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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

President Hillary Clinton?; Thousands of Katrina Victims Still Waiting For FEMA Trailers; No Fix For Ford Vehicle Fire Danger?

Aired January 23, 2006 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.
We put a man on the moon. So, nearly five months after Katrina and billions of dollars spent, why can't the government put storm survivors in trailers?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Thousands of trailers empty, unused, but why? Thousands of Katrina victims are still waiting for FEMA to get them trailers. Tonight, we are "Keeping Them Honest," exposing how helping storm victims is taking a back seat to bureaucracy.

When police were dying in car crash fires, the carmaker Ford made a simple fix. But Ford didn't make the same change for its cars with similar designs, cars you might own or ride in.

JAMES CANADY, LIMOUSINE DRIVER: I saw flame shooting past my window. And I said, oh, my God. We're on fire.

ANNOUNCER: 360 investigates.

And President Clinton, Hillary Clinton? It looks like the senator is positioning herself for the top spot in '08. But will Americans see this as Bill Clinton, term number three?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: From across the U.S. and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Live from the CNN studios in New York, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And good evening again.

We begin with something so fundamental, so urgent and so fouled up, it can make your blood boil. For nearly five months, tens of thousands of people in Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana, whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina have been waiting for trailers to live in. They have been waiting and waiting and waiting.

Now, we're not talking about mansions or even one-room apartments. They're waiting for trailers. FEMA has delivered more 1,000 trailers to Saint Bernard Parish, but that's nowhere near enough.

Tonight, some progress to report -- not a lot, and, for thousands of people waiting for a place to live, not nearly enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): These trailers sitting on the side of the road in Louisiana's Saint Bernard Parish have become symbols of frustration. For months, these and thousands of other trailers have sat empty, unused, shocking when you consider that, in this parish alone, there are thousands of families desperately wait for a trailer to live in.

FEMA has delivered some trailers, but there have been major delays. These orange flags are planted by FEMA spots where trailers are supposed to go. But some of these flags were planted back in October, and, still, no trailers have appeared.

LARRY INGARGIOLA, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY OPERATIONS, SAINT BERNARD PARISH, LOUISIANA: Guys, we need help. We're almost a Third World country right now. Look at our neighborhoods. Look at our -- look at our houses. How do you think our people feel?

COOPER: That's Larry Ingargiola, director of Homeland Security and emergency operations for Saint Bernard Parish. An elected official, he's fed up with FEMA. Just weeks after Katrina hit, parish officials took the initiative, ordering 6,000 trailers from a private manufacturer, bypassing the FEMA bureaucracy. The trailers are here, but can't be hooked up because the parish can't pay the bill.

(on camera): So, each trailer is $2,500 cheaper than FEMA trailers?

INGARGIOLA: Cheaper than FEMA trailers.

COOPER: But, still, FEMA won't pay for them?

INGARGIOLA: That's right.

COOPER: Has -- what has FEMA told you about this? What -- what did they...

(CROSSTALK)

INGARGIOLA: They're looking into it.

COOPER (voice-over): That was Thursday. And, on 360 that night, Saint Bernard Parish President Junior Rodriguez had had enough.

HENRY "JUNIOR" RODRIGUEZ, PRESIDENT, SAINT BERNARD PARISH, LOUISIANA: There needs to be an investigation into this situation in Saint Bernard Parish, because there's something wrong down here. The U.S. attorney needs to come down to Saint Bernard or the attorney general of the state of Louisiana. They need to investigate this, because, when you don't want to save $18 million, brother, you got a problem.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Well, just two days after that report, on Saturday, after months of getting the run-around, Saint Bernard Parish officials said they were told by FEMA the unused trailers would be paid for, more than 6,000 of them. When will the trailers be moved? No word on that from FEMA.

But we are not going to let the story fade away. Until the trailers are in place and occupied, you can be sure we will be "Keeping Them Honest."

And with us now, the president of Saint Bernard Parish, Henry Jr. Rodriguez.

President, Mr. Rodriguez, it's good to see you again.

Why the sudden change from FEMA?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I don't know, Anderson, but I will tell you what I will do with you.

I will give you all the credit for it, because without you and CNN, I don't think this would have happened. Two days later, I mean, I got the -- the approval on several issues that were out there. And I thank you all for that. We resolved that problem.

Now, the other issue now is FEMA. It's when they pay for these trailers. And they are going to do that, thanks to you. The Floor Corporation (ph) is -- is the company that has to get these, is the national concern that has to get these trailers place. And they promised me that they would get 100 to 150 trailers a day. And I'm going to hold them to that.

COOPER: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

RODRIGUEZ: And I will let you know as the progress goes on with that.

COOPER: I want just -- just to explain to our viewers. I mean, you guys took your own -- your own initiative. You ordered all these trailers, thinking, all right, we're going to order these trailers. Certainly, FEMA will pay for them. You got delivery on the trailers.

