Return to Transcripts main page


Tracking Hurricane Dean; Plane Bursts Into Flames

Aired August 20, 2007 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, a killer storm's perilous path -- Hurricane Dean's winds of rage and death could get stronger. Forecasters urging many people to rush to protect their property and their lives.

And it's any passenger's worst nightmare -- your plane unexpectedly simply bursts into flames. That happened to one major airline. Now the carrier grounds its entire fleet of the world's most popular planes.

And the passport backlog may be bad news for travelers, but good news for some parents. Some deadbeat exes are now being forced to pay up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Right now a killer hurricane is on a destructive march, a danger to anything in its path. Hurricane Dean a powerful category four storm, but it could earn the most dangerous rating on the scale. That would be category five. And it could soon plow down in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Residents there are evacuating out of fear for their lives. Thousands of tourists are also leaving. Others simply, though, can't get out.

Hurricane Dean is not projected to hit the United States, but Texas is not taking any chances. Officials say they want to get people out of "the kill zone" along the state's southern coast.

Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, is over at the CNN hurricane headquarters.

She's joining us now -- Jacqui, you've just gotten a new forecast.

Update our viewers.

JACQUI JERAS, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Dean is intensifying now.

What we got in that new package of information is that even though the maximum sustained winds have stayed steady at 150 miles per hour, making it very powerful at the top of the scale on category four, it could become a five at any time. The pressure has dropped a little bit. And when the pressure drops, that means the hurricane is getting stronger. And it takes a couple hours for those wind speeds to increase and corresponded with that drop in pressure. So a five could happen at any time, and become the granddaddy of all storms here.

And, unfortunately, that is closing in on the window between eight and 10 hours, we think, that the eyewall of the hurricane will be making landfall.

Now, you can see some of these outer bands already just even a couple of hours away, probably, from the island of Cozumel. So you really only have maybe one to two hours before you need to have everything done. Hopefully, you already do -- have completed all your preparation efforts. But if you haven't, time is beginning to run out.

Here you can see the forecast track. It's about 250 miles away from land at this time. Winds expected to pick up to 160 miles per hour overnight. We think that window should be coming in between 2:00, maybe 3:00 in the morning.

If we get up to category five status, how significant is that?

Damage is just catastrophic, Wolf.

Look at this, residences and industrial buildings are just destroyed. All trees and all signs are blown down. And, of course, that storm surge could go in as much as five to 10 miles.

BLITZER: I notice on that projected path, Jacqui, as it goes over the land, goes over the Yucatan Peninsula, it slows down to, what, a category one. Then it starts to pick up as it hits water once again.

And what do we expect after that?

How high do we expect it to go?

JERAS: Well, you need to prepare for a major hurricane, a category three, because we just don't know how much it will intensify. In terms of forecasting, we have a much better track on the path that the storm takes than the intensity that it takes.

Once it pulls off the coastline, we think it will ramp back up into the warm waters of the Bay of Campeche. The official forecast brings it up to a number two.

But one thing I want to mention is the size of this storm. Wall to wall, we're talking 400 miles of a minimum tropical storm force winds between 40 and 75 miles per hour. And look at the Yucatan Peninsula. I put an estimate here for how far that is. It's less than 400 miles. So everybody here is going to take some type of an impact from the storm.

BLITZER: Good point.

And let me follow up on it. Stand by -- Jacqui.

Dean -- Hurricane Dean is a monster storm. It's roughly the size of the State of Texas. Seen from space, you can get a sense of just how massive this storm is. This is the image of Hurricane Dean, as seen from the International Space Station as it passed over Jamaica yesterday.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is expected to land tomorrow in Florida. This after NASA worried the storm could cause bad weather at its mission control in Houston.

And take a look at this -- an image of the eye of the storm captured by the shuttle over the weekend. This is a powerful, big storm.

One official in Jamaica calling conditions there absolutely scary. Dean's winds battered parts of Jamaica, ripping trees from their roofs, tearing roofs off homes.

Susan Candiotti is joining us now from Montego Bay in Jamaica -- Susan, it's passed over the area, Jamaica, where you are.

