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Explosion in Midtown Manhattan

Aired July 18, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, there's breaking news in New York City. An explosion in midtown Manhattan shoots steam and fear into the air. We have reporters on the scene. We'll update you on what's going on.

Also, smoky wreckage and raging anger -- was Brazil's deadliest air crash an accident simply waiting to happen -- tonight, airline safety and short runways under scrutiny.

And it is part fantasy land and part living hell that all -- and all Navy recruits have to go through it. We're going to take you along for a truly amazing ride.

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

But up first tonight, we are following the breaking news out of New York City. This is what we know. There was some kind of explosion in midtown Manhattan near Grand Central Station. There are reports a transformer may have blown -- dozens of firefighters now on the scene, engulfed in steam and debris -- on the phone, NYPD Assistant Police Commissioner Paul Browne.

Commissioner, thanks very much. You are there on the scene. What do we know?

PAUL BROWNE, NYPD ASST. POLICE COMMISSIONER (via phone): Well, right now, the most important message I want to get out is that this is -- there is nothing to indicate that this is terrorist related. This appears to be a major steam pipe explosion. There was lots of debris, dirt, from underground being spewed up into the air along with large columns of steam, but again nothing to indicate a terrorist related event.

BLITZER: Is the fire -- is the steam still continuing and what about casualties?

BROWNE: We don't have any word on casualties. That's not to say there are none. We just do not have word on that yet. It was a major explosion. The ground was literally shaking under your feet, at the initial moments of it, and actually for several minutes into it. That's subsided somewhat, but there are still large columns of steam being emanated from the street near 41st Street and Lexington Avenue.

BLITZER: And this is right near Grand Central Station. There was an early report that a building had actually collapsed. I take it that was simply wrong, although buildings were shaking.

BROWNE: That's correct. I think anybody in the vicinity would have felt the shaking. It was certainly -- you could feel the tremors under your feet, and I'm sure nearby buildings -- that was felt as well, but nothing on a building collapse.

BLITZER: What about the response? Did everything work according to plan? And if you could explain to us, how do these kinds of transformer explosions occur? What needs to happen for this kind of situation to unfold?

BROWNE: Well, I can't confirm that it was in fact a transformer. All I have for certain that it's a steam explosion of some sort. And I'm certainly not an expert in describing what you just asked. In terms of the response, the multi-agency response, predominantly the New York City Police Department and New York City Fire Department. We have the coordinating agencies, the Office of Emergency Management on scene, as well.

BLITZER: All right. The assistant police commissioner of New York, Paul Browne -- Commissioner, thank you very much. Good luck to all the personnel on the scene watching this story.

Adaora Udoji was just a block away when this blast happened. She's joining on the phone. Adaora, tell us what you felt, what you saw.

ADAORA UDOJI , COURT TV CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf it was complete pandemonium. It was ten to 6:00, we heard a loud explosion. It felt like an earthquake. I'm a block down. We're on the 19th floor. And it was shaking, we looked out the window. We saw hundreds and hundreds of people running down Third Avenue.

People were screaming, they were crying. They evacuated our building, as well as all the other buildings in the vicinity, forcing people out into the street. And, of course, the response was instantaneous, firefighters, police, state police, Con Edison. We have got Hazmat teams down here, and within 20 minutes or so, they had literally locked down the entire area.

The crater on Lexington and Wolf, it is a crater. It must be something that is many dozens of feet wide and many dozens of feet long, and it was billowing -- this white and brown smoke. I mean I'm thinking train exhaust and multiply that by about a thousand times; it was billowing and encapsulating all of the buildings in the area.

BLITZER: We don't know the extent of casualties; we do know what the NYPD and the FBI are saying there's no indication that this was terrorism-related. I suspect, Adaora, that you were there when it occurred, that must have been the first thing that went through your mind and the minds of thousands of other people on the scene.

UDOJI: Oh, nerves are raw. Nerves are raw, Wolf. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The level of fear and panic, it was just, in seconds, people were screaming, not only in my building, but on the streets, they were trying to use their cell phones, they can't, just really concerned, of course, that possibly, there was some kind of attack.

Not knowing what that is, and listening to this enormous boom, when you least expect it, you know, in the evening, people are trying to make their way home from work and so on. It was pretty -- yes, it will take you up for a second.

BLITZER: And one more question, Adaora. This crater that you've seen now, tell me about that, tell our viewers, what is it, what you have seen.

UDOJI: In the middle of the street, it must be -- it's a double- lane street, and in the middle of it, it is an enormous hole. The best comparison I can think of, the last time I saw a crater that big, to be frank with you, was when I was in Iraq, outside of Baghdad. It is an enormous hole.

