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American Morning

Swarm of Twisters Cuts Across South; Atlanta Bus Crash

Aired March 02, 2007 - 08:01   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Devastating tornadoes. Grim new details here in Alabama this morning. Eight teenagers killed in a tornado as it roared through their high school and they huddled. More than a dozen other people are dead as a swarm of twisters cuts across the South.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: A tragic crash. A charter bus college a baseball team falls off of a highway overpass in Atlanta, and now the number of dead has increased to six this morning.

We're going to have a live report from the scene straight ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien, reporting live from Enterprise, Alabama, where it is a very grim day after.

Good morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: Good morning.

And I'm Kiran Chetry, here in New York, in for Soledad O'Brien, and we do have a lot of bad and difficult news to talk about this morning, including the latest on this bus crash that happened in Atlanta.

But first, Miles in the storm zone, with the latest there.

O'BRIEN: Yes, thank you, Kiran.

This is just one site. There were no less than 28 tornadoes spawned by that storm, a 1,000-mile-long storm from Minnesota all the way to the Gulf, which gave blizzard conditions to the north and, of course, tornadoes here.

Take a look. This is the Enterprise High School, and -- well, frankly, what's left of it. And officials there -- that's fire department, police department. The mayor has been in there huddling with them.

One of the things they're trying to figure out is some sort of place for the high-schoolers to continue going to school. They haven't figured that out yet.

The mayor told us just a little while ago, broke the news right here on CNN, that eight teenagers died in this high school as this tornado came through here at 1:15 yesterday, huddling in a hallway. They had been dismissed. They were on their way to buses. They turned them back around, got them in the school, and possibly saved many lives in the course of all that.

The fact is, this storm hit directly on top here. There may not have been anything they could have done to save those eight lives that were lost as they huddled here, and as that storm came through.

Once again, the total death toll is quite large here. We're talking about 21 people in all. Of course, the eight here, one other person in Enterprise, and one person in Missouri, and then nine others in neighboring Georgia, as the storm swept from Alabama into Georgia.

Storms focusing in on, among other places, Americus, Georgia, and the hospital there. And that's where we find CNN's Jeanne Meserve this morning.

Good morning, Jeanne.


If you want to get a sense of how fast the winds were moving here, look behind me. You can see a two-by-four that must have come flying through the air. It went into a cinderblock wall, and it's still there. That was flying at a very high rate of speed.

A lot of people have come out today to see the damage to this hospital. This is the Sumter Regional Hospital. They had to evacuate last night. They had about 55 patients that they moved by bus and ambulance to three or four other hospitals in the area. It all went well, although two people here in the county did die last night in this just horrific storm.

As bad as it was, not everyone was aware of what was happening. This morning we saw a woman in a nurse's uniform carrying her lunch here in the parking lot. She said she lived only three miles away. She went to bed early last night. When she drove to work this morning, she was shocked to see trees down.

Then she pulled into this parking lot and saw that. This is what Dana Rylander had to say.


DANA RYLANDER, NURSE, SUMTER REGIONAL HOSPITAL: Not only is it a place for people to get healthcare, it's our jobs, a lot of people's jobs. It's gone. It's just gone. Just in, what, five minutes? It's gone.


MESERVE: She's very worried about the patients here, also about her fellow nurses and doctors. She says she just can't imagine the sort of responsibility they were carrying last night as they tried to move these people, some of them critically ill, out of their hospital beds to other facilities in the area.

The devastation is becoming more clear as it becomes lighter here. It's simply astounding to see, but already they are trying to put things to right.

There are power trucks here, we hear the chainsaws going. There have been backhoes moving some of the debris out of the road. They're going to be trying hard to put this town in order quickly, but they have a tough road to hoe.

Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve in Americus, Georgia.

And to the north of Jeanne, in Atlanta, some breaking news this morning. Kiran with more on that -- Kiran.

CHETRY: That's right. It's a terrible bus accident, a deadly bus crash. It was a charter bus was carrying a group of college baseball students, 35, as well as chaperones and others. And what happened was, apparently as it was trying to exit off this overpass on Northside Drive, the bus instead overshot, went off the overpass, and actually fell.

