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Pentagon Explains Video Showing Landing Gear from Helicopter; Capitol Building Open for Business Today

Aired October 23, 2001 - 10:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: At this time, 10:00 on the East Coast, 7:00 out West, I want to go straight to the Pentagon and CNN's Bob Franken for some developing news at this time.

Bob, what do you have?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've learned that the Pentagon has investigated and come up with an explanation for the video that we saw shot by a CNN crew yesterday, provided in escort by the Taliban, showing landing gear from a helicopter.

According to two Pentagon sources, the investigation has resulted in a belief that what happened was A CH-47, a troop transport helicopter, as it was coming in on one of the attack sites unidentified, it hit a barrier in front of that site, ripping off the front wheel landing gear.

According to the sources, there is a perfectly normal procedure when something like that happens, for the helicopter, in effect, to go down with its rear first.

According to the Pentagon sources, there were no injuries. The helicopter was able to leave and return safely to its base in Pakistan without injury. Of course the Taliban claims that this was one of two helicopters that they had shot down. They told the camera crews that the crash site was actually 25 miles away, that it was too dangerous go to that. It has vehemently denied that there were any helicopters shot down, and the explanation which was just given to CNN producer Chris Plant by one source and another source is just confirming that the Pentagon is saying what happened was, is that the front landing gear was ripped off as it hit a barrier, but that there are no injuries, and that is the explanation for that video -- Bill.

HEMMER: It took no shots then, right, Bob, just hit a barrier?

FRANKEN: The Pentagon says there were no shots, there were no casualties, the Taliban troops were not successful in inflicting any damage on any U.S. equipment or causing any casualties.

HEMMER: Bob, thanks to you.

And again, at the top of the hour now, I want to bring you up to date on what's happening at home and abroad in the anthrax investigation. All employees of the U.S. Postal Service in D.C. will be put on a 10-day course of antibiotic treatment. The action comes after the deaths of two postal workers who are believed to have died from the inhalation form of anthrax.

Also overseas today, more bombs rain down on area around the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. U.S. jets took the fight to the Taliban frontline troops in Northern Afghanistan, part of an effort to soften up for opposition forces on the ground.

On the diplomatic front, Secretary of State Colin Powell set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in the next hour. Powell is trying to ease escalating tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and remove the possible threat to the U.S. coalition on terrorism.

We want to turn our attention to the latest on the anthrax matter. Hazmat teams and federal investigators hard at work in the nation's capitol trying to track down the source of anthrax at post offices and on Capitol Hill.

CNN correspondents following the latest, including Kathleen Koch, live in Virginia, where two men diagnosed with inhaled anthrax are hospitalized; Rea Blakey, at D.C. General, where postal workers are being tested for possible anthrax exposure, Sheilah Kast at the Brentwood mail facility, where all Washington mail is processed, and Kate Snow, live on Capitol Hill with us.

Let's get it started now. Kathleen Koch in Virginia.

Kathleen, good morning.


The two men hospitalized here with inhalation anthrax are both in serious condition. Doctors say both men did work at the Brentwood mail processing center, the central mail processing center here in Washington, D.C. They are being treated with a very aggressive regimen of antibiotics, including Cipro.

Postal officials are very closely guarding these men's privacy, not releasing their names, although we do know that the first patient, age 57, was admitted Friday afternoon, complaining of flu-like symptoms, chest pains, aches, fever. The second man was admitted on Sunday morning.

Now the first gentleman worked handling express mail, not only at the Brentwood facility, but also at an air mail center near Baltimore, Washington International airport in Maryland. The second man was identified yesterday as a loading dock supervisor. Postal officials will not say what these two men had in common, whether they worked the same shift. They do say that second -- excuse me, the first man hospitalized on Friday says he does not recall handling any packages or letters that may have been leaking a powdery substance.

However "The Washington Post" is reporting this morning that this first gentleman, the 57-year-old postal workers, apparently tells his mother-in-law that he recalls earlier in the week noticing a powdery substance on one of the conveyor belts and recalls perhaps breathing that in, and, Bill, that may lend weight to the theory that one of the mail processing machines at Brentwood compressed an anthrax-tainted letter, spewing the spores into the air and on to the machinery, and perhaps infecting these workers -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Kathleen, thanks.

Rea Blakey outside D.C. general will bring us up to date from there.

Rea, hello.


I wanted to give you more information on the two confirmed deaths that we have. At this point, however, we should mention that there is still not a firm confirmation that these are specific to anthrax inhalation. The public health authorities are working to confirm that information. However, there is a very strong suspicion that is in fact what occurred.

One of the gentleman apparently reported to the hospital, Southern Maryland Hospital, on Monday morning, and then later died Monday afternoon. This after he had become ill at church on Sunday, reported to that same hospital, was sent home, and then returned on Monday because his symptoms had persisted, apparently reported respiratory problems, flu-like problems.

The second individual died at Greater Southeast Hospital in Washington D.C. He was admitted on Sunday. He died approximately 15 hours later.

Now I mentioned that this information is not firmly confirmed by public health authorities, and that's because there needs to be more testing. However, homeland security director Tom Ridge indicates that anthrax is highly suspected in each case.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: We are still undergoing final tests to determine absolutely if these two deaths were related to anthrax exposure. Their cause of death to date is unclear. But I'll tell you what is very clear, it is very clear that their symptoms are suspicious, and their deaths are likely due to anthrax.