It is just enormous, and the smoke is just billowing out. It is capturing buildings that are 50, 60 feet high. It slowed down a bit in the last hour, because now we are talking about an hour ago, but at first, and a hissing noise. You could hear it for blocks.

BLITZER: Very, very scary, indeed -- Adaora Udoji of Court TV -- formerly of CNN. Thank you, Adaora, for that.

Our own Mary Snow is now on the scene as well. Mary, tell us what you are seeing.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, Wolf, as Adaora just mentioned, we are right one block away from where that hole is, and you might be able to hear the police behind me. Police are out in bullhorns, trying to clear the street, obviously, people coming to look, to try to see what happened. And you can still see that steam billowing out of that hole, but it has kind of calmed down, as Adaora just mentioned.

And you know there are still people here who have mud covered on them, and talking to people, they say -- one eyewitness described it as almost sounding like a tornado or a freight train, and, obviously, here in New York, people said that's the first thing they thought of was that it was a 9/11-type incident, and, immediately, there were people running.

Some people had described it as chaos -- obviously, very nervous New Yorkers. We do know that New York Presbyterian Hospital reports three injuries. We don't know the status of those injuries. Right now, the train line in Grand Central Station, some of the subway lines are by-passing the station all together. We just saw people filing out of Grand Central. And it is very crowded here as police and fire continue to make their way to the scene. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very scary stuff. Mary, stand by. I want to get back to you as you get more information on what exactly occurred, and how it is unfolding right now. What we can tell you is that eyewitnesses are already sending images from the scene of this explosion in New York City through CNN's I-Report.

Let's go to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. Jacki, what are you seeing?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these images literally streaming into us here at CNN. This first one coming from Brett Lacoon (ph), who says he was on the 21st floor of the (inaudible) building across the street where this explosion occurred. He said originally people were trying to leave the building, but then they were told that they were safe.

We can give you an image of what this looks like. This is from Randy Silverman (ph). Here is the MetLife building, just to give you an idea of where Brett Lacoon (ph) would have been. You can see the smoke. This was taken at 34th and Park. We think this explosion was somewhere around 41st and Lexington. Just to give you an idea of proximity.

Another image coming in from Roosevelt Island, this is in the East River. And this comes to us from Graham Cannon (ph). He says that he works nearby the building, but he's now at his home on Roosevelt. This is the image across the river. What can you see, the explosion that took place in the area, of, again, about 41st and Lexington.

This image, another one from Julia Offman (ph), Third Avenue and 32nd Street -- she's facing uptown from her balcony. She says that she was in her living room. Her mother wanted to know why all these people were streaming out into the streets. This is what she saw, again about Third Avenue 32nd Street, looking uptown is where this explosion took place. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, thank you. And I just want to let our viewers know that we would love to hear from you, as well, if you saw the explosion scene, you can send us your images,, on this explosion in New York City.

Joining us on the phone now, Andrew Troisi with the Office of Emergency Management; what can you tell us about what has occurred in New York City, Andrew?

ANDREW TROISI, NYC OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MGMT. (via phone): Well, what we know right now is that it was a 20-inch steam main that exploded at the intersection of 41st Street and Lexington Avenue. That's what we know now. It is in the process of being shut off by Con Ed, but what is very imperative right now is that anyone who is in the area, please leave. The only people who should be here are emergency response personnel who need to be here.

BLITZER: What can cause this kind of explosion?

TROISI: Well, you know, it's really -- it's too early to speculate, and, anything that I told you would be pure speculation. This is very much a rescue operation right now. We are evacuating anyone who is in the area, and tending to anyone who is injured. The good news is that, as I said, it's a steam explosion; there is no indication that there is any criminality involved. But what is important, and what we should press upon everyone is to please leave the area. BLITZER: And this is a very, very crowded area around Grand Central Station, especially during rush hour. Literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people would be within only a few blocks of this area. So, what you are saying is these people should leave. Is it your concern that there could be follow-up explosions, or, what is the issue?

TROISI: Well, the primary concern is when you have a utility explosion, there's a very likely chance that hazardous materials might enter the air. We would rather not chance that and would encourage anyone who is near the area, please make your way away.

BLITZER: When you say hazardous material like what are you afraid of that asbestos may have been thrown into the air; people could be breathing harmful particles? Is that what you're suggesting?

TROISI: That's correct. And, really, as I said this is a rescue operation. We have not begun to really detail the possible contaminants in the air, but there's a very good chance that hazardous materials are in the air. Let's not take any chances.

BLITZER: Well that's good advice from Andrew Troisi of the Office of Emergency Management. We'll stay in touch with you. Thank you.