They have been sitting there, literally, on the sides of the roads for months now. I mean, we -- I checked out the trailers. Some of the tires are flat, they have been sitting there so long. What was FEMA saying about why they wouldn't pay for these things?

RODRIGUEZ: We never could get a straight answer from anybody.

Nobody was giving -- you would -- you would never get a straight answer from FEMA on anything. And -- and the sad part about it was, is, Mr. Bananomo (ph) and Mr. Wells (ph), all the local FEMA people had approved it. It was not the local FEMA people that gave us the problem. Those people were as frustrated as I was and the residents of the parish. It was not locally. It had to be nationally, and -- and your broadcast did the trick.

COOPER: What happens now? I mean, how -- are -- is this the end of the -- the trailer story, once these things are delivered? How many more -- how many families need -- need homes right now in Saint Bernard Parish?

RODRIGUEZ: We got -- we got requests for 10,500 trailers at the present time. And that request could go higher. And they're going to -- they -- FEMA's going to take a boat away from us on February 28 that is sorely need, and we need an extension for about three months on that -- on that boat.

The problem is, not only -- people get into trailers, but we haven't gotten any facilities open up down here that can service people. We don't have any food stores open, no Wal-Marts, one gas station.

COOPER: And -- and when you talk to FEMA -- I mean, we -- we have talked to them a bunch over the last couple days, trying to get an answer -- you know, an actual answer, not only about these trailers, but about the slow delivery of the other trailers. They basically blame local officials, saying -- and state red tape.

They say you guys have a lot of ordinances down there that makes it very slow and difficult to -- to put these trailers in place. True?

RODRIGUEZ: Now, you know that's not true. You know what I told you last time.

And I'm not going to tell it to you on national TV. But that's a lot of baloney. That's not the true. I have waived the council, the counsel has waived all requirements. There are no restrictions. We send out no inspectors, no electrical, no -- nothing. We are not a hindrance. We will help them in any way that we can.

COOPER: Junior Rodriguez, I'm -- I'm glad you got your trailers. We will be -- we want to keep following this story, not only on these trailers to make sure they actually do get delivered, because the -- right now, you just have got a promise they are going to be paid for. We want to make sure that promise is delivered and follow through on a number of other problems you got going on there in Saint Bernard Parish. Appreciate you joining us tonight.

RODRIGUEZ: Anderson, could I request one other thing of you?

COOPER: Sure.

RODRIGUEZ: I have got another problem coming up. And it's regards to our debris contract that we're being held hostage on.

We're negotiating at the present time. The state is on our side. They're supporting us. FEMA is giving us one bad time with regard to our debris contract. If we don't get this thing resolved, the -- the problem is going to be is that we can't start demolition, and our recovery efforts are going to be in jeopardy.

I would ask you to do one thing for me. What they're -- what they're doing now is, they're saying we have a legitimate contract, but what they're doing is, they want our contractor to come down on his prices and make them comparable. They have some idea of what comparable means to them. Comparable means to me, what do they pay at the surrounding parishes in the -- in the lower Louisiana?

COOPER: Right.

RODRIGUEZ: And...

COOPER: And they're saying you're paying too much for your...

RODRIGUEZ: That would be comparable.

COOPER: All right. Well, let's...

RODRIGUEZ: But...

COOPER: You know what? We will -- we will look into it later on this week. We will send someone out there and do a story on it and see what we can do.

RODRIGUEZ: Good.

What I -- what I need you to do for me is to see what the Corps. Get -- see if the Corps will tell you what their prices are...

COOPER: For cleanup.

RODRIGUEZ: For demolition.

COOPER: All right. Junior Rodriguez, president there of the City Council in Saint Bernard Parish, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Back to the trailers.

Tonight, Tom Foreman looks at why something seemingly simple, putting citizen in trailers, is proving to be neither simple, nor easy, in Louisiana.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another trailer park for storm victims being prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA says nearly 63,000 trailers have been set up since Katrina and 5,000 more are ready each week, good news for those who get them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every member of my family lost their home. And none of them have trailers. FOREMAN: The bad news? By FEMA's own count, 77,000 people who asked for trailers are still waiting. FEMA says part of the problem is the mammoth task of getting water, sewage and electrical service in place.

But the agency also says local officials need to cut more red tape to speed up inspection and approval of trailer sites. That's not sitting so well done South.

JIMMY LICCARDI, TRAILER PARK OWNER: I think it's incompetence. I think...

FOREMAN: Take the case of Jimmy Liccardi, who owns a mobile home park. The storm made a mess of it, but he says FEMA could clean it up, so its former residents could return home.