There it is. It ended up on its side on Interstate 75.

They keep revising the number of those injured and killed, and unfortunately, it's going up. Six people killed in that crash, according to the Atlanta Police Department spokesman. Dozens of others injured. Nine are said to be seriously injured, and then 20 more they describe as the walking wounded, those who managed to actually, in some cases, get themselves out of the bus, using one of the emergency hatches there.

Firefighters also working to get people out of -- through the roof, out of that crash and onto ambulances, stretchers, and then on to area hospitals. There still is no word on exactly how the crash happened.

We do know at this point that Interstate 75 is going to be closed from the I-275 Interstate junction North, all the way into Atlanta. And they say that as they continue to look at this accident scene and try to piece together exactly what happened, this is going to continue.

And we have Amanda Rosseter, who is at the scene as well, who is able to give us an update now on what she is seeing -- Amanda.

AMANDA ROSSETER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are here at the Intersection of Northside Drive and 75, a very busy intersection on a normal day. What we understand happened just before daylight this morning, over my shoulder, a tour bus from Bluffton University in Ohio -- we understand that's just outside of Cleveland -- a baseball team on board, 35 on board -- that includes students and chaperones -- we understand at this point, six dead, nine are seriously wounded and 20 are walking wounded. The wounded survivors of course have been taken to local area hospitals.

What we understand happened is that the bus driver was traveling in the HOV lane coming south on 75. That takes a different split and an exit.

You can either go right or left when you get to the top of this bridge. He did neither. He went straight across, went through the curved, large fence that abuts the bridge over my shoulder, went straight through that fence, over the overpass, and landed on 75 south below.

They have 75 south completely blocked off here. It is a very busily-traveled highway on a normal day. As you can imagine, it is causing gridlock around Atlanta right now. And we understand that right now there is a staging area under the bride over my shoulder, six bodies lying side by side there.

The survivors have been taken to area hospitals, and we'll keep you updated on what's happening here.

I'm Amanda Rosseter, reporting live in Atlanta.

Back to you.

CHETRY: And Amanda, do we know if the driver survived?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the driver survive?

ROSSETER: We do not know. We do not know identities of the six dead or who survived of the nine who were serious, or of the 20 that are walking wounded.

We have heard reports that this may be being called a crime scene at this point. We understand that from one of the local officers.

We do not have confirmation on that or why it would be called a crime scene at this point, but we, again, do not know the identities of the six dead. We understand that some of the survivors, when witnesses first arrived on the scene, were climbing out of the emergency hatch. The bus is lying on its side at this point, and emergency vehicles still around it, and they are collecting evidence at this point.

Back to you.

CHETRY: All right. Amanda Rosseter at the scene of that deadly crash.

We'll check in with you a little later. Thanks so much.

Meantime, let's head over to Chad Myers. He's in the weather center.


O'BRIEN: And as we've been saying here this morning, eight teenagers died right in this school, huddling. Whether it was 160, 180 miles an hour, it was not enough -- the school was not enough to protect them from this storm. Just over that building -- and that's the direction the storm was coming in from -- just over that building is a neighborhood which has sustained a tremendous amount of damage. Sean Callebs is there right now, and Sean can give us a sense of the kind of damage he's seen there as well.

Sean, good morning.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

We're actually looking right back at the school where you are now, so you can see just how widespread this damage was. Just look at -- just sheered the tops of these trees off. In the distance there you can see the stadium, the remnants of the football stadium, the windows blown out up there, and some of the damage from the school. And even from this distance it just looks so extensive.

And one thing about a tornado like this, you really -- it's hard to tell which way the wind was blowing, at what time, where the damage occurred. Because if you look back up this way, just over this devastated SUV, you see a number of other pine trees just snapped over, lying on their sides.

And if you keep looking up the street, the damage just goes on and on and on. This is pretty widespread damage for a tornado.

In the far distance there's a church with the windows blown out and rows of houses just simply devastated. Cars have been picked up, flipped all over the place, roofs blown off. Really nothing left of this.

And if you look down further into this valley, if you will, a little separation between the homes, more roofs ripped off. But to the left of that -- you can't really see terribly well -- the homes look perfectly intact. And that's one thing so devastating about a storm like this. It comes in such a violent fashion, and people do everything they can.

