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Iraq Intelligence: Grim Forecast; Gaza Gun Battles; Florida Tornado Death Toll Rises to 19

Aired February 2, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM and it's happening right now.
Death and devastation as killer storms cut across central Florida, turning hundreds of homes into rubble and taking a terrible toll on human lives. An urgent search underway now for victims.

Was there enough warning?

Also, U.S. spy agencies issue a grim forecast for Iraq, warning there's no end in sight to the war.

Does that mean no exit in sight for U.S. troops?

And 2,000 world scientists say the world is getting warmer and could stay that way for a thousand years.

Is it too late to do anything about it?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Tonight, total devastation -- that's the mood and the state of many stay the course right now in Florida's midsection. Storms packing a tornado ripped through the region today, with a path of destruction stretching as far west as Sumter County and as far east as Volusia County.

Now, thousands of people are left trying to figure out just what to do next.

CNN is pooling its vast resources to bring you all the latest developments.

Our Abbi Tatton is getting I-Reports from viewers in the storm zone. Carol Costello has the human costs.

Let's begin, though, with our meteorologist, Rob Marciano.

He's in the hard hit county, Lake County. And it is devastating what's around you -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It certainly is, Wolf. You wouldn't expect to see this scene in Florida. It's more like something you'd see in the middle of Oklahoma or Kansas during the hot tornado months of April and May.

But sure enough, this was a strong super cell thunderstorm that dropped a very strong tornado. And things that we have seen, the rubble you see behind me and the noises that we've heard all day -- choppers flying overhead, trying to get a look and chain saws firing up, trying to clear some of this debris.

This was a brick home, what's left of it, at least, a brick home that had four -- that had studded walls that were bolted down to this concrete foundation. This bedroom right here is where a woman was -- was a woman's -- a woman was sleeping last night when the walls came crashing down on her and literally buried her in debris as the storm passed off down the way.

In through that door is where her husband was, the same scenario. The chimney came crashing down just to the right of his bed. Bricks all over the place. And two by fours and walls covering him up. He managed to crawl out, pick himself up and then remove the wall off his wife and get her out of the home to safety.

Miraculously, just some bumps, some bruises, some cuts and scrapes. Definitely shaken up, but they are very thankful for their lives today.

Much more information coming up in this package.

Take a look.


MARCIANO (voice-over): 3:00 a.m. and destruction swept across central Florida. A killer tornado jolting many people from their sleep in a real life nightmare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lights kept going off and on. It -- when I heard my chimneys going crazy and the wind is when I knew it was coming. And then we heard the freight train sound.

MARCIANO: A sound so loud, that one woman who had taken off her two hearing aids for bed says she heard it clearly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without my hearing aid, I don't hear a sound. Peace and quiet. About 3:15, 3:20, I heard this strange noise that was so loud that I've never heard of before. And the sound was -- got louder and louder and louder and it just clicked in my head, oh my god, tornado.

MARCIANO: Homes and businesses flattened along the way. Counties of Sumter, Volusia and Seminole hard hit. But Lake County saw devastation and death in the county's worst disaster ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we were at this house right here. Some lady, I was trying to help her out, but she didn't make it. It was -- I tried my -- I tried my hardest. I feel real bad because of that guy. I was in there checking her pulse and everything. MARCIANO: Areas that just last night held houses now look like war zones. The storms ripped some homes off their foundations and tossed cars around like toys.

The Lady Lake Church of God bowed to Mother Nature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks just like a bomb when it used to be a church.

MARCIANO: The church's pews, altar and bibles now piles of debris. Devastated church members counseled each other. But they say they'll still hold service on the site this Sunday.


BLITZER: We're going to get back to Rob Marciano on the scene in a few moments.

But amid the larger story of the storm's destruction are the stories of those now dead and/or suffering.

Carol Costello is in New York.

She's got the story for us -- the suffering, the incredible stories of these human tragedies only now beginning to trickle in.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, you're not kidding, Wolf.

I've been gathering bits of information from our own correspondents and from local Orlando reporters. "The Orlando Sentinel" describing how a 15-year-old was killed. His two triplet sisters survived, but his parents died, as well.

There are reports another teenager died in Lady Lake. Listen as her friend describes her sadness.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to tell Brittany's (ph) family I'm so sorry. I really am.

QUESTION: Is -- was she the 17-year-old (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?


