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CNN Saturday Morning News

Ricin Possibly Discovered In University Of Texas Dorm; Sounds Of Progress On The Biloxi Beachfront; Host Of The State Of The Black Union Symposium Unveils A Plan For The African-American Community; One Billion iTunes Downloaded

Aired February 25, 2006 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning everyone. Now in the news, an investigation is underway in Texas after a suspicious powder was found in a college dorm. A student found it late Thursday night at the University of Texas in Austin.
Early tests indicate the powder is the deadly poison ricin. There's no word of anyone getting sick. We'll get a report from the University of Texas and talk to CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen in just a couple of minutes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: This situation in Iraq seems to grow worse by the hour as sectarian violence continues to flare in the mostly Shiite city of Karbala. A car bomb killed five people and wounded more than 30. In Baghdad and three other provinces, a daytime curfew ended roughly an hour ago. But a nighttime curfew goes into effect from 8:00 p.m. local time until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.

HARRIS: The death toll is rising from a building collapse in the capital of Bangladesh. At least 18 people are dead, 50 more have been seriously injured, and an estimated 300 maybe trapped under the rubble of the six-story building.

NGUYEN: I want to give you a live look now as the party is winding down or just getting started once again. It is Mardi Gras, after all, and this is the New Orleans French Quarter. You can still see people on the street there in the corners walking up and down. Even at 8:00 a.m. local time the partygoers are packing Bourbon Street. This year's Mardi Gras celebration is though is controversial. Some question the festivities coming less than six months after Hurricane Katrina.

HARRIS: Grammy winning singer Sheryl Crow is recovering from breast cancer surgery. The singer's publicist says Crow underwent the procedure on Wednesday. Her prognosis is said to be good but her upcoming North America tour set to begin next month is now on hold.

From the CNN Center in Atlanta, good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. This is CNN SATURDAY MORNING, 9:00 a.m. here in Atlanta and 8:00 a.m. in Austin, Texas.

NGUYEN: We are going to be talking a lot about Austin, Texas today. Good morning everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen. We want to thank you for starting your day with us. HARRIS: OK. A lot of questions this morning surrounding this discovery of a powder at the University of Texas, Austin, and no real answers yet. Early tests indicate it a deadly poison ricin. Connie Swinney from our Austin affiliate KXAN has more.

CONNIE SWINNEY, KXAN: Authorities evacuated the Moore-Hill dormitory here on the UT Campus for the second time last night after finding what they believe to be a small amount of a deadly poison ricin. Here is the dormitory right behind me and you can see it's one of the older dorms and several hundred students live here. One of the residents this morning confirmed that they have now since been allowed in.

Now the substance was sent for testing and officials are trying to calm fears about exposure. A group of students initially discovered the substance Thursday. A brief evacuation followed, officials launched an investigation and assessed the risk. Those concerned watch from a distance as a terrorism task force work to sanitize the area.

Ricin is made from castor beans and it can be made in several different forms. Can be deadly if ingested or inhaled. Officials briefed students about some of the symptoms of ricin such as shortness of breath. So far there have been no problems reported. The FBI is continuing their investigation.

Reporting on the UT Campus, Connie Swinney, KXAN, Austin.

NGUYEN: I want to get straight to the source of the information. Joining us now is Rhonda Weldon, director of communication for the University of Texas at Austin.

Good morning to you.


NGUYEN: First thing I want to talk about. Take us back to Thursday. How was this ricin detected?

WELDON: Thursday afternoon a university student reported a powdery substance that they discovered in the Moore Hill dormitory to the University of Texas police department.

NGUYEN: How was it discovered? What happened walk us through that?

WELDON: Well, I really can't discuss the details of that because it's part of the Terrorism Task Force their investigation. But I can tell you that as soon as it was reported to university police the University Environmental Health and Safety responded and they sanitized the area, collected the powder, and then they sent it to the state lab for testing.

NGUYEN: How many students might have come in contact with this? WELDON: It was a small number. I don't have the exact number. But it's my understanding from health officials that those students are not exhibiting any kind of symptoms of exposure to ricin.

NGUYEN: Rhonda, I went to the University of Texas, I know how big after school this is. So if a few students came in contact with it and school wasn't shut down, classes weren't closed, is there any chance that they could have exposed other students?

WELDON: It's my understanding from county health officials that that is not possible. It's not that kind of -- it's not contagious, if you will.

NGUYEN: Right. But if it came in contact with their hands, I don't know if they shook other people's hands.