Chad talked about those warnings that went up. We talked to some first responders here last night. And Miles, one police officer told me when he arrived here, debris was still blowing around in the air.

And we also talked about this last hour, Miles, but I think it bears reporting. When we were in Arkansas for the tornado there last week, someone with the National Weather Service came up and said, you know, if we're having storms this violent -- and it was the end of February at the time, now second day of March -- it does not bode well for the time when tornadoes really can be spawned through this Tornado Alley. And boy, his words were tragically, tragically prophetic -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Sean Callebs, just about a half mile from where I stand here.

And I'm right next door to the high school. This is the elementary school here. Take a look at this school bus here. There's not -- I guess the windshield is still there, but every other piece of glass is gone in that. Fortunately, fortunately, none of the elementary school kids were hurt in all this. The shelter worked out well for them.

Questions this morning about the shelter plan here. It was just at the time they were supposed to be going home. They were on their way to the buses. They got them back inside. They were heading for the halls, where they should.

Did they do everything they could? They say that's the case here in the town. We're going to check in with an expert and see what he says about how you shelter from a storm of this strength.

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: And we're back again, and we're following this latest breaking news this morning out of Atlanta, where a bus overturned on the overpass, ended up landing on Interstate 75, right there on the ground.

And we have with us on the phone this morning Captain Kennedy. He is a public information officer with the Atlanta Fire Department.

Captain, thanks for being with us.

CAPT. BYRON KENNEDY, ATLANTA FIRE DEPT.: You're welcome. Thank you.

CHETRY: Can you update us right now on the scene? We still see the bus overturned and we still see what appears to be some fire and rescue personnel out there.

KENNEDY: Absolutely. We still have the expressway southbound, about seven lanes of traffic that are still blocked. They are in the process now of uprighting the bus, and there are still one or two more fatality patients (ph) that are going to be leaving the scene very soon.

CHETRY: And 29 people all transported to area hospitals. Do you have any updates right now on the conditions?

KENNEDY: No, it's difficult to say. I did speak with several of the individuals who -- of the other firefighters who were here and were providing care to the injured. They say that basically the injured -- the injuries go from minor scrapes and bruises, all the way up to major life-threatening injuries. And, of course, (INAUDIBLE) cared for several individuals here prior to being transported to one of the local hospitals.

CHETRY: How many feet down is it from that overpass onto the highway?

KENNEDY: I'm actually standing now on the overpass, and it's about 25 feet, maybe 30 feet or so down.

CHETRY: So a far way to fall for a lot of these people. It's amazing that there were 20 who were able to get themselves out and walk away, given just how traumatic it must have been flying down there on a huge bus.

KENNEDY: Absolutely. A very large drop for especially such a heavy vehicle and for even an individual car.

CHETRY: All right.

Captain Byron Kennedy, the public information officer with the Atlanta Fire Department, updating us on that deadly crash.

And again, the number of dead stands at six, with nine people seriously injured and 20 others who were able to walk away but also probably need a little bit of treatment. We'll continue to follow that.

Meanwhile, we're going to head back to Alabama and Miles.

O'BRIEN: Kiran, thank you very much.

All morning long we've been talking to officials here in the town of Enterprise, Alabama, and asking them about the warnings and about the response to those warnings. The emergency management director here for Coffee County says there were no less than three separate tornado warnings issued all throughout the afternoon yesterday. The last one preceding the storm that hit this school behind me and ultimately killed eight teenagers.

The question is, how did those teenagers die? Why did they die? Were they in the place they should have been? Did they respond to the hallways, to the shelters as they should have?

We're joined now by an expert on all this, how you can keep kids safe in a school.

Roger Edwards is with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He is a severe storm specialist. He's at of a school in Norman, Oklahoma.

And Roger, as a storm is coming, where are the safe places in your typical school?

ROGER EDWARDS, SEVERE STORMS SPECIALIST: Well, typical schools may not necessarily have these, but I think this school here in Oklahoma has done a good job. We're at Washington Elementary here in Norman, Oklahoma, Miles. And what they've done is they've replaced portable classrooms with more permanent structures and safe rooms.