QUESTION: What do you -- did you know her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I walked to the bus stop with her in the mornings. We waited on the bus every day together. It makes me sad.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Was her dad OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, they're -- my whole family is OK.

QUESTION: But her dad, is he OK, too? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. I haven't heard anything.


COSTELLO: So many people unsure today. That girl, again, died in Lake County. Also destroyed a church built to withstand 150 mile per hour winds. A parishioner discovered the rubble. They couldn't believe it, because this served as a helicopter shelter.

Also, according to "The Orlando Sentinel," the twister actually picked a man up in his car, flipped it across the street. The car landed upright and the driver was able to call for help.

There are so many stories like that today, I will have more for you at 7:00 -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to get back to you with these stories, powerful stories, dramatic stories, stories of sadness, by and large.

Thank you very much.

But there have been some miraculous stories, as well, and we're going to have more on that, as well.

Residents of central Florida are sending in their I-Reports from the middle of the storm zone.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has some more on the devastation -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have been receiving these photos through I-Report since early this morning, as people left their homes and went out into their neighborhoods to survey the damage.

These photos here from Sumter County. And more from Jack Hurst, who is a resident of the retirement community, The Villages. He told CNN that he felt his own house vibrate, but it didn't have any damage. But the houses nearby, it's a different story. Whole walls ripped off so you can see inside.

But you can also see how others escaped. Look at this house back here, that seems to have escaped any damage. The roof there still intact. But the house in the foreground there, just a few meters, a few feet away, is utterly ripped apart -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Heartbreaking. Heartbreaking, indeed.

Thank you, Abbi.

We're going to get some more of those I-Report pictures for our viewers.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty -- you see this kind of stuff, Jack, and you and I have been reporters for a long time, but no matter how many times you see this, your heart goes out to those innocent people who have gone through hell.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and these things coming in the middle of the night like that -- I worked at WDAF in Kansas City back in a previous century and did -- actually did weather. And they have a lot of tornadic activity out there. And those things are downright terrifying. I mean the sky turns green. You hear this horrible rushing sound almost like a freight train. And I mean it just is -- it's -- it's terrifying.

And to have no warning sirens and no warning at all and to just be awakened out of a sound sleep, if you wake up at all, I mean I just -- I can't imagine anything much worse.

We've got another story in the State of Florida, Wolf.

It might soon be tougher to steal an election down there. The new governor, Charlie Crist, wants to spend $32 million to get rid of all the touch-screen voting machines.

His goal?

To switch over to a system of paper ballots counted by scanners in time for a '08 presidential election. What a novel idea -- a paper trail.

The proposal has to clear the state legislature. And if that happens, Florida, the site of the infamous 2000 recount, could be a sign of things to come for the rest of the country, and not a minute too soon. A director of a non-profit outfit called VoteTrust USA says: "Florida is like a synonym for election problem. It's the Bermuda Triangle of elections. For Florida to be clearly contemplating moving away touch screens to the greatest extent possible is truly significant."

Other states -- Virginia, Maryland -- are also making moves to abandon the touch screen machines. And on the national level, Democratic Congressman Rush Holt is going to introduce a bill on Monday that would require all voting machines to produce paper records.

Here's the question -- Florida plans to do away with the voting machines.

Should other states do the same thing.

E-mail us at or go to

One of the arguments against doing away with the machines is the cost factor. But I guess the other side of that coin is how expensive is if it you don't and the election results are tampered with -- Wolf.

BLITZER: $32 million, in the scheme of things, doesn't sound like a whole lot of money when you're talking about democracy in action.

Explain this to me, Jack, because I know you've done a lot of reporting on this.

Why is it that when you go give a credit card, a Visa or a MasterCard, you can always get a piece of paper, but if you vote, that seems to be very difficult in some of these states?

CAFFERTY: I haven't been around long enough to even begin to be able to answer that. It's entirely too logical and I have no clue.

BLITZER: All right.

They've got to change this. They've got to change it quickly.


BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Up ahead, U.S. spy agencies issue a new intelligence report on Iraq.

Why this gloomy forecast may have grim implications for American troops.

A gloomy forecast of another kind -- hot and getting hotter, for the next thousand years.

Is it too late to do anything about global warming?

And a state has suffered yet another devastating natural disaster.

How much more can it take?

I'll speak live with Florida's lieutenant governor. He's standing by.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The tragic loss of life, home and belongings -- we have the latest developments on those killer storms in central Florida. Nineteen people are now said to be dead, according to Lake County emergency management officials.

