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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Tracking Hurricane Jeanne; Interview With Colin Powell; Interview With Joseph Biden
Aired September 26, 2004 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington and Florida, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special three-hour "LATE EDITION."
Hurricane Jeanne hits Florida. We're following every angle of this hurricane, a storm for the history books. It's the fourth hurricane to hit Florida in a single year. That's never happened before.
We're going to be talking with CNN reporters covering Jeanne in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of the very latest now in the news.
Jeanne is losing some strength as it moves across Florida. It's now closing in on the Tampa area. It slammed into Hutchinson Island, Florida, around midnight and continues moving toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Officials in Florida say more than a million customers, maybe a million and a half customers, already have lost power, and that number expected to climb.
More than 40,000 people are staying in shelters after mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders were issued for over 30 Florida counties.
Mostly minor injuries fortunately so far are being reported, as far as Jeanne is concerned in the United States. One person was electrocuted in Miami after touching a downed power line. Officials though have not confirmed that death was caused by the storm.
Jeanne's winds and storm surge lashed the Bahamas before hitting Florida. No deaths or serious injuries were reported there, but some neighborhoods were submerged under six feet of water.
Storm survivors prepared for church in Haiti this morning. Jeanne's force there killed at least 1,300 people and left 300,000 without homes. Uruguay is sending troops to help U.N. peacekeepers prevent mobs from storming relief workers.
A full emergency was declared as an Olympic Airlines flight was diverted to London Stansted airport earlier today. British military jets, Tornadoes, scrambled to escort the Athens to New York flight to London airport. The London airport, an official for the great Ministry of Public Order said the flight was diverted due to what's being called "a bomb scare." An airport spokeswoman said the flight landed for security reasons. All passengers exited safely. We're all over this story. We'll get more information to you as it becomes available.
But more of our in-depth coverage now of Hurricane Jeanne as it makes its way across Florida. Today, the eye of the hurricane came just south of Orlando, Florida, bringing high winds and very heavy rains to that tourist city.
CNN's Eric Philips is there. He's weathering this storm.
Eric, give us the latest.
ERIC PHILIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've been out here since about 6 o'clock this morning, and what we were experiencing then and what we're experiencing now are really two different things.
Back then, we were seeing strong gusts of wind coming through every 15, 20, 25 minutes. But as the hours have gone on, we've seen these strong gusts associated with very heavy pounding rain coming through every five minutes or so.
We're here not far from Walt Disney World. And I can show you behind me as the trees have been waving in the breeze, you can tell how much of this wind they've had to withstand.
I'm here at a hotel that has this pond. And you can just tell, the way that the waves are even building and a pond that is normally just standing still, that we're not talking about any normal rainfall or any normal wind that would be coming through this area.
On my wind gauge, just a few minutes ago, I measured a wind speed of about 57 miles an hour, which falls in line with what emergency management officials have been telling us that they have been seeing here in the area, anywhere between 50 and 70 miles an hour, they're telling us.
As far as power outages here in Orlando are concerned, those are sporadic right now. We're told about 130,000 people are without power here in the Orlando, Orange County area. And that most of those power outages are in the south end of the county.
Of course, this storm has taken a turn that was not expected by many forecasters. So folks here in Orlando really had braced for the storm. they had braced for the worst, thinking that it would come right along the Atlantic Coast, hitting this area with hurricane force winds. That didn't happen.
But officials want to emphasize that just because that didn't happen doesn't mean that we should not take Hurricane Jeanne -- continue to take Hurricane Jeanne very seriously.
They're telling folks to please be mindful of the curfew that's in place. That is a curfew that will be in place until 5 o'clock this evening. Officials are saying after the storm passes over and they've had an opportunity to come out and survey the damage, they may shorten that curfew. But at this point, it remains until 5 o'clock this evening.
And those who are evacuated, those in mobile homes and in manufactured homes, who were under a mandatory evacuation, are being cautioned to please not go back to their place of residence. And authorities are very serious about this. In fact, if anyone is out on the street driving or walking while this mandatory curfew is in place, they run the risk of being arrested. And authorities are saying that if they are arrested, they will not be eligible for bond.
So they're taking this situation very seriously, they say, for the safety of the public.
BLITZER: Good advice. Well done, indeed. Thanks, Eric Philips. We'll be getting back to you in Orlando.
And later, we'll be speaking with the mayor of Orlando, as well. Four hurricanes battering Florida in six weeks. That's keeping federal emergency efforts key to that state.
Joining us now from Miami, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown.
Mr. Brown, thanks, as usual, for joining us.
First of all, the big picture. How devastating is this?
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEMA: Well, it's devastating to everyone that's in the path of the storm, Wolf. When you think about it, there are some folks in Florida who have been hit one, two, and possibly three times. Four hurricanes throughout this state means that there are a lot of people suffering. We've gone from what I worried about: hurricane amnesia, to now hurricane fatigue.
BLITZER: Are you ready? Is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ready to deal with this new hurricane?
BROWN: We absolutely are. We have all the manpower and resources we need. President Bush has been a very great supporter of FEMA. He's assured me we'll get all the resources we need to respond as Hurricane Jeanne now makes her way up through those other states that will be impacted just like Florida has been.
BLITZER: Charley, Frances, Ivan, now Jeanne. I suspect FEMA's still deeply engaged in dealing with those three earlier hurricanes, let alone this one, which is still unfolding. Is that true?
BROWN: That's true and that's one of the frustrating things that's going on right now is we move into an area to do our recovery efforts. And we have to pull back because we don't want our workers to becomes. So we have to relocate them and then move them back in after the storm. The other thing that's happening which is very frustrating at times is we might start clearing out debris in one area, not be quite finished clearing out the debris, and then the storm blows in, spreads the debris all over the place again.
BLITZER: How much money are we talking about, the damage so far, certainly the damage before Jeanne?
BROWN: Well, clearly billions of dollars. We've been so busy doing our response and recovery efforts trying to get assistance to folks in Florida and all up and down the east coast that we haven't tallied it up yet.
But we know we've already registered through these four storms about 400,000 victims or more. We've already dispersed just to individuals well over half a billion dollars. So you can see that when you count that, plus just the economic damage and the business losses and everything else, these are very, very costly storms.
BLITZER: When you do your annual budgets and you worry about hurricanes, natural disasters, Mr. Brown, did you forecast anything along these lines?
BROWN: No, we did not. We normally have -- we have a pretty steady budget figure we use every year that's just based on a 10-year average plus one big storm. This year, we need to change that budget average, increase it, and start counting for three or four big storms.
BLITZER: Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, good luck to you, all the men and women who work with you. Thanks very much for all your good work.
BROWN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Hurricane Jeanne is covering much the same ground pounded by Hurricane Frances just three weeks ago. Daytona Beach certainly feeling the effects of Jeanne right now. Keith Oppenheim filed this report moments ago.
Unfortunately, we don't have that report. We will get that report and bring it to you. Keith Oppenheim, our reporter on the scene in Daytona Beach.
We're following all these developments, but let's take a look and see where Hurricane Jeanne is right now. CNN's Jacqui Jeras monitoring all those developments from the CNN Weather Center.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, it's about 20 miles away from Tampa right now. This is the advisory at the 11 o'clock hour. There you can see 30 miles away, but it's moving 10 miles per hour, so now it's about 20 at this time.
It is moving up to the west-northwest at 10 miles per hour. So it has slowed down a little bit. We're a little bit concerned about that, but still the forecast has it accelerating a little bit as it takes more of a northerly turn, barely a hurricane. Maximum winds right now at 75 miles per hour. However, we do expect that to be downgraded to a tropical storm later on this afternoon.
So far we've had very few reports of tornadoes. Not a lot of tornadic activity, but for Flagler County right now there is a tornado warning in effect spotted by Doppler radar, so we actually haven't seen any ground truth on this. But tornado activity could possibly increases a little bit this afternoon as things become a little bit more unstable at this time as these feeder bands continue to push in across the area.
You can see we had a shear marker on that one, and that one has faded away. So hopefully we won't see anything drop out of that one at this time. There is a tornado watch which remains in effect across central and northern Florida even extending up into southern Georgia throughout the afternoon for today.
Now I want to show you what you can expect for the continued forecast track here with Jeanne. We're expecting it to kind of scrape in along the west coast of Florida continuing to weaken. The good news is, even if it makes its way back over open water, we don't expect it to strengthen any more.
It will likely stay down to a tropical storm through today, making possibly a second landfall overnight for tonight and then curving back up towards Charlotte in the Carolinas spreading more rainfall, so they may see some more flooding into the higher elevations of the Carolinas on the order of three to six inches.
BLITZER: So basically, right now we're waiting for it -- for the eye to hit Tampa or near Tampa, is that right, Jacqui?
JERAS: It's going to be the north of Tampa, Wolf. It's moving west-northwest. So it's really -- Tampa's kind of in that inner core right now, but the worst of the winds are actually well to the north and to the east of the Tampa Bay area right now.
The center is right around the Lakeland area, just kind of up to the north and west of Winter Haven, if you know where that is.
BLITZER: I know exactly where that is. I've been down there several times.
But the point is it's going to then head out toward the Gulf of Mexico, go over the Gulf of Mexico and then hit inland in the panhandle. Is that the generally course where it's going to go?
JERAS: Yes, it looks that way. If you remember, Frances hit about St. Mark's. We think it's going to be just off to the east of there, the tropical storm. So you're not going to have some storm surge here, maybe two to four feet, possibly pushing up to six feet, also seeing that heavy rain right within that path, five to 10 inches still possible in the track here, Wolf. BLITZER: That's a lot of potential water. That's a lot of problems, of course, for everyone in its path. But, Jacqui Jeras, we'll be checking back with you clearly throughout this day.
Let's go to Daytona Beach. Keith Oppenheim is our reporter there on the scene, and only a few minutes ago, he filed this report.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the weather here has been consistently wild for the past four or five hours.
Even though we are several counties north of where some of the worst damage as Hurricane Jeanne hit shore, as you can see from the surf in the distance, we have been getting high winds as well as damaging surf, which is going to cause a lot of beach erosion and also some potential damage as you go inland from Daytona Beach and in Volusia County.
With me right now is Steve Dorsey, who is the manager of the Plaza Resort and Spa.
And, Steve, I think what's really noteworthy here is that this is the third out of the four hurricanes that you have experienced right here in Daytona Beach?
STEVE DORSEY, MANAGER, PLAZA RESORT AND SPA: Yes, sir, we've had all three. We had the eye of Charley come over the storm, then we had Francis, and now Jeanne come through here.
OPPENHEIM: So, what's it been like? Has it been frustrating? Do you find that you start making repairs, and then the repairs get damaged?
STEVE DORSEY: That's been the biggest problem, is we try to get a -- from the one storm, you do a little work, and try to get things done, and the next storm comes right on top of that, then the last one.
So, hopefully this will be it, and we'll be back to normal here in no time.
OPPENHEIM: And on this storm, did you notice at all that some people were not heeding warnings, at least in the general area, that they tended to say, OK, I've had enough, I'm just not going to go anywhere?
STEVE DORSEY: It seemed that way. With the mandatory evacuation, especially for Francis, the streets were bare early in the day, and last night it seemed late for the evening before that a curfew had been, while the streets were actually empty.
OPPENHEIM: How about yourself? Are you holding up, or do you come to a point of just emotional exhaustion from the whole thing?
STEVE DORSEY: We put a small management skeleton crew on property during this time period, so we can just keep an eye on the hotel, if anything that might occur. Certainly we plan to take shifts, taking care of everything, make sure we take care of the office.
OPPENHEIM: Steve Dorsey, thanks very much, and we appreciate the good care that we're getting here.
Unfortunately, this hotel took a bit of a hit just about an hour or two ago, where a window was smashed through by the high winds.
So, in Volusia County, for the most part, there hasn't been major damage, but the damage that people are experiencing here is where they were trying to make repairs from two of the previous hurricanes. Tough stuff.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Keith Oppenheim, thanks very much, keep reporting from Daytona Beach.
We'll be checking in with him throughout the day as well.
Up next, we'll speak live with the mayor of Orlando, Florida, that city taking a beating right now from Jeanne's heavy rains and high winds.
Our special "LATE EDITION" covering Hurricane Jeanne will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION," our special coverage of Hurricane Jeanne.
It's been a very tough six weeks, almost unbelievable for the residents of Florida. First, there was Hurricane Charley, then Frances, then Ivan and now Jeanne.
The eye of Jeanne moved just south of Orlando earlier today. Joining us now on the phone is the mayor of that beautiful city, Buddy Dyer.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
Set the scene for us. What happened in your community?
BUDDY DYER, MAYOR OF ORLANDO, FLORIDA: Well, this is the third hurricane event we've experienced in the last six weeks, and I'm actually -- I apologize for the wind, but I'm out doing some damage assessment right now.