And we're going to go into one of these right now and show how it can be done.

This is a -- this is a classroom at the elementary school here. And this classroom is actually built with reinforced concrete and steel inside the walls that will help to protect the students inside from tornado-force winds. And in this school, in this safe room, as we call it, all the walls are made of this reinforced steel and concrete material. Of course, they're covered with the usually decorations that you'll see.

One thing you may notice as you pan around, here at the back, where there normally would be windows, there is not. There are no windows that face the outside. That's a very important thing, is to protect the kids from flying glass and other flying debris.

A tornado basically is a giant blender. And so what you want to do is keep the kids out of that and keep them as safe as possible.

O'BRIEN: Roger, let me ask you this...

EDWARDS: Yes, Miles?

O'BRIEN: You're in Norman, Oklahoma. That's -- that's right in the heart of what they call Tornado Alley. And it wouldn't surprise me the schools there build with that in mind.

This is a town where they can't recall having any sort of serious tornado hit. It's apparently not as frequent here, for whatever reason.

What should -- what should towns -- what should cities and schools that haven't built with this in mind, what can they do to protect kids when that less likely scenario happens and a tornado is bearing down on them?

EDWARDS: Well, the most important thing for any school is to have a plan in place and to drill that plan with the kids several times throughout the year. It's important, especially with younger kids, but even with older ones, to have a tornado drill, even in Alabama, even in places that may not necessarily have quite the frequency of tornadoes we do here in Oklahoma. And by the way, Alabama is a very tornado-prone state.

And a very important part of that is having a NOAA weather radio in the school. All schools in the country either do or should have a weather radio that will alarm tornado warnings and other severe weather warnings for their county. And these radios are programmable to every county in the country so that you can get custom-specific warnings for that.

O'BRIEN: Roger, a final thought here. A Quick final thought here. Should --should a school have a place that can withstand even the strongest of tornadoes?

EDWARDS: Well, there's no place that's absolutely safe in the strongest of tornadoes. What we try to do is minimize casualties, knowing that in the strongest tornado...

O'BRIEN: All right. Roger -- Roger, I'm sorry. Roger, I'm sorry. I know you'll understand when we interrupt you on this one.


O'BRIEN: Apparently we have word of a tornado warning. I'm going to go to Chad Myers, our severe weather expert in Atlanta.


O'BRIEN: Our apologies to Roger Edwards, but I think we got the general gist from him. He's with that NOAA -- severe storm specialist. We appreciate his time in helping us understand a little bit how to keep kids safe in schools as tornadoes bear down on them.

Lots on our plate ahead. We're going to keep you up to date on what's going on with the tornadoes, the current warnings, and that terrible bus crash in Atlanta.

The most news in the morning is right here. Stay with us.


CHETRY: And we have some breaking news to tell you about. A tornado warning in effect in Pamlico County, North Carolina. This is in effect from now until 8:45 Eastern Standard Time, according to the National Weather Service.

They have issued this. They say that there is going to be a thunderstorm system that is capable of producing a tornado. They also say to watch out for possible inch-size hail and destructive straight- line winds.

Again, this tornado warning in effect for Pamlico County, North Carolina, for about the next 15 minutes. And we'll get an update from Chad Myers in just a couple of minutes.

Something else we've been covering for you all morning, and that is tragedy in Atlanta. Interstate 75, the scene right there where a bus fell off of an overpass, ended up on its side on Interstate 75.

Six people confirmed killed, with about nine others seriously wounded and 20 others being referred to as "walking wounded". And as you can see, the line of cars just lined up there.

Interstate 75, according to the police and fire officials we spoke with earlier here on AMERICAN MORNING, say that that interstate will be shut down, at least that area, from about I-275 to downtown Atlanta for the better part of the day as they conduct the investigation into that deadly crash.

Meantime, in other news this morning, the 11 jurors in the Scooter Libby trial will resume their deliberations this morning. Not for long, though, because the judge granted their request to leave early today. Deliberations now expected to go into next week.

Savannah Guthrie has been covering the Libby trial for Court TV and she joins us from the courthouse in Washington. A short day today at the request of the jurors. Why is that? SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: Well, the jurors have personal obligations, medical obligations that they want to attend to this afternoon. But of course we don't have to read too far between the lines to see that this is a jury that doesn't think that they're going to reach a verdict this morning, and probably plans to be back next week.