An explosion like the one now being felt in New York City could prove, as we just heard, to be toxic, based on past history.

Let's turn to Carol Costello. She's watching this story. Something like this has happened in the past, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes and you know it's interesting that Andrew just told you about asbestos because this isn't the first time such a thing has happened. Back in 1989, a steam pipe exploded in Gramercy Park, kind of like 20 parks east of Grand Central Station. At that time, the steam pipe explosion killed three people, injured 24, after it sent scalding sludge 18 stories into the air.

Now that isn't the whole story, though. It turned out that sludge was loaded with asbestos, and people were literally coated with the stuff. Some of those people sued Con Edison because it didn't inform them of that. They found out after sending the materials they found in their apartments out to a private lab.

Of course, we don't know right now what's in the sludge dredged up by this latest incident, but you heard Andrew, could be. New York is a very old city, Wolf, and as some witnesses said, who knows what's under the streets. And because it is an old infrastructure, it means things explode sometimes, water pipes, and maybe steam pipes, as well.

BLITZER: And if you go in that area, you need protection to make sure you don't breathe some of those potentially harmful ingredients, those particles that might have been thrown up into the air. Carol, thanks very much.

We're going to stay on top of this story and make sure we get you all the latest information, I want to check in with Jack Cafferty, he is watching this and other news, as well, in "The Cafferty File". Jack, first of all, what do you make of this?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Never a dull moment here in the Big Apple. I mean these kinds of things occur periodically, for all of the reasons that Carol mentioned, and probably for some she didn't. It is a big town. There's a lot of stuff buried under the streets, and sometimes it doesn't work like it is supposed to. No biggy, glad it wasn't worse than it was.

It is no secret that lawmakers know how to drive this country into debt. Look at our deficits. But what about their own personal finances? The Politico reports 48 members of the House of Representatives and three senators had more than $10,000 in family credit card debt last year. Some even carried balances upwards of 50 grand.

Now keep in mind that the rank and file members of Congress get about $165,000 a year salary plus expenses. These personal financial disclosure reports reflect both one-time big charges that were paid off right away, and others carried long-term debt on the same cards for years. As many Americans know all too well, credit cards are dangerous, can be, because of high interest rates, hidden fees.

A director at one of the largest credit counseling agencies says this. Credit card debt is the worse kind of debt to have. Not paying it off when you have the means really shows a lack of financial savvy. It shows a lack of clarity in their own personal financial situation.

Many of the lawmakers who had high credit card debt though said they were beating the prevailing rates and avoiding the high fees. Oh, yes, and two of the congressmen with high credit card debt serve on the House Financial Services Committee. So, here is the question.

What does it mean if more than 50 members of Congress had over $10,000 in family credit card debt last year? E-mail your thoughts to or go to Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that. We'll check back with you.

Coming up, high tech disaster training...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open and get out of the way. Go. Fire, fire, fire. Water on!


BLITZER: We'll take you along with Navy recruits as they train aboard a very expensive fake ship.

Plus, flip-flopping on bin Laden -- President Bush's on again-off again pursuit of the terror leader.

And running of the bulls custody battle -- find out why one man is losing his son after this year's run -- all that, plus the latest on the explosion in New York City right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're following that breaking news in New York City, the explosion right near Grand Central Station. It occurred a little bit more than an hour ago -- apparently an underground steam explosion, scaring a lot of people. The FBI and New York City police all insist there's no evidence of terrorism, but there is -- there is a fearful situation there, and, of course, people on the scene, the Office of Emergency Preparedness, saying everyone should leave that area because there could be harmful particles in the air. We'll get back to New York and get you the latest on what's going on.

Investigators, meanwhile, have found the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from that Brazilian plane that crashed at Sao Paulo's airport, killing 200 people. And tonight, we are learning that a warning of a serious accident waiting to happen may have been ignored.

Bill Neely is there.



BILL NEELY, ITV NEWS (voice-over): No one stood a chance, yet, this was an inferno that so many saw coming. Of all disasters, this one was preventable. All 186 on board died when their plane skidded on landing and crashed into a three-story building. It collapsed; up to 20 died inside.


NEELY: A few hundred yards away, relatives fought for information.


NEELY: He wants a passenger list. Most didn't need a list. This woman had come to meet her two sons, aged 12 and 17. They were on the plane. But it need never have happened. This runway is short, slippery and notorious. It was resurfaced weeks ago, but without the grooves that help rainwater drain and tires grip.

Planes were skidding yesterday. A decade ago, a plane from the same airline overshot the same runway, crashing into two blocks of flats, killing 100 people. But no lessons were learned. Two hundred died here because a faulty runway was kept open. Brazil is in mourning and in fury tonight.