And it doesn't look as severe as Charley and Frances was coming through, but we haven't finished with the rain and the wind that we're going to have here today. But, quite honestly, a lot of the tree canopy has been cleared out during the first two hurricanes, and there wasn't as much left to knock down, I suppose.
BLITZER: Does it look like the worst of Jeanne has already gone through Orlando or are you bracing for worse?
DYER: No, I think the worst of Jeanne has already moved through our community. I know the west coast over the Tampa area is still going to get hit with more of Jeanne, but we're on the tail end of it.
And we've actually got some of our crews out clearing some of the stray trees that have fallen in roadways between some of the final bands we're getting.
BLITZER: So tell our viewers what's happening now? Is it still raining heavily? Is it very windy or has that died down, as well?
DYER: We're still probably getting gusts in the 25 to 30 mile- an-hour range, and then we have pockets of rain. It's raining pretty hard right now. I'm actually standing under a little ledge, so I'm not being rained on. But we're going to continue to get severe weather through probably the rest of the daylight hours today.
BLITZER: Elsewhere in Florida, maybe a million homes, a million and a half homes, are without power. What about in Orlando?
DYER: Probably about a third of our residents are without power. It took us probably a week to 10 days to restore power (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Frances, and this is more like Frances. We think we'll have power restored in two or three days.
BLITZER: What do you need that you don't have to deal with the recovery?
DYER: Well, we're going to have to bring additional linemen in again from different parts of the country and, of course, everybody's been stretched and stretched for the last six weeks dealing with recovery. But really what we're looking for is the resilience of our citizen, and everybody has been extremely cooperative and heeding emergency advice.
We've had some concerns about people being complacent, but for the most part, they have heeded emergency advice. We've had a curfew in effect and they are very (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BLITZER: When do you think the airports in Orlando, the parks, the theme parks, everything else, will get back to business as usual?
DYER: I don't know whether they will tomorrow or not. I anticipate that at some point tomorrow the airport will open. The theme parks are obviously closed today, and I don't know of their plans for tomorrow or Tuesday.
BLITZER: So right now you're basically -- it sounds, Mr. Mayor, like you're breathing a little bit easier. It could have been much worse, at least in Orlando.
DYER: When we went to bed last night, we were anticipating a direct hit in Orlando. And the path of the storm was more Frances- like and ended up being a little bit south of us, so we didn't end up with a direct hit. We certainly got severe rain and winds, but I'm not sure we even actually experienced hurricane-force winds here this time.
BLITZER: Well, that's at least encouraging for your community.
Mr. Mayor, Buddy Dyer...
DYER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: ... the mayor of Orlando, has got his hands full despite the relatively good news we were hearing from him.
Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people in Orlando.
Earlier, one of our affiliate reporters in Vero Beach, Florida, filed this report.
ERIC ROBY, WPEC-TV CORRESPONDENT: As Hurricane Jeanne continues to move away from south Florida, you can still see that the gusts are still battering us as we finally are able to say good-bye to this awful storm.
It was quite a different story last night, as the howling winds did a lot of damage throughout this area. We were one of the first crews that were out to be able to look at the damage right at sunrise, and what we saw was a lot of damage done to a lot of flooding from the storm surge.
Also roofs that were already damaged from Hurricane Frances did not hold up with the little patches that they had onto them so the hurricane-strength winds that they endured last night, a lot of the blue tarps that were already on them had blown off completely. More water coming in and even more roofs peeling off.
There's also a report in the middle of the storm that a car was trying to go over the south bridge over to the Barrier Island in Fort Pierce last night when high winds literally tipped it over to the side. The Coast Guard is looking into it. They say that there are marks on the side of the bridge and possibly that a car was flipped over into the intracoastal.
A missing person report has been filed last night. Again, police are now looking into that. They are telling people to stay inside their homes. Even though the storm is starting to die down, people want to come out and try and see the damage, but it is still very dangerous with live wires everywhere, trees down and also the flooding.
People are ignoring the curfew, though, and going out and trying to see as much as they can. Police are trying to curtail that, asking the media to tell everyone to get back into their homes. They're also driving around the streets telling people to go home if they see them, and they have been arresting people.
As far as damage that we've seen, it is not as comparable as we've seen with Hurricane Frances that hit us three weeks ago. The preliminary damage reports show that we fared a little bit better in the inland of south Florida than we did with Hurricane Frances.
Some of the people are telling me that possibly the weaker structures, the weaker trees may have been blown down by Frances and Jeanne just came in and cleaned up what was left.
Right now, there is a long road of recovery ahead. Almost everyone in our area is without power right now, and the power companies are telling us we've probably (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be in the dark for three weeks. That's going to be a very long time without power, without hot showers and, most importantly in south Florida, without air-conditioning.
For now, reporting in Vero Beach, Eric Roby.
Back to you.
BLITZER: Eric Roby in Vero Beach from our affiliate, WPEC.
Thanks, Eric, very much for that report.
And to our viewers, if you have specific questions about this hurricane, you can e-mail me those questions right now. E-mail them at email@example.com. We have reporters standing by and analysts and our weather experts to give the answers throughout this special three-hour "LATE EDITION." You can e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.
More of our coverage of Hurricane Jeanne coming up. Also, my interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.
Much more on this special "LATE EDITION" when we come back.
BLITZER: Our special "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.
We're covering extensively Hurricane Jeanne. Florida faces more weary days ahead after the state's latest encounter with a major hurricane. Jeanne slammed ashore late last night near Stuart on Florida's east coast with winds of 120 miles an hour.
After pounding the coast with heavy surf, high winds and torrential rain, it swept inland across the central Florida peninsula. It's expected to move toward the state's panhandle after sweeping through the Tampa bay area this afternoon.
Here's some of the damage Jeanne left behind in the Bahamas as it made its way to Florida. The storm lashed two of the major islands in the chain, Grand Bahama and Abaco.
The violence, meanwhile, continuing in Iraq right now. Earlier today, two car bombs struck an Iraqi national guard base on the road between Fallujah and Baghdad. Initial reports from the U.S. military say there were Iraqi and American casualties. But it's not clear at least at this point how many people may have been killed or wounded. The Fallujah region is a hotbed of anti-coalition resistance and U.S. and Iraqi forces continue their bid to defeat the insurgents there.
In Syria, meanwhile, a spokesman for the militant group Hamas is accusing Israel of assassinating one of its leaders earlier today. The man was killed when a car exploded in Damascus. Israeli officials have not commented on the killing.
In Britain, Royal Air Force fighter planes scrambled today to escort a Greek jetliner to a London airport. The Olympic Airlines flight from Athens to New York was diverted to Stansted Airport because of a bomb scare, according to an official with the Greek ministry for public order. All passengers were evacuated safely. We're checking the story, getting some more information for you as it becomes available.
Up next, on our special "LATE EDITION," coping with Hurricane Jeanne. We'll talk with the mayor of West Palm Beach about how her city is handling this latest storm.
Also, my interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.
Much more "LATE EDITION" right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION"'s special coverage of Hurricane Jeanne. It grazed the West Palm Beach area overnight. For residents there, dealing with storms of such magnitude has become a regular occurrence at least this hurricane season.
Joining us now on the phone is the mayor of West Palm Beach, Lois Frankel.
Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
I think relatively speaking you guys were lucky in West Palm. Is that right?
LOIS FRANKEL, MAYOR, WEST PALM BEACH: Yes, you know, I don't know whether to say we're unlucky or lucky. To get two hurricanes like this three weeks apart is not lucky, but we are really blessed that we came out as well as we did. I drove the city this morning, and we really looked pretty good.
BLITZER: Are people getting back to business as usual in the West Palm area, or are they still in their homes?
FRANKEL: It was very quiet this morning. I think people were exhausted and they slept in. I expect this afternoon, if the rain stays away, people will be back out and moving the debris again onto the sides of the street.
BLITZER: Has the rain and the wind died down dramatically at least now in West Palm?
FRANKEL: Yes, it was howling last night. I mean, we were really being hammered, and it's very quiet right now.
BLITZER: What about all those beautiful homes in Palm Beach along the Atlantic Ocean? What happened, as far as you know, to a lot of the structures along the ocean?
FRANKEL: I have not heard yet. There was a curfew, and then actually there was an evacuation order, and I do not believe anybody's been allowed to go back over there yet, probably other than just their police and the utility workers, so we'll be waiting for some reports there. A lot of the damage you will learn about after people go back to their homes.
BLITZER: What about the airports and power? What's the status?
FRANKEL: Airports, still closed.
Again, about a million homes lost electricity as a result of this storm last night. About half those homes are in Palm Beach County, and we've been told that's going to be a long haul. Maybe three weeks till we get electricity, and that was really the hard part of our last hurricane, because it's still so hot in Florida, most people going into winter, but we're still at the tail end of our summer, and so it's been pretty brutal.
BLITZER: Are you saying, Mayor, that it's going to be three weeks before power is restored in West Palm Beach?
FRANKEL: Well, that's what Florida Power and Light has told us. This has been such an unusual season here in Florida. We've had millions of people lose electricity. They've had to bring workers from all over the country, utility workers from all over the country, in order to restore power.
And here's what happens. Every time they get a community restored, another hurricane comes along, and their workers apparently are very tired. They've been stretched thin, and I don't know whether they're just lowering our expectations, or they're telling us this is the way it's going to be.
BLITZER: So there are hundreds of thousands of people, West Palm Beach and the entire area of Palm Beach County, how many people are we talking about?
FRANKEL: Well, right now there are about a million homes that are out -- without power as a result of Hurricane Jeanne. But as we speak, I know this storm is still traveling through our state, so I'm going to expect that that number is going to go much higher than that.
So it's a moving target, and in the meantime, I expect we're going to be dark here for two to three weeks. BLITZER: One final question: No curfews or anything like that, at least in West Palm Beach, is that right?
FRANKEL: We had a curfew that was put in effect for the entire county. There will be a conference at 1 o'clock today with county officials, and a decision will be made.
But because it's going to be very, very dark tonight, power out, I would expect that, at least for tonight, in order to prevent looting and some bad car accidents, that we probably will have the curfew, which will be 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
BLITZER: All right, Lois Frankel, the mayor of West Palm Beach, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people in your community. Thanks very much, once again, for joining us.
And much more coverage coming up on Hurricane Jeanne, but we're also following other important stories today, especially what's happening in Iraq -- the ongoing violence, the escalating hostage taking, and concerns about planned elections there are now front and center in the U.S. presidential election.
President Bush is making it clear that under his watch the United States will stay the course in Iraq, while the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, is sharpening his attacks on the Bush administration's handling of the war and its aftermath.
Just a short while ago, here in Washington, I spoke with the secretary of state, Colin Powell, about Iraq, its role in the war on terror and much more.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks, Wolf, it's good to be back.
BLITZER: Are you confident there will be elections in Iraq in January?
POWELL: Yes. And our goal is to move right through the fall season, improve security throughout the country, and have the elections as scheduled, at the end of January of 2005. That's Prime Minister Allawi's goal, and all of our efforts are being directed toward that end.
BLITZER: Even if there are so-called no-go zones, the Pentagon's words, no-go zones, where U.S., coalition forces, Iraqi troops dare not enter?
POWELL: The major thrust of our political and military and diplomatic efforts over the next several months will be to make sure there are no no-go zones.
Now, we will have to see how that unfolds, but right now, our goal is to have these elections. We have to keep this process moving forward. Prime Minister Allawi is committed to it, and we are standing alongside with him. We will have to see, as the fall goes on.
But General Abizaid and General Casey are putting together a plan that will return these zones to government control, and with the increasing growth of the Iraqi security forces and increasing competence of the Iraqi security forces, hopefully we will have all these zones under control.
BLITZER: So there will be a military offensive between now and January in which these no-go zones will be eradicated?
POWELL: There is a military offensive under way now. You can see the aggressive actions we've been taking in Fallujah lately. There is a political and military offensive under way to take back Samarra.
And it's not always just go in and use the military. Use consultations with tribal leaders. But what we're going to do over the next several months is to go into these areas and bring them back under government control.
Now, it remains to be seen how successful we will be, but right now we are moving to have elections at the end of January of 2005. We believe it's important to keep that firmly in mind as we go, and to use all of our efforts -- military, diplomatic, reconstruction money is now starting to flow at a much higher rate -- all for the purpose of keeping on track.
BLITZER: Listen to what the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said this week, causing some major concern. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four- fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great? Well, that's -- so be it. Nothing's perfect in life. So you have an election that's not quite perfect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you make of that?
POWELL: Well, our goal is to have a full, free, fair election where all the people of Iraq are given the opportunity to vote, and that's the goal that we're striving for.
BLITZER: Well, are you ready to have elections that are not perfect?
POWELL: You know, there will be polling stations that are shot at. There will be insurgents who will still be out there who will try to keep people from voting.