But what are you seeing now and what have you seen over the past 24 hours?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour I'm in Montego Bay, outside Sangster International Airport. And I suspect it is the busiest place in Montego Bay because in a short while from now, Air Jamaica will resume its normal operations, starting at 7:00 Eastern time, to five U.S. cities. American Airlines goes back online tomorrow.

And on the rest of the island, it is time to mop up. And they are still assessing damage.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Jamaica may have been spared a direct hit, but Dean dealt an especially punishing blow to the southern part of the island. At sun-up, the capital city of Kingston already at work trying to clear debris from streets -- here unblocking a road to the airport, where disaster relief teams will bring in help as need.

Authorities say landslides occurred in mostly rural areas. But so far, no deaths are reported.

Sustained winds of 114 miles per hour peeled back roofs. In Montego Bay and Ocho Rios to the north, less widespread damage.

(on camera): Throughout Jamaica, a curfew remains in effect, so even though everyone is out and about, the stores are not allowed to reopen as yet.

That doesn't mean people aren't walking around to see how everyone fared after the storm, to exchange stories. But some street vendors are back at work.

You have -- you have enough supplies to get by.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I've got enough supplies from the (INAUDIBLE). And I will stop in at the supermarket. And I was lucky there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have our roof off, but everyone came through.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): In Montego Bay, tourists unable to evacuate before the storm lined up at the airport to get on the first planes out. This couple here to see their son get married. The wedding was Friday. Then came Dean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once it started, it wasn't a big deal. We played cards, had some drinks, I mean you know, made a party out of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The electricity went out and that was it.

CANDIOTTI: Five thousand people filled shelters. Electricity, shut down before the storm, remains out on the island, with no estimates on when power will be restored.


CANDIOTTI: Wolf, at this hour, the prime minister of Jamaica is holding a news conference. We will tell you what she has to say on THE SITUATION ROOM at 7:00.

But in the meantime here on the island, people, for the most part, are just very thankful that the storm was not as bad as a category four storm, Hurricane Ivan, back in 2004. But there's still obviously a lot of work to be done -- back to you.

BLITZER: It could have been a lot worse, fortunately for that.

Thanks, Susan.

We'll check back with you.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You know, we got to talking about my book earlier and I didn't welcome you back from vacation.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

CAFFERTY: You've been off this broadcast for two weeks and I'm here to tell you this is not THE SITUATION ROOM when the Wolfman is not here. It's just another newscast. It's only THE SITUATION ROOM when you're here.

It's nice to have you back.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Good to go. Good to come back.

CAFFERTY: All right.

There are crimes and then there are crimes. The news that Atlanta Falcons star quarterback Michael Vick and a bunch of his hoodlum friends have been arrested by federal authorities and charged with staging dogfights was beyond disgusting. Forcing helpless animals to tear each other to pieces so that a bunch of morons can bet on the outcome is bad enough.

But in this particular case, the dogs that weren't deemed tough enough were executed in ways that no civilized society should tolerate. The losing dogs would either drive in the ring or be electrocuted, drowned, hanged or shot.

And according to the indictment, Michael Vick was personally involved in this particular aspect of the operation.

It took about eight seconds for his three co-defendants to turn on him and agree to plead guilty in exchange for leniency from the authorities. And that left Michael Vick standing there all alone -- and that's exactly where he belonged.

Now, Vick has agreed to plead guilty, as well. The dogfights were staged on Michael Vick's property and the operation was financed by Michael Vick's multimillion dollar salary from the National Football League.

Michael Vick had the world by the tail. He was arguably one of the most gifted athletes in the National Football League. But Vick chose to throw it all away.

It won't bring back the helpless animals who were tortured and killed because of his behavior, but perhaps rotting in some prison cell somewhere will bring him a taste of the despair that those poor animals must have felt as he was torturing and killing them.

Here's the question -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick plans to plead guilty in a dogfighting case.

What's the appropriate punishment?

E-mail your answers to or go to

BLITZER: They say it could be a year, a year-and-a-half, maybe, of prison time, half a million dollar -- some sort of -- some sort of crime -- that some sort of punishment, he's going to have to pay for that.

But think about the millions he's going to have to forego if that NFL career goes away.

CAFFERTY: A year-and-a-half ain't long enough. Five years ain't long enough. I hope he never plays football again and I hope it costs him every nickel he's got in the bank. It's disgusting, despicable behavior.