WELDON: Right. What we did was with the University Environmental Health and Safety; they made sure those students that reported the incident washed their hands and then last night at 11:30 p.m. We moved students from the residence of Moore-Hill Dormitory into the Jester Dormitory. They were briefed by our county health officials on what do if they started exhibiting symptoms and on all these health precautions.

NGUYEN: Are they still staying in Jester or have they been able to go back to their dorm?

WELDON: They have been released back into Moore-Hill Dormitory. The area in question of course is sealed off. We're collecting material and evidence

NGUYEN: Have you ever had an incident of this nature before?

WELDON: Well after 2001 we did have quite a few white powder incidents but we never had anything test positive.

NGUYEN: All right. So right now preliminary results show that it was ricin but we are waiting on those final results to come through. Any idea when that will happen?

WELDON: No, I don't have that information. Of course, that investigation is being led by the joint terrorism task force.

NGUYEN: Rhonda Weldon, director of communication for UT Austin. Rhonda we appreciate your time today.

WELDON: Thank you.

HARRIS: Trying to understand as much as we can, as soon as we can on this. Our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with more details. Elizabeth good to see you this morning.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, too. Not happy to be talking about ricin but I think there's some things that we can clear up here. Let's talk a little bit about ricin as I think most people aren't familiar with it. They have heard about anthrax and other things, but ricin is a little bit new to some people. Now as was indicated in the report that we just heard, it is naturally occurring. It is actually a buy product from processing castor beans, believe it or not.

But you would have to deliberately make it and weaponize it as it were to actually harm something. It's not something you would get from being in contact with caster beans. It is something you would deliberately do with the caster beans to make it actually toxic to someone. It is poisonous if inhaled, ingested or injected, and there is no known antidote.

Let's talk a little bit about the symptoms if somebody gets ricin poisoning. There is a long list of things that happen to people. If it is inhaled, there is chest tightness, difficulty breathing, fever, cough, and nausea, also heavy sweating, low blood pressure and respiratory failure.

If it's injected, people experience vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and also low blood pressure. Now it takes just a tiny, tiny bit to kill an adult. Just the amount you would find on a head of a pin can actually kill someone. Now, having said this, this all sounds so scary.

Let me talk a little bit about why this might not be as scary as it sounds. The reason for that is sometimes test will show that ricin is positive. Here you see the folks in these moon suits investigating the dormitory. Before everyone gets too scared, tests are sometimes wrong. Preliminary tests done in the field are sometimes wrong. We don't know exactly what kinds of tests showed there was ricin, but those tests in other occasions have turned out to be wrong.

For example, the more of a gold standard is a DNA base test, something called a PCR test. The chances are at this point in time since this just happened they probably may not have had time to actually do that kind of test. And that would provide much more of a real answer. There have been times where they thought it was ricin and it wasn't.

HARRIS: All right. Elizabeth just a quick question. You mention that you have to mechanize this. This is something that in order to weaponize it you have to make it. Is this then something that could be used to make a large number of people sick?

COHEN: You know ricin would not really be the weapon of choice to get a large number of people sick. It isn't transferred person to person. In the past when people have used ricin as a weapon it's more to get one person sick. It could theoretically be used to get more than that sick, that's not how you usually hear about it. You don't usually hear about it to get a whole city sick for example. Because it's not spread person-to-person.

HARRIS: Elizabeth thank you.

We will continue to follow this story throughout the day. Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security. NGUYEN: Well, this years Mardi Gras in New Orleans is like none other. It's a long and storied history. It's coming nearly six months after Hurricane Katrina. But the Big Easy isn't the only local gearing up for the festive Fat Tuesday. CNN Kathleen Koch is live on the Mississippi coast with more on this.

Good morning to you, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Betty. What you can hear right now are the sounds of progress on the Biloxi beachfront. The dock behind me was once the home of one of Biloxi's massive casino barges. But as you can see it now lies in ruins north of Highway 90 where Katrina's 34 foot storm surge lifted it up, turned it side ways and deposited it.

Crews have been working for months trying to dismantle the enormous barge. Some casinos have made a quick come back and they are already open. That is certainly not the case some six months after the hurricane took tens of thousands of businesses along the Gulf Coast.


KOCH (voice-over): This may look like a scene from August, it's not. This is how the Fastrac Convenience Store still looks today.

NORMAN BARRENTINE, STORE MANAGER: Yes. Time is standing still but we're going forward.

KOCH: Norman Barrentine manages a chain of the stores in Mississippi, two were flattened. This one in Gulfport, he insists, despite appearances, can be restored.

(on camera): So this is the store that looks good.

BARRENTINE: The one that looks good, yes.