But I think what we have to keep shooting for, and what is achievable, is to give everybody the opportunity to vote in the upcoming election, to make the election fully credible, and something that will stand the test of the international community's examination.
BLITZER: Now, you were talking about a military offensive between now and the end of January...
POWELL: Not just military.
BLITZER: ... but you're also talking about a political, diplomatic offensive, including an international conference of Iraq and its neighbors and the Europeans, the G-8, if you will. What exactly do you have in mind?
POWELL: This really is an idea that Prime Minister Allawi had, and we are helping him with it. What he wants to do is to bring all of Iraq's neighbors together.
BLITZER: Including Iran and Syria.
POWELL: Including Iran and Syria, and to have the G-8 join, so the industrialized nations are there, and talk about the situation in Iraq, how the neighbors can be more helpful and should be more helpful.
And we're going to help the prime minister with this conference. It may be in October. That's what we're shooting for, but it might be in early November. It's important to have a well- organized conference, not by any particular date.
BLITZER: Where would it take place?
POWELL: It will take place in the region. And there are a couple cities that are being considered: Amman, Cairo, and maybe other places it could be held. But it's an important part of reaching out.
And if you recall, when we were discussing this early in the year in the United Nations, a number of my Security Council colleagues wanted to see this kind of conference take place. And some of them wanted to see an even broader international conference. We may well have a broader international conference at some point, but this was a way to reach out to Iraq's immediate neighbors and persuade them.
This is the time to help Iraq so that the region can become stable. And with the presence of the industrialized nations, I think it adds a little bit more oomph to the conference and brings in those who can contribute more in the way of resources to stabilizing the situation and helping the Iraqi people.
BLITZER: Is Syria playing a constructive role right now in trying to prevent foreign terrorists from infiltrating across its border into Iraq?
POWELL: We believe Syria can do more. And I had a conversations earlier this week with the Syrian foreign minister. And Syria is prepared to enter into discussions with the Iraqi interim government and with coalition forces.
And two weeks ago, Assistant Secretary of State Bill Burns with a delegation consisting of Pentagon officials, from both the military and civilian side of the Pentagon, and White House officials, went to Damascus and laid all of our demands and requirements and expectations out before President Bashar Assad.
And in my conversation with the Syrian foreign minister, I think they are beginning to understand that it is in their interest to not see their border as a porous feature that can be used for terrorists to get into Iraq.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, in the aftermath of that meeting in Damascus, U.S. officials and Syrian government officials including President Assad, there is talk of military-to-military cooperation, Iraqi military, U.S. military, coalition military and Syrian military strengthening some of the border areas. Is that happening already?
POWELL: That is happening, and we're calling them tripartite talks on the border.
It's a very porous border. It's not an easy border to control. And it's a border that people have been going back and forth across, smuggling and doing other things for thousands of years. But with additional technical equipment put in place and with cooperation between the sides, we can do a better job.
The conversations I had with the Syrians this week did not clear up all of the outstanding issues we have with the Syrians. But I found it to be more positive than earlier conversations.
BLITZER: Did they indicate they would be willing to participate in this international conference?
POWELL: I have not spoken to them directly about that. That's for Prime Minister Allawi to do. But I have seen no resistance and heard of no objection to participation in such a conference.
BLITZER: And that conference would be at the foreign ministers level?
POWELL: We would hope to have it at the foreign ministers level if all schedules permit it.
BLITZER: While we're talking about Syria, there is a report today that a Hamas leader in Damascus was gunned down, was killed. And there's suggestions that the Israelis did it. What can you tell us about this?
POWELL: I just saw that report a few moments ago, Wolf, and I have no other information on it other than the wire service information.
BLITZER: Apparently there was a strike against a car in which he was...
POWELL: I don't know the details of the incident.
BLITZER: If, in fact, the Israelis were responsible for killing a Hamas leader in Damascus, that seems to be a new element, a new escalation in this war that's been going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
POWELL: In the absence of more information, I don't think I should go there with this because I don't know anything more than a press report I looked at a few minutes ago.
BLITZER: Much more of my interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell, will be coming up in the next hour here on "LATE EDITION." He talks about the possibility of al Qaeda trying to influence the U.S. presidential election.
We'll get to more of Colin Powell coming up, and Senator Joe Biden, as well.
But up next, Jeanne's deadly devastation in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti. We'll go there live, when our special "LATE EDITION" continues.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of Hurricane Jeanne. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
While Jeanne is now pounding Florida, the storm's victims in the Caribbean are facing very long and hard recovery. Haiti took a catastrophic hit from Jeanne earlier in the week. At least 1,300 people were killed. Another 1,300 are still unaccounted for.
Haiti's third largest city, Gonaives, was especially hard hit. CNN's Karl Penhaul is live there. He's joining us via videophone with more.
Karl, set the scene for us. What's happening there today?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm just going to step out of the way of the camera for you for just a few moments, Wolf.
Now, you're going to be saying to me, "What is that?" Correct. That today is, just a few moments ago, this was going to be the main distribution center for United Nations aid and also aid donated by CARE International, one of the leading independent organizations here.
Hundreds of people had already gathered on the promise that they would receive that aid. They were queuing for several hours under a blazing hot sun, and then from one moment to the next, the United Nations official, together with an official from CARE International came up in a truck, simply waived their hands to the crowd, and said, "Today there's not going to be any aid."
That left those crowds to have to leave. They're wondering now, where is their next meal coming from? That's been the problem this whole week, Wolf. There's been absolute chaos in the aid distribution effort.
We've seen fighting. We've seen looting. We've seen United Nations troops opening fire in the air to dispel crowds. Even the United Nations officials say that it's been chaos. They initially blamed that on the Haitian government.
But today the United Nations has been firmly in charge of coordinating this effort, and today, when I asked why there wasn't going to be any food distribution here, one official simply said, "We can't guarantee security."
They do have a contingent of stabilization troops here, members of a U.N. force, but even with those people, they can't guarantee the security of the relief operation here. And that's causing the main problem. And so people here are getting hungry and desperate.
You must remember it's been now more than a week since Tropical Storm Jeanne lashed through this city of Gonaive, the worst affected city in northern Haiti, Wolf.
BLITZER: And there are hundreds of thousands of people there. Are we fearing, God forbid, starvation unfolding in Haiti, Karl?
PENHAUL: There is that worry from certain aid officials, because Haiti is already a desperately poor nation, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. And this, according to the words of one of the relief officials, has really pushed most of the Haitian population just over the edge. According to estimates, 300,000 people in northwest Haiti are in need of urgent aid.
That said, we have seen in the course of the day some of the street markets opening today. Talking there to some of the vendors and some of the buyers, prices have more than doubled since before the storm. So a lot of the ordinary Haitians are too poor to afford street market prices, and they also are not able to get their hands on this emergency aid that's supposedly being donated by the international community, Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Karl Penhaul on the scene for us in Haiti and Gonaive.
Karl, good luck to you. Good luck to the people in Haiti.
What a catastrophe unfolding there as a result of Jeanne.
And up next, much more of our special coverage of Hurricane Jeanne. We'll track the eye of this dangerous storm. Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, standing by with an update on where it's heading.
Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get the latest on Hurricane Jeanne, where it's heading, where it's been. Jacqui Jeras standing at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.
JERAS: Well, Wolf, the center of the storm is about over Dade City, Florida now, and the inner core, where the strongest winds are and the heaviest of rain, are now sandwiched in between Tampa Bay and Orlando.
As it continues to move west-northwest, that means the worst of the winds are over with for both of the big cities. It flew right along the I-4 corridor. We're seeing some very nasty conditions.
We're going to zoom out and show you how the width of this storm, because it's still pretty big and still covering most of central Florida. The showers and thunderstorms extend all the way up into Southern Georgia, and we're even seeing a little bit of isolated activity into the Carolinas. The wind gusts remain strong with 51 mile-an-hour in Tampa; 68 miles per hour in Orlando; Daytona Beach, at 47 miles per hour.
And this can still cause some problems. The peak gusts, though, were quite incredible. Vero Beach, 122 miles per hour. Lake Worth at 94 miles per hour. Boynton Beach at 87, and we can see Orlando was at 78 miles per hour. This is still a weak category 1 hurricane. 75 mile-per-hour winds, probably going to be a tropical storm by the 2:00 advisory.
And, by the way, Wolf, a couple of airport closures. Orlando expected to re-open at 12:00 noon tomorrow.
BLITZER: All right. Jacqui Jeras, we're going to get back to you. Thanks for that.
Update, coming up here on this special "LATE EDITION," what's making news right now in the headlines. We'll have the latest on this Hurricane Jeanne, what the storm has done, where it's headed.
Then more of my interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell, what he has to say about new allegations that the United States is planning to try to influence elections in Iraq.
Much more "LATE EDITION," right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're going to go back to Florida on our reporters covering Hurricane Jeanne. We'll also speak with the mayor of Vero Beach, Florida, about the damage there.
All that coming up. First though, a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hurricane Jeanne appears to be dying a slow death. The winds of the category-one storm have fallen to 75 miles per hour. Jeanne is close to becoming a tropical storm as it makes its way toward the Tampa Bay area right now.
Despite its weakened state, Jeanne's winds are still strong enough to cause significant damage. This tractor-trailer was blown over in Vero Beach, Florida, just a little while ago. I'll speak with the mayor. That's coming up.
Jeanne made landfall near there early this morning as a category- three storm with winds of 120 miles per hour.
In other news, violence strikes in the heart of Iraq this Sunday. Two car bombs explode on an Iraqi national guard base between Fallujah and Baghdad. The U.S. military says there are reports of American and Iraqi casualties.
Meanwhile, a military offensive is still under way in Fallujah. U.S. airstrikes have killed at least 14 Iraqis and left 10 injured this weekend alone.
Security forces kill a senior Taliban commander in the Afghanistan village of Pishi. Senior Afghan officials tell the Associated Press the commander and two other Taliban fighters were killed in a raid last night in that village. Authorities say they were planning an attack against the government.
Those are some of the headlines. Now back to our special "LATE EDITION." We're covering Hurricane Jeanne.
This hurricane is making its way to western Florida right now, where it's expected to hit the Tampa Bay area very, very soon. Earlier, the eye of the storm passed just south of Orlando, which is still getting pelted with heavy rain. The city remains under a curfew.
CNN's Eric Philips is in Orlando. He's joining us now live with the latest.
PHILIPS: Wolf, good afternoon. Although the eye of the storm passed underneath Orlando, south of Orlando, sometime ago, certainly we're still feeling the effects of the storm here in Orlando with winds gusting between 50 to 70 miles an hour.
Every so often, probably every five minutes or so, you'll have one of those strong gusts of wind that will come through that will be accompanied by a heavy driving rain.
Right behind me, I'm standing here in front of a pond. We're at a hotel where we have a little bit of cover. But behind this hotel, there's a pond, as you can see. And just take a look at the water if you can really get a good look at it, how it has waves in the pond, which you know, that's not normal. Because of the Hurricane Jeanne and the winds that have come through here, it's created even an unrest in what's normally a peaceful pond, not to mention the trees and how they have been sort of absorbing the shock of this storm all day long.
Power crews who are going to be out later on today and tomorrow, trying to restore power to the hundreds of thousands of people who don't have power right now here in Florida. Here in the Orange County, in the Orlando, Orange County area, we know that that number is at about 130,000 people with sporadic outages.
And really that's not a lot for a storm of the magnitude of Hurricane Jeanne. Officials are acknowledging it could be much worse. In fact, they were expecting it to be much worse. But because the storm took a turn and is now heading across the state toward Tampa as opposed to going up the Atlantic coast, Orlando really didn't get the worst of Jeanne that it could have gotten.
Still, flooding is an issue. It is a concern. Authorities are making sure that they emphasize the fact that they're not out of the woods. When we take into account the fact that the ground was already very saturated from Hurricane Frances and from other storms, when you have more rain coming on top of it, they are looking at the possibility of flash flooding here.
Meanwhile, because of the winds and the gusting winds that they've been receiving, we have seen some trees down, some trees blocking roadways, that sort of thing. But again, power outages just sporadic so far here in Orlando, although they're expecting it to get much worse before this is all over.
I should point out, as well, Wolf, that as far as the mindset of people where this storm is concerned, just about everyone here in Florida are sick of the storms. They're sick of hurricanes. Again, this is the fourth one.
However, they seem to be paying attention to what authorities were saying about evacuations and about curfew. Some people are out and about, but by and large, authorities are saying that they are paying attention.
One interesting note, though, whereas the day before Hurricane Frances hit, there were some 8,000 people in shelters, the day before this storm hit yesterday, there are only 1,300 people.
We're talking about just Orange County now. There are only 1,300 people in shelters as opposed to 8,000 the day before Hurricane Frances hit here in Orange County.
So people are tired. They are still heeding the warnings, though. What accounts for that number being so drastically lower, authorities are saying many people just decided to leave or either seek hotel shelters as opposed to going to the Red Cross shelters.