And this guy was a role model for people?

BLITZER: Do you get why some people get pleasure out of seeing dogs fight and kill each other?

CAFFERTY: I don't. Any cruelty to animals is beyond me. I mean I love animals. I've owned them all my life. I don't understand how you can abuse an animal. They -- they want only to be your friend.

BLITZER: Jack, you very much.

We're going to get back to you shortly.

Thanks for the nice words, as well.

Good to come back.

Up ahead, tracking a killer storm. We're closely watching Hurricane Dean.

We're going to have the latest on just where forecasters think that the destructive pattern will turn next.

Also, in Oklahoma, there's a state of emergency after flooding. Take a look at the rescue attempt where a woman and a helicopter being rescued simply falls off.

And an illegal immigrant that some are calling Rosa Parks. She broke the law to get into the United States and defied police who wanted to put her out. Now she's paying a very harsh price for her controversial tactic.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Immigrant rights activists are protesting the arrest and deportation of a woman who had become a symbol for illegal immigrant parents.

Carol Costello is following this story for us -- Carol, some people are actually likening this woman to one of the icons of the American civil rights movement. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that's making some people even angrier, Wolf.

You know, this woman's fight to stay in the United States has increased the volume of immigration reform. Elvira Arellano managed to play cat and mouse with immigration officials, sneaking back into the country after being deported, using a phony Social Security number and then hiding in plain sight for a whole year.

Well, tonight the chase is over. Agents have exercised an alien removal.



COSTELLO (voice-over): There was anger in Chicago -- protesters gathering outside of the U.S. immigration office, calling agents unfair, cruel, for arresting Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant they call their Rosa Parks.

EMMA LOZANO, PRO-IMMIGRATION ACTIVIST: We should praise her. Rosa Parks was praised for defying broken law and we need to praise her and respect her and admire her for what she's doing, as well.

COSTELLO: Arellano, who entered the United States illegally twice, had been hold up, along with her 8-year-old son, in this Chicago church since August of 2006 to avoid deportation.

But last week, she left her sanctuary to drum up support for immigration reform.

Authorities found her in Los Angeles. She was arrested and cuffed in front of her sobbing 8-year-old son and then deported.

Activist Emma Lozano was with her at the time.

LOZANO: They were yelling at us, those 15 agents. They surrounded us. It was so exaggerated, like if they were arresting bin Laden.

COSTELLO: But immigration officials say Arellano's arrest was done by the book and tell us ICE coordinated closely with representatives from the Mexican consulate to ensure Arellano's safety during the evening repatriation.

Arellano's actions have made her a polarizing figure. Although many in the Latino community support her, many do not.

Some cite her use of the little boy to fight for her causes.


COSTELLO: Saul, who was born here and is a U.S. citizen, spoke at an immigration reform rally on Saturday.

And they did not like her using the church to escape deportation. JAVIER SALAS, UNIVISION RADIO HOST: And I don't agree with the strategy that she has, because I think she's bringing more negative stuff to the Latino community.

COSTELLO: Arellano, who is now to believed to be in Tijuana, vows to continue her fight. In the meantime, her child has been left with her friends.


COSTELLO: And that means her friends back here in the United States.

Immigration police have stepped up their efforts, Wolf, to deport illegal immigrants, telling us in the last 10 months they carried out 220,000 alien removals.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you for that story.

There's another story we're following right now and it's costing some people a lot more money to travel than they first expected. Some deadbeat parents are all of a sudden having to shell out thousands of extra dollars before they get their passport.

Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, is joining us now live -- Zain, is this sort of an unintended consequence of that huge passport backlog?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in part, yes, it is. The government is saying at least $82 billion are owed in child support nationwide and one program is making parents pay up.





VERJEE (voice-over): Jeannette Dean says she tried every move she could in Washington State to get her ex-husband to cough up the cash -- thousands of dollars in child support for their son, Scott.

DEAN: I cashed in all of my retirement and 401(k) and IRAs and everything just to be able to support him.

VERJEE: Then one day, boom -- $36,000 landed in her account.

DEAN: I was shocked. I didn't even know what to say. I didn't know what to feel. I didn't, you know, I wasn't sure if it was going to go away the next time I looked.