CHETRY: So the longer it goes, what do they say? The conventional wisdom is that helps the defense.

GUTHRIE: That is the rule of thumb, that a long deliberation favors the defense. But not necessarily in this case, because it's a high-profile case. There was four weeks of testimony, over 135 exhibits. And we don't know too much about what this jury is doing back there, but one thing that seems clear is that they're very careful, very conscientious. They keep asking for more office supplies. It seems like they're making charts. They wanted a dictionary yesterday. They're parsing words. So I guess I'm not surprised that this deliberation has taken a long time.

CHETRY: All right. So no news for this week, at least. We'll see -- we'll check in with you and see what happens early next week. Savannah Guthrie from Court TV, thank you.


CHETRY: Coming up, we're live in Enterprise, Alabama, where eight teenagers were killed in that tornado after it hit their high school.

Plus, the body of Anna Nicole Smith is now headed for the Bahamas this morning. It will be her final resting place.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.


O'BRIEN: Devastating tornadoes, grim, new details here in Alabama this morning. Eight teenagers killed in a tornado that roared through their high school. Nearly a dozen other people dead as a swarm of twisters pummel the south, and more could strike this morning.

CHETRY: Also, a tragic crash. A charter bus carrying a college baseball team falls off of a highway overpass in Atlanta, lands on Interstate 75, and at least six people are confirmed dead this morning. We're going to get a live report from the scene straight ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, live from Enterprise, Alabama. I'm Miles O'Brien. Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: We have a busy morning, in fact. I'm Kiran Chetry in for Soledad O'Brien today. Thanks so much for joining us. We will update you on that Atlanta bus crash, but first Miles with the latest on what's going on there in the aftermath of the tornado.

O'BRIEN: Enterprise, Alabama, Kiran, in shock this morning. This is the scene here at the high school. Take a look at the debris all around here. Of course, a lot of roofing materials, a lot of pieces of wood.

This looks like some kind of siren or public-address system. It's very heavy, and it was ripped off from whatever it was attached to. Come on over here and we'll show you what's going on up toward the building. All kinds of roofing materials, as you can see there. Some sort of container with water. This is the Junior ROTC Booster Club trailer here, completely upended.

Then as you take a look beyond here, take a look at that doorway and look how it just got blasted. Obviously, being anywhere near glass was not the place to be yesterday. Eight students, eight teenagers, inside this building and this complex, killed yesterday by this tornado. They had been dismissed. Some of them were headed to the buses. They got them back in the buildings. Everybody here says they did everything they should. Took them to the hallways, the interior hallways where they should have been safe. But this building clearly could not withstand the force of that tornado.

So that's just one sight in what was a deadly day of tornadoes, 28 no less, 21 people killed all across the country. And we have more bad weather and warnings this morning. We're going keep you up to date on all that.

Let's go back to Kiran with more on yet another bit of breaking news in Atlanta -- Kiran.

CHETRY: That's right, the bus crash. I just wanted to ask you quickly, the eight teenagers that were killed in that building, were they all in the same area? Or why is it so many were able to get out, and those eight lost their lives?

O'BRIEN: This is -- we're very unclear on this right now. We were told this morning that they were in -- headed toward the hallways, but it's unclear to us. There were other reports in the media that they might have been in an auditorium, which would not have been a good place to be. Still trying to sort that out.

CHETRY: All right, Miles, we'll check in with you in a few minutes, and as you mentioned, this deadly bus crash in Atlanta. Six people are now confirmed dead after a bus carrying a college baseball team crashed on Interstate 75. The bus apparently rolled off of an overpass, and then landed on its side on the highway. I-75 still closed in both directions. We're told the college team onboard was from Bluffton University, and it was headed from Ohio to Florida for a baseball tournament.

Also, a change at the top for Walter Reed Army Medical center. Its commander, Major General George Weightman, fired following reports of poor conditions at a hospital building where troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan went to recuperate. General Weightman has been on the job only six months. So far, they have not named a permanent replacement.