BLITZER: All right. Eric Philips reporting for us from Orlando.
Eric, thank you very, very much.
Hurricane Jeanne, moving across west Florida, the western coast of Florida. It's going to be hitting north of Tampa. Certainly already, though, it's left serious damage on the state's eastern coast, Vero Beach, Stuart and Melbourne.
Joining us now on the phone, the mayor of Melbourne, John Buckley.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
Give us the overview. How bad was it in your community?
JOHN BUCKLEY, MAYOR OF MELBOURNE, FLORIDA: It's been very serious. But it's probably not quite as bad as Frances did to us, what it did to us.
BLITZER: Give us a few specifics. What was it like during the worst of the hurricane?
BUCKLEY: Well, we lost the roof on the Sherwood Elementary School, which was one of our shelters. They had to move the people at 2:30 in the morning over to the Brevard Community College. Luckily, nobody was hurt or anything. But we've had a few things like a sinkhole on U.S. 1, a small one. But all of our signal lights are pretty much gone again.
BLITZER: How many people did you have to move, Mr. Mayor, out of that shelter? I take it was hard to drive people away from one location to another in the middle of a hurricane.
BUCKLEY: It was. It was. We moved about 300 of them.
BLITZER: And everything went smoothly?
BUCKLEY: Everything went as smoothly as could be.
BLITZER: What about the hospitals in Melbourne?
BUCKLEY: I have heard no reports of any problems with the hospitals.
BLITZER: How big of a community is your community?
BUCKLEY: About 75,000.
BLITZER: And has everyone lost power?
BUCKLEY: Probably. I'm guessing about two-thirds of them. My two daughters still have power. But I've talked to other people and they've all lost power.
BLITZER: What about looting? Is that a significant problem in Melbourne? BUCKLEY: We haven't had a problem with that so far.
BLITZER: So right now, are people back out on the streets now, or is it still pretty treacherous?
BUCKLEY: No, they're pretty much staying in house. I'm going to be going out shortly to try to see some of the damage that was done but most of the people are staying off the streets.
BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, have you ever seen anything like this: four hurricanes hitting your state within a period of six weeks?
BUCKLEY: In the 43 years I've been here, neither have I seen anything as bad as Frances or Jeanne.
BLITZER: Well, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Melbourne. John Buckley is the mayor. Thanks for spending a few moments with us.
BUCKLEY: Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Thank you.
The damage from these four hurricanes in six weeks has resulted in unprecedented relief efforts and challenges for the American Red Cross.
Joining us now, Patrick McCrummon is the director of the disaster public affairs section of the American Red Cross.
Patrick, thanks very much.
Give us a sense of perspective right now: four hurricanes, six weeks, the American Red Cross. Presumably, you've never seen anything like this either.
PATRICK MCCRUMMON, AMERICAN RED CROSS: It's really a massive relief effort for us. It's the largest natural disaster response we've had in Red Cross history, with four hurricanes blowing through in a seven-week period. It's just really devastating.
BLITZER: I assume you were still dealing with the remnants of the three other hurricanes before this one came upon us.
MCCRUMMON: Well, that's true. It's sort of good and bad news. The good news is that we have a lot of resources in place already in Florida and throughout the affected states.
BLITZER: What do you need you don't have there?
MCCRUMMON: Well, we've got resources. We've got volunteers. What we need is the generosity of the American people through donations to 1-800-HELP-NOW. That's really the best way to get help to the people of Florida.
BLITZER: But you have equipment, blood, all the equipment already prepositioned in various locations in Florida?
MCCRUMMON: Absolutely. We knew that this was going to be a pretty active hurricane season. And so we were in planning stages long before even Charley and Bonnie hit to make sure that we had the pieces in place to respond as quickly as we needed to.
BLITZER: But you didn't know there were going to be four significant hurricanes in a period of six weeks.
MCCRUMMON: Yes, it's an understatement that this has been an active season. And certainly we've had to bring in more resources as things have happened.
BLITZER: Well, what are you doing specifically to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane like this? We know you give out supplies and water and people need blood. That's what the American Red Cross is noted for. But you're also doing some counseling because people's lives have been shattered.
MCCRUMMON: Absolutely. As your reporter had said earlier, people are just tired. They've been through a lot. Some of them don't have homes to go back to. So the Red Cross deploys literally hundreds of mental health workers that are licensed counselors that help people just kind of get through what they have to deal with over the next weeks and months.
BLITZER: Are these volunteers who just come forward and want to help the American Red Cross?
MCCRUMMON: Absolutely. A lot of them are. Very many of them.
BLITZER: What else, people who are watching who aren't in Florida, can they do besides making a generous financial contribution? What else should they be doing?
MCCRUMMON: Well, one of the things this obviously points out is the need for people to have a plan and to be prepared for disasters, not just hurricanes but anything that can happen in their area. So they can certainly log on to redcross.org and find a lot of preparedness steps and things that they can do to be prepared for when disaster strikes their area.
BLITZER: Now that the hurricane is moving across Florida, going in to the Gulf of Mexico, head up to the panhandle, maybe into Georgia -- it should be a tropical storm by then, what advice do you have for people who want to get out of their houses? They want to see some of the damage. It could be dangerous in certain parts of these devastated areas.
MCCRUMMON: Absolutely. Well, the number-one thing is safety. Most of the deaths that happen as a result of these storms happen after the storm has passed when people are venturing out, roads are flooded. They get into an area where you can't really tell if the water has washed out the road. Those are dangerous areas and people need to be very careful and heed the warnings of local emergency management agencies. BLITZER: And with power lines down, we already have one report one person was electrocuted, apparently by a power line that was down in the Miami area, which is further south than where this hurricane hit.
MCCRUMMON: Yes, absolutely. And that's the unfortunate part of this, is that people just need to be very, very careful when they're allowed to go back to their homes.
BLITZER: All right. Patrick McCrummon, good advice for you. Thanks very much. Good luck to all the volunteers from American Red Cross.
MCCRUMMON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Patrick McCrummon, he's the director of the disaster public affairs section of the American Red Cross.
I want to take our viewers back to Orlando. One of our affiliate reporters from WFTV filed this report just moments ago.
GUSTAVO ALMODOVAR, WFTV-TV CORRESPONDENT: We were here about an hour and a half ago. When we left, the winds were very strong, the rain was basically going in this direction, and I've got to tell you. When we came back, it was exactly the same way when we left it here.
Now, if you take a look to my left, I want you to see exactly what's happening here on Lake Monroe. You can see that the waves are pretty much crashing onto the seawall here. There's not much left of the seawall, because, as you can see, Seminole Boulevard is now part of Lake Monroe.
Now, I've got to tell you. In the past five minutes or so, the wind has been picking up tremendously. I'm crouching down a little bit, because it almost knocked me over a couple of seconds ago, but I want to attempt to walk on Seminole Boulevard here, so you can see how deep it is.
I was over here a little while ago, and I want to show you, it goes almost all the way to my knees. We're on Seminole Boulevard, right here on the river walk. To my left, we've got those lakefront homes.
I spoke with some people earlier this morning, asked them about what they thought about what they're looking at. They said that they weren't sure if this was going to happen, but listen to this man. He said he was preparing anyway, bought some protectors for his seawall, about 60 or 70 feet of aluminum, to prevent any water from entering his home.
None of the homes right now are threatened, as far as flooding is concerned, but you can take a look behind me here. The seawall doesn't exist any more, because the waves have pretty much taken it over here. This is the bench where people would sit here and observe the lake. You can see that it's a couple of inches under water.
To my right, you're going to see some palm trees here that have been knocked down. There's about half a dozen of these palm trees that have been knocked down since we've been here this morning, and we presume that there's quite a few more of these palm trees knocked, the further east you go on the river walk.
BLITZER: That report from our affiliate WFTV. The reporter, Gustavo Almodovar, reporting from Lake Monroe in Florida. Very dramatic pictures indeed.
Up next, we'll go live to Vero Beach, Florida, to see the conditions there. We'll speak with the mayor.
We'll also get an update on where Jeanne expected to hit next. This path of the storm, a bit unpredictable, but it's moving to the west.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Vero Beach on the east coast of Florida, hard hit by Hurricane Jeanne. Let's go there live right now where affiliate reporter Lloyd Sowers of WTVT standing by.
Lloyd, give our viewers a sense of what happened in Vero Beach.
LLOYD SOWERS, WTVT-TV CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened in Vero Beach, Wolf, was that it was hit by two hurricanes in a period of three weeks, very storm weary people, people who don't have electricity yet again, people who are in shelters yet again.
I'll set the scene for you as we speak right now. People are beginning to be able to get out and take a look at some of the damage, as we show you over my shoulder here toward the Hampton Inn where we were bunkered for the night.
You see the sign is knocked down there. You also see some flooding over there toward the Hampton Inn. Also, I want to show you some video that we just shot just a little while ago. This is a truck stop at State Road 60 and I-95 in Vero Beach.
They had lined these big rigs up along a truck stop to try to protect the building from the wind. Obviously, as you can see, several of those big rigs were knocked over by gusts in excess of 100 miles-an-hour. Now, about a dozen truck drivers were inside the truck stop at the time. Fortunately, none of them were injured.
But they tell a harrowing tale of how those trucks went flying. One trailer, says a truck driver, was thrown up into the air and spun around before it came back down to rest. Another trailer, as you may have seen, landed on top of an SUV. Again, none of those truckers there were injured. But there is extensive damage. There is diesel fuel spilled around that area.
We have also seen some homes in the area. People that we have seen -- it's hard to tell the damage that was done from Jeanne last night from the damage done from Frances a little bit earlier.
We just spoke with one family who had one ceiling that collapsed in Frances, then we walked to another room, that ceiling collapsed last night in Jeanne. Fortunately for that family, they were bunkered in what they called a safe room. It was a hallway. They rode out the storm. They watched it through a window.
They actually described their car moving about two feet toward the house as the walls moved in the very intense winds of the storm last night, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lloyd, you were just north, only a few miles north of where this hurricane made landfall last night. I don't know if you've ever lived through a hurricane like this before. But what was it like from your personal perspective?
SOWERS: Well, I tell you, it was a lot like Frances, to tell you the truth. I was in this very spot for Frances three weeks ago. I would say the duration of Frances was longer. Frances was a more slow-moving storm, so many more hours of these intense winds coming through, whereas Jeanne last night was a faster moving storm. And I believe the gusts were more severe in some cases.
However, Frances moved past more quickly. We have heard from emergency officials here in the Vero Beach area though, and they say the storm last night, Jeanne, caused more significant damage than Frances and the clean-up will take longer here in Vero Beach as they recover from their second hurricane in three weeks. It has been a terrible, terrible season here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lloyd Sowers reporting for us from our affiliate, WTVT.
Thanks, Lloyd, very much. Good work.
Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist, standing by with an update now on this hurricane, where it's been, where it's going.
JERAS: Well, Wolf, we just heard Lloyd comparing Frances to Jeanne, and the forecast track is amazingly similar moving to the north of Tampa now and maybe making its way back over open water.
If you recall, Frances made a second landfall around Saint Marks, Florida, right over here. We're expecting it to probably be just a bit off to the east of there.
These are the coordinates and the statistics. This is from the 11 o'clock advisory. And we're only getting advisories now every three hours. So we're starting to spread them out.
It was barely a hurricane, with 75 mile-per-hour winds at 11 o'clock. And we do expect likely, with the 2 o'clock advisory, this will be downgraded to a tropical storm. However, we are seeing some pretty heavy showers and thunderstorms throughout much of the region right now.
And there you can see that forecast track. Within this track, the rain is going to be coming in around five to 10 inches still and then lesser amounts as it becomes a tropical depression and moves on through to Carolina.
There you can see the forecast track ever so close to Saint Marks once again. But we don't expect it to intensify, even if the eye does make it over land at that time. So that is some good news.
The threat of tornadoes starting to increase now this afternoon. A tornado watch in effect for central and northern Florida. It even extends up into southern parts of Georgia, Wolf.
And there you can see the center of circulation, just sandwiched right now between Tampa and Orlando.
BLITZER: Jacqui Jeras with the latest. And we'll be getting back to Jacqui, obviously, throughout all of our extensive coverage of Hurricane Jeanne.
Thanks, Jacqui, very much.
This note: We've just learned that the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, will be holding a news conference a little bit less than one hour from now, scheduled to begin at 2:15 p.m. eastern in Stuart, Florida. That's right where this hurricane made landfall. So we'll go to that news conference of course when the governor gets to the microphones.
Much more of our coverage of Hurricane Jeanne coming up. Plus, part two of my special interview with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.
More "LATE EDITION" right after this.
BLITZER: Hurricane Jeanne made landfall overnight not far from Hutchinson Island, Florida. In fact, that may have been the exact spot where it hit. Our reporter, Sara Dorsey, is joining us now on the phone.