Meanwhile, Lake and other affected counties of Seminole, Sumter and Volusia are under a state of emergency right now.

The Florida governor, Charlie Crist, says he's spoken with President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff about federal aid. And the largest electricity provider in the area says at least 15,000 people are without power right now.

The killer storms caught most Florida residents by surprise.

Was there, though, any way to warn them or any way to prevent the terrible death toll? CNN's Brian Todd has this report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the air, house after house flattened. On the ground, victims pick through them and talk about tornadoes that came while they were sleeping.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When we got out of the bed, down beside the bed and it was happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it was here. It was...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thought we were going to die.

TODD: National Weather Service officials tell CNN residents in central Florida had eight to 16 minutes of lead time from when tornado warnings are issued to when the twisters hit. But the warnings went out at about 3:00 in the morning. Most residents fast asleep.

This could have been their difference maker -- a NOAA weather radio. You can hit it any time to get a local forecast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Waves, one foot. Sunday night.

TODD: But it's also an alarm. Just set it to your local county...

DENNIS FELTGEN, NOAA METEOROLOGIST: On these short fuse situations such as a severe thunderstorm, a flood or a tornado warning, these radios will go off with an alarm the instant that warning is issued. And that is going to roust you out of bed in the middle of the night, I don't care how sound of a sleeper you are. You're going to hear it.

TODD: NOAA's Dennis Feltgen knows another way to protect yourself -- a safe room. Already in some Florida homes, they're reinforced by extra concrete or steel in the walls. But that's expensive. If you don't have one, pick a room on the bottom floor, middle of the house, away from exterior doors and windows like a bathroom.


FELTGEN: You want to make sure that you've got something to protect yourself, some heavy blankets. And as silly as it sounds, put on the football or a motorcycle helmet.

The reason?

Most tornado injuries are to the head.


BLITZER: Brian Todd is going to have a lot more on this story coming up. We're going to go out to NOAA headquarters.

Brian is watching preventive measures, potentially -- potentially -- that could save people's lives.

That's coming up.

We're going to also have more reports from the storm zone in central Florida.

Other important news we're following, the just released National Intelligence Estimate includes a very frank assessment of the situation in Iraq.

Is there any hope, any hope?

Also coming up, one state now requiring school girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus. And you might be surprise at how young the vaccinations are going to start.

All that coming up.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on the devastation from those tornadoes that hit central Florida, four counties. That path causing utter destruction.

CNN has now confirmed at least 19 people are dead, many others injured.

Joining us is Florida's lieutenant governor, Jeff Kottkamp.

He's on the phone from the state emergency operations center in Tallahassee.

Lieutenant Governor, thanks very much.

Give us the sense of the devastation, the latest information you're getting.

LT. GV. JEFF KOTTKAMP (R), FLORIDA: Well, Wolf, as you know, today the governor signed an executive order declaring a disaster area in four counties. Governor Crist traveled down to the area today to see firsthand the devastation and be able to talk with the people that have been affected by this.

Our operations center here in Tallahassee is on full alert. The governor has been fully advised and is on top of this situation. We -- we're getting reports even as we speak. But our goal right now is by sunset to make sure that we've rescued every person trapped or injured and provided them with the appropriate medical care.

As you have reported, the governor has also spoken with the president, who pledged the full support from the federal government. We are now coordinating with volunteer organizations to provide food, shelter and clothing to those in need. And the governor's message, frankly, to the citizens at this point is that help is on the way.

BLITZER: Because we know Florida, among all the states, is usually very well prepared for these disasters, given the history of hurricanes.

Do you have in the state right now everything you need or are you relying on FEMA and the federal government for additional physical assistance?

Forget about the money for the moment.

KOTTKAMP: Right now, we have the infrastructure and the people in place locally, frankly. The folks on the local level are doing an incredible job of managing the situation. We're doing everything we can to provide resources and manpower to back them up.

But, frankly, we do have a very good system in place. Our director of emergency management, Craig Fugate, is -- is an expert at this. And he has an incredible team working side-by-side with our governor. We are on top of the situation.

BLITZER: So what will you be looking to the federal government for, specifically FEMA?

KOTTKAMP: Well, FEMA -- particularly for those people who are uninsured, people that lose their businesses, they have programs in place that will provide financial assistance to the people who have incurred financial damages.

But from an immediate standpoint, we are fully prepared in Florida to handle this situation and make sure that we rescue the people that need to be rescued, get them the proper medical care, get people in the shelters. There are shelters open in all of the counties that have been affected.