BLAKEY: Now with that information, there is some 4,200 U.S. postal workers working in the Washington D.C. 36 postal facilities who are supposed to be tested, and more specifically, treated for possible anthrax exposure. Many of those people arriving this morning right now. We probably have a line outside that we can see of maybe approximately 125 people. There are a number of other postal workers who have gone inside. So we know they are here trying to get their 10-day supply of Cipro, so they can try and protect themselves from potential dangers, specifically at the Brentwood location, but also because the mail that goes to Brentwood goes to other postal facilities in Washington.

So public health officials want to be very safe and so they want to make certain that all postal workers get tested and more specifically treated with a 10-day supply of Cipro -- Bill.

HEMMER: Indeed they do.


Now to the Brentwood facility that has become so familiar us to this past week. Sheilah Kast watching things there this morning.

Sheila, good morning.


Compared to the hospitals where postal workers are going to be tested and treated, it is very quiet here, with the activity, such as it is, is behind the scenes. The major activity will be testing the physical facility here. A private contractor working with staff from the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to assess, to spot check more places in the facility, which has already shown in 29 spotchecks, 14 of them did show some presence of anthrax spores. The assessment will be a first step both in finding some clues as to what -- how the anthrax arrived here, and also assessing what the cleanup is likely to be needed.

The postal -- on a typical day here, there would be 3.5 million pieces of mail moving through here, and about half those postal workers that Rea mentioned, about 2,100 postal workers overseeing the processing of it by machine sorting, by sorting machines.

The mail is gone. The mail that was here on Sunday was moved to other facilities for sorting. The postal workers are not here. Either they are being tested or they are working at these other facilities. The postal service is starting to install equipment to sterilize mail. They have talked about possibly using the kind of radiation technology that is used to sterilize food. And we are trying to learn more about exactly what they are doing -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Sheilah. Sheilah Kast there also at the Brentwood facility in northeastern Washington.

A short while from there on Capitol Hill, the Capitol building open for business today, but House and Senate offices still remain closed as that anthrax investigation moves forward.

Kate Snow now watching that today.

Kate, hello.


The Senate just getting back into session about a half hour ago. They're taking up a bill that deals with foreign aid, money to other companies, money for nonproliferation, and also money to get rid of landmines.

Now one sign that things are back to normal here on Capitol Hill, is senators arriving back this morning, but the sign that things are back to normal is that they are arguing over this bill on the Senate floor. There is some debate going on. Republicans holding up the bill because they want to prove a point. They say Democrats have been too slow approving President Bush's judicial nominees. So that's ongoing.

Now each senator has been given space in a separate office building off campus for two aides so they can get back it work. On the House side, House members have been given space for three staff members to be in a building nearby here. All this taking place because the House and Senate office buildings are still closed down so they can continue with environmental testing.

Over the last several days, there have been teams going into the House and Senate buildings, screening for the environment, for presence of anthrax. But to date, the best news is that there have been no further signs of any contamination, and only 28 people remain exposed to anthrax.

Still that said, some talk this morning about how serious this issue really is. Representative Dick Gephardt, the House minority leader, talking to CNN about the time of anthrax that we are dealing with, and why he says we need to be very careful, because this is serious.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: These are maybe terms of art. Is it weapons grade? Hey, it's dangerous. It is easily aerosolized. It is obviously small enough to get through the nose and into the lungs. We don't need any more evidence to come to that conclusion. And so we have to be careful in the way we all deal with this, and we got to have a plan that we can implement in post offices or Congressional offices or any offices, so that we do everything possible to save lives and to keep people from being injured.


SNOW: A spokesperson for Richard Gephardt telling us another bit of news this morning, Bill, and that is, something we had reported earlier this morning and last night about three initial positive hits for presence of anthrax being found in one room inside the U.S. Capitol building. We were told by sources there was concern that perhaps in that one room, the LBJ room, there might be some anthrax.

We are told this morning by two different sources that has proven top be false. Those initial positive hits have proven to be negative. According to another senior Democratic source, Democratic aide, that means the building, Capitol building, is absolutely clean. The Democrats and the Senate are going to go ahead and use that room for their weekly lunch they hold in that room every week. They will be having that lunch in that room today, so that's the good news.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: Kate, two follow-ups here. One, some Senate members of Tom Daschle, some Senate aide workers, were told to bring their clothes back to have them inspected. Will that happen?

SNOW: Well actually, that was last week, Bill, and they were told to bring their clothes to that room that I just mentioned, the LBJ room it's called, and that's why there was some concern when there was these initial positive readings in that room, because they thought, well, perhaps the clothing brought in anthrax.

Again, we are told now by two Democratic aides that there is no reason for concern, that there are negative readings in that room.

Now, and other point, Bill, the authorities don't like it talk about these readings until they have the final word. We are told this is the final word.

HEMMER: Also, Kate, we have been seeing Tommy Thompson on a regular basis now. We will see him there this morning on Capitol Hill.

What's happening there?

SNOW: Actually, not on Capitol Hill, the hearing that he is due to testify at, at this hour, is being held at Health and Human Services department, because they weren't able to hold it up here, because as I mentioned, the House and Senate offices where they normally hold the hearings have been closed for today. So he will be testifying on the subject of bioterrorism, talking about whether -- how much of a store of vaccines the United States has to be prepared for bioterrorism. He'll be giving that testimony this hour -- Bill.

HEMMER: Your keeping me honest, too.

Kate, thanks. Kate Snow on Capitol Hill.




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