KOCH: Whoa.

BARRENTINE: Relatively compared, this store looks good.

KOCH (voice-over): Barrentine says the reason this Fastrac is on such a slow road to recovery is simple, not battles with the insurance company, getting somebody to do the work.

BARRENTINE: You got all of your construction people are just swamped. Plumbing people, air conditioning people, and electricians everybody has more work than they can do.

KOCH: Barrentine hopes that in the next 30 days the rotting food and other goods strewn through the store will finally be removed and that his ten former employees will by year's end, some 16 months after the hurricane, be able to return to their jobs.

BARRENTINE: It takes time. It doesn't happen overnight. Storm takes you out overnight but it will take you a little while to come back. We'll rebuild it. It will be a better store, a nicer store, and more modern store.


KOCH: Now, it's a very gray and overcast day here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But several Mardi Gras parades will soon begin rolling down the streets of several of the coastal cities. We will be taking you to some of them live. It is interesting there hasn't been a great deal of debate here in Mississippi about whether or not to celebrate Mardi Gras.

Much more of a community of family style celebration here on the Mississippi coast. So everyone believes it's really important to just give people a chance to take a break from the continuous cleanup from gutting their houses, hanging the drywall and just give people something to smile about -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Be part of the healing process. Kathleen Koch, we thank you.

A friendly reminder for you this morning to join us tomorrow for "American Morning" live Mardi Gras coverage. In fact that is Monday because we are going to be here tomorrow morning, but we are still going to be talking about Mardi Gras.

So you can join us all week long for that matter. But "American Morning" Monday down there in New Orleans starting at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. Also, Anderson Cooper takes us inside Fat Tuesday parade prep that's at 10:00 p.m. Let the good times roll.

HARRIS: Hundreds of homes destroyed, thousands of people displaced. Many of them poor African-Americans. Did the government leave them behind? A popular talk show host Tavis Smiley addresses those issues in today's State of the Black Union Address. We'll talk to him after a quick break.

NGUYEN: Plus what is your song? For one lucky teenager it is Coldplay's "Speed of Sound." We will tell you how downloading that tune helped him become $10,000 richer.


HARRIS: In Houston, the annual State of the Black Union Symposium is going on right now center stage. This year is a broadcaster Tavis Smiley he is co-hosting the gathering. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita shed a harsh light on the startling number of African-Americans living in poverty. I spoke to him yesterday about plans to unveil a major plan of action for the African-American community.


TAVIS SMILEY, TALK SHOW HOST: We missed a major opportunity here Tony. This hurricane clearly did not create these issues but it certainly spotlighted these twin evils of race and class. President Bush to his credit went down to New Orleans and Jackson Square, gave a great speech. I think quite frankly the greatest speech he has given in his entire tenure as president. He really talks about what it means as Barbara Jordan once said to live in an America that's as good as its promise.

HARRIS: Are you surprised that there are so many people in this country who are saying quite vocally enough with the whining and complaining. By the poor after Katrina and that the only time you should be knocking on government's door is after you have exhausted every bit of muscle and fiber that you have in your being to try to improve your situation by yourself?

SMILEY: Well the folk whose say that generally are not people in fact or know anything about being socially, politically, economically or culturally disenfranchised. So one consider the source, number two they are not persons obviously ever had the need to be assisted by the government.

And they certainly have not experienced what the victims of Hurricane Katrina experienced, where you are in a situation having nothing do with anything in your control and you hope that because you are living in America. That is supposed to be as good as the promise that your government ain't going to abandon you.

Anyone in that situation, black or white, I suspect would have a much more critical and quite frankly realistic view of what it means to live in this place we call America.

HARRIS: How much can you tell us about this agreement between the two party heads?

SMILEY: Well I can tell you is that we are announcing today later on C-SPAN as a part of this all day symposium in conversation called State of the Black Union, we're making a major announcement, historic announcement relating to both the Democratic and the Republican party.

We are on C-SPAN all day up until about 5:30 this evening with three different panel discussions, three different panels, rather, discussing the issues raised in the covenant with black America. They will be live from Harry Belafonte to Wade Henderson to Al Sharpton; all kinds of leaders are here. I also want to add.

There are a number of people we are calling emerging influencers, young black thought leaders and opinion makers whose names you don't know yet. I want to take this opportunity to introduce to the nation young brilliant black minds who in their own way making contributions.

So from those persons who are pioneers and pace setters to those persons who are emerging influencers, all kinds of the best and brightest minds in black America represented at this State of the Black Union Symposium specifically talking about this book "The Coming of Black America" on C-SPAN all day up until about 5:30 this evening.