How close was that landfall to Hutchinson Island, Sara?
SARA DORSEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We heard it was very close, Wolf.
And we are on our way to Hutchinson Island still. We've had to take a roundabout way coming from West Palm Beach here because the causeway, the first causeway we came to, was closed down. They had some buckling there and they're trying to get that fixed before they let cars through.
On our way down, the most significant damage, of course, we hear is on Hutchinson Island. So we're trying to make our way there.
But also, the Fort Pierce area, that beach area, we saw a gentleman wiping sand and water out of his apartment building. It's hard to tell how much is new and old damage. You see blue tarps blowing in the wind still.
But the sides of buildings facing the water are really the worst with windows broken out. Even those that have tried to put up shutters and things like that, even the shutters are gone at this point. And we see debris strewn across the streets, some of which could have been placed out by Frances, people trying to get rid of some of that stuff, but many of it new debris in this area.
Also, A1A, the road that we had to take to get here, is covered in sand, so it gives you an idea the storm surge that this area was seeing, a very significant amount of sand on those roads and debris still on the roads from where trees were pushed down as that water came through the area. So not just winds here. A lot of water damage, as well.
BLITZER: Are people out on the streets? Are they driving where you are, Sara?
SARA DORSEY: Surprisingly, yes. Now, over here close to Hutchinson Island and A1A, there's fewer people because the police are making people ID and things like that to get across the causeway. So a lot of people down here are those that chose to stay down here for the storm or maybe the few that could talk police into letting them through.
But whenever we left our hotel in West Palm Beach, that was something we were talking about to each other, how surprised we were that there were so many people out right after the storm. It seems like there's more now than there were after the others, Frances and Ivan, and things like that.
So, yes, we are seeing a significant amount of people right now.
BLITZER: Sara Dorsey, our reporter for us on the scene.
Sara, be careful over there.
Those people should be careful, as well. It could be dangerous to simply go out in the aftermath of a hurricane of this nature because there are power lines that are down. There could be flooding. There could be all sorts of other dangerous problems out there.
Not far away from where Sara Dorsey was reporting is Congressman Mark Foley, Republican of Florida. He's joining us on the phone, as well.
What's your district, Congressman Foley? How much damage was there to your district? REP. MARK FOLEY (R), FLORIDA: Wolf, it doesn't look so bad. I mean, I cover all of that entirety, and Frances hit us three weeks ago, so we're back where we were before. There's some structural damage. I understand the Jensen Beach Civic Center got its roof blown off.
But most of it's landscape and limited flooding. Obviously, we're going to assess the situation with Governor Bush, FEMA Director Michael Brown in just a few minutes.
BLITZER: Well, we're going to be hearing from Governor Bush at about 2:15 eastern, less than an hour from now. He's going to be holding a news conference.
This whole area along the east coast -- what I'm hearing you say, Congressman, is it could have been a lot worse than what you were bracing for?
Unfortunately, we've lost our connection with Congressman Mark Foley of Florida. We'll try to reconnect with him and get his assessment of what's going on.
Once again, we're standing by to hear from Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, 2:15 eastern, the latest on what's happening in that state. Four hurricanes in six weeks.
Up next, we're continuing to track Hurricane Jeanne. We'll get an update on what's happening in storm-battered Florida.
We'll also have part two of my interview conducted just a little while ago with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
More "LATE EDITION" when we come back.
BLITZER: Let's see what's happening in the news right now.
Jeanne moving across Florida, hitting one coast and tearing a path of destruction as it approaches the other. Several airports still shut down. There's been widespread damage to homes and buildings. More than a million customers lost electricity from the storm and one person was electrocuted in the Miami area after touching a downed power line.
Other news we're following. Initial U.S. military reports say there were U.S. and Iraqi casualties after a pair of car bombs went off earlier today in Iraq. The two bombs went off at an Iraqi national guard base on the road between Fallujah and Baghdad. No word on how many people may have been killed or injured. We're watching that story.
British military planes scrambled to escort an Olympic Airlines flight to a full emergency landing in London earlier today. A Greek official tells CNN the diversion of the Athens to New York flight was due to what's being called a bomb scare. A spokeswoman for the airport says all passengers evacuated safely, and they and their bags were being rescreened. More on that coming up.
Also coming up, much more coverage of what's happening in Florida, Hurricane Jeanne. A new hurricane, the fourth hurricane in six weeks. We'll go live to our reporters on the scene, including Gary Tuchman. He's been up all night. He's been staying on top of this story. We'll have the latest with Gary and our other reporters.
Also, more of my special interview with Colin Powell about the insurgency in Iraq.
Stay with "LATE EDITION."
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Hurricane Jeanne is now officially a tropical storm, meaning its winds are now less than 74 miles an hour. Good news. No longer Hurricane Jeanne, but Tropical Storm Jeanne, still capable, though, of causing extensive damage.
Our reporter Gary Tuchman is in Fort Pierce, Florida, on the east coast, not far from when then-Hurricane Jeanne made landfall around midnight last night.
Gary, you did some incredible work for us, for our viewers. What was it like?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, thank you, Wolf. I will tell you that it was incredibly uncomfortable and nerve-wracking and eerie and scary night, and I'm talking mostly for the people who live in this part of Florida.
You know, you're used to hearing the noises. It almost sounds like a freight train or 747s rumbling overhead continuously. But this lasted so long, I would estimate for about 17 hours, we had either tropical storm-force or hurricane-force winds, starting at about 5:00 Eastern time yesterday afternoon, continuing until about 10:00 a.m. this morning.
The only break we had is when the north part of the eye came over the Fort Pierce area. We didn't have complete calm, because it wasn't the center of the eye, but for about two hours and 15 minutes the winds were less than 15 miles per hour, and the rain stopped. But then, of course, it picked up again.
But what's amazing about the eye, just before it came, we had gusts of up to 120 miles per hour, and sustained winds of over 90 miles per hour for like three hours.
And just, you think about the children who are trying to sleep in homes with their parents, and their parents trying to comfort them, when they're frightened themselves. It was just so loud and frightening. And today, we look out, and we see so many roofs of homes that have been torn off, some completely destroyed, and we have one tremendously disturbing and sad story that took place here, in Fort Pierce. And that is this. Two witnesses called the emergency operations center at 9:43 p.m. precisely last night, saying -- two different people saying they saw a car plunge off a bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway leading from Fort Pierce to Hutchinson Island, which is the barrier island just a bit east of Fort Pierce. Well, police already warned people, if you don't evacuate, we can't help you once the hurricane strikes, and they were true to their word. They couldn't go out. It was too dangerous.
Several hours later, finally, when the winds died down, they did go out. They did not spot a car in the Intercoastal. However, they spotted a part of the bridge destroyed, the guardrail, indicating that a car did go through that guardrail. But as of now, hours later, they still haven't found a car, they haven't gotten a missing person's report, but they are fairly convinced that a car did plunge from that bridge.
We can tell you, Wolf, when the eye of the storm did arrive here, they did start making some emergency calls. People whose roofs were blown off, whose walls were blown off their homes, sitting in their cars, frightened. The police came, fire officials came and rescued them, brought them to shelters.
But, all in all, it was a very difficult night for people here. And you're wondering about the anxiety that people deal with. Four times now, over the last six weeks, they've dealt with these powerful hurricanes, but last night was just such a long one, and such a powerful one. And you really feel sorry for the people here.
BLITZER: Gary, when we saw those pictures of you standing there in the midst of the wind of this hurricane, Jeanne, a lot of our viewers very worried about your safety, especially projectiles that could come from anywhere, so much loose stuff around that become, literally they become weapons. In a situation like this, how are you protecting yourself from, God forbid, that kind of contingency?
TUCHMAN: Right. We certainly recognize that people who see television reporters standing out in hurricanes, and wonder, wow, they told us not to go out, and they're standing out there. And that's absolutely right. So, I never want to be a preacher when I'm on TV, and tell people, you shouldn't be out here, but I am.
We realize that some people do want to go out and see what's going on. Our whole purpose is to be outside, to demonstrate the force of the winds. Some people say, well, you shouldn't go out. Just show us the force of the winds.
Well, obviously, if I don't go out, our cameraman has to be out there showing you the force of the winds. So this is the only way we can tell the story, to be out in it. But we do not take foolhardy risks. We're family people too, and we have families who worry about us. We know, after covering these for so many years, what kinds of structures to stand near that offer the best protection. And I can tell you, over the years, in the strongest of hurricanes, whether it's Andrew, whether it's Hugo, whether it's Hurricane Jeanne last night, I have never stood next to a building that has suffered huge damage, because I know which buildings stand up well to hurricanes.
The buildings offer us cover from the wind. Once in a while, things do blow off the roofs, but we make sure we're not in a spot where the direction of the wind would blow the debris in our direction. And generally speaking, we know how to speak ourselves safe.
But there's no question that there have come times that we've been using this videophone -- the videophone allows us to go into places we might not normally go with our satellite trucks, because it takes a long time to set them up and to pull them out of areas. But with the videophone, within five minutes, we can move out and move in.
So there are periods with a videophone where we come to a conclusion that a place is too risky. When Hurricane Frances came, this exact same area three weeks ago, we were at the Fort Pierce city marina where there were 150 boats. In the middle of the night, the boats started bashing into each other. We realized this was a dangerous time. We left. We came back the next day. Seventy-five of the boats were destroyed crashing into each other and helped destroy the pier.
So we know when to pull out of dangerous areas.
BLITZER: Gary Tuchman did a very, very excellent job for us as he always does, not only on these stories, hurricanes, but on all the stories he does.
Gary, thanks very much. Thanks for that reassurance, as well.
Much more coverage of Hurricane Jeanne, now Tropical Storm Jeanne coming up.
Earlier though, we brought you the first part of my interview earlier today with the secretary of state, Colin Powell. We're going to return to that conversation now.
Among the topics in part two, concerns about al Qaeda trying to influence this year's U.S. presidential elections.
BLITZER: Let's get back to this whole issues of the no-go zones, because Fallujah has been a sensitive subject, as you well know. Parts of Fallujah right now, clearly not under coalition, Iraqi or U.S. control.
I want you to listen to what Marine Corps Lieutenant General James Conway said about the decision to prevent the Marines from finishing the job in Fallujah when they thought they could.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. JAMES CONWAY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: When you order elements of a Marine division to attack a city, then you really need to understand what the consequences of that is going to be and not, perhaps, vacillate in the middle of something like that. Once you commit, you've got to stay committed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It sounds like he's upset that they held the Marines back from finishing it off when they could.
POWELL: Well, we did have to consider the consequences of a full-scale assault on the city at that time, back in April. And one of the consequences might have been the total collapse of the political process. The Governing Council at that time would have probably fallen apart if there had been a full-scale assault on the city.
We don't like the situation in Fallujah, and when you talk about no-go zones, Fallujah is the tough one. The other ones, I think, are more manageable. Ramadi and Samarra, I think we'll get those back under control, and then we'll have to deal with Fallujah.
But we're not waiting until the last minute. As you noted this week, we have been taking more and more aggressive action against insurgent locations within Fallujah.
We understand the challenge that we're facing, and our military commanders are gathering their resources and starting to put in place plans that will deal with these so-called no-go zones. Most of them are in the Sunni triangle.
When you go outside the Sunni triangle, you go to the southern part of the country, or the northern part of the country, although there are incidents that take place there, in general, it's relatively stable. Municipal councils are being formed. People are holding elections. Schools are being rebuilt. As Prime Minister Allawi said, there are many good things that are going on.
The reconstruction money is now starting to flow. As of yesterday, roughly $7 billion has been obligated and committed. Hasn't been spent yet...
BLITZER: Only about $1 billion has been spent.
POWELL: Only a billion -- a little over a billion, which is three times more than at the end of June, when we changed responsibility from CPA over to Ambassador Negroponte.
So this is ramping up quickly, and this money will really start to flow in a considerable quantity.
BLITZER: There is a story in a new issue of Time magazine, suggesting that there was an intelligence finding, a recommendation, that the U.S. take overt or covert measures to help certain politicians in Iraq get elected in these upcoming elections. It came under some resistance from some members of the intelligence committees up on the Hill. What can you tell us about this?
POWELL: Well, obviously, we never discuss covert programs, but in this instance, I will say that we have a record of overtly supporting candidates for government, candidates for office in governments that are going through the process of transitioning to democracy.
And so we will be providing assistance for capacity- building in parties so that we can see a political system come alive in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And we'll be doing it overtly.
BLITZER: Overtly. So there's not going to be a covert program.
POWELL: And I'll try to discuss covert programs. But I will say that we do have overt programs and everybody knows about them.
BLITZER: So somebody like Prime Minister Allawi you would presumably support?
POWELL: Well, we don't go after specific candidates. What we try to do is create capacities so that all those who want to participate in the electoral process and want to create political parties and need help in creating those parties and getting their message across, we will be providing assistance overtly as we have done in many places around the world.