LICCARDI: Well, what we would like to see happen is that they come in and do what they promised to do and what we signed an agreement to do, is clear these parks of the debris, do the minor repairs, or whatever they got to do to the infrastructure, and put the mobile homes back in for our tenants.

FOREMAN: But FEMA says private trailer park owners normally clean up their own land. So, if FEMA does the job and moves trailers in, the agency wants to pay less rent for the spaces it occupies.

FEMA says some local officials are resisting such deals. And that's adding more details and more frustration, too.

JOEY DIFATTA, COUNCIL MEMBER, SAINT BERNARD PARISH: There are so many layers you go through to get something done, it's mind-boggling.

FOREMAN (on camera): Some federal and local officials suggest, at the heart of all this is a basic disagreement that makes it very hard to get at the truth. Local officials believe they can bring back everyone who used to live in these communities. And federal officials are not sure.

(voice-over): So, they say, in that context, every trailer becomes a question. Will it represent tax money well spent or tax money wasted in the long run?

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, here's a look at some of the other stories that we are following at this moment. Iran is threatening to go ahead and pursue a full-scale uranium enrichment program, even if it's referred to the U.N. Security Council.

The country has been defying international pressure to give up its nuclear ambitions. Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Italy's foreign minister agreed the U.N. Security Council should look into the matter. West Virginia: Lawmakers have passed a measure designed to help miners survive accidents. The new law requires miners to wear wireless communication and tracking devices. And it sets up a 24-hour emergency hot line. Fourteen West Virginia miners have died in mine accidents this month. We will have more on the new measure later on 360.

Ford Motor Company is planning to layoff as many as 30,000 people. Today, the nation's number-two automaker announced a restructuring plan that would close 14 plants in North America. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford says his company has been hurt by the shift away from large SUVs. Its North American operations lost more than $1.5 billion last year.

And a Florida man wrongly convicted of rape and robbery is free tonight, after serving 24 years in prison. Forty-five-year-old Alan Crotzer was released today, after DNA testing and other evidence convinced prosecutors that he wasn't involved in the crime. Crotzer says his freedom has been -- quote -- "a long time coming."

Well, a surprising story from New Orleans -- for some entrepreneurs, a bright side to the storm. That's coming up.

Plus, after a series of fiery collision in Ford cop cars, steps were taken to make them safer. So, why haven't owners of similar cars been told about a fix that could save their lives? It's a story you will only see on CNN.

360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In case you think Hurricane Katrina disproved that old saying, the one that goes, it's an ill wind that blows no good, well, think again. Life is funny that way.

Hurricanes are awful for just about everyone, except for roofers. Where there has been terrible destruction, there has to be quite a lot of construction. It may seem odd to talk about a bright spot, but, in New Orleans, for some businesses, at least, there is one.

CNN's Rick Sanchez looks into it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After the winds stopped howling and the waters receded, the challenges seemed overwhelming.

ALDEN MACDONALD, LIBERTY BANK AND TRUST: I remember, when I got out of the bed, after the water, I said to myself, oh, my God, what will I do? I lost everything. So, I had to get to thinking. I had to get working.

SANCHEZ: Banker Alden MacDonald lost his home and eight of his 13 bank branches to Katrina. So, he came up with a plan to keep himself in business. He would immediately start writing loans without requiring a down payment to people who could show they had some kind of insurance money coming their way.

(on camera): What you're talking about is trust.

MACDONALD: Yes. You have to be able to read character.

SANCHEZ: You're going to get burned, you know. You're going to have -- there -- there's going to be that guy who is not going to be able to repay you.

MACDONALD: Any time you're in business, you take risks. What we attempt to do is minimize that risk.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): And minimizing risk is exactly what MacDonald did before Katrina. Even though the government didn't mandate it, he was one of the few lenders who required people to get flood insurance, if they wanted a mortgage from him. It turned out to be his and their salvation.

(on camera): You did those people a huge favor, didn't you?

MACDONALD: They're thanking us today, some of the same ones who didn't want to take the flood insurance out at closing.

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): There have been some bumps along the way. In the days after Katrina, an ATM computer glitch allowed his customers who had evacuated to other states to literally withdraw free money. It cost MacDonald $600,000. However, in post-Katrina loans, MacDonald says he expects to more than make up for it. Liberty Bank and Trust, he says, will show a profit this year of at least $3 million.

The sounds of construction everywhere in New Orleans, and, for building contractor Jack Donahue, it is a sweet sound.

(on camera): Business is good.

JACK DONAHUE, DONAHUE CONSTRUCTION: Well, you know, we -- I think business -- our business certainly is stronger now than it was prior to Katrina.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Using his construction company's know-how, the first thing he did was fix the homes of his workers. One by one, he got them up and going. And now they're all making money.

DONAHUE: We're doing probably five or six jobs right now that, had Katrina not hit this area, that we wouldn't be doing.