VERJEE: She didn't know then Scott's father was forced to pay the full outstanding amount because he needed a passport. MARGOT BEAN, OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT: I'm very happy that we have this tool and that we can use it.

VERJEE: The little known Passport Denial Program says if you owe more than $2,500 in child support, no passport until you pay up.

BEAN: When somebody wants to go overseas, they can come up with $60,000, $100,000. It's truly amazing.

VERJEE: Margo bean says one U.S. businessman living in China paid more than $300,000 to get his passport.

The government says child support collections have almost doubled this year. States have reported getting $22.5 million so far. The money is then sent on to parents like Jeanette.

DEAN: It's nice taking a little walk, isn't it?

VERJEE: The road is much smoother now for mother and son. Jeannette says so far, so good. Scott's father has paid her child support for the past two months.

DEAN: In 10 years, when he wants to renew his passport again, maybe there will be money that he needs to pay at that time. I don't know.


VERJEE: We made an effort to reach out to Scott's father, Wolf, but he told child support officials that he did not want to talk to CNN -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, what about other parents?

How are they being effected by this policy?

VERJEE: Well, at least an additional 400,000 parents have been forced to pay child support because they've needed a passport to travel to places like Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean, which, as you know, are new rules that have been implemented -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you for that story.

Zain Verjee reporting for us.

Some are leaving, but many are simply trapped. On Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, residents and tourists are trying to escape out of fear for their lives. Hurricane Dean is now barreling toward them. In the coming hours, travel options clearly are limited.

We're going to go live to Mexico for the latest.

And in flooded parts of the Midwest, crews pluck a woman from peril only to lose their grip on her. We're going to tell you how it ended.

Stay with us.

And we're just getting these pictures in of protests getting rowdy in Canada, where President Bush is meeting with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Stick around.



BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some stories incoming THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

COSTELLO: A couple of things, Wolf.

In Western Quebec, police are clashing with protesters outside a summit meeting of North American leaders. Riot police used pepper spray to disperse crowds, which were spotted by hurling rocks. Inside, President Bush is meeting with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. The talks are aimed at bolstering economic and security ties.

On the first day of classes at Virginia Tech after last spring's shooting massacre, students are digesting yet another tragedy. Two students in critical condition this afternoon after a gas leak at an off-campus apartment building. Police say at least 23 people suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from the leak.

And billionaire real estate and hotel mogul Leona Helmsley died of heart failure today. Together with her late husband, Helmsley helped build and manage a multi-billion dollar property that which included managing the Empire State Building and other New York City landmarks. A former fashion model, she was once the very public face of the luxurious Helmsley Hotel empire in Manhattan. But after serving prison time for tax evasion in the 1990s, she kept a lower profile. She was 87-years-old.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Up next, time running out for tourists and residents on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. They're hoping to get out of the path of Hurricane Dean.

Harris Whitbeck, our man, is on the scene there. He's going to join was a live update on the evacuations and what's going on.

And has time run out for those six miners caught in that mine collapse in Utah?

Family members are condemning officials for supposedly giving up. You're going to hear what they have to say.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, at least 14,000 oil workers are scrambling to get off drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Hurricane Dean. The powerful category four storm now churning through the Caribbean on a collision course with the Yucatan Peninsula. Mexico's state-run oil company says it's shutting down all offshore drilling operations. Serious ramifications as a result of that.

And in Peru, rescuers say they've given up hope of finding any more survivors after that massive earthquake last week. The magnitude 8.0 quake killed at least 540 people. No one has been pulled from the rubble alive since Friday.

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Right now, it's one place many people wish they were not. That would be Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Let's get some more on our top story right now. We're watching the killer storm, Hurricane Dean.

A new forecast just out says it's getting stronger and could soon become an even more dangerous category five hurricane. That's the highest category level. And that has many residents and tourists in Cancun and elsewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula right now fleeing and fearing for their lives.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck is joining us on the phone right now -- Harris, what are you seeing from your vantage point?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in Chetumai right at the water's edge. It has started to rain. It's still very calm, but the rains have begun. The city is virtually empty. Very, very few people on the streets, very little traffic on the streets. There's one hotel in town that's open and it's packed with rescue workers and with a few other journalists.