Bill Neely, ITV News.


BLITZER: The crash comes just 10 months after what was Brazil's deadliest air disaster. An executive jet flown by two American pilots clipped a Brazilian 737, sending it crashing into the Amazon Rain Forest and killing all 154 people on board. The American pilots were detained by Brazilian authorities for two months before being allowed to return to the United States. Last month a Brazilian judge charged Jan Paladino and Joseph Lepore with negligence. Their attorney says current U.S. treaties with Brazil don't allow extradition in this case.

The kind of accident that happened in Brazil is more common than you might think, although rarely as deadly. But there's a relatively easy way to prevent runway overruns.

Our chief technology correspondent and licensed pilot Miles O'Brien shows us how these kinds of accidents can be prevented. Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CHIEF TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are many factors that can force an airplane off the end of a runway. But the consequences vary greatly, depending on where you're landing.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): When pilots land at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport, they must stay on their toes and watch their instruments carefully. Runway here is short, and the teeming city is just outside the fence. Precious little margin for error.

WILLIAM VOSS, FLIGHT SAFETY FOUNDATION: There has to be extreme care taken. The aircraft is put down at the right place on the runway, and there has to be due care to make sure that runway has the appropriate surface on it, that the level of braking that is available to the pilots is being properly reported.

O'BRIEN: The TAM Airlines crash proved the point in a very tragic way. Runway overruns are a persistent problem in aviation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These things are fairly common around the world, but they don't normally make big news.

O'BRIEN: In the U.S., airports built within the past 20 years are required to have 1,000 feet of buffer at the end of every runway, but what about the older downtown airports like Logan, LaGuardia, Midway or Burbank? All have seen frightening overruns in recent years. But there is a solution for them, as well -- a bed of concrete blocks that collapse under the weight of an airplane.

KENT THOMPSON, VICE PRESIDENT, ZODIAC ESCO: When an airplane runs off the end of the runway, the wheels crush the material, and, as they do that they sink in. That produces a drag load that gradually brings the airplane to a safe stop.

O'BRIEN: The system is now in place at 19 U.S. airports, including Midway and Burbank where last fall it worked for the fifth time, stopping a Gulf Stream as it left the runway. The notable passenger -- Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. That's one dinger he won't forget.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: That airport in Sao Paulo did not have those sorts of arresting devices. But in this case, it might not have mattered. There is a lot of evidence that the flight crew elected to try to regain flight once again and were struggling to gain altitude when the plane crashed. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Miles, thanks very much -- Miles O'Brien doing some good reporting for us, as he always does.

Almost 18 years in a U.S. prison, about to come to an end for Panama's former dictator Manuel Noriega. But there's growing controversy as his release approaches, and allegations of a secret deal to keep him out of Panama.

CNN's Brian Todd is watching this story. Brian, who is making this allegation?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Noriega's attorney, Frank Rubino, believes there have been all kinds of winks and nods between the U.S., Panamanian and French governments to keep Noriega incarcerated far from his homeland.


TODD (voice-over): Manuel Noriega, classified by a federal judge as a POW. Under part of the Geneva Conventions he is supposed to be repatriated to Panama when he is released in September. But the Justice Department has asked another judge to send Noriega to France to serve time on a money laundering conviction. Noriega's attorney says this is a back room deal, violating the conventions.

FRANK RUBINO, MANUEL NORIEGA'S ATTORNEY: Panama has asked France to make this request, because Panama does not want General Noriega back in Panama.

TODD: Frank Rubino says Panamanian authorities are fearful that Noriega still has popular support in his homeland. Panama's ambassador to the U.S. says all Rubino's allegations are false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the document -- so does your Department of Justice -- of request of extradition. And we insisted on it.

TODD: The ambassador says his government will immediately try to extradite Noriega from France, if he's sent there. Panama convicted Noriega in absentia on murder charges, human rights violations and extortion. A U.S. Justice Department official would only say the department consulted with Panamanian and French authorities before asking the federal judge to extradite Noriega. But U.S. and French officials won't comment on his lawyer's allegation of a special deal. As for the Geneva Conventions, experts say there's wiggle room.

BARRY CARTER, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: We can transfer him to France, and he can have to stay in France to serve out his punishment there for acts committed before he is a prison of war.


TODD: Still, Frank Rubino is preparing as we speak to challenge this in court. He says he will file the documents by Monday. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Still ahead, we're watching the explosion in New York City. We're going to give you the latest on what exactly happened -- the latest on the breaking news -- people scrambling in fear. We're going to tell you what we're learning. We'll go back to the streets of midtown Manhattan and update you on this blast.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: And we're following the breaking news, fear and steam rising in midtown Manhattan, in New York City. An explosion that sent many people, thousands of people, literally, running, they were scared. Officials saying a steam pipe burst -- a major explosion, causing a transformer simply to explode. One hospital says three people are hurt.