HARRIS: Tavis, it's good to see you. Good to talk to you.

SMILEY: Tony, thank you for your time.

HARRIS: For more information about today's symposium you can log on to The event just started in Houston, Texas. It's free and open to the public.

NGUYEN: Well Goldie Hawn is celebrating her golden years and you will never guess how old she is. Just guess, Tony. Do you have any idea?

HARRIS: She's 60.

NGUYEN: She doesn't look it, though.

HARRIS: No, no. You asked for it. I have the answer. I just know.

NGUYEN: All right. He exposed it. The answer is out there. But anyway, we're going to have the details ahead on You let the cat out of the bag.

HARRIS: So you didn't want the answer?

NGUYEN: I didn't think you knew it.

HARRIS: I can't keep up Betty.

Plus what do Anderson Cooper, George Clooney, and Jon Stewart all have in common? Coming up at 10:00 a.m. Eastern a growing trend among today's stylish men.

NGUYEN: I didn't think you kept up with Goldie Hawn.


NGUYEN: Some great stories to tell you about. A digital music milestone, this is good and a movie star's birthday. Two stories topping the list of what is popular on and Veronica De La Cruz joins us with all of that and much more. Good morning.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN.COM: Good morning to you, do you have an iPod?

NGUYEN: I do. I finally broke down.

DE LA CRUZ: Are you addicted to iTunes?


DE LA CRUZ: This could have been you.

NGUYEN: But it wasn't me.

DE LA CRUZ: Itunes celebrated their 1 billion download. And we are going to introduce you to the lucky person. But first we're going to make Tony sing happy birthday to Goldie Hawn because he gave away her age. HARRIS: Happy birthday to you.

NGUYEN: How old is she Tony?

HARRIS: She is fabulous.

NGUYEN: Beautiful.

DE LA CRUZ: Sixty years old. Larry King has a foot fetish there; he is looking at her tattoos, which her family gave her a tattoo for her birthday. It's a little tiny heart.

NGUYEN: It's on her foot.

DE LA CRUZ: It is on her foot.

HARRIS: Larry was handling her foot.

DE LA CRUZ: He touched her foot it looked like.

NGUYEN: He hasn't washed his hands since.

DE LA CRUZ: Any way. In the video CNN's Larry King talks to Goldie about her relationship with actor Kurt Russell. The two you guys were never married though they have been together for 22 years. I can't believe it.

All right. All you iTunes addicts out there this could have been you. Meet Alex Ostrovsky -- he went to a Coldplay concert and when he got home he had to download the song "Speed of Sound." He ended up being the winner of the one billion download and as a prize, Apple loaded him up with 10,000 downloads and an iMac computer. What is he going to do with all the music? Find all the stories on line at

Betty, unfortunately, the winner wasn't you.

NGUYEN: Alex is going to be a very popular guy. Wouldn't you say?

DE LA CRUZ: Lots of friends knocking on his door.

HARRIS: What are you talking about?

NGUYEN: So now you're not listening.

NGUYEN: We are so done with Tony today.

DE LA CRUZ: We are.

HARRIS: That was fun.

DE LA CRUZ: Your rendition of happy birthday didn't cut it.

NGUYEN: That was kind of lame, too. No high marks for Tony today. DE LA CRUZ: Where is the dunce cap?

NGUYEN: We're working on that.

Thank you Veronica.

HARRIS: Up next, "OPEN HOUSE" with Gerri Willis. This week an in depth looks at eminent domain as more towns and cities take control of people's homes to build more shopping malls and other businesses. We will tell you how to protect your dream home.

But first have you ever vacationed only to return five pounds heavier, sluggish, feeling like you need another vacation? Here is something to consider.


ANNOUNCER: Fitness vacation, it is an old concept which turned into the latest traveling craze according to "TRAVELGIRL" Magazine.

STEPHANIE OSWALD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "TRAVELGIRL" MAGAZINE: We have seen the trend evolve in three different areas. Diet, experience and wellness. When it comes to diet there are spas that will change your life in a weekend. These can be fun but they are really more about serious life changing fitness regimes.

The second group is about people who are already fit but they want to infuse that fitness into their vacations. This group is about doing things like hiking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.

The third type of fitness vacation is about wellness. This is more about body and soul fitness.

ANNOUNCER: For sea lovers the focus on fitness isn't just on land.

OSWALD: There are a lot of great cruises out there that are designed for fitness. Fitness vacations are for everyone. Really, a good balance of having a good time and having fun but yet being able to take advantage of any physical activities.