Most of the people here seem to have heeded the government's directives to evacuate to safer ground. This area is not as touristy as the northern part of the peninsula, where Cancun and Playa del Carmen are, and there, are a lot of tourists also leaving since the weekend. The last count we had, however, was that there were still about 28,000 tourists today trying to leave.

Now, from what I've heard about the storm's tracking and you might know more about that from your end, Wolf, but it does seem to be heading south of Cancun and the brunt of the storm won't be felt in these tourist destinations. The brunt of the storm will be felt here in Chetumal, where again this is the state capital. It's a town of about 500,000 people. But most of those 500,000 people seem to have left.


BLITZER: As Jacqui Jeras, our meteorologist pointed out, Harris, this is a storm, when you consider all the width and breath of the storm, approximately the size of Texas, maybe 400 miles in diameter. So all of the Yucatan peninsula to varying degrees, all of it is going to be effected one way or the other. So I think people where you are and every place else in Mexico along the Yucatan Peninsula, they should be braced for the worst situation right now.

Did you get a sense, Harris, that most of the tourists, specifically the U.S. tourists, tried to flee to get out of there or are they willing to ride it out?

WHITBECK: Well, we saw a lot of U.S. tourists at the airport in Cancun yesterday trying to get on flights. The head of the airport told us that several American, Canadian and Mexican airlines had increased flights. They were bringing in empty planes and sending them out full of people. We also know that the Mexican government sent a couple of Boeing 727s to Chetumal to evacuate people who might have been here and wanted to fly out to get to a safer place.

And you're right, Wolf. The size of this storm puts the entire peninsula in danger and people are certainly aware of that and are certainly braced for that. Particularly up around Cancun where people still remember the very effects of Hurricane Wilma two years ago.

BLITZER: Harris Whitbeck's at Chetumal for us. Harris, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you for more information as this storm moves closer and closer toward Mexico.

We want to take a closer look right now that this very dangerous storm. Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, you've been using some Internet tools to look at this massive storm. Tell our viewers what's you're seeing.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, I want to show you some very interesting pictures here. You mentioned the size of this storm to begin with. It is a size of Texas. Look at this. You overlay a picture of Texas. That's how big this thing is. When we look at the cone of where we think it's headed, we know where it is. This is the range of where it might be headed. You see that it's got to come in here, pass over land and then pass over water and then go back to land. Passing over water matters because look at this next image of sea temperatures. Hurricanes feed off of warm water. The green waterway up in the corner, that's sort of cool. But then it gets warmer and warmer and warmer. As you can see it's going to hit a pocket of warm water here after going over the peninsula.

Now, I want to consider a little bit about the effects of it as it goes over. Look at the wind speed alone. When you talk about wind speed, out here you're talking about 40, 50, 60 miles an hour. In here, 155 miles an hour plus. As you said, Wolf, this is the peninsula. Belize here, Guatemala here, Honduras down here, enormous area affected by wind speed alone. But, and always more importantly in hurricanes, storm surge is what we talk about, the surge of water. Look at the range of that. All of the way out here you're talking about a storm surge of at least a foot. That's reaching all the way down to Nicaragua down here. As you move in here, you're talking about a 15-foot storm surge coming up, hitting the peninsula, weakening, hitting that warm water then growing again. And we really don't know for sure how strong it will be when it hits the main body of Mexico over this way. Just one way of looking at it.

And you did mention, by the way Wolf, the oil rigs out there. Most of the U.S. oil rigs, they're distant from this, actually out beyond the storm surge area. They're right up in here. You see them all clustered there, a few in the area, lots and lots of them up there but there are also international ones down here. And when the storm is this close and can change direction with that kind of power and that kind of size, obviously people have to be safe.


BLITZER: That presumably could have an impact on the price of oil as well, which we're watching very closely. Tom, thanks for that report. Good work.