SANCHEZ: Four of those jobs are government projects, where he will be paid in FEMA funds. He still hasn't seen a penny of it, though he has faith he will. In fact, between funds pending from FEMA and insurance companies, Donahue's construction company looks solid, he says at least for at least five years, in fact, and he says it's happening because he and his workers looked forward, not back.

(on camera): No time to feel sorry for yourself?

DONAHUE: Not these days, I don't think so. I think we need to be working.

SANCHEZ: Work that, amid disaster, at least for this builder and this banker, is promising a bright future.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It's a very small silver lining for some.

Ford made a simple fix to some cop cars that have been in fiery crashes. If you have a similar car, could it help save you life? Coming up, a CNN investigation you shouldn't miss.

Plus:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENISE HERBERT, DAUGHTER OF MISSING HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: What about these 3,000-and-some people missing, and one of them is my mama? I'm sick of these people! I really am sick...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Raw emotions take charge during a meeting with the governor -- Katrina evacuees speaking out when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It's a common misconception that time heals all wounds. For many people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the passage nearly five months has only deepened the pain.

Tens of thousands of evacuees are scattered across the country in place where they still don't fit in, wondering when, if ever -- ever, they will return home. And then there are those who are still missing a family member, waking up each day, wondering if their loved one is even still alive.

Well, this past weekend, some of those evacuees were able to meet with Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco. It didn't go quite as the governor planned.

CNN's Gary Tuchman was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Louisiana's governor came to Georgia to visit some of the Louisiana Diaspora.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: When do you think you'll be back?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was hoping yesterday, but I guess it's going to be for a while.

TUCHMAN: Louisianians who have lost their homes, moved to Georgia, and got a chance to talk to Governor Kathleen Blanco.

BLANCO: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you?

BLANCO: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shawn Harris (ph). How are you?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't wait to get back home. I'm trying really hard now, but...

BLANCO: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... I'm out here by myself.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I have never had to be out here by myself.

TUCHMAN: This was all part of Louisiana Recovery Planning Day. Hurricane victims showed up here and at 30 other locations in Tennessee, Texas, and Louisiana to offer suggestions about the rebuilding of their neighborhoods and their lives.

But it was emotion that captured the occasion. I talked with one woman, who's 82-year old mother is still missing. Ethel Herbert was a stroke victim who could not talk. She was on a hospital bed at the Superdome when her daughter last saw her leaving with medical personnel.

DENISE HERBERT, DAUGHTER OF MISSING HURRICANE KATRINA VICTIM: They took her hospital mattress and put it on this truck (INAUDIBLE) And they took her around to the (INAUDIBLE)

TUCHMAN (on camera): How does it make you feel?

HERBERT: I'm very angry. Because guess what? Everybody in America got a mom, but where is mine? That's what I want to know today. Where is my mother? And I'm angry with the world! And they can parade around here and talk about Mardi Gras and what they want to do with New Orleans, but what about these 3,000-and-some people missing? And one of them is my mama. I'm sick of these people! I really am sick of these people.

You can save whales. You can save all these animals, but you can't save all these people. And I'm tired. And I want the governor, I want the mayor, and I want the president, I want all three of them to come before her six children and tell us where she is. We didn't leave her in water. We didn't leave her in a house. We left her in the hands of what they call the world's finest.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Denise Herbert's outrage quickly caught the attention of the governor, who took over my seat. They talked about the chaos in the days after Hurricane Katrina. And then Governor Blanco called her secretary of health and hospitals and told him to get on the case.

BLANCO: He will make a few calls and call you back then. And we will -- we will just pray with you, try to find something out.

TUCHMAN: Almost five months after Katrina, the nightmare is still fresh.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: And, tonight, there is a major development in this story.

Denise Herbert has received a phone call from the man she believes treated her mother at the Superdome. This happened because, earlier today, we received a call from a doctor who headed up a FEMA disaster medical team in New Orleans. He told me he treated a woman at the Superdome who he thinks could have been Denise's mother.

Well, I gave this man Denise Herbert's phone number, and the two talked about 45 minutes ago. Denise tells me she is sure this is the man who treated her mother at the scene and took her for treatment. But Denise still does not know what happened to her mother. That's because this doctor says he cannot release the information to Denise until the proper authorities see her or one of her siblings face to face, for patient confidentiality reasons.

So, tomorrow, Denise's brother will meet with a Louisiana State Trooper in New Orleans, who will then call the doctor. And then -- and only then -- will Denise find out what happened to her mother.

And, Anderson, we will let the viewers know then what happened to her mother.

COOPER: That is just incredible. Did he give -- I mean, he -- did he give her any indication?

TUCHMAN: He didn't give her any indication. I asked him. To be honest with you, it doesn't sound like great news. They just can't say right away she's OK. He said, I can't tell you.