CHETRY: In other news, the body of Anna Nicole Smith will soon land in the Bahamas, where she will be buried today. Smith's casket was loaded onto a plane this morning at Miami International Airport for that flight to Nassau. And that is where CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us this morning -- Susan.


In fact, given the flight time, that body may already have landed here in Nassau. We're waiting for official word on that. Here at the church, preparations are well under way. They started before the sun came up. All kinds of security here, church personnel, as well as a TV production crew with all kinds of cameras and lights being set up, and yes, even a red carpet is here, ready to be rolled out for the 300 or so invited guests who will be attending. guests that include, of course, Anna Nicole Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur. She will be here, as well as Larry Birkhead. That is the ex-boyfriend who claims to be the biological father of baby Dannielynn, who is now almost 6 months old now. That's Anna Nicole Smith's baby, who has been living here in the Bahamas.

The body, when it flew here from Miami, was accompanied by the Broward County medical examiner at the request of the judge in this case that lasted more than three weeks.

Also along, the guardian that was appointed by the court to represent Dannielynn's best interests. He will be speaking here at the church before the funeral service starts.

And finally, of course, Anna Nicole Smith will be buried as she wanted, next to her son Daniel, in the cemetery not far from here.

Back to you, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Susan Candiotti live for us in the Bahamas this morning. Thanks so much.

We've been following this bus accident that took place in Atlanta on Interstate 75, and we're going to go right now to CNN's Don Lemon, who is at the scene with more for us right now -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Kiran, we understand they just righted that bus. That bus is on the other side of this hill here, on Interstate 75 and Northside Drive in Atlanta. It happened just before dawn this morning, we're told. You can hear, it's a very busy scene. Police officers are on the scene.

As I arrived here, I don't know if you can see this, but this is some of the luggage passing me now from the bus that they took off the side of this interstate just a short time ago.

As I arrived here, they were collecting that luggage and now they're putting it into the truck and taking it, who knows where, I guess to go back to their rightful owners.

Joining me now on the scene is police Officer Joe Cobb, the Atlanta Police Department public information officer. This happened just before dawn.

JOE COBB, ATLANTA POLICE DEPT.: Yes, it happened around 5:40 a.m.

LEMON: Apparently, the bus driver going south, I-75, got off the exit ramp, but didn't turn left or right?

COBB: It appears the bus driver took the left exit onto Northside Drive from the HOV lane. The HOV lane splits just prior to Northside Drive. If you stay in the right lane, it continues south on I-75. If you get in the left lane, it goes up around through Northside Drive. He went up that ramp, across Northside Drive, hit that bridge embankment and landed on the interstate below.

LEMON: We understand that six people have perished in this.

COBB: We have confirmed that six people are dead. There is 20 walking wounded. And nine people are seriously injured.

LEMON: Yes, and you don't know if any other cars were involved? Because there is another car with apparently a smashed-up roof, but we're not sure.

COBB: We do think there may have been other vehicles involved, we just haven't confirmed it yet.

LEMON: The bus may have landed or debris from that bus may have hit it.

COBB: Well, the bus didn't land on the cars, because the cars would still be there, but there may have been damage to cars as a result of the accident.

LEMON: Do we know if the driver is still alive in all this?

COBB: I don't any condition about of the driver.

LEMON: Apparently, a baseball team, Bluffton, Ohio, on their way to Florida this morning, and then this.

COBB: Yes, we're told it's a baseball team from Bluffton University, which is about an hour south of Toledo, Ohio, and they were en route to a competition in Florida.

LEMON: OK. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

COBB: You're welcome.

LEMON: Officer Joe Cobb from the police department here in Atlanta. Again, as he said, six people have died in all of this. We have nine who are seriously injured and 20 walking wounded. I spoke to a witness, an eyewitness, who saw at least the tail end of the accident, and said he saw people crawling out of the hatch of the bus in pretty bad condition. It was so cold this morning here in Atlanta. They were asking for blankets or for something to warm them up. So again, six people have died in this accident. We'll keep you updated. Back to you now in New York -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. And Interstate 75, the southbound lanes are still closed.

Don Lemon, thanks so much.

I think we just heard him confirming that. We'll check in a little later as well.