As Hurricane Dean churning through the Caribbean on its way toward Mexico, we're getting pictures and video sent into CNN's I- report showing the mark of Dean left on Jamaica. Let's go back to our international reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what do the pictures show?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is where the storm has been here, Kingston, Jamaica, they said yesterday it was chaos but there were trees downed, roof tops blown off. She's now using a generator because she has no electricity. And you can see from the pictures here from Roger Chang, some of the damage that's been done. This is the airport road in Kingston, in Jamaica. Light poles down. Strewn with debris. The road there closed. That's where it's been. This is where it's headed. We just got this video in which is in northern Belize, the town of Corozal. Douglas Podzun owes this hotel right now. He said when he took this video just a couple hours ago, no wind no, waves. His guests are leaving. They've been boarding up. We just spoke to Douglas and he said now the skies are darkening and it's getting cloudier by the minute.


BLITZER: All right Abbi. Thanks very much. Keep those videos and pictures coming in to I-report.

Let's move on right now to Utah. There's debate over whether to keep looking for those six workers trapped in a mine. And anger from the families that the subject of ending this search is even being discussed. CNN's Dan Lothian is in Huntington.

Dan, what are mine officials saying, what will happen next? DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Wolf, that rescue operation does continue on the mountain behind me. But as you mentioned, the family members of the six trapped miners are not happy.

Family members of the six trapped miners had been patient and mostly private. But their mood has changed and their frustrations are now very public.

SONNY OLSEN, FAMILY SPOKESMAN: We feel that they've given up and that they're just waiting for the six miners to expire.

LOTHIAN: This sudden shift comes after mine officials who had been hopeful since the underground collapse, made this painful admission about the trapped miners.

ROB MOORE, V.P., MURRAY ENERGY CORPORATION: It's likely that these miners may not be found.

LOTHIAN: A grim assessment because oxygen levels from the fourth hole are too low to sustain life and experts say it's too dangerous to dig underground. The relatives, through a spokesman, expressed anger and accused mine owner Bob Murray of breaking a promise.

OLSEN: In the beginning, Bob Murray reassured the families are promises that he would get the miners out, dead or alive.

BOB MURRAY, CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORPORATION: I will not leave this mine until there's been a rescue, dead or alive.

OLSEN: It's time to live up to that promise.

LOTHIAN: The families are frustrated, too, over what they say is Murray's recent absence.

OLSEN: We feel that Bob Murray has abandoned us. Mr. Murray has not been present since the tragic accident on Thursday night.

LOTHIAN: At daily briefings, Murray had often portrayed a unified front and full engagement with the families.

MURRAY: We meet with them two times a day. Their strength, their faith is amazing.

LOTHIAN: A mine official says Murray is spending more time with experts who are attempting to see if there is a safe option to go back underground. And Murray released this letter vowing to continue the search and saying in part, "Our efforts in the digging and recovering has left me such that I cannot be a good spokesman to the public media."

Family members want mine officials to dig a large hole so that they can send down a rescue capsule. But right now that is not a consideration. Crews are working on a fifth bore her. They should punch through either late tomorrow or early Wednesday morning. Mine officials aren't being very optimistic about what they'll find. We should find out more and get an update on the progress at a press conference as scheduled for 9:00 Eastern time.


BLITZER: Dan Lothian on the scene for us. What a heartbreaking story. Thank you very much.

Angry calls and aggressive acts coming from some people in China, listen to this. They're smashing windows, venting their fury. Relatives of some of the 172 coal miners trapped in eastern China, stormed a mining company office. They're desperate for word on their loved ones but they say the company has been tight lipped about rescue efforts. The miners have been trapped since Friday when two shafts became flooded. Crews are trying to pump out the water amid fading hopes that the men survived.

It's every traveler's worst nightmare and this one was real. A plane filled with passengers exploded in a ball of flame on the runway. Incredibly, everyone made it out alive. But we're going to tell you what happened and how everyone got out.

And flooding takes a terrible toll across the Midwest. We're going to have the latest on the damage that's now in the millions of dollars. Stick around.



BLITZER: Take a look at this video that's coming in from Okinawa in Japan. Believe it or not, everyone on board this China Airlines flight from Taiwan escaped unhurt. CNN's Kyung Lah tells us what happened.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A flight left Taiwan International Airport and landed on time at Okinawa's Naha Airport. All 157 passengers and eight crew members got out. Soon after landing, something went terribly wrong.