We're getting new information on the extent of casualties. Officials insist from the FBI, from NYPD, from the Department of Homeland Security, there's no reason to suspect terrorism. Police say they are reopening Grand Central Station after that transformer explosion in midtown Manhattan, but they are rerouting thousands of people trying to reach the terminal around the scene of the blast.

There is going to be a news conference with authorities in New York. We're monitoring that. In the meantime, let's go to Eric Bret. He's on the phone. Eric, you were in a building next to this explosion. Tell us what you saw, and what you felt. This goes back at least an hour.

ERIC BRET, WITNESS TO EXPLOSION: Well, I guess basically what happened, around, I don't know, 5-ish, a little after 5, I heard a very, very loud explosion, and I thought -- I assumed it was just thunder, except that it continued to get louder. As it go louder, I started to see smoke, and then, it actually started to shake our building.

BLITZER: What floor were you on?

BRET: The 30th floor.

BLITZER: And when you were on the 30th floor of a building nearby, you could actually feel the building move?

BRET: Well, I actually -- we have an area in the office where you can go out. It's like a little bit of a deck. I tried to look to see what was happening, and all I could start to see was smoke, more and more smoke. BLITZER: But you didn't -- I just want to be precise. Did you feel your building shake?

BRET: Oh, for sure. The entire building was shaking and it was getting louder and louder, and the building was shaking more and more.

BLITZER: Have you been near the scene? We're told by various eyewitnesses that there is a crater that actually is visible in the middle of the street.

BRET: Well, unfortunately, I didn't get a good chance, because when I went to vacate the building, they pushed us to 42nd Street side not the Lexington Avenue side, where, I guess whatever happened, happened. But I was able to get a quick view, and I just saw tons of water and mud and I guess soot just rolling down the street. When I got out of the building, I kind of got covered in it, as well.

BLITZER: Now, you know that authorities are asking everyone to leave this area as quickly as possible. There is fear that there could be contaminants in the air, as a result of this explosion. They don't think it's necessarily healthy to breathe in that air. How far away from the explosion are you right now?

BRET: Well, I guess we are as close as you can be, we're on Madison and 41st. So, I guess we're two avenues away, west of where it might have happen. That's as close as we can get.

BLITZER: Can you breathe it in the air? Can you smell it?

BRET: You know, there's no type of smell, and I guess the smoke is starting to subside, and it actually started to get thicker again. And they are still asking us to move out of the way. And there's a lot of police vehicles and ambulance vehicles. But it doesn't smell anything, like possibly in the past.

BLITZER: All right. Well, maybe it is a good idea for you, and a lot of people, to leave that immediate area until they give the all clear and they say it is safe to be there.

Eric Bret, thank you very much.

Eyewitnesses are sending images in from the scene of the explosion in New York City through CNN's iReport. Let's go back to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

What else are you seeing? What else are we getting from these iReporters out there?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these are being sent in from people's cell phones, from their digital cameras, directly to CNN. First of all, going to Scott France, who was in a cab. He was visiting from Texas. And this is the picture he took on Lexington Avenue, just a few minutes away, looking to the Chrysler Building. See people there, just stopped in the street.

And another view of Lexington here from Linda Churilla (ph). She just said everyone was on the phone, everyone was walking the avenue, looking up, and just describing what was happening to people on their cell phones.

You can send the pictures to CNN at They will come directly to us.

We are also seeing video coming in here, going to YouTube here, from Nick Parrish (ph). Take a look at this. A very short video that he's uploaded to YouTube. He was in his office building, at 44th and Third, just three blocks away. Nick tells us he didn't hear the explosion, didn't feel the explosion. What alerted him to it was people screaming and running. He went down just a few blocks right to the corner and said the smoke was billowing out. He described it sounding kind of like a water fall -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much. We're going to get back to you as we get more iReports coming into CNN. Our own Mary Snow is on the scene of this explosion, in Midtown Manhattan. She's joining us once again, on the phone.

How close to that building, Mary, are you right now?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're about a block away, and police are keeping everyone back at this point. But I can clearly see a steady stream of steam still rising down the street.

As you mentioned, the Office of Emergency Management is asking -- they are asking people to get out of this area. That is because they raise concerns about possible contaminants, such as asbestos. Some buildings have been evacuated.

And OEM describes it as a 20-inch steam pipe that burst, and authorities say that's what caused a transformer to explode.

Now in terms of injuries, we are hearing at least three people have been injured. But an affiliate here, WABC, in New York, is reporting that at least 12 people have been injured.