Meanwhile, a quick check of the race for 2008, the presidential race, that is. John McCain's campaign hasn't even officially started, and he's already apologizing for something he said on the campaign trail. For some answers, we turn to our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley this morning from Washington.

Hi, Candy.


LEMON: Let's listen quickly to his comment and then I'll have you weigh in.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, over there.


CHETRY: And then later, after a little bit of controversy, Candy, he said he meant to say sacrifice, not wasted. Is this really going to be a setback for him?

CROWLEY: I think probably it's -- right now it's sort of being fomented by the Democrats. I think probably Barack Obama certainly did a lot to save McCain on this, and said nobody can question McCain's dedication to the troops. He's been there. He was one. This was a slip of the tongue, according to the McCain campaign. They have heard him talk about the blood and treasure that's being spent over in Iraq. They say it was a slip of the tongue. He didn't mean to use that word wasted. I don't think it has that much leg beyond a couple of weeks.

CHETRY: But he is coming out and criticizing the war effort, something that he has actually supported. So is that stance going to hurt him?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, what's interesting is there are signs within the polls that what's hurting him is his support of the war. He's walking this incredibly fine line between supporting the gist of the war, that is, why we're there, supporting the troops, and yet being critical of how it's been carried out. So he's trying to show that he does have differences with the president on how this has been carried out, because obviously, that's been very unpopular. And yet, still support the war. So I think you saw some of that balance go out of balance on "The David Letterman" show.

CHETRY: All right, and the "Time" magazine poll, the latest one, shows Giuliani with a 14-point lead over McCain, so he does have some ground to make up, let's put it that way.

Candy Crowley, thanks so much for joining us this morning.


CHETRY: And coming up, we're going to get the latest from Chad Myers on the new tornado warnings that are out this morning.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, the most news in the morning, live this morning from Enterprise, Alabama, where eight teenagers died in the high school behind me as that tornado swept through here.

In just a moment, you're going to meet these folks here and their dogs. They were inside the school last night, searching for survivors and those that lost their lives as well. Just to get an accounting, and we'll hear their harrowing tale in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Back here in Enterprise, Alabama, these folks, these four folks, are volunteers from Mobile, Alabama. These dogs are specially trained to look for human beings caught in the wreckage like we saw here, unfortunately, yesterday.

We'll try to get to everybody. We may not have time to talk to everybody here, but let's begin with the highest rank here, Captain Kenny Tillman. He's with the Mobile Fire Department. His dog is Bear. And you all were in this interior hallway last night.


O'BRIEN: Tell us what that was like and what you found there.

TILLMAN: Well, when we arrived, we got here around 10:00. Just concrete, you know, concrete stacked on top of each other, which had collapsed in the hallway. And the Dothan Fire Department and was already, and with the mobile fire department, along with other volunteers had already been pulling the victims out. And we just come behind them and ensure that it was all accounted with our dogs and ensure there was no other live victims. We only look for live victims with the dogs.

O'BRIEN: Did you find everybody? Or by that time was everybody accounted for?

TILLMAN: No, by that time they were bringing the last one out, everyone had been accounted for. So we just, you know -- we went ahead and searched, made sure that was OK.

O'BRIEN: There's been a lot of confusion about where these kids who were killed were. They were in an interior hallway then, and that's where they should have been, I guess.

TILLMAN: Yes, sir. My understanding, that's where the majority of the victims and the survivors were, in the hallway. That's where the worst devastation was.

O'BRIEN: Let me introduce you to Melanie Faulkner. Her dog is Hemi.

By the way, that's Bear there.

Melanie, this is difficult work. What was that like? I mean, you know, especially when kids are involved.

MELANIE FAULKNER, MOBILE URBAN RESCUE: Yes, sir. It's kind of troubling. I've got a 17-year-old at home that's, you know, it could have been her, so.

O'BRIEN: What was going through your mind then?

FAULKNER: Just, you know, you hope that you don't find bodies, but you hope that you do at the same time.

O'BRIEN: Let's go back to the end here. I want to talk to Terry Herman. That's Kanga, who happens to be Bear's sister. These dogs, they perform -- they're working dogs, aren't they? What were they doing for you yesterday?