I talked to Denise's mother. I told her the same thinking, that -- I talked to Denise, I mean, about her mother.

COOPER: Right.

TUCHMAN: And I said, Denise, it's possible -- you need to be prepared for this -- that it may not be great news. She goes, either way, I need to find out. It has been five months. I don't know. It will be a relief to find out. I hope she's alive. I pray she's alive. But I'm ready for it if she's not alive.

COOPER: God. It's just an incredible story.

All right, Gary Tuchman, thanks very much. We will check in tomorrow on the same story.

Coming up ahead tonight, when police were dying in car crash fires, one automaker made a simple fix. Some say it saved lives. So, why aren't they being installed on similar cars that you may be driving? 360 investigates next.

And, later, she lived there once. But does Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton want to call the White House home again?

Across America and around the world, you're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: At half past the hour, here a look at some of the stories we're following at this moment.

There is a new interim chief judge in the war crimes trial of Iraq's former leader, Saddam Hussein, after the resignation, not yet officially accepted, of the current sitting chief. It's expected that the interim judge, a Shiite from Najaf, named -- will be named to that post permanently.

A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll released today finds that a majority of Americans believe the Senate should send federal appellate Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed support for Judge Alito. That's an increase of five points over those who supported him before his televised confirmation proceedings. And 30 percent said they were against his nomination.

On another note, only a third of the sample said they thought the judge would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Randy McCloy, the sole survivor of the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 12 miners earlier this month has been upgraded to fair condition. Doctors in Morgantown say he has been showing slight neurological problems every day, but remains unable to speak and is still in a light coma.

A day in the park for a British diplomat in Moscow is causing a great deal of Cold War-style trouble. Russia says the diplomat was videotaped picking up a hollowed-out rock filled with state secrets. The foreign office in London said it was, quote, "concerned and surprised" by the allegations, but did not deny them.

Well, today's news that Ford will layoff up to 30,000 employees comes as new questions arise about three of its most popular cars. They're the only American-made automobiles with the fuel tank right behind the rear axle. Now, in an award-winning documentary three years ago, CNN's Susan Candiotti reported on dangers that rear end fuel tank fires pose to police in such cars.

Well, after the deaths of a dozen police officers, Ford made changes to the cars but only in the cars used by law enforcement. For a little more $100 it could have done the same to millions of other cars on the road. But Ford decided not to. The question is why? And would lives have been saved if they did?

CNN's Susan Candiotti has more on an investigation you will only see here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had a glow about them. They were beautiful.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three sisters, all young, two of them new mothers, left in a limousine for a rock concert at Greensboro, North Carolina. They never got home. Caught in a traffic jam, their limo was rammed from behind by a pickup truck going well over the speed limit.

JAMES CANADY, LIMOUSINE DRIVER: I saw flames shooting past my window. And I said oh, my God, we're on fire.

CANDIOTTI: Limo driver James Canady had to kick his door open.

CANADY: The whole vehicle was on fire. As soon as I jumped out of the car, I heard one of the ladies scream, oh, my God. And that's all I heard and that was it.

CANDIOTTI: The sisters were trapped in the back, the fire too fierce for anyone to reach them.

CANADY: You could see the fire just like gasoline just keep blowing up.

CANDIOTTI: The medical examiner ruled all three sisters burned to death, even though only one was injured by the crash impact.

Yet the fire might have been avoided. Why? Ford, which designed their vehicle, already had made fixes around the gas tanks in its police cars. The stretch limo was a Lincoln Town Car. As in Canady's own Town Car, you can see where the fuel tank sticks up in the trunk.

(on camera): Only three American automobiles, all made by Ford, the Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Marquis, still have their gas tanks this far back behind the rear axle in that trunk area, touching off a safety debate that started long before the sisters died.

(voice-over): Since the early '90s at least a dozen police officers, among them this Arizona Highway patrolman, were burned to death when the Crown Victoria cruisers were hit from behind and the gas tanks went up in flames. Three years ago, under pressure by several police departments...

SUSAN CISCHKE, FORD V.P. FOR SAFETY: We've shielded some components that are mounted on the axle.

CANDIOTTI: ... Ford made safety changes to put rubber and plastic shields on sharp parts around the tank in the patrol cars. They're now standard equipment when the police cars come off the assembly line.

Watch this. A cop car crash in Chicago. This is a success story. The shields worked. The officer lived. Look again. Since the changes to vehicles like this, no one has burned to death because of a puncture in a police car with the new gas tank shields.

Yet, back in 2002, when Ford was asked if everyday drivers would get the same protection, Ford said their cars were already safe, this at a news conference announcing the shields for police.

CISCHKE: ... it's not necessary for the civilians because they don't use their vehicles like the police do.

CANDIOTTI: The explanation, police cars are stopped alongside the road and, thus, exposed to on-rushing traffic far more often than the rest of us.