And we're currently working very hard to get the power back to all of the people that lost power.

So from an infrastructure and people standpoint, we have what it takes to get the job done.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Governor, good luck to you.

Good luck to all Floridians.

A tough situation.

We're going to stay in close touch with you.

Jeff Kottkamp joining us on the phone from Tallahassee.

Carol Costello is taking a closer look at some other important stories making news right now -- Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

This afternoon, Texas became the first state to require school girls as young as 11 or 12 to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order on that this afternoon. In doing so, Perry sidesteps opposition in the state legislature from parents' rights groups.

She says she plans to appeal, but a former Coca-Cola secretary is facing up to 10 years in prison for her conviction on charges she plotted to steal trade secrets. A federal jury in Atlanta deliberated over three days before returning the guilty verdict against Joya Williams. Prosecutors said Williams planned to take confidential documents and samples of unlaunched product and sell them to rival Pepsi. Two others involved in the plan have pleaded guilty.

No shadow, which means, of course, an early spring. Today is Ground Hog Day. And that is the verdict today from Punxsutawney Phil. More than 15,000 ground hog watchers milled around Phil's Pennsylvania stump to await his appearance. This year he was swept from his cubby by a new handler who has been preparing for the big event for months. Apparently, Punxsutawney Phil is a handful. You know, he's a star.

The last time Phil failed to see his shadow was in 1999 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, given the global warming, it's going to be an earlier and earlier spring, I take it, every year.


BLITZER: For the next thousand years or so.

COSTELLO: He might as well resign.

BLITZER: Yes. He's going to have to lost his job.

All right, thanks very much, Carol.

We'll get back to you.

Coming up, desperate times in Iraq, very desperate times. And over at the White House, as well. We're going to read between the lines of a grim new report on the war from the president's own intelligence team.

And a call to action in response to the strongest statements yet from scientists about global warming. We're going to find out what they're saying.

Is it manmade?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, assessing Iraq -- a new report from America's spy agencies is now out and it paints a grim picture of Iraq's situation. We're going to tell you why some are deeply worried about the prospects for a U.S. troop pullout.

In Florida, a tragic loss of life and belongings. Killer storms, including a tornado, kill 19 people, at least. Affected counties are under a state of emergency. Fifteen thousand people are without power right now.

And over at the Pentagon, the man in charge of terror detainee affairs has resigned. Officials say Charles "Sculley" Stimson resigned yesterday after some controversial remarks he made last month in a radio interview. He said he thought major U.S. corporations should not do business with top law firms which defend terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our other top story today, America's spy agencies issuing a brutally frank appraisal of the situation in Iraq. It shows very little light at the end of the tunnel. And Bush administration officials concede a very tough road lies ahead.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, with more -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a report so dire that the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services today said this shows that the president's strategy to send more troops to Iraq is the very last roll of the dice.


HENRY (voice-over): A blistering assessment in the president's own National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE. The cycle of violence in Iraq is likely to get worse and hopes of political reconciliation are fading fast.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The situation is deteriorating and continues to deteriorate at an accelerating pace.

HENRY: The White House strategy is to play the only card they've got -- the situation is so desperate, the president's plan for increasing troops needs time, though they readily admit that might not work either.

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president made it very clear it's going to be hard and there's no assurance for success. The president believes his strategy has a prospect for success. It's going to be hard. The NIE says that. The president has said that.

HENRY: But, in fact, the new report also challenges the president on several key fronts. While the White House continues to refuse to call it a civil war, the report says that term does describe key elements of the conflict. While the report adds the term civil war does not adequately capture the full complexity of the conflict, analysts say this actually suggests Iraq is worse than a civil war.

MCLAUGHLIN: This is more complicated than civil war. Civil war is checkers. This is chess. In fact, it's a multi-dimensional chess board.

HENRY: The president has increasingly been pointing the finger of blame at Iran for the violence in Iraq. While the report acknowledges Iranian support of Shia militants is intensifying the conflict, the report adds: "The involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability."

But the report did seem to bolster one argument the White House continues to make, that withdrawing U.S. troops would spark even more massive civilian casualties in Iraq and a refugee crisis to boot.

HADLEY: An American withdrawal or stepping back now would be a prescription for fast failure and a chaos that would envelop not only Iraq, but also the region.