The subway lines underneath Grand Central are being rerouted at this point. A much calmer scene, as you can imagine, people coming by, trying to get a glimpse of what happened. And police are trying to keep people moving, and they also reopened Madison Avenue to cars. But they are using bullhorns to tell people to get out of the area.

Obviously, a scene of panic here when this happened right around 6:00, and a couple of people that I talked to, only could describe it as sounding like a freight train that lasted, what they felt was quite a long time. And it was scenes of running, and obviously, people reminded of 9/11 here in New York, so there was some panic.

Obviously, it was rush hour, but right now it is much calmer, but people are being told to get out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you very much. And Mary's going to stay on the scene for us and get us more information, as she gets it. We will bring it to you. We are going to stay on top of this story. We're also following other important news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Bush promising to track him down, dead or alive. Now the White House says a key ally needs to provide more help. We're going to update you on what's going on tonight on the hunt for Osama bin Baden.

And it shows Navy recruits how to respond to disaster. More than $82 million Navy simulator, but it's not in the water, and it's partly designed -- get this, by the entertainment industry. Some question the value of its training.

You're going to see the simulator in action, what it's doing for sailors. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York. He's going to update us on what we know on this explosion in Midtown Manhattan. Authorities insist there's no evidence of terrorism. But it's caused a lot of fear, right in the middle of Manhattan. We're going to hear from the Michael Bloomberg. We'll let you know what he has to say. We are watching this story.

We're also watching other important news tonight, including the White House. It's promising to insist that Pakistan get tougher in fighting Al Qaeda. A new government intelligence report shows Osama bin Laden's terrorist network has gained strength and has become entrenched in the northwestern part of Pakistan.

It is a new frustration for President Bush, nearly six years after he vowed to capture bin Laden, dead or alive. Let's go to our White House Correspondent Ed Henry. He's watching this story for us.

What's the current approach by the president to the whole hunt for Osama bin Laden?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats say it's about time the president refocused on Pakistan. They charge that he took his eye off of bin Laden by launching the war in Iraq.


HENRY (voice over): Four days after 9/11, the president huddled at Camp David with his war cabinet and issued a warning to Osama bin Laden.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will find those who did it. We will smoke them out of their holes.

HENRY: Within a month, the president launched a war with Afghanistan. And boasted Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime were on the run.

BUSH: We will make it for difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans.

HENRY: March 2002, just six months after vowing he would get bin Laden, the president said he wasn't so focused on the terrorist anymore.

BUSH: His network, his host government has been destroyed. So, I don't know where he is. I just don't spend that much time on him.

HENRY: Later in 2002, the CIA learned bin Laden was not in contact with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, even though the president was making a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, as he built the case for war.

BUSH: We've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making, and poisons, and deadly gases.

HENRY: In early 2003, the CIA warned Mr. Bush an invasion of Iraq could give Al Qaeda new opportunities to expand its influence, which has turned out to be true, based on a new National Intelligence Estimate. The president ignored the CIA's warning, but is now trying to use the threat from Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn't exist before the war, as a reason to keep U.S. troops there.

BUSH: To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous, for Iraq, for the region, and for the United States. It means surrendering the feature of Iraq to Al Qaeda.


HENRY: Now retired U.S. General David Grange backs the president on that, saying it is better to stay in Iraq to try and kill and capture as many extremists as possible. But, as you know, the flipside there is that Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans on the Hill are saying, it's better to pull troops out of Iraq, refocus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, let's not forget, that war about to begin its sixth year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good perspective, Ed Henry, at the White House. Thank you.

On Capitol Hill, it's more than 24 hours after the cots were rolled out, and the Senate is right back where it started in the battle over the war in Iraq. But the all-night session was quite a show, complete with pizza breaks, and cat naps as well as impassioned debate. Finally, this morning, Democrats lost a procedural vote on a bill that would have brought U.S. troops home from Iraq by April 30th. The vote? 52 to 47, that's short of the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill. Four republicans voted with Democrats to move the measure forward.

An alleged confession by two detained Americans shown on Iranian TV. But it's what's likely happened behind the scenes that is truly most disturbing. Let's go to our State Department Correspondent Zain Verjee. She's watching this story for us.

Zain, this is a heart breaking story. What are you learning? ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the images of Iranian TV today reminded one woman of her own traumatic experience.


VERJEE (voice over): Iran rolls out its heavily promoted and heavily edited show, declaring what it says are confessions by Iranian-Americans.

Scholar Haleh Esfandiari, and urban planning consultant, Kian Tajbakhsh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My role was the identification of the orators.