CISCHKE: If there's anybody that feels that they use their vehicle like the police, we can make the kit available to them at their cost. But we don't think it's necessary.

CANDIOTTI: So Ford never notified its car owners they could ask for the shields at a cost of only $100 or so, if they went to their dealers. Ricky and Brenda Howell's daughters died one year after that Ford decision.

RICKY HOWELL, VICTIMS' FATHER: They're set in steel just like a patrol car sitting in traffic.

CANDIOTTI: Under oath this past fall, Ford acknowledged the limo's gas tank was pierced by a bolt that would have been covered if the limo had the rubber shields.

BRENDA HOWELL, VICTIMS' MOTHER: They could fix the cars. They just didn't see why it needed to be done. I mean, and in our case, it proves it did need to be done.

CANDIOTTI: Last fall, Ford offered limousine makers the shields, without charge. No such offer, though, was made for the regular car models. Ford says its cars, some 3 million of these Crown Vic, Town Car, and Mercury Marquis models already meet all the highest federal safety standards in 50 mile-an-hour crash tests like this.

In 2002, the Federal Highway Safety Agency did find in fatal crashes from all angles, these Ford vehicles did have a lower rate of fire than other sedans in general. But in fires in rear end crashes only, it said Ford did not fare as well as similar sized GM models.

Ford blamed the sisters' deaths in North Carolina on the pickup driver who was drunk and is now in prison. Even so, Ford did decide to settle with the victim's families last week before trial. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Ford went to trial last spring in another Town Car crash, and lost in a big way. This fire killed an elderly man whose regular Lincoln sedan was hit from behind at 60 miles an hour in a traffic backup on a bypass east of St. Louis.

Lawyer Brad Lakin cut a Town Car open to show the jury what happened.

BRADLEY LAKIN, VICTIMS' LAWYER: Right here is the fuel tank which is right here behind what they call the deep well trunk.

CANDIOTTI: Lakin said the crash hurled a large wrench in that trunk through the gas tank.

LAKIN: There's a very thin, as you can see, back wall to the trunk, and this padding, and that's the only protection in terms of any items coming through and actually puncturing the fuel tank itself.

CANDIOTTI: The driver, John Jablonski, died from burns in a hospital the next night. His widow Dora survived the fire at a terrible price. The jury was shown this video of her now in a nursing home.

EDWARD FRIEDEL, JURY FOREMAN: Her ears were pretty well gone. Her nose. And it took a lot of courage for her to come into the courtroom because the first words out of her mouth was that she knows she looks hideous.

CANDIOTTI: Back when Ford offered police the shields, it also came up with a special trunk pack to store objects that could puncture a gas tank. As for everyday drivers, again, Ford sent them no information.

FRIEDEL: I felt Ford could have prevented most all of this with a 37 cent stamp.

CANDIOTTI: As in the North Carolina fire, Ford said the other driver was at fault. She was ticketed for failure to slow down before the crash. Edward Friedel, a delivery driver, became the jury foreman. He said when the jury went out, at first it was slow going. Then...

FRIEDEL: One juror just blurted out, does anybody feel that Ford did something wrong? And that's when unanimously everybody said, yes, they withheld the truth.

CANDIOTTI: The verdict against Ford, almost $44 million in damages for Mrs. Jablonski. Ford is appealing, arguing it did not get a fair trial. The company declined to be interviewed on camera for the story. But last fall, again under oath, Ford's top safety official did say nothing has changed in her thinking. She still does not recommend the police car safety fixes for the everyday driver.

R. HOWELL: She don't know the pain we feel right now. This could have been prevented. We know that. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: We asked the Federal Highway Safety Agency what it's doing in this matter. A spokesman says they're keeping an eye on it, but have no plans to open any investigation. The government spokesman calls the question of shields for everyday drivers a consumer issue, between the car owner and the manufacturer.

If you have a Town Car, Crown Victoria, or Mercury Marquis, this covers all model years going back as far as 1992. Ford says you can order the shields if you want through your local dealership -- Anderson.

COOPER: An amazing report. For little more than $150, parts and labor, your car can have the protection Ford offers to police. You can get the part at your Ford dealer. The issue, Ford hasn't told you about it.

Next on 360, we'll tell you about this device, it's right here, we have one, that some believe could prevent deaths by reducing the chance of fire.

And later, return to Melville, West Virginia, another week, another mining tragedy. There is new legislation passed today. But why does it take the blood of miners to pass better safety laws? Tonight, we examine the facts.

And a special program note, we want to remind you Dr. Sanjay Gupta wants to hear from you. Got a medical question, want to know what's fact and fiction? We'll report on some of your questions next week. E-mail us by logging on to cnn.com/360. Please put "Ask Dr. Gupta" on the subject line.