HENRY: The report says that chaos could include ethnic slaughter, as well as other nations, like Turkey, entering the fray -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A series of bad choices for everyone concerned. Some even worse than the others, obviously.

Ed, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, President Bush will ask Congress for another $100 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's for the current fiscal year, 2007.

A senior administration official says the request for 2008 will be another $145 billion. A formal administration budget will be released Monday morning.

The new intelligence assessment raises serious doubts about whether the president's new Iraq strategy can work.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, that new strategy hinges almost entirely on the performance of Iraqi troops and the promises of the Iraqi government. And this new report raises questions about both.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCINTYRE (voice over): The report offers a gloomy forecast on the ability of Iraqi forces, in particular the police, to do what it takes to make the new Iraq strategy work. Despite real improvements, the NIE concludes, Iraqi security forces will be hard-pressed to execute significant increased security responsibilities or operate independently against Shia militias over the next 12 to 18 months. That sounds far more pessimistic than what the outgoing U.S. commander in Iraq just told the Congress.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: The Iraqis are in a position to assume responsibility for their security by the end the year.

MCINTYRE: But General George Casey also revealed that Iraqi brigades reporting to Baghdad are showing up undermanned, some just over half strength. The Pentagon says that risks missing a key benchmark.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: They're not at the level we would like them to be, total strength-wise, but they are showing up on the time when they said they would.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iraqi unit (INAUDIBLE) constitute meeting their part of the deal?

PACE: It needs to be stronger than that.

MCINTYRE: The intelligence estimate contains other bleak assessments. The overall security situation will continue to deteriorate unless there is measurable progress. Iraqi leaders will be hard-pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation. And key elements of the Iraqi conflict can in fact accurately be described as civil war, even as the big picture is more complex.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I believe that there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq. One is Shia on Shia, principally in the south. The second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad but not solely. Third is the insurgency. And fourth is al Qaeda.


MCINTYRE: The intelligence estimate isn't all gloom and doom. Typically, for an intelligence document, it hedges its bet. It says the downward spiral could be reversed if a couple of things happen, such as the Sunnis embracing the government and the Shia and the Kurds making some major concessions. But it doesn't bet on that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those are two major "ifs," as you know, Jamie. Thanks very much.

A U.S. helicopter, another one, went down in Iraq today. The U.S. military says both soldiers on board the Apache were killed. Four helicopters have now been lost in the past two weeks alone, and the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Peter Pace, concedes that ground fire against U.S. aircraft, in his words, is getting more effective.

The latest crash came northwest of Baghdad. An Iraqi official said the Apache came under insurgent fire.

Take a look at the pattern on this chart. Fifty-seven helicopters have gone down in Iraq since May of 2003, at least 27 of them were brought down by hostile fire.

Rival Palestinian factions have agreed to yet another cease-fire in Gaza, but there's no sign that will end the bloody street fighting that's claimed almost two dozen lives in the past two days alone. And this comes as the United States hosts a meeting aimed at trying to restart the peace process in the region.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, with details -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraq is a disaster. Lebanon is in chaos. Now diplomats are trying to prevent Palestinians from sliding into civil war.


VERJEE (voice over): Gaza in flames as gunfire rings out in the streets from the roof. Deadly Palestinian-on-Palestinian warfare. Hamas and Fatah locked in a bloody struggle for power.

AARON DAVID MILLER, WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: They're like two punch-drunk fighters. Neither can really look for the knockout blow, but yet they can't stop fighting.

VERJEE: President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party wants to engage Israel. The Hamas-led government refuses to recognize Israel. So, as punishment, the world cut off aid and the Palestinian people are suffering.

The U.S. says the choice is clear.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: It goes without saying that in order to have a partner for peace, you have to accept the existence of the other partner.

VERJEE: The U.S. is betting on President Abbas with dollars. If Congress agrees, $86 million to beef up his security forces to hit at Hamas, which the U.S. calls a terrorist group.

RICE: These discussions have been very fruitful.

VERJEE: The U.S. wants to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace conversation again with the support of its international partners and focus on the end game -- how to get the Palestinians a state and Israel security. Experts say the Palestinians have to clean up their act before peace is possible.

MILLER: So the reality is the Palestinian house is in really real dysfunction and in trouble. And until that situation clarifies, it's going to be very difficult to do much of anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: Secretary Rice met with diplomats from the European Union, the United Nations and Russia on how to move forward. But one problem. They can't agree on whether the enemy should be at the table. Russia says the world should talk to Hamas and even Syria. The U.S. says no way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain's watching this story and will continue to watch it.

