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New Forecast for Hurricane Dean

Aired August 21, 2007 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, we have the new forecast for Hurricane Dean. It came screaming ashore as a category five hurricane. It's headed back over warm waters right now. Forecasters are warning specifically the danger is not over yet.

Pools of water too dirty to drink, but big enough to drown in -- even fears of people being electrocuted by power lines lying in water. We're going to take a closer look at relief groups helping victims survive.

And witness to a nightmare -- you're going to be hearing an account of screaming passengers escaping for their lives only seconds before their plane unexpectedly exploded.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


One official just describes it as a creature that's simply tormenting Mexico. That would Hurricane Dean, a monster storm that's now a category one, bearing down on the Bay of Campeche, where most of Mexico's oil is produced. And forecasters are warning that Hurricane Dean could regain its strength and soon strike once again.

Overnight, the storm lashed out at Mexico's Caribbean coast as a ferocious category five, its wind gusts so strong, they were faster than the takeoff speeds of some passenger airplanes.

Let's go straight to Chris Lawrence.

He's joining us now from Mexico.

What are the conditions like where you are -- Chris?

It looks pretty awful.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, these are probably some of the strongest winds we've felt in the past few hours. It's similar to what we were feeling about a few hours ago when the winds got really intense and the Gulf really started to churn. Then it died down to almost nothing -- barely a breeze, barely any drizzle at all. And now, within the last, you know, I would say 15, 20 minutes, the winds have really, really started to intensify again here. I don't know if you can hear that thing -- a slight banging above us. That's an aluminum roof right above us. And I can see the shingles, you know, just starting to peel off just a little bit -- all right, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, I want you to be careful, Chris, over there. I want to make sure that you're not in any danger.

But, Chris, you're on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. This -- the eye of the storm looks to be just south of where you are, going over the waters now. But you're still clearly feeling the effects of this hurricane.

Hold on for one second.

Jacqui Jeras is at the CNN hurricane headquarters -- Jacqui, tell our viewers exactly where Chris is right now and what he's feeling.

JACQUI JERAS, ATS METEOROLOGIST: All right, well, Chris is actually about 50, maybe 60 miles away from the center of the storm still. It's moved offshore.

Here's Campeche. And Chris is right about here in this little bend that you can see on the map. His winds should be coming in from the southeast. And you can see that the storm is a little lopsided, so all of the strong conditions are right about where Chris is.

He's probably receiving sustained winds between -- anywhere between 40 and 70 miles per hour, and likely some hurricane force wind gusts over 74 miles per hour. And he should be experiencing that for a probably a good hour.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Jacqui, because I'm going to be coming back to you in a moment for the latest forecast on this hurricane.

All right, we've got a sense now where you are, Chris, on the Yucatan Peninsula. You're feeling the effects of this. And you're saying it's picking up dramatically, at least over the past last 15 minutes?

LAWRENCE: Definitely, Wolf. A complete change. I remember was talking to Jacqui a few hours ago about how, you know, the winds went from being so intense to just nothing, just dropping down to absolutely nothing. And people actually came out. We saw some people taking the boards off their windows, taking the tape down, kids in t- shirts coming out riding their bike. I mean it looked like the storm had completely passed us by.

And then, within the last 20 minutes or so, the sky has gone very, very dark and this rain is just coming down in buckets. And the wind is really whipping up again.

BLITZER: All right, I want you to get some shelter, because it looks like it's getting dangerous out there.

We're going to check back with you.

Chris, be careful over there.

That's Chris Lawrence doing some excellent reporting for us in a dangerous part of the western -- the western side of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Let's go over to the Mexican coast, just north of Veracruz, on the other side of the bay right now.

Karl Penhaul is right there along the coast in central Mexico -- this hurricane is heading your way, Karl.

Set the scene for us.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly nothing as dramatic as Chris is feeling right now. But certainly over the last half, three quarters of an hour, we're feeling the winds pick up. The surf behind us is beginning to pick up, as well.

But still, according to forecasters, that storm is 12 to 18 hours away. And as it comes over the Bay of Campeche and through the Gulf, that's when the storm could pick up speed again.

We've seen people making preparations, especially further south in the port city of Veracruz. Fishermen were pulling their skiffs ashore, putting them on the highway to make sure if there are those battering waves that their vessels don't get damaged -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This hurricane is going to accelerate as it goes across the bay, the warm waters of the bay. So I assume people are ready for some pretty, pretty strong winds and a lot of rain.

PENHAUL: Certainly, there's been a lot of public service announcements being put out by the local authorities here. People are very aware. There's not too much traffic on the roads. But we saw more preparations down in the port city of Veracruz than we're seeing in the area where we are now.

This is a sparsely populated area. And to be honest, it's not rich towns and villages. They're relatively poor towns and villages. The structures here aren't very solid -- wooden structures and tin roofs. That's the kind of scenario here.

If there is a strong hit directly on this area, then those are the kinds of buildings that could suffer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, you're beginning to feel the effects already and it's still hours away before a direct hit where you are.

Karl Penhaul on the screen for us.