360 continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Before the break we told you about three American-made cars and the hidden dangers that some believe they pose to drivers and passengers. We're talking about the Crown Victoria, the Mercury Marquis, and the Lincoln Town Car. All three are built by the Ford Motor Company.

And what makes them unusual is that the fuel tanks are located right behind the rear axle. Now there are allegations that a rear end collision can rupture the tanks, creating a fire that could engulf the care within seconds.

There is a fuel tank shield kit. However, we called a half dozen Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers in major metropolitan areas to find out if we could purchase the fuel tank shield kit and have it installed. Only three of the six dealers we called even knew the shield existed or what we were talking about. We did buy a kit from a dealer on Long Island. This is what it looks like right here.

It costs $117.56, that plus the cost of about an hour's labor to install it. And these are two large pieces. These are placed on either side of the gas tank to protect it from anything sharp. And then there's this small horseshoe rubber piece right here which would have covered the bolt that punctured the gas tank in the limo fire that killed three sisters. CNN's Susan Candiotti joins me again.

Susan, I understand that many of these rear end crashes do happen at high speeds well over the limit. And Ford says that any car's fuel tank might fail on some of these high force impact regardless of where the tank is located. Is that true?

CANDIOTTI: Sure, let me get to that in just a second here. First, I want to give you a quick look at the trunk itself. We took out the padding so you can get a better look at it. It's behind the rear axle, as you pointed out. This is the fuel tank right there. And it's right behind the back seat.

Now, Anderson, you asked about those high speed crashes. And I do want to correctly point out to you that you have to remember two or three things about this. First of all, for years the Federal Highway Safety Agency only required a car's gas tank hold up under a 35 mile- an-hour impact. Now that standard has gone up to 50 miles an hour.

But when Ford designed these shields for police cars, Ford tested them at 75 miles an hour. And the company says the tanks remained intact. So the shields do work for the cop cars even in some of the worst crash scenarios. All the more reason one would think to share with the rest of us.

COOPER: So for whoever might want to get one of these kits, does Ford have a Web site, is there an 800 number, how do you get them?

CANDIOTTI: Well, Ford does have one site, www.customersaskford -- it's all one word, .com, where you can type in any kind of troubleshooting question. And that is manned by real people 24 hours a day. Now, if your dealer doesn't know about this, then I would suggest that you start there.

COOPER: And as I said, we called six dealers. Three of them didn't know what we were talking about. Susan Candiotti, thanks very much.

Erica Hill from HEADLINE NEWS joins us on the other stories that we are following tonight. Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Hey, Anderson. The Canadian company that makes the popular BlackBerry wireless e-mail device lost another round in a legal battle. That's after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on whether the BlackBerry violates a Virginia company's patent rights. And that means a lower court judge could impose an injunction and block BlackBerry use in the U.S. Most analysts say they don't think that will happen though.

In Southern California today, a falling sign on a San Diego freeway. A garbage truck hit the giant sign. It then fell on a couple of cars. Motorists understandably backed up for several hours. The good news here, no reports of life-threatening injuries. In Mexico, many Catholic parishioners are split on whether this image is a likeness of the Virgin Mary. Now the shape appeared on the wall of a home that had been gutted by flames. There is a better view of it for you there. Fire officials say heat and smoke formed the image behind a framed picture.

Onto London now. The whale that was stranded in the river Thames may not have died in vain. A red water container rescuers used to moisturize the whale is being auctioned off on eBay now to help fund future rescue missions. Bidding, at last check, over $10,000. And it ends on February 1st. It's nice to know that money is going to a good cause.

COOPER: I suppose so. Erica Hill, thanks very much.

Coming up next on 360, she's a rock star, just like Erica Hill. Well, she's a rock star on the fundraising circuit, the political circuit, we're talking about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Banking on the presidency is she? Coming up, why some think she may be the Democrats' best hope for 2008.

And later, the condition of the Sago Mine survivor. Tonight, why Randy McCloy's family may have some very good news from the doctors.

You're watching 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: So let me just say at the outset, we don't know if Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to run for president in 2000, but one online casino is betting she will. It's laying down 5-2 odds that the junior senator from New York will make a bid for the White House. She's not talking about it. But with all the fundraising, traveling, and media exposure, you can get the sense that Clinton's campaign is already well under way.

CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of all the Democrats not running for president, Senator Hillary Clinton is the front-runner.

FMR. SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: I think it's hers to lose. I think it's the consensus among Democrats that I've talked to that she's clearly in the lead, is clearly the person that they have to beat.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: How do you go out there and take any attention from someone who can get a front page story just by opening up her mouth?

CROWLEY: The beauty of being Hillary is that with so many other people talking you up, you don't have to say a word, which she doesn't, at least not about whether she's running for president. Though sometimes you could just swear she is.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country.

CROWLEY: As for an interview about '08 and her office will say she is focused at getting reelected as senator from New York in '06, a race for which she has little competition and a whole lot of money.

RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: There's a question about how much money does she need in a year when she faces no significant opposition.

CROWLEY: As of the last report, the senator had raised more than $15 million for her '06 campaign, cash which could, by the by, be put into a presidential coffer. Beyond that she has raised and given out more than a million dollars to other Democrats, second only to her husband, the senator is a top party rainmaker.

BREAUX: The fundraising and the traveling, things she's done for the party, I mean, she's real rock star on the fundraising circuit.

CROWLEY: Even as she wows diehard Democrats, the freshman senator from New York has charmed some diehard Republicans. Pounded by critics in her White House years as a strident lefty, Clinton had used her Senate term to reposition herself in the public eye.

She has a rep as a tireless worker who does not stoke the limelight that is naturally hers. She has worked on issues with a number of conservatives, earning high marks from Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain.

BRAZILE: She is someone who can reach across the aisle, at the same time, she can hold her own within the Democrat Party, rank and file.

CROWLEY: Clinton has also toughened up her defense and national security credentials, a must for Democrats on the national scene, a double must for a woman.

CLINTON: I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines.

CROWLEY: And while it may all add up to the Democratic nomination, the latest CNN/USA Today poll shows 51 percent of American people say they would definitely vote against Hillary Clinton in a general election.

(on camera): When you look at her as a candidate, just on the resume, on the paper of it, what's her biggest drawback?

BRAZILE: Bill Clinton. There's no question that people will say that this is the third coming of Bill Clinton.

BREAUX: Well, some people are not going to like Hillary because they don't like her husband. CROWLEY (voice-over): It is also true that he is one of her biggest assets, for better or worse, voters see them as a pair. As candidate Bill Clinton said more than a decade ago, it's like two for the price of one. The question is whether that's still a deal.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And the voters will have to decide.

"On the Radar" tonight, tomorrow's headlines. Iranian officials weighing a Russian plan for ending the standoff between Iran and the West. They will be meeting with their Russian counterparts in Moscow in just a few hours. Under the proposal, Russia would supply fuel for Iranian reactors, getting Iran out of the fuel processing business which can also be used for making bomb grade uranium. So far however Iranians have been cool to the idea.

Remember the aftermath to the tsunami and questions about how prepared we are for something like it? Well, tomorrow, the city of Norfolk, Virginia, becomes the first major East Coast city to be officially recognized as tsunami-ready by the federal government.

And a new study is due out on sexual harassment on American college campuses tomorrow. A quick preview, nearly two in three women report harassment of one form or another. Nearly one in three say they have been physically harassed.

In the headlines tomorrow, it's going to be "On the Radar" tonight.

I want to thank our international viewers for watching. Coming up next on 360, as lawmakers in West Virginia scramble to make mines safer, what really happened underground in the latest mine tragedy. We'll talk to a miner who was there about his narrow escape.

Also a giant of jazz and his broken city. What will it take to bring the music back to New Orleans?

And babies may be small and toothless, but they can wrap adults around their pudgy little fingers. The power of cuteness and why we're defenseless, coming up on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Good evening again. Deep inside the Aracoma Mine, he thought he was going to die. The smoke was that thick. The mine was that dark.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: fighting for fresh air. An exclusive interview. One of the miners who batted through two miles of blinding smoke to the surface in that second deadly West Virginia accident, only to discover he had lost two miners on the way. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I faced death right in the eye.

ANNOUNCER: And what's being done to make mines safer, as the battle rages in Washington, Anderson talks to West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin.

When police were dying in car crash fires, the carmaker Ford made a simple fix, but Ford didn't make the same change for its cars with similar design, cars you might own or ride in.

CANADY: I saw a flame shooting past my window and I said, oh, my God, we're on fire.

ANNOUNCER: 360 investigates.

And survival of the cutest. So what would Darwin say about cute and cuddly? It turns out, new research finds things are cute for good reason.

From across the U.S. and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360, live from the CNN studios in New York, Here's Anderson Cooper.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And good evening again, everyone. West Virginia suffers its second mine tragedy within a month. What went wrong. We're going to get to that in a moment.

But first, here are some of the stories we're following at this moment. President Bush is defending his decision to allow the eavesdropping of Americans without a warrant. Today he said the program is legal and justified and is meant to thwart another attack by al Qaeda. Mr. Bush rejected claims the program infringes on civil liberties.

A building collapse in Nairobi, Kenya has reportedly killed at least 11 people, injured dozens more. Rescuers are digging through the rubble to find any remaining survivors. More than 280 construction workers were inside when the five-storey building came down.

And Saddam Hussein will face a new judge when his trial begins tomorrow. Replacing the chief judge who resigned earlier this month, the new interim judge, like his predecessor, is Kurdish and has been following the trial as a backup.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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