BLITZER: At that news conference in the Rose Garden when the president was with Prime Minister Allawi this week, the president said something rather provocative. I want you to listen to what he said and get your interpretation of what he meant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere in America and other free nations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What is he suggesting there?
POWELL: What he's suggesting is that terrorism is not just restricted to targets in the United States and not just in Iraq. We are facing a worldwide problem of terrorism. And a number of terrorists have now seen fit to go to Iraq to start trouble and to join the insurgency. And they might as we'll be dealt with there. Because these are the sort of terrorists that will go to other places in the world and start trouble.
BLITZER: So the terrorists in Iraq who are fighting, whether the insurgents, the Fedayeen, the Saddam loyalists, or whoever -- if the U.S. doesn't get the job done in Iraq there, they might come and attack the United States? POWELL: These individuals might go somewhere else and attack. They did not start in Iraq. They came to Iraq from elsewhere. And the nature of these organizations, especially al Qaeda, is they will seek trouble somewhere. They will conduct their terrible crimes somewhere else in the world if it is not here. Now, I would just as soon they not be in Iraq or anywhere else. But if they are in Iraq causing trouble, let's destroy them in Iraq so they can't go anywhere else.
BLITZER: The U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, this past week suggested that the whole U.S.-led war in Iraq was illegal. I want you to listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it. And those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tough words.
POWELL: Yes, he didn't specifically identify Iraq in his speech. He did a week earlier...
BLITZER: Earlier. You got BBC interview.
POWELL: ... to be precise. In a BBC interview, he used the language that it was illegal. We disagree with that. We believe it is legal and we have a strong case to make and we've made that case.
And his comments earlier this week at the U.N. in his speech, he was talking about legitimacy, both within everyone's nation and then as we conduct international affairs. And we certainly subscribe to the notion of legitimacy in what we do.
And what we did in Iraq, we think rested on a solid legal base, a legal base that reflected 12 years' worth of U.N. resolutions directed against the Saddam Hussein regime, with which they did not comply.
That's the reason President Clinton went after them in 1998 in Operation Desert Fox when he bombed for four years. U.N. resolution 1441, in our judgment, the resolution before the war, in our judgment, provided sufficient legal base on top of the all other previous resolutions.
BLITZER: A couple of points before I let you go. Several Republicans, including your deputy Richard Armitage, made some provocative statements, as well.
Senator Hatch: "Terrorists are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry."
Armitage: "Terrorists are trying to influence the election against President Bush." Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House: "I think you'll see al Qaeda trying to influence this election."
What's your best reading on al Qaeda? Are they trying to get President Bush defeated?
POWELL: I can't speak for Osama bin Laden. What I do know is that they will seek to conduct terrorist attacks around the world at any nation that they judge is against their desires. And what they're trying to do right now in Iraq is to keep the Iraqi people from having a successful election at the end of January of 2005. The terrorists and the insurgents in Iraq are determined to affect the Iraqi election.
Now, our election happens to come between then and now. But I think their principal goal is not to allow the Iraqi people to have a free and fair election. And I don't want to get into speculation about who's doing what to whom concerning the election.
BLITZER: We have to leave it right there, Mr. Secretary. Thanks very much.
POWELL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking with me earlier today here in Washington. And coming up in the next hour on this special three-hour "LATE EDITION" we'll get the Democratic response from Senator Joe Biden, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Plus, we're continuing to watch Hurricane Jeanne, now tropical storm Jeanne. It's been downgraded. We'll give you the latest forecasts when we come back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our expanded "LATE EDITION." Once Hurricane, now Tropical Storm Jeanne hits Florida, the fourth storm to batter the Sunshine State in six weeks. It's clearly taking a major toll both physically, psychologically as well.
We're checking in with our CNN reporters covering Jeanne in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what else is in the news right now.
Tropical Storm Jeanne threatening the gulf coast of Florida. The storm roared on Florida's east coast around midnight as a category- three hurricane. Emergency management officials say it's too early to make initial damage assessments. Video has shown flooding and damage to many, many homes. More than a million customers right now without electricity.
A bomb scare diverting an Olympic Airlines flight from Athens to London. The flight was bound for JFK Airport in New York City. A Greek official says an anonymous caller phoned an Athens newspaper with a bomb threat. British military aircraft escorted the plane to its landing. All passengers were evacuated safely and they were told they and their bags would be rescreened.
Violence striking in the heart of Iraq earlier on this Sunday. Two car bombs exploded at an Iraqi national guard base between Fallujah and Baghdad. The U.S. military says there are reports of American and Iraqi casualties. It's not clear how many people might have been killed or wounded.
A leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas has been killed in Syria. An official from the organization says Izz Eldine al-Sheik Khalil died in a car explosion in Damascus. He's the latest Hamas leader to be killed in recent months. The Hamas spokesman blames Israel, which so far has had no official on the record comment.
Now back to "LATE EDITION."
We're also standing by for my interview with Senator Joe Biden, his response to my earlier interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Jeanne has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm. Our Jacqui Jeras is standing by at the CNN Weather Center with the latest on this tropical storm.
JERAS: Wolf, the 2 o'clock advisory is in, and two significant things happened. It did weaken to the tropical storm, and that brings wind at 70 miles per hour, and the direction, the movement, has changed a little bit. It's finally taken more of that northerly turn that we were expecting and is now moving northwest at 10 miles per hour.
It's 20 miles to the southeast of Brooksville, Florida. Here you can pick out the center of rotation. There you can see it on the map just about over I-75 and Brooksville is right about here, so it is heading toward the gulf coast. And then it is expected to continue turning up to the north and then northeast as it curves back around, moves across Georgia, and then into the Carolinas.
We still want to take this very seriously. Tropical-storm-force winds at 70 miles per hour, they extend out more than 100 miles from the center of the storm. And we will start to focus then on the flooding concerns into Georgia and into the Carolinas and still a chance of tornadoes yet this afternoon.
BLITZER: Should people simply relax when they hear, Jacqui, that this is only a tropical storm as opposed to a hurricane?
JERAS: No, not at all. Seventy mile-per-hour winds are the maximum sustained. But we can still see some gusts beyond that, getting close to hurricane-force, and that can cause some serious tree limbs to come down.
Of course, the ground here is very, very saturated, too, so some smaller trees could still topple over and power outages are still a possibility, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jacqui Jeras with the latest on that.
Thanks, Jacqui, very much.
This note to our viewers: We're standing by in about 15 minutes or less to hear from the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, on the latest hurricane to hit his state, four hurricanes in six weeks. We'll go to that news conference live once it happens.
The world famous tourist destination, namely Orlando, Florida, among the areas that has been pounded by Jeanne. CNN's Eric Philips is in Orlando. He's joining us now live with more.
PHILIPS: Well, Wolf, emergency management officials here in Orlando are telling us now that the worst of the storm is now over. There was a hurricane warning in effect here in Orange County, where Orlando is located, until 1 p.m. eastern time. That has now passed.
And the emergency management official spokesperson said that we were fortunate, and then she paused and said, "Isn't it funny what circumstances we now consider to be fortunate these days?"
Right behind me, though, you can see that the wind is still pounding out here, and the rain is still falling. We are at a Marriott hotel here in Orlando, and this pond right behind the hotel I've been sort of showing you all day long what the rain and wind have been doing to whip up the waters of this pond. It's a little bit calmer now than it has been in the last couple of hours, and again that's because the wind is starting to die down some.
Never did feel those hurricane-force winds here in Orlando that they felt in other parts of the state and that they expected to feel here.
But they did sustain winds between 50 and 70 miles an hour for a couple of hours at least this morning, going into this afternoon.
Emergency management officials also telling us that there are some 120 to 130 thousand people without power, and that they are now starting to just get out a little bit and survey the land, that there are no deaths associated with Jeanne as of yet, and not serious structural damage either.
Our own crew, our own CNN crew has gone out looking around, and just trying to get a handle on what the storm did here. They found some downed trees, blocking some roadways, downed limbs, that type of thing, but nothing really serious in terms of structural damage.
We're hearing that there are search and rescue teams that are being formed now, teams made up of about 35 people that will be going out into the coastal areas, those areas most hard-hit by the storm, to sort of survey the situation and see what they can do to help out.
Of course, power crews will be busy for the next several days, perhaps up to three weeks, trying to get the power back on to the hundreds of thousands of people here in Florida who are without power. Jeanne definitely has left her mark here, and she's not finished yet.
BLITZER: Eric Philips reporting from Orlando for us.
Thanks, Eric, for that report. Thanks for all your strong work as well.
For some parts of Florida, flooding has been a serious problem since this hurricane season began. Jeanne is adding to the misery for many cities, including Vero Beach. Joining us now on the phone is the mayor of Vero Beach, Tom White.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
How serious is the flooding problem there?
TOM WHITE, MAYOR OF VERO BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, with the water starting to recede, we came out here this morning, we had to get high water vehicles to get over to the barrier island to check some of the damage. I'm over here now. The wind is still blowing pretty bad, but the water's starting to recede. There's some areas you still can't drive through.
We had a lot of blowouts, you know, like the front door is blown out through the sliding glass down in the back. We have a lot of condominiums that are totally destroyed.
BLITZER: But fortunately, there's no serious injuries and, God forbid, no deaths, is that right?
WHITE: So far, we haven't heard of any serious injuries or deaths.
BLITZER: How close was Vero Beach to where this hurricane made landfall?
WHITE: We were just on the worst part of it, in the north eye. The north eye was the most severe winds. We registered over 120 miles per hour and hit the airport.
BLITZER: Where were you, Mayor, during the worst part?
WHITE: Well, I got back into -- right about in my house at about 10:30 last night, the hurricane force winds started about 10:00. We started we did -- go ahead.
BLITZER: What was it like, for our viewers, who've never, fortunately had to live through a hurricane? Give us a little flavor of what was it like riding it out in your own house?
WHITE: Well, it's just, when you're sitting there and you listen to the wind. The wind is, I guess, the most scary, and then you hear things that go bump, like branches falling, or things hitting the house from the debris that's flying. And you don't know, you can't see, because our power's out, you can't see what's going on outside, and because your windows are all boarded up, and it's kind of nerve- wracking, because you know you won't be able to know what damage was caused until the morning.
BLITZER: You have no power, but you do have a transistor radio, so at least you're getting a little flavor of what's going on, on the radio, right?
WHITE: I have two-way communications with the emergency operations center, I have my own two-way radio, I have a NOAA radio, and I also have a battery-powered, that's standard if you're a Floridian.
BLITZER: How far from the ocean is your house?
WHITE: I'm only about half a mile from the ocean.
BLITZER: So you were pretty much in harm's way over there. Did most of the people in Vero Beach get out, or did they try to ride it out like you did?
WHITE: Believe it or not, we had more evacuees and more people in the shelter during Hurricane Frances than we did for Jeanne, and I believe a lot more people tried to ride this storm out, and that's why we're very surprised that the injury list isn't higher than what it is.
BLITZER: Was that the result of what some people are calling hurricane fatigue, the fourth hurricane in six weeks to hit Florida, people just said, you know what, I'm not going to bother?
WHITE: It is exactly right, and then some people are in denial, saying that it's impossible we're going to be hit with the exact same path and a little bit more strength. They just couldn't believe it.
BLITZER: So your community really was lucky, given the fact that a lot of people just stayed there.
WHITE: Absolutely, and we're starting on the road to recovery now. We're already starting to clean the roadways and we're trying to get cleaned up, so we can get some normal life back to our citizens in the next week or so.
BLITZER: It's a beautiful place, Vero Beach. And good luck to you, Mr. Mayor, good luck to all the people there.
WHITE: Well, thank you, I appreciate it very much.
BLITZER: Tom White joining us on the phone. He's got his work cut out for him. We're awaiting a live news conference. The governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, expected to start in only a few minutes. We'll go there live once he speaks. We anticipate this news conference taking place there.
You see there a live picture at the news conference in Stuart, Florida, not far from where this hurricane made landfall at midnight last night.
We'll also check in with our reporters on the scene. Our Sarah Dorsey, she's standing by on Hutchinson Island. That's where the eyewall of the storm made landfall.
Our special "LATE EDITION" will continue right after a short break.
BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of Stuart, Florida. That's where the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, momentarily will be walking in there, having a news conference, update Floridians and, indeed, the entire nation what's going on in a state. Four hurricanes in six weeks. We'll go to this news conference once the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, shows up. That should be momentarily.
The eyewall of Jeanne came ashore overnight on Hutchinson Island. There's been significant damage there. Our reporter, Sara Dorsey, is already there. She's joining us from the scene.
Sara, give our viewers a little flavor of what you're seeing.
SARA DORSEY: OK, well, first, I want you to look at the ocean and see where it is right now. OK? There's large waves coming in, but last night the water made it all the way up here to the ocean rise apartments.