TERRY HERMAN, MOBILE URBAN RESCUE: Well, they were, like Kenny had already said, were looking for live victims. Hopefully -- luckily, there was no one else to be found, but looking for if there were any kids in there that had not lost lives and we could get them out before they did lose their lives.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for your efforts, your volunteer work, Melanie, Terry, and Kenny. We appreciate your efforts here in Enterprise, and I know the people of Enterprise do as well.

Back to you, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Miles, thanks so much.

And "CNN NEWSROOM's" just moments away actually.

Betty Nguyen is at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead.

Hi, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Kiran. We've got these stories are on the rundown today: accident in Atlanta. A charter bus filled with baseball players topples off a bridge, at least six deaths.

Also, several southern towns struggle to get back on their feet today. Tornadoes leave more than a dozen dead in southern Alabama and Georgia. We're going to talk with some survivors.

And the funeral for model Anna Nicole Smith this morning. She'll be buried in the Bahamas after weeks of legal wrangling.

Tony and Heidi are off. T.J. Holmes joins me in the NEWSROOM today, just minutes from now.

CHETRY: All right, Betty, thanks so much.

And coming up, we're continuing to follow here on AMERICAN MORNING the deadly bus accident in Atlanta, the bus filled with college athletes, baseball players headed to a tournament. It plunged off an overpass. We have some new pictures of the injured arriving at an Atlanta hospital. Twenty people were able to walk away. We're going to bring you an update on that, coming up.



We're getting some new pictures in now of the scene of the accident, the bus crash in Atlanta. We have been showing you all morning the pictures. The bus went off of the overpass and it was on its side. They righted it just a few moments ago. It looks like this is one of the first steps in being able to clear the accident scene and hopefully reopen the southbound lanes of Interstate 75 that have been shut down since that pre-dawn accident.

Meanwhile, we're going to go now to CNN's Don Lemon at the scene. He has someone with him who actually witnessed that accident in the moments after it happened -- Don.

LEMON: We do. And also, Kiran, we also have new video from the hospital. We understand our Sanjay Gupta has been called in as well to Grady Hospital. Some of the injured folks who were brought there -- we're told nine people are seriously injured. We have 20 who are walking wounded. And of course, as you reported, we have six people who died in all of this. As you reference, Kiran, Mike Morris from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution just happened to be on the way to work this morning.

Mike, you said it was about 5:00, 5:30 this morning?

MIKE MORRIS, WITNESS: Yes, just a little after 5:30. And I came over the hill on 35 and I could see the brake lights ahead of me, and traffic came to a stop. I got over to the side of the road. I called 911, didn't know if anyone had called yet, and they had not gotten any calls yet. I thought at first it was a tractor-trailer, and I got out of the car, and as I was walking towards the vehicle, then I could see the emergency hatch come open and people climbing out of it. I realized it was a charter bus, and it sort of sent chills up me, because I work with a musical group that travels 10,000 miles every summer on charter buses.

LEMON: So you saw them coming out of the hatch. Give me their condition and tell what they asked you questions?

MORRIS: They didn't really ask me anything. They all seemed dazed like maybe they had been asleep. A lot of blood, a lot of bloody faces.

LEMON: They were calling for blankets?

MORRIS: Yes, yes. Me and everybody else who had stopped, we're trying to get the young people over to the side of the road or out of the road as they got off the bus, and the first thing one of them asked me, said I'm freezing, can you get me a blanket?

LEMON: Mike Morris from "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution," thank you so much. Don Lemon reporting here, again, six people died in this bus crash. We're hearing that the interstate will be open soon and police will hold a press conference very shortly.

Back to you in New York, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, well, we will certainly take it when that happens. Thanks a lot, Don.

Here's a quick look at what's coming up on "CNN's NEWSROOM," what they're working on for the top of the hour.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM: fatalities in Atlanta. A charter bus carrying a baseball team falls off an interstate overpass.

Recovering in the Deep South. More than a dozen people are dead after tornadoes sweep southern Alabama and Georgia.

90 minutes from now, the funeral FOR tabloid celebrity Anna Nicole Smith in the Bahamas.

You're in the "CNN NEWSROOM," 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 out West.