According to witnesses, it was the engine on the left side of the plane that exploded. Thick, black smoke billowed from China Air Flight 120. The fire so intense it cracked the Boeing 737 in two. Everyone on the flight is safe, said the airline. China Airlines, Taiwan's largest passenger air carrier, has had four fatal crashes in recent years. Among them a crash in Hong Kong in 1989, all but three of the 315 passengers and crew survived. And in 2002, a Boeing 747 bound for Hong Kong crashed into the sea moments after takeoff. All 225 aboard died.

The airline's fleet of 737s is now grounded. The airline promises it will a fully investigate why China Air Flight 120 burst into flames. Focusing for now on the lucky survivors, despite their close call.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Well, the pictures from incidents like this are clearly terrifying. Data show that more often than not people on the planes do survive. According to one federal study, 95 percent of passengers survive airplane accidents. The FAA requires that all airplanes with seating for more than 44 passengers can be evacuated within 90 seconds.

The U.S. intelligence community is increasingly turning to private contractors to keep up with all the country's intelligence needs. And that's raising some serious questions.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now.

Barbara, why is this trend towards farming out intelligence work, why is this going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the intelligence community says since 9/11 it's been a pretty simple problem for them, too much of a threat and not enough people to analyze it.

With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran possibly pursuing nuclear weapons, and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden still under way, the U.S. intelligence community says, it's hard pressed to keep up. So, it's increasingly turning to contractors for help. And that is raising questions about profit-making companies becoming a shadow arm of government espionage. The Defense Intelligence Agency announced it's spending up to $1 billion to collect and analyze intelligence, all to be done by contractors. Analysts say there may be conflicting interests in all of this.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: They may be working for the government but they're also working for a profit-making entity, and they have to keep both of those in mind and you do have to worry that sometimes they're going to be working for the stockholders first and the taxpayers second.

STARR: Many contractors are former intelligence officials. They can double their wages by leaving the government for a contractor job.

Congressman David Price questions whether contractors are doing too much. Asking in a statement, he said, "Is it appropriate for private contractors to be responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence that will be used by the president?" Senior U.S. officials say there is little choice, given the range of threats in the post- 9/11 world.

At the DIA, half the work force is now outside contractors. At the CIA, it's one-third. And 70 percent of the intelligence budget now goes to contractors according to a government estimate.

Wolf, CIA Director Michael Haden says he's trying to limit the use of outside contractors but he also recently said he didn't want the CIA to become a farm team for those contractors. So there's a lot of effort to limit it but no question, Wolf, a lot of concern about contractors, outside private companies, doing some of the nation's most sensitive espionage work.


BLITZER: Controversial work indeed. Thanks, Barbara for that.

The NFL star Michael Vick is pleading guilty to federal dog fighting conspiracy charges. He could face prison. You're telling Jack Cafferty what punishment the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback deserves. Your e-mail, the Cafferty File, is coming up.

And a dramatic rescue with a heart pounding moment. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're also getting additional information on the path of Hurricane Dean. You're looking at the latest images and the latest forecast. Much more coming up on this monstrous storm, right after this.


BLITZER: It's still a category four storm with winds of about 150 miles an hour. Six more miles though, it become as category five. That's the highest category. 156 miles per hour. This is a monster storm. It's approaching the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico right now.

We're told the pressure from the National Hurricane Center, the pressure has been reduced. That means the speeds expected to increase in the coming hours. We're standing by watching this story. We'll go there. We'll bring you the latest as we get it.

Meanwhile, there are flood warnings in effect from Texas to Minnesota as remnants of Tropical Storm Erin are swamping parts of the Midwest. The flooding has driven people from their homes, cost millions of dollars of damage and turned extremely dangerous. Susan Roesgen is in one hard-hit section of Oklahoma.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after the flood, you've got the mud, a huge mess from that tropical storm that just wouldn't go away. It was the remnants of that tropical storm that led to this. 66-year-old Bernice Krittenbrink was with her husband when their pickup was swept off the highway into the flood. Their lives depended on a helicopter crew that had never done a water rescue. With the local fire chief by her side, Bernice held on tight until her grip gave way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. That's exactly what I did not want to see.

ROESGEN: The life jacket the crew had thrown her first gave them all a second chance. Then it was her husband's turn, an equally rough journey.

LEROY KRITTENBRINK: I couldn't get my hands around the pipe or the skid on the helicopter to hang on. So Randy here grabbed me by the arm and pulled me up high enough to get my arms locked around that skid. And that took me out.