And he'll pan around and give you a good look. Hurricane Jeanne just washed right into this area, broke the glass out. And you can see here this sand, it's solid sand in here. Also you can see portions of the ocean wood in here, all the furniture was pushed to the back wall.
This is a perfect example of why emergency crews tell people to get off of the Barrier Islands because this is exactly what can happen. Four people actually rode this storm out in the building. They've done this before, they tell me. And I asked why. Why would you ride out, you know, at a time like this, when they say it's going to be dangerous and the storm is picking up speed? And they told me money was the factor.
They left during Frances and came back during Jeanne because they were just running out of money, and that's why a lot of people have had to say the reason that they stayed.
Now these particular apartments were not boarded up, and that is because they're told that they board the bottom row of the apartment buildings if a strong enough wave or strong enough winds come through here, it can cause structural damage to the whole building.
So many people of these heeded the warning of their landlords, and didn't board up, and you can see what that got them. There's a gentleman just down from me that did board up. He decided to ignore what he was told, put some boards up and lost nothing. His home is still perfectly intact. And he said, during Frances, he had a little water damage that came in because he didn't board up, but Jeanne for this area was much worse.
Another interesting thing they told us, Wolf, was that eye passed through here, it was very calm, something you wouldn't expect. You always hear about the eye being so horrible, and he said it's the eyewall right before it gets bad and the western side of it that's bad as it comes through. But that was the best sleep they got, was when that eyewall actually came through, because it was very calm and quiet.
So, as you can tell just by looking at the apartment here behind me, it's going to be a long recovery process for the people here on Hutchinson Island.
BLITZER: Sara Dorsey, reporting for us. Thanks, Sara, very much. We'll be checking back with you throughout the day.
She's where the hurricane made landfall around midnight last night. Extensive damage clearly to those condominiums.
We're going to continue our special coverage of Hurricane Jeanne, downgraded now to a tropical storm, as it moves across Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
We're standing by momentarily, a live news conference, the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, will be walking into this room, updating our viewers on what exactly has happened and what's happening right now. The governor of Florida, standing by for him.
Also, more of our reporters and mayors in Jeanne's path. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're standing by for the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, to brief all of us on what has happened in his state. Jeb Bush will have a news conference. We'll have live coverage. That's coming up from Stuart, Florida, near where this hurricane made landfall. We'll go there as soon as he comes into the room.
In the meantime, Nancy Alvarez of our affiliate, WKNG, is in Indialantic, Florida, standing by.
Nancy, where exactly is Indialantic?
NANCY ALVAREZ, WKNG-TV CORRESPONDENT: Well, to give you an idea of where we are, we are just east of the city of Melbourne and just south of Cocoa Beach. I want to give you a look at the beach here behind me as I try desperately to hold onto my hat. Significant beach erosion in this area. We had just gotten a break from the rain but the wind has been relentless out here. You can see this boardwalk I'm on just up here to the point where I'm at. It is completely shattered by the force of the water and the wind and the rain that pelted this area overnight.
Just, if you work your way down over here, you can continue to see this beach erosion. But what we are seeing more and more of, of course, is course is curious onlookers, who are leaving their homes and working their way out here to the beach because they just can't help it. Honestly, they're tired of being cooped up in their homes. They're curious.
I'm joined here by Tony who lives in the city of Melbourne.
Are you suffering from what we've been talking about, this hurricane fatigue?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, pretty much. It's very frustrating. I mean, after Frances, you lose power. You're out for a couple of weeks. Then you get, you know, this next one coming in here, Jeannie. You're just tired. You want to get back to normal.
ALVAREZ: And of course emergency managers really stressed that they really wanted people to evacuate but so many people did not. Many people said it's just too expensive to do this again. I'm exhausted. What made you stay?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, our house was built post-Andrew so it's very strong. Just want to get back to normal as quick as possible. I mean, if you evacuate, what are going to do: evacuate to Orlando or Tampa? I mean, they're getting beat up right now. All you're doing is just trying to run away from the storm surge.
ALVAREZ: Exactly. Thank you, Tony.
Really, just what he's saying really mirrors what a lot of people are saying out here. There really isn't anywhere in our area that isn't affected by this storm. And many people felt, I might as well just stay home, instead of heading to other areas where they're just going to face the very same thing.
One more time, we want to give you a look at the beach out here. Again, we've gotten a break from the rain but the wind relentless. So much beach erosion in this area of our coast already from Frances. This is the very last thing we needed.
We're going to send it back to you, Wolf?
BLITZER: Nancy Alvarez, thanks very much for that report.
Nancy Alvarez with our affiliate WKNG in Indialantic on the coast over there.
You're looking at live pictures now from Stuart, Florida, not all that far away. The governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, is now there at site of this emergency center. He's going to be briefing reporters, his aides already starting the process. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... administrator. And we're all gathered here not for an occasion that we like to be gathered for. Martin County, unfortunately, was the eye -- the center of the eye of the storm for the second time in three weeks. Our residents are dealing with a lot of turmoil, a lot of stress, and a lot of inconvenience.
We had a number of structures this time. Under Frances, we had major damage. Some of the structures have now crossed over into a demolished category. We've had individuals whose homes were compromised due to roofs. And we've continued to have excessive vegetation debris.
We greatly appreciate Governor Bush, Congressman Foley, all of our local representatives for being here and focusing attention on Martin County needs in a very prompt manner. With that I'd like to introduce Governor Jeb Bush.
JEB BUSH, GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA (R): Thank you. I hope this is the last time we come to Martin County to deal with a hurricane.
This has been, as we know, an historic six-week period. Never before, I guess since 1880, has there been a state that has received four hurricanes at once. And back in 1880 in Texas, where the last time it happened, there were probably 100,000 people that lived there. We're a state of 17 million and just about everybody's been impacted by the storm in one way or the other.
And we're here to say that on the short-term basis, immediate relief will be coming in the form of ice and water. And it will be replenished. Once the storm passes, we have staging areas in Lakeland, Jacksonville, Homestead. Homestead is actually moving its way up I-95 as we speak. So immediate relief will be here.
The special needs shelters manned and womanned by some really professional public health nurses. There will be additional relief in that regard. The ongoing recovery efforts of Jeanne won't be -- excuse me, Frances, it's all one big storm to me now -- won't stop.
FEMA will open up the disaster recovery centers again so people can begin to solicit the financial support. And on the long-term basis, this state will not only survive, it will rebound.
It's a resilient place full of incredibly talented people. And I'm really proud to be governor of a state where I can honestly say that a year from now, in spite of what's happened in the last six weeks, we will be stronger and we will be better because of what we've gone through.
And I appreciate everybody in this room that has done amazing work over the last six weeks. These are the quiet, unsung heroes of Florida. They're from all over, all parts of government, the public and private sector. We forget what little pigeon hole we used to be part of.
When there's an emergency, everybody works together, irrespective of rank. And it is an amazing, amazing feat that these folks have done to protect people in Martin County. With that, I'm just grateful to be here.
And I got to make one other comment. I've done this before. Mark Foley is the only congressman in the United States that has had a three-storm hit to his district in six weeks. Hopefully, there will never be another one. That won't be your legacy, Mark.
But Mark also represents the part of southwest Florida, where Charley hit as well, and it's been nonstop for him and a lot of his constituents, and it's going to get a lot better. That I promise.
QUESTION: Governor, do you have any early assessment of the damage from the storm, which counties were hardest hit?
J. BUSH: I would say, based on the initial reports, it was Martin, St. Lucy and Indian River. Again, same as Frances. The interior counties were still -- the storm's still here. I mean, we're kind of getting used to this. This is a little strange to have a press conference about a hurricane that still hasn't finished leaving.
It's a tropical storm, just got downgraded at 3 o'clock, I believe. So the storm is still here. There's tremendous possibilities of flooding in the north central part of the state, where there's just been massive rain already.
And the west coast may get hit. There's a lot of low-lying areas that the storm may have done some damage there, but the initial estimates on the coast here, at least the Treasure Coast, was most hit.
QUESTION: Governor, have you had a chance to see the damage done (OFF-MIKE)?
J. BUSH: No, we can't -- when we landed, it was about 35 to 40 mile-an-hour winds in Boca Raton. So I appreciate our pilot letting us -- our pilot was either crazy enough or nice enough to do that for us. So there's no way to get on a helicopter right now.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) took the worst hit?
J. BUSH: You know, I think I can safely say they all took more than they wanted and all of it is a significant storm -- all of the damage in the three counties was significant. It's like saying which child do you, you know, you love the most? I love all of my children.
And this is, this damage, when you compound it with the fact that Frances, the track was very similar, there will be significant roof damage. The recovery efforts will be slowed a bit, but we're in this over the long haul, and we're going to recover.
QUESTION: Governor, when Charley hit tourism officials were talking about embarking on a campaign (OFF-MIKE). Three storms later, do you feel that the four storms will have an impact on tourism, but on what has been a steady flow of people moving down here permanently?
J. BUSH: No, I think people will move down here. And if you look at the people that -- the new construction, based on these four storms, our building code is pretty darned good. I mean, it's not just anecdotal. You can see it across the state that strong building codes will allow structures to survive the winds that we've experienced in the last six weeks.
I am concerned about the visitor industry temporarily. We have lots of new visitors, 14,000 Red Cross volunteers, utility truck crews, and we're inviting more of them, obviously, down as quickly as possible, particularly from the Southeast. As the storm passes, we hope that Florida Power and Light continues to contract outside people to come in and to help with the powering up of this area.
But we need to replace those folks with visitors that come back to vacation. That's going to be important. So we are considering supporting a promotion effort. We've done the same for agriculture, which is critical for this part of the state and for our state in general.
And our economy is going to be hurt for awhile, which is why we have these small business administration loans are appreciated and these bridge loans that we've put together are very helpful, and we'll consider expanding that now with this additional storm.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) validate more money to Florida given the (OFF-MIKE)?
J. BUSH: I'll let our congressman speak on that.
FOLEY: Well, we have been working very, very hard, and the White House has been incredible trying to help Florida. We started with a $2.5 billion supplemental for Charley. And between then, we were dealing with Frances. On the floor this week, we will have at least a $3.5 billion bill coming forward, to help the Corps of Engineers on beach renourishment, to help with NASA rebuilding, to help backfill the money to FEMA.
Now, obviously, we have Ivan, and we have Jeanne. So we would expect the calculator, Bill Young, the chairman of Appropriations -- we're quite lucky in Florida, the chairman happens to be the head of the pursestrings of the federal government. Of course, the governor's brother is president.
We're going to work to mitigate the problems. This has been repeatedly asked of us: do we have enough resources to help the people in their communities? And the answer is absolutely yes.
We will make certain that everyone's lives are restored. It will take time. It will require patience. But you will probably hear more about that $3.5 billion bill being plussed up during the next 72 hours.
QUESTION: To the governor, I actually asked a similar question to the congressman earlier today, he talked about how the amount of appropriations, when it gets around the $10 billion mark, they call it a Christmas tree bill, and everyone wants to tack on their little project to it. Are you concerned about, if it does get to that point, it might stymie (OFF-MIKE)?
J. BUSH: I am concerned about that, because, after all, it's Washington, D.C., and it's a month before the election, and it already -- by the actions taken not by the House but by the Senate, that process had started. They were going to include our supplemental in a homeland security budget that had all sorts of other things attached to it that related to drought relief in South Dakota for some odd reason. I wonder why that would be important.
In any case, those issues are important, but they ought to be separate. I would suggest a standalone bill. This is so dramatic, this impact of the state, and there doesn't appear to be any opposition or any argument about the need for this, and so make it be standalone, make it bipartisan, and Floridians will be far better off.
FOLEY: And on that note, Mr. Young, the chairman, and the White House have spoken to Senator Ted Stevens, who is the Appropriations Chairman, and asked specifically to let this bill remain clean. He has agreed to to do that. That is a significant step.
QUESTION: Governor, you haven't had a lot of time to go over lessons learned from one storm to another. Is the state any better at this?
J. BUSH: Well, I'll tell you, I think the team here, in coordination with the state emergency operations center, the National Guard, if you take best practices that have been developed, Florida has the best emergency response system in the country.
Maybe, I mean, comparable to New York, which has some unique experiences in that regard related to September 11th and previous terrorist attacks. But for natural disasters, you won't find a better place in the country than in Florida.
Now, having said that, yes, we've learned from these storms. Each one was different, and each one created an opportunity to learn. For example, with Frances, the storm was so slow, and it was so widespread that it made it difficult to get the fundamentals of water and ice into Martin County, St. Lucy County, and Palm Beach, because it all had to come from -- on I-95 from Jacksonville.
So we have staged ice, water, ice and water in Homestead for the initial support, and then we have locations in different parts of the state to be able to provide relief, even though this is going to be a challenge, because we've got so many counties impacted. We at least have spread out our inventory of immediate relief.