Thank you, Zain.

Up ahead, global warming. The strongest statement yet by scientists around the world. Mary Snow has their verdict.

And presidential hopeful Bill Richardson standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's his plan to end the crisis in Iraq?

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: They're searching the debris, they're going house to house. This is an awful situation in central Florida right now. At least 19 people confirmed dead in that series of storms, devastating storms, including tornadoes, that ripped through four counties in Florida overnight.

Carol Costello is watching this, together with all of us.

Carol, it's an awful situation. It's about to get dark there. And we heard from the lieutenant governor that once it gets dark, the search and rescue operation clearly becomes more complex.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, you're not kidding. All of those homes leveled, some people buried under the rubble. There are so many stories that we're hearing about.

In fact, in one apartment building in Lake County, one witness described a woman underneath some boards. You could just see her feet. They got the plywood off of her and managed to save her life.

So many other stories like that.

As you said, Wolf, CNN has now confirmed 19 dead. But who knows what else they're going to find underneath that rubble?

The hardest-hit county was Lake County. Something strange on Interstate 4 near exit 44. The wind was so strong when it blew through at the height of the storm that five tractor-trailers simply blew over on their sides.

It caused a huge traffic backup. Amazingly, none of the truck drivers died. In fact, one of them was interviewed, and he said he just couldn't believe he was alive, and he was thanking God.

I'll continue to follow the wires and have more for you as we get it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Carol. I know you're checking out the human part of this devastation very, very closely.

We're going to get to Florida, we're going to go back there live shortly. But I want to go overseas first. A serious story unfolding.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, no stranger to controversy, but this time, with his name being linked to a criminal investigation, the heat may be almost -- almost unbearable.

Let's go to CNN's Paula Hancocks -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Tony Blair must certainly be used to calls for his resignation by now, but over the past 24 hours, some of the voices of dissent have been from within his own party. But still, he is determined to leave by his own timetable.


HANCOCKS (voice over): 1997 was a happy year for Tony Blair. His Labour Party swept to victory on an anti-corruption ticket. A decade on, he is sidestepping repeated calls for his resignation, saying in a radio interview that he'll go when he's ready.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that's the right way to do it, and I think it would be particularly wrong to do it before the inquiry has even run its course and come to any conclusions. So you'll have to put up with me for a bit longer.

HANCOCKS: Blair has been questioned twice by police in the ongoing investigation into whether some secret party donors were later recommended for state honors. He was a witness, not a suspect. But some of his closest allies have been arrested.

The British media is questioning whether Tony Blair still has the authority or the credibility left to run the country. Even his predecessor is hinting he is losing public trust for the whole party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In any democratic process, the damage to that will take years and a great deal of action to try and repair.

HANCOCKS: Blair's already said he'll step down before September. He refuses to be more specific.


HANCOCKS: When Tony Blair was elected 10 years ago, he was the youngest prime minister in the 20th century. Now his claim to fame is that he is the only sitting British prime minister ever to be questioned by police in a criminal investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula is outside Number 10 Downing Street in London.

Thank you. Still ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, there's more evidence that global warming is real. So what will the results be? A new report raises some very ominous possibilities.

And Florida doesn't have the greatest reputation when it comes to voting machines. Remember those hanging chads? But now officials have made a decision that has Jack Cafferty asking if Florida should become a model for the rest of the country.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's a new very grim report out about global warming. It's from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-sponsored operation. And it says there's a very high confidence humans cause warming, that warming is unequivocal, and that global warming is very likely caused by greenhouse gases. It also says there's an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity, that hurricanes are likely to become more intense.

And it cites an increase in what scientists are calling heavy precipitation events. And the report cites widespread melting of snow and ice, droughts likely to increase in the 21st century. And it says heat waves are to become more frequent.

Amid this very grim new report are urgent calls to action on global warming.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow in New York with more on this story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some scientists are calling this global warming report a turning point. And they say the focus must shift from the problem to solutions.


SNOW (voice over): The globe is warming. The outlook is grim. With ice sheets melting and sea levels rising, a major study from a U.N.-backed panel of scientists is prompting an urgent call for governments to reduce carbon emissions. Environmentalists say individuals need to act, too, starting with smaller things.

Take cell phone chargers.

LAURIE DAVID, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": When you leave the charger in the wall, and you take your cell phone off, it's drawing energy and wasting energy.