ROESGEN: Flooding hit hard from Texas to Minnesota. And at least 13 people were killed. Some were drivers swept into sinkholes in the roads. And in Wisconsin, floods and mudslides washed out roads, bridges and homes. All some can do now is try and sweep away the mess.

LINDA SEWELL, HOMEOWNER: This is the kind of mud that we're going to have to clean up today that we didn't get to last night.

ROESGEN: One more thing, Wolf, the local emergency management folks in Oklahoma are offering tetanus shots to anyone who was in that water.


BLITZER: Susan Roesgen on the scene for us. Dramatic video indeed of that rescue operation. Thanks for that.

Up ahead, Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick agrees to plead guilty in the dog fighting case. What's the appropriate punishment? Jack Cafferty with your thoughts. The Cafferty File, coming up next, right here, in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check out some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Afghanistan, a woman carries melons home after a trip to a market in the capital.

In Hungary, a crowd watches from a bridge while a pilot flies his plane over the Danube during an air race aerobatics show.

In north Germany, a woman sits in the sun on a beach along the Baltic Sea.

Check it out in Bulgaria. Children are silhouetted by the sun as they fly a kite near the Black Sea.

Pictures, this hour's Hot Shots. Pictures are worth a thousand words.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

You like those Hot Shots, don't you?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I like the woman with the melons. That is my favorite. I do like the Hot Shots.

The question this hour is this, Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick has agreed to plead guilty in a dog fighting case. What's the appropriate punishment? I've got a lot of mail, lots and lots of mail. Len in New York writes, "Too many folks walk after doing harm to humans. I think at most six months in jail but one year community service, minimum 2,000 hours cleaning cages at the ASPCA.

Michael in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, "The NFL and the Atlanta Falcons should make Vick an example and suspend him from football for at least three years. He lied to the commissioner. He lied to the team owner and he let his team and his fans down. Sometime, somewhere, some pro league has got to step up to the plate and do what's right. Bud Selig has turned his spineless back to steroid use and the NBA has a gambling scandal and doesn't know it. It's high time for somebody to show some backbone."

Rahul in New Hampshire, "Jack, I hope Michael Vick and his hoodlum friends rot in prison for a long, long time. There really isn't a punishment appropriate enough for this crime."

Dave in Ontario, "Don't a lot of serial killers begin by torturing animals? If the NFL wants to keep making money off of Michael Vick, it's got some serious PR to do. I'll be interested to see whether they can find a way to market a guy who hangs, drowns and electrocutes dogs as a role model."

Mike writes, "Vick should be sent to prison for the maximum allowable time limit, pay the maximum allowable fine. I just drove two hours from L.A. to San Diego to save a dog in a shelter from being put to sleep. This sickens me to no end."

Connor writes, "Get him a large cell with a pit bull in it. Bathe him in meat sauce and let's see if he's as fast as they say he is."

And Marilyn in Baltimore writes, "I love watching football. If the NFL ever lets this guy play again ever, I'll learn to like baseball."

If you didn't see your e-mail here go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of the Cafferty File. Not a lot of sympathy out there for Michael.

BLITZER: No, people love dogs. I mean dog owners and even people who don't have dogs, they just love dogs and can't understand how this kind of things goes on.

CAFFERTY: Well it doesn't make any sense. I mean what's the point in torturing an animal. I've had dogs and cats and horses and stuff all my - they just want to be your friend, you know?

BLITZER: You know your new book and I'm going to give it another plug. Here it is. It's called "It's Getting Ugly Out There." It's coming out in what two weeks or so?

CAFFERTY: September 10th.

BLITZER: September 10th.

CAFFERTY: But you can pre-order it right now.

BLITZER: but the sub titles, the frauds, bundlers, liars and losers who are hurting America. No mention of Michael Vick in here, though.

CAFFERTY: No because it was too late or he'd have been in there. You bet he would have been in there.

BLITZER: He would have been here. He would have been here.


BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Thank you.

BLITZER: "It's Getting Ugly Out There," Jack Cafferty and the "Cafferty File."

Remember, we're here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. Until then, thanks for watching. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Lisa Sylvester filling in for Lou - Lisa.