VERJEE: Both apparently admitting they were part of a U.S.-led covert effort to undermine the Iranian government. Iran experts say the way it is edited makes the confession look forced. Though their surroundings appear comfortable, both are in jail at the notorious Evin prison.

Mahrangiz Kar, a visiting scholar at Harvard University knows the prison. She was thrown there in 2000 for criticizing Iran's constitution.

MEHRANGIZ KAR, IRANIAN VISITING SCHOLAR: I was in solitary confinement, about two months, and I was very lonely.

VERJEE: She, like Esfandiari, had no access to a lawyer.

KAR: I felt that everything is destroyed in my life. I felt that I am losing my job. I felt that my family is in danger.

VERJEE: She was finally freed, and in the summer of 2001, left Iran for cancer treatment. Just months later, she says, her husband, a prominent journalist, was jailed, tortured, and forced to make a similar TV confession. She says, now seeing the Esfandiari on TV is hard.

KAR: I could understand that, they could break Haleh.


VERJEE: Kar says she hasn't seen her own husband in six years. He's in Iran, but restricted in his movements. She, for her own part, is fearful that if she goes back, she would face the very same fate as the Iranian Americans being held -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much. What a sad story this one is.

We're staying on top of that explosion in Midtown Manhattan. We are going to update you on what we know. And we're expecting to hear from the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg. We'll tell you about the breaking news in New York. That coming up also. One dad's bad call. Find out why a run with the bulls is costing a father access to his son.

And the U.S. Navy exposing new sailors to frightening scenarios. We're going to show you a new high-tech simulator, recreating some of the military's worst disasters. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM


BLITZER: Just a reminder, we are expecting to hear directly from the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, on this explosion in Midtown Manhattan. Authorities insist there's no evidence of foul play, or terrorism, anything along that, but it's caused lots of fear. We'll hear what the mayor has to say. That's coming up.

Meanwhile, it's one of the most high-tech ships in the U.S. Navy fleet, but you will never see it on water. The landlocked vessel is being used to train sailors for disasters at sea. CNN's Keith Oppenheim is over at Naval Station Great Lakes, north of Chicago to take us on board. This is a report you will see only here on CNN -- Keith.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm aboard the U.S.S. Trayor, also known as battle stations 21, which is the way the Navy sees if recruits are ready for what could be a real disaster at sea.

We are going to take you on a little journey right now. So that you can see what this final test is like for a recruit on his way to becoming a United States sailor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open it and get out of the way. Fire, fire, fire! Water on!

OPPENHEIM: It's 5:58 in the morning. Louis Regus and his fellow recruits are fighting to save their ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your ship is burning, and you are wasting time.

OPPENHEIM: Regus is aboard the U.S.S. Trayor, a huge simulator designed by the Navy and entertainment industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been hit by a missile. Midships on the starboard side.

OPPENHEIM: Sounds, smells, flickering red lights. It's all part of an exhausting overnight drill which all navy recruits must endure.

REAR ADMIRAL ARNOLD LOTRING, NAVAL SERVICE TRAINING COMMAND: It prepares them to be a -- play a vital role on the global war on terrorism, but this simulator prepares them to be a sailor.

OPPENHEIM: The recruits are graded on how they respond to a number of mock crises.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to think.

OPPENHEIM: Disasters and terrorist attacks, all based on real events, such as the assault on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. Mannequins with sound effects represent the wounded.

LOUIS REGUS, NAVY SENIOR RECRUIT: The dolls were moaning and groaning. I found myself talking to the doll, "Hey, calm down a little bit. It's OK, we're going to get you out."

OPPENHEIM: At one point, the recruits rush to seal a burst pipe overhead, while at the same time, water rushes up from the floor.

In the chaos, the recruits must rescue heavy rounds of ammunition. It is a scenario that recalls what happened to the U.S.S. Tripoli during the first Gulf war, hit by an Iraqi mine.


CHIEF TIM MCKINLEY, BATTLE STATIONS 21 FACILITATOR: They absolutely have a sense of bad things are happening in the world right now, and they are very soon going to be a part of the fight against that.

OPPENHEIM: One military accountability group applauds the Navy's new simulator, but believes the best training happens out on a real ship.

RICHARD MAY, CENTER FOR DEFENSE INFORMATION: I think the simulator has provided them an experience they didn't have before. How good it is compared to the real thing, it's probably only maybe a 10 percent solution.

OPPENHEIM: Louis Regus says the simulator approach works for him and connects with a generation raised on video games.

REGUS: You read something, you forget about it. You hear something, you hear it again, you might remember it. When you do something, you can actually say, I did that before.