SNOW: The kind of car you drive, even the light bulbs you use can save energy. Some are looking for alternatives. People like Jim Gordon are hoping to harness energy from the wind. He's working to build the country's first offshore wind farm like the one seen here and use it to provide electricity to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and the surrounding area. JIM GORDON, PRESIDENT, CAPE WIND: The wind will power these wind turbines, spin a generator, produce needed electricity, which will be transmitted by undersea cables and integrated right into the existing electric grid.

SNOW: But some scientists worry not enough will be done to cool the planet before the damage is irreversible. They say drastic measures may be needed.

Astronomer Roger Angel has been developing sun shades in an emergency effort to cool the planet. They would be used as a way to deflect the sun's rays. It's just one technology that's part of geo- engineering.

GAVIN SCHMIDT, NASA GODDARD INST.: There's another plan to stir up the oceans to increase the amount of sea salt in the atmosphere, which might have an effect on clouds. But it's all very -- it's all very speculative.

SNOW: Climatologist Gavin Schmitt calls some of these ideas bizarre and says they are no substitute for reducing carbon emissions.


SNOW: And the astronomer developing those sun shades says if they were taken seriously, it would take at least 10 years and trillions of dollars for them to be operational -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that.

Let's check in with Lou Dobs to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Lou, what are you working on?


Coming up, we'll be reporting on a major victory for common sense, decency, and democracy. States all across the country reviewing e-voting after the state of Florida has abandoned paperless voting.

We'll have that report for you.

Also, drug seizures along our southern border with Mexico have risen sharply. Has the United States lost the war against the drug cartels in Mexico?

That story coming up.

And congressional Democrats have made the plight of working men and women one of their central issues in this new Congress. Can those Democrats, however, do anything to stop the war on the middle class?

They have the opportunity. We'll have the report.

And three of the country's best political minds join us here tonight.

The latest on the tornado disaster in Florida that killed at least 19 people. We'll have full coverage.

We hope you'll be with us.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou. We'll be watching. Thank you.

We want to get back to the top story, killer storms causing devastation in central Florida. Our meteorologist, Rob Marciano, is on the scene for us from Lake County.

And I want you, Rob, to show our viewers, give us a little sense of the devastation surrounding you.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, you know we've been showing the pictures all day of the aerial shots, helicopters flying overhead showing the path of destruction. That is certainly awe- inspiring. But when you're on the ground and we get our camera to show you these pictures of what it's like up close, you really get the sense of the power of this storm.

This is a brick home. This is not brick veneer. This is full- size brick up against studded walls that are bolted down to a concrete foundation. So, this is not a trailer home, this is not a modular home. This is a brick home that was literally wiped out by this tornado that came through the area.

A brick chimney almost hitting the gentleman that was sleeping in this home. His wife sleeping right in this bedroom. Both walls in this corner part of the home completely collapsed and buried her in debris.

She cried for help from her husband, who was also buried in debris in the other room. He managed to crawl himself out, pick her up, and get her out of the debris as the tornado continued down into that open field.

Miraculously, Wolf, those people managed to survive. An elderly couple, amazing to hear their story. They're thankful for their lives.

But, unfortunately, here in Lake County, they're calling it the worst natural disaster in the county's history. Right now 19 people are confirmed dead. Likely many more injured -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to watch this. And Rob's going to be back in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour with a lot more.

Up next, Governor Bill Richardson, a Democrat from out West with his eye on the West Wing, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll be talking to the governor. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: The increasingly dire situation in Iraq is likely to dominate the 2008 presidential campaign. One White House Democratic hopeful is joining us now, the current governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW Mexico: Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: So what -- if you're president, what do you do right now to deal with the crisis in Iraq?

RICHARDSON: I would fix a withdrawal date this calendar year. I would couple that with two other...

BLITZER: Complete withdrawal?

RICHARDSON: Yes. I would couple it with two other initiatives.

One, a regional conference that involved Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria, NATO countries that deal with reconstruction and civil administration. But I would also foster a reconciliation conference where the three ethnic groups, mainly the Shias and the Sunnis, divide up power, set up a date and type accord, but also deal with oil wealth, transfer of wealth, and a coalition government.

BLITZER: Here's the national intelligence estimate, the declassified summary that came out today. It said, if there were to be a withdrawal, a rapid withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq, they painted this picture -- the Iraqi security forces would be unlikely to survive. Iraq's neighbors might intervene openly. There would be massive civilian casualties, that would be probable, and there would be a Kurdish play for autonomy that could -- could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.

