disappearance.

M. O'BRIEN: Also in that part of the world, suburban Detroit, arraignment expected today for a man who police say drove his van into an inflatable moonwalk at a church carnival. Six children, two adults hurt. Police say the driver fled the scene. But was ultimately traced to his home in Troy, Michigan.

A Louisiana man faces murder charges today after killing four people at a church service in Baton Rouge Sunday allegedly. Police are still looking for a motive. They say the gunman then abducted his wife and allegedly killed her in a nearby apartment.

S. O'BRIEN: New suspect in the Natalee Holloway case. A friend apparently of Joran van der Sloot, remember that name. He worked in the casino on the island. His attorney says he's being held in the Netherlands on charges of murder and manslaughter.

A 7-year-old Arizona boy going to try to swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco. He's going to try in just a few hours in fact. If he makes it, he will become the youngest by two years to complete the nearly mile and a half swim. He's raising money for awareness in drowning prevention programs.

M. O'BRIEN: That Barbaro thing was just unbelievable.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh horrible to watch that.

M. O'BRIEN: It was unbelievable. The result of a tragic accident this weekend, one of the year's biggest races. It's -- his life literally hangs in the balance because a horse cannot live on three legs. Carol Costello live in the newsroom now with more on Barbaro's prognosis. Hello Carol.

COSTELLO: It's still 50/50 this morning Miles. Veterinarians do say Barbaro is resting comfortably on all four of his feet. On his leg he has a 16-hole plate with 23 screws inserted to stabilize the injury. That holds the leg immobile and it's hoped the bones will eventually fuse together. But the injury is so serious, Barbaro's chances are still 50/50.



COSTELLO (voice-over): Just seconds into Saturday's Preakness, disaster strikes. Barbaro's triple crown dreams suddenly over.

DEAN RICHARDSON, OPERATED ON BARBARO: This is a very, very serious injury. It's about as bad as it could be.

COSTELLO: The Kentucky Derby winner broke three bones in his right hind leg. One of the bones shattered in more than 20 pieces. Any one of the fractures alone doctor's consider catastrophic.

RICHARDSON: A horse forced to suffer this severe injury are typically put down on the racetrack.

COSTELLO: The grisly sight stunned the crowd of more than 118,000 at the Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore. Barbaro was taken to the University of Pennsylvania's Veterinary Hospital for surgery to repair his leg and save his life. The team of doctors spent more than five hours operating on Barbaro.

RICHARDSON: At this very moment, it's extremely comfortable on the leg, he practically jogged back to his stall. He pulled us back to the stalls.

MICHAEL MATZ, BARBARO'S TRAINER: From the last time I saw him until I see him now is a big relief to see. They did an excellent job and I can't praise Dean and his team, his staff for what they've done. I mean it's just -- it's just amazing to see him walk like that. And the first thing he went in and started eating hay, so they did a terrific job.

COSTELLO: But despite the good news, doctors say Barbaro's recovery is still uncertain.

RICHARDSON: This is just the absolute first step in any type of case like this. I mean, getting a horse up is a big step. But it is not the last step by any means.


COSTELLO: If you're wondering why Barbaro has to stay on his feet, well when in stress, horses stand. They're animals of flight so if they're scared, they just want to run. Also, if a horse lies down for long periods of time, it kind of messes up his gastrointestinal tract. We're going to talk to Dr. Dean Richardson about Barbaro's injury and the efforts to save his life in our 8:00 eastern hour. And if you're wondering Miles how he broke his leg, imagine twisting your ankle while running 40 miles per hour. That's essentially what he did.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, it really is amazing when you consider how much they weigh. Those tiny little legs they have, it's so much force goes on those bones and those muscles.

COSTELLO: Well he had just run the Kentucky Derby and that puts strain on your legs and two weeks later, he runs in the Preakness. So that also weakens the horse's legs.

M. O'BRIEN: Yeah that's one of the questions I want to ask the doctor about. You know, is it too much to ask these, you know, champion athletes after all to do what they have to do within two weeks' time. It might be too much. Who knows? Carol, thank you. S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, it looks as if U.S. oil companies have a surprising new source of oil. Andy's going to explain what it could all mean for oil prices as he minds your business just ahead.

Plus, we saw just how much damage a natural disaster like hurricane Katrina can wreak. So why are most people still not prepared for a disaster in their hometowns? That's ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING, we're back in a moment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of Leonardo DaVinci's most famous sketches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the scar on his skin?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And its meaning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pinnacle is a pagan religious icon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Devil worshipper.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, all the codes in "The Da Vinci Code" translates into some pretty big money at the box office. Not a record exactly. But pretty darn close. The film brought in $77 million here in the U.S. $224 million. $224 million.

M. O'BRIEN: Quarter of a billion.

S. O'BRIEN: Worldwide. That's right. You must be the business guy. That would be the second biggest worldwide release ever right behind "Star Wars Episode 3."

M. O'BRIEN: So critics be darned you might say.

S. O'BRIEN: That's not the first time that's happened.

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Interesting that they're rolling it out worldwide like that. Usually they just do the U.S. first and then -- They want to get all the money up front looks like.

M. O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer what's going on in the business world?

SERWER: Speaking of money up front, actually, some good news for everybody out there this morning. The price of gasoline is dropping in the United States. Average price of unleaded $2.93 a gallon down from $2.95 over the past two weeks according to the old Lundberg Survey. This is the first decline since February. The first decline since February. However the price of gas is still 70 cents a gallon more expensive than it was in February.

M. O'BRIEN: Kind of half empty I view --

SERWER: Yes. But now --

M. O'BRIEN: -- point that out.

SERWER: Yes, I did. The reason here is pretty clear. The price of oil has dropped from a high of $75 a barrel, now we're down below $68 a barrel this morning. So if that continues to stay down, expect prices to go down or stay down a little bit more, as well. And were you in Hammond, Indiana on Friday? If you were and you passed by a Marathon gas station, you might have gotten a real windfall yourself. 50 customers paid $29 cents a gallon for gasoline at this Marathon gas station. It was a mistake. Instead of $2.90 they did 29 when they keyed it in.

S. O'BRIEN: I thought they were celebrating something.

SERWER: People thought -- so that's what they thought it was a promotion, went in and just gassed up.

M. O'BRIEN: You wish at that point you had a thousand gallon tank.


S. O'BRIEN: I wonder how much money that gas station lost.

SERWER: Yeah they lost a little bit. And meanwhile, just quickly here there's a bill passed by the house on Friday that would look to get money back from the oil companies. Leases that exempted big oil drillers like Exxon and Conoco Phillips, exempted them from as much as $10 billion in fees. Now a new bill will try to get that money back. These were leases that were exempt from fees back in the late 1990s when oil was $10 a barrel. There was no upside to them. In other words, if the price of oil went up, there was no provision in these bills to go after more money from these companies. Republicans say a contract is a contract. Democrats say this was a mistake. So, interesting to see what the senate does with this legislation as it goes over.

M. O'BRIEN: Ten dollars a barrel.


M. O'BRIEN: Imagine that.

SERWER: Yep. Back in those days.

M. O'BRIEN: Back in them der days. Alright thank you, Andy Serwer.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, we saw how bad it got after Katrina in New Orleans. But if a disaster were to hit your hometown, would you be ready? We have some alarming answers for you straight ahead.

And later on the program, an early release program that puts so many inmates back on the streets, even the inmates say they're getting let off easy. That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.