OPPENHEIM: Louis Regus passed this final test. He's now a sailor. But because of the simulator, he can say he attended dress rehearsals for war, even before being shipped out to sea. From Louis Regus' face, you can see that getting through this final test, and getting to graduation is an emotional experience. But it is not just a formality the Navy says some recruits will fail this test. And the consequence of that is, they have to go through it all over again -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Keith, thanks very much. Keith Oppenheim doing some exclusive reporting for us.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty, he's in New York City. Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Wolf, the question this hour is, what does it mean if more than 50 members of Congress had over $10,000 in family credit card debt last year? Several of you suggested it's a slow news day. Here's what some of the rest of you wrote.

Rand in Illinois wrote: "It means nothing. They can vote themselves pay raises and put family members on the payroll. It's not like they live in the real world."

Dan in Colorado, "Jack, it's obvious they're not getting their fair share of payouts from the lobbyists."

Kyle in Illinois: "It means we're way too nosey and we need to mind our own business. As a young person that would like to be a politician, it angers me when I see people's personal and financial lives always being looked at when they enter the political world. And you wonder why there are so few good guys in politics!"

Robert in Florida writes, "Jack, since congressmen can no longer have lobbyists picking up their dinner bills and golfing vacations to St. Andrews, they probably are needing credit cards to keep up with their expensive lifestyles. They are now living the American dream, if you can't afford it, charge it."

John in Florida writes, "It means you got your head under the wrong tent, again. Who cares how they manage their personal finances? I don't. And you should get a life."

Kathy in Pennsylvania writes: "It means that I've been learning for years now in the working world -- just because someone has a powerful job -- doesn't mean they're smart."

Tricia in Chicago, "It must mean those escort services in Washington accept plastic."

And Robert in Texas says, "My guess is it is a key economic indicator that the price for a pitcher of beer at Hooters has gone up."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, we post more of them online, along with video clips of the Cafferty file -- Dr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour, Paula Zahn, actually will have a special on the countdown to the YouTube debate Monday night.

And we are also going to update you on that explosion, when we come back, explosion in Midtown Manhattan. We are watching new pictures coming in from the scene, all that, plus a lot more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have some new video of that steam pipe burst in Midtown Manhattan. It caused a transformer to explode, sending thick plumes of steam and ash into the air near Grand Central terminal. People fled the scene of the blast as dozens of police and firefighters, utility workers, descended. The blast left a huge crater in the middle of the street, that according to several eyewitnesses.

At least three people have injuries related to the explosion, and perhaps many more. Two of those are critically injured. We're watching this story for you and we're going to stay on top of it. Images and video from the scene of the explosion are being posted online. And they're also being sent to CNN through iReport. Let's go back to our Internet Reporter Jacki Schechner.

What else is coming in, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we have this video in from Nick Parrish, who works at 44th and Third. He took a walk down to 41st and Third. If you know Manhattan, that is about an avenue away from where this took place. He says it wasn't actually thick, there was no smell. This was more like rushing steam.

But of course, people were scared, and they were screaming. This is the video again from iReporter Nick Parrish.

And I want to also show you some images being posted online. We talked about the crater in the ground. We're getting the first glimpse of this here. This is from someone called Tergiverstation, on The group photo blog. We know that the mail in New York, we reached out to get more information.

Again, you can see here, just what this crater in the ground looks like. These posted on You can always send us an iReport here to CNN, directly, or e-mail from your cell phone at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, authorities insist there's no evidence of foul play, no evidence of terrorism. Stay with CNN throughout the night for all the latest developments on that front.

We're going to leave you this hour, with a story, a Spanish dad that ran with his son near the bulls in Spain is in big trouble with his estranged wife. CNN's Al Goodman reports from Madrid.


AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At the front of the pack, father and son, running in Pamplona, where authorities prohibit children. They're running in front of enormous steers; the father, pulling his 10-year-old son out of harm's way.

They were not running in front of Pamplona's famed fighting bulls which the father did a day earlier without his son. But with the pack of steers which run right after the bulls, it's thought to be a little less dangerous. But it was enough to make the boy's mother, who is separated from the father, see red.

She found out in a news media and went to police, arguing that any part of the running is dangerous. A judge agreed.

AFOLFO CARRETERO, LOWER COURT JUDGE (through translator): There is a risk to the boy's life. And I've issued a restraining order it takes away the father's visitation and vacation rights with his son.

GOODMAN: The father told the Spanish media, he never meant to put his son in danger. But on top of his other troubles, he had to pay a $200 fine for running with the bulls, with a minor. Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


BLITZER: And that's it for us. We'll see you tomorrow. Until then, thanks very much for watching. Up next, Paula Zahn, and the CNN YouTube Debate countdown --Paula.