In other words, what they're saying in this intelligence estimate, that the bad situation right now could be a lot worse if the U.S. were to rapidly withdraw its forces.

RICHARDSON: Well, I saw those estimates before. Our intelligence has been wrong before.

My point is, there's sectarian violence now. It's a civil war now. What I would use as a timetable of the withdrawal that would be chartered by our military commanders at the end of this year, this calendar year, but you almost link it to this reconciliation conference where you force a political solution. And you also bring forth a convening of the major powers in the region.

And you have to bring in Syria, you have to bring in Iran. And you also deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You deal with the entire Persian Gulf terrorism situation.

I would also...

BLITZER: But you realize, of course, that the stakes right now -- there are no good scenarios out there.

RICHARDSON: No, obviously.

BLITZER: There's a series of bad, potentially difficult, dangerous decisions that are out there, and no easy fix.

RICHARDSON: Absolutely. No easy fix, but the worst thing we can do is what the president is proposing, 20,000 more troops. That's going to add to the civil war, to the sectarian conflict.

The worst part is that the Maliki government, in my judgment, is not promoting reconciliation among the ethnic groups, it's not advancing its own security training. And lastly, they're flirting with Iran. So I don't understand the policy right now that, not just doesn't have an exit strategy, but security-wise, it is potentially hurting and harming our troops.

BLITZER: What's your strategy in terms of getting elected president of the United States? Are you going as far as, for example, Chris Dodd is right now, another Democratic presidential hopeful, is saying, just start using the power of the purse, cut off the funding?

RICHARDSON: Yes. That was the role of Congress.

I was in Congress 15 years. The Congress should deauthorize the war. The way you do that is through appropriations. Now, you don't want to hurt the existing troops there, but some kind of legal instrument that binds the president not to expand the war.

BLITZER: You don't like the symbolic non-binding resolution?

RICHARDSON: Well, it's a start. The fact that that's important is because it's Republicans and Democrats. But the next step should be a cutoff of appropriations, of funding, not for the existing armor and material for the troops now, but, yes, that is the role of the Congress. They should do it.

BLITZER: We'll be watching closely with you, Governor. Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: I know you're here for the Democratic meetings that are going on this weekend in Washington.

Bill Richardson, thanks.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Florida is planning to do away with touch-screen voting machines. We asked whether other states ought to do the same.

Martha in Hollywood, Florida says, "I'm from Florida, and the fraud and errors in the last two elections here were incredible. We even had dead people voting. Every state should return to a voting system that can be verified on paper. I'm glad to see our new governor making this move toward making our votes truly count."

James in Natick, Massachusetts, "Every state in the union should be required by law to have voting machines that have paper backups. That way, the Republicans will actually have to win the elections before they take office."

Tom in Liberty, Missouri, "Jack, having a voting machine spin out one piece of paper with a total vote count is worthless. That's just as bad as no paper trail at all. What we need are individual ballots that can be manually or machine counted, with those ballots then saved until the election is certified."

Bob in Dade City, Florida, "As a Floridian who has become accustomed to having his vote not counted and seen every major election screwed up, I say it doesn't matter what type of voting apparatus is used here or in any other state. As long as our government is inhabited by corrupt politicians, we'll have corrupt elections."

Jeff in Seattle, "Jack, I'm all for what's going on here in Washington and in Oregon: voting by mail. No worries about waiting in long lines. You have a large window in which to vote, plus there's a paper trail. There may still be a function for the touch-screen systems for those who have disabilities, but frankly, for systems that are only used once or twice a year, it seemed from the start a case of technology that simply has run amuck."

Dave from Natchez, Mississippi, "I'm not sure we should allow Florida to vote."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, where you can read some more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, I just want to get Governor Richardson -- he's still here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- for his brief reaction.

This is shocking that there's no paper trail out there, that people go and vote. They're losing a lot of confidence in the system.

RICHARDSON: If I were president, I would push for legislation that would have paper trails with optical scanners for all 50 states. We did it in New Mexico a year ago. I think Florida doing it makes them the 10th.

Voters don't trust when they go into the ballot box that their ballot will be counted. A paper trail, the old-fashioned way, with optical scanners, will assure that. And that's important. It's an important Democratic initiative.

BLITZER: We're going to watch it, together with you and Jack and Lou Dobbs.

He's coming up right now in New York.


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