At the same time this is happening, the Salvation Army and Red Cross are bringing their trucks in. They were staged a little bit differently, based on the experience of the other hurricanes. When I was here, gosh, was it three weeks ago for Jeanne...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three weeks ago Friday. Frances. J. BUSH: Frances. I keep -- these sisters are getting me, they look so much alike.
We notice that the specialists in each shelter had nurses, particularly, but personnel in there that had been working for three and four days straight, 24 hours, with very complex issues they had to contend with. And so now we have staged reinforcements, public health nurses from Washington, from -- that come from federal teams, as well as other state teams to provide relief. We have a secondary shelter now in Lantana for...
BLITZER: All right, so the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, becoming a very familiar figure on the national scale, on the national level right now, given all these hurricanes that have affected his state, four hurricanes in six weeks, making the case that the state will emerge stronger. Hard to believe, but four hurricanes in six weeks, causing extensive damage to the state of florida, billions of dollars in damage.
Florida Power and Light reporting now maybe a million homes still without power. That number may or may not grow in the next several hours.
We're going to continue our extensive coverage. Tropical Storm Jeanne -- it's been downgraded now to tropical-storm level. We have reporters standing by throughout the state. Much more coverage coming up.
Also our interview with Senator Joe Biden responding to Secretary of State Colin Powell earlier today.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: As we just heard from the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, people are just beginning to assess the damage from Hurricane Jeanne. Charmayne Brown is with our affiliate WJXT. She's in Green Cove Springs right now.
It looks a little messy still where you are, Charmayne. Set the scene for us.
CHARMAYNE BROWN, WJXT-TV CORRESPONDENT: We are here in Green Cove Springs, which is about 30 miles south of Jacksonville. And, as you can see, the rains are whipping, the winds picking up substantially here.
Take a look out -- this is the St. John's River. And as you can see, the waters are very choppy, folks. This has been what it's looked like pretty much of the morning here. And as you can see, they're washing up a whole bunch of things here.
We have these plankings here. Earlier today, these things were just loose. And if you look here, it actually gave way here against the sea wall. Water has been crashing against the sea wall here all morning long. The folks here expected to be without power for some time.
As with Hurricane Frances, a lot of them were without power for a couple of days. Take a look down here. As you can see, we have people who are out here, but a lot of them making their way to their homes right now, because the water is getting really high here.
As you can see, many whitecaps out here, banging against the sea wall. It's been like this for much of the day. A lot of people putting their boats up high. It's been very windy. We're feeling about 25 mile-per-hour winds here.
And officials here are telling us that we have about 300 people in shelters, especially those folks living in low lying flood-prone areas, because, as you can see, it's very windy out here.
But folks, I have to tell you, this is not the worst. They're telling us that it's going to get much worse around 4 o'clock. Again, earlier this morning, it was not this windy, and not this much rain, but now, we have rain and water coming up against the sea wall here.
We have a lot of people in this area who are expecting to have to weather this storm for a couple of days, and that's what going on here in Green Cove Springs, which is about 30 miles south of Jacksonville.
For now, we're live in Clay County. I'm Charmayne Brown.
BLITZER: Charmayne, thanks very much.
Charmayne with our affiliate WJXT, reporting from Green Cove Springs, as she said, not far from Jacksonville. It looks like flooding clearly a serious problem in that part of Florida.
Let's go to the other side of Florida to Tampa right now. Joining us on the phone is the mayor of Tampa, Pam Iorio.
Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
Is this tropical storm now going north of Tampa, where you are?
PAM IORIO, MAYOR OF TAMPA, FLORIDA: It is going north of Tampa. We've had a lot of rain bands. We've had hurricane gusts and tropical storm gusts. Right now, of course, it's died down a bit. And we've had power outages. And I think this whole west coast is going to experience a great deal of power outages.
BLITZER: So what's it like for the people in Tampa, Tampa Bay? That's a big city that you lead.
IORIO: Well, it is. And we've had four now, not that we've been hit with four, but we've had varying degrees. We thought Charley was going to hit us directly, then it moved at the last minute. We had Tropical Storm Frances come through. We had a great deal of power outages and debris from that.
Ivan, for awhile we thought we were going to be the direct hit there. And so now we've had this hit with Jeanne, which I think is also going to create a lot of the debris and the power outages.
The people in the Tampa Bay area, the whole state of Florida it's the same thing. People are sick of the hurricanes. They've been through a lot. People really have banded together to help one another, but it has been a tough time for the people of Florida. And we've never experienced anything like this before, and it's affected a lot of people.
And when people are out of power, you know, the outlook is never good, because it's tough to be without power. And some people have been without power throughout the state for long periods of time.
BLITZER: Well, what about in Tampa, Tampa Bay? Most of the homes already without power, or are you just bracing for that, Mayor?
IORIO: No, in our county, we have right now about 180,000 customers without power. Now we're a county of 1 million people, to put that in some context.
BLITZER: But it could get worse, is that what you're saying?
IORIO: Yes, we still have -- the storm is moving north of the Tampa area. It's going into the county of Pasco. But, as you know, with these systems, they have a lot of rain bands that effect for long periods of time. So we really won't know the true effect until probably much later tonight after 9 p.m.
BLITZER: Pam Iorio is the mayor of Tampa. Good luck to you, Mayor. Good luck to all of the people in your beautiful community, Tampa Bay. A lovely area, indeed.
We're going to have much more coverage coming up on Jeanne. It's now been downgraded to a tropical storm.
Also, my interview with Senator Joe Biden. He spoke about the situation in Iraq. He also spoke about what a Kerry administration might do when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Joe Biden, when we come back.
BLITZER: More coverage on tropical storm Jeanne coming up. But earlier today, I spoke with Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, to discuss what's happening in Iraq right now.
BLITZER: Senator Biden, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Happy to be here.
BLITZER: I want to you respond to some of the specific points that Secretary Powell made. One important one: He believes that elections can, in fact, happen at the end of January as scheduled. Are you that confident? BIDEN: I think they can, Wolf, if, in fact, the president makes some change in policy. Actually, if he's able to come up with that protection force through the Security Council for the U.N., people are going to set up the 30,000 polling places.
And if, in fact, we actually make some progress on, in a significant way, on training the Iraqi police and a few other things, including, if in fact he gets out in the countryside, more than just 5 percent of the $18 billion we have there to do things like clean up the sewage, the garbage, you know, change some of the circumstances of people on the ground.
BLITZER: But you don't accept the notion that Secretary Rumsfeld seemed to suggest that even if there are still some so-called no-go zones like Fallujah, the elections should still go forward. You want the elections to go forward in 100 percent of the country, not 85 percent or 90 percent?
BIDEN: Let me tell you why I agree with Secretary Powell on this. It's so important. It's a little bit like saying these elections are all about legitimacy. We're not electing a permanent leader of Iraq. We're electing essentially a parliament, if you think about it in those terms, in January. And so what we're looking for is legitimacy.
BLITZER: Maybe could you correct me if I'm wrong, but in terms of the substantive differences between Kerry and Bush on Iraq right now -- forget about the history, forget about what's already happened -- in terms of what needs to be done now, I don't see a whole lot of difference, do you?
BIDEN: Oh, yes -- well, there is difference. Let me put it this way. Kerry will be very happy if Bush picks up all of his suggestions now. The tragedy is that he's been making these suggestions for years and Bush -- look, I can say this as straightforwardly as I can. It seems to me the only time President Bush ever changes direction in Iraq for the better is when the failure is so obvious, it can't be denied, or when political circumstances dictate it.
BLITZER: What's the difference in their approach right now, the most important difference that you can discern?
BIDEN: The most important difference I can discern right now is that John Kerry would, in fact, move rapidly to bring in NATO. And everybody said we couldn't. Guess what? NATO's coming in now, aren't they?
They said he would immediately move to find the 3,000 forces to protect the U.N. security -- the U.N. electors. He would, in fact, rapidly escalate the training of these folks by taking them out of country, their police, as well as their military, and rapidly expand the training program.
BLITZER: With all due respect, Senator, I think the administration, the Bush administration, all those points that you made, they're trying to do those specific points right now. BIDEN: No, they're not trying. No, they're not. They're not trying.
BLITZER: They're trying to train...
BIDEN: No, but they're not, Wolf.
BLITZER: General Petraeus is trying to train the troops...
BIDEN: Let me tell you exactly what the story is. They say they're trying to train them, yet they have not trained -- they had not changed the fact, they had not changed the vetting process. They had not changed the number of weeks they could train. They had not changed the number of people that are going to be brought in in order to be on the beat with these cops.
BLITZER: Let me get your specific reaction to two statements that General John Abizaid, the U.S. military commander for the entire Middle East and Central Asia, South Asia, said earlier today on "Meet the Press."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CENTCOM COMMANDER: The American people need to brace themselves for a long war in the Middle East and Central Asia, and they need to brace themselves for a long war in the Middle East and Central Asia because the battle is being waged out here between extremists and moderates.
The constant drumbeat in Washington of a war that is being lost, that can't be won, of a resistance that is out of control, simply do not square with the facts on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Two major points he made, the first one, that there's going to be a long war in that part of the world, but the U.S. and its allies can win that war. Do you basically agree with him?
BIDEN: Absolutely, positively agree.
BLITZER: No doubt about that. When he said...
BIDEN: No doubt about it being a long war...
BLITZER: When he said the American people should brace for a long war, what does that say to you?
BIDEN: That says to me the president should have from the beginning did I exactly what I did in your program two years ago, Wolf. I said it was going to take hundreds of thousands of troops, cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It was a worth fighting, that we had to win it, and the president had to level with the American people or he'd lose their support. He has not leveled. BLITZER: John Kerry is going to have a chance to debate the president this Thursday night. What advice do you have for John Kerry when it comes to national security, foreign policy, which is the subject of this debate? What must he do to come from behind? Because in all the national polls right now he's behind.
BIDEN: Well, first of all, John doesn't need my advice. He knows a great deal about this, and I wouldn't presume to tell him. But I'll tell you what I think should be done.
Whether the president does it in a debate, John Kerry should level with the American people. He should say, for example, "Mr. President, when you became president, there was only possibly one nuclear weapon in North Korea. There are now six. Why? Because you had sent mixed messages, you were in paralysis for five and a half months. And then for a year and a half, you've watched those 8,000 nuclear rods get taken out. You watched them, you never -- you never had a plan, Mr. President.
"Mr. President, in Iraq, Mr. President, in Russia, when you took office Putin was moving toward democracy. Now, democracy is in retreat in Russia, Mr. President. Mr. President, you need to listen either to Mr. Powell or to Mr. Rumsfeld. You can't continue this mixed message you're sending to the world."
That's the message I would try to deliver. I don't know what John will do. It's a very different thing.
And look, here's the point. General Abizaid said people say we can't win. John Kerry is saying, we can and must win. Joe Biden is saying that. Dick Lugar is saying that. John McCain is saying that. The CIA is saying that.
What we're saying is, Mr. President, unless you take your blinders off, level with the American people, the course you have us on, Mr. President, is a losing course.
What else did General Abizaid say? General Abizaid, when asked whether we needed more forces in Iraq, said yes. What's the president say? No, we don't need more forces.
BLITZER: No, he said we...
BIDEN: Come on.
BLITZER: ... need more forces, but those could be international forces or more Iraqi forces. They don't necessarily need to be U.S. forces.
BIDEN: That's right. But what happens, Wolf, I've been saying that for a year and a half. What's the president been saying? We don't need any more new forces from anybody. We can't get them.
BLITZER: Well, just to be precise on that point, Senator, at the news conference with the prime minister, Allawi, he said if he's asked by the military commanders for more forces, he'll consider that, but he has not been asked.
BIDEN: I find this fascinating. He said that, what, four days ago?
BIDEN: What has the military privately been saying for the last four, six, eight and 12 months? They've been saying, we need more forces. Mr. President, we'd love to have them from NATO. Mr. President, we'd love to have them from other countries. Mr. President, we need more forces. And the president says, don't worry, be happy, everything is going fine.
Look, this is not about Kerry versus Bush. This is about Joe Biden, Dick Lugar, John McCain, Colin Powell, privately, the CIA versus George Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney.
BLITZER: Senator Biden, unfortunately, we have to leave it right there.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: ... for all of us, but kind of you to spend a few moments with us.
BIDEN: Oh, I'm happy always to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Senator, very much.
And more coverage of Tropical Storm Jeanne in Florida, that's coming up. We'll take a quick break.
BLITZER: That's your "LATE EDITION" for this Sunday, September 26th. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm here Monday through Friday, twice a day, both noon and 5 p.m. eastern.
Stay with us for continuing coverage of Tropical Storm Jeanne throughout this day.
And please be sure to tune in later this afternoon, in about two hours from now, for a special one-hour edition of "Reliable Sources," the turmoil at CBS News.
Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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