So there's a new forecast that's just come out on what's happening with this killer storm.

Our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, once again joining us from the CNN hurricane headquarters.

What's the latest on the forecast -- Jacqui.

JERAS: Well, two things of note, Wolf.

First of all, that the track is staying the same. It's still moving in a westerly direction. And based on the satellite imagery, you know, I've had a lot of people, for example, in the news room say oh, this thing is turning south. It's not turning south. It's still going due west, just all the thunderstorms are on the south side of the storm.

The other thing is that the wind speeds have dropped down a little bit, to 80 mile per hours. But keep in mind that this is just an estimate of the winds. The hurricane hunters do not fly into storms when they're over land. So they did not get in here and get a true sample. It's just an estimate of the winds based on satellite imagery and the overall decay rate, as storms weaken when they move over land.

So it's kind of iffy on what the real power of Dean is at this time. At 8:00, the hurricane hunters will go back out and they'll get some good samples and we'll have a much better handle on what Dean is doing at this time.

Now, we do expect it to strengthen. It could happen pretty fast here now that it's over the open waters. The water temperatures down here in the Bay of Campeche, 86 degrees. You only need 80 to sustain a hurricane, so that gives it plenty of fuel. It gives it plenty of energy to strengthen as it heads toward the coast.

Here's Veracruz. And that's where Karl Penhaul is. And he's likely to start to see some of those outer bands move in about three hours from now. We think this will be a major hurricane making landfall on Texas' -- on Mexico's mainland about halfway between Tampico and Veracruz.

And the rainfall will be the big story outside of that impact. There you can see all those purples. That's eight plus inches of rain. And it's very mountainous, Wolf. So all of this is going to run off and we're worried about landslides and mudslides, too.

BLITZER: Overnight, when it went across the Yucatan Peninsula as a category five, it had the size, basically, of the State of Texas.

I assume as it goes over the Yucatan and now is over it, it gets much smaller, but has the potential to build up as it then goes through the water.

JERAS: Right. The wind field will be much smaller now, as the storm is a little bit weaker. However, it's still a plenty big storm. And look at this. Some of the rain bands could be reaching southern parts of Texas, as that moisture starts to move up toward the north.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Jacqui.

We're going to get back to you, as well. Some fear possible disruptions to oil supplies in Mexico and what that might do to gas and oil prices. But today oil futures dropped below $70 a barrel for the first time since early last month.

Hurricane Dean is threatening Mexico's main oil production center in Campeche, and hundreds of oil rigs. Mexico evacuated almost 20,000 workers from oil platforms in the area.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty and The Cafferty File once again -- Jack, give our viewers a sense of what's on your mind right now.

CAFFERTY: I'm just interested in the story here in New York City. A public school with an Arabic theme is set to open here in the Big Apple next month -- the key word being it's a public school, funded by the taxpayers. And the fact that it has an Arabic theme is causing some problems.

Critics say that the

Khalil Gibran International Academy, as it's called -- named after a Lebanese-American Christian poet -- is a bad idea. One state assemblyman says the students could be indoctrinated and that the school would be "a blueprint for anti-Israel and anti-American extremism" -- quoting in there.

But supporters say that's racist, that they praise what they say is the school's message of inclusion. About 200 people demonstrated last night in support of the school, carrying signs that read: "New York Needs Multi-Cultural Education" and "The Torah and Koran Both Teach Peace."

A rabbi also spoke in support of the school, saying that officials should come forward and defend it.

School organizers insist that religion will not be taught there. Instead, the focus will be on Arabic language and culture.

The school has already suffered one casualty even before opening. The founding principle quit after she had defended the use of the word intifada on t-shirts. She said that word literally means "shaking off" and that there was no violence suggested by the t-shirts. She's gone, nevertheless.

So here's the question -- should New York City go ahead with plans to open an Arabic-themed public school?

E-mail your thoughts on that to or go to

It seems to me that teaching the Arabic language is certainly not a bad idea, Wolf, given the state of our entanglements overseas these days.

BLITZER: But I'm confused a little bit, because are there public schools in New York City that have other cultural themes, shall we say?

CAFFERTY: There are. Yes. There are. We're very politically correct here in New York. And there are other culturally-oriented theme schools, if you will -- public schools. And they seem to be going along without a lot of problems. Of course, the sensitivity associated with one that has an Arabic bent is obvious, given the events of the last several years and our current engagement in armed conflict in a couple of Middle Eastern neighborhoods.

BLITZER: And we're counting down to the launching of Jack's new book. That's coming out September 10.

Twenty-four hours ago, Jack, we introduced the cover to our viewers out there. And I've got to tell you, I'm getting a lot of e- mail. People are anxious to go out and get that book.

CAFFERTY: You know, it's amazing. The book jumped on, based on your mentions of it here on THE SITUATION ROOM, from number 622,000 on the best-seller list -- which means it ranks below a 20- year-old copy of "The New York Post" to, I think, number 24 on the best-seller list at its highest point. And it's in the top 100 somewhere now. So we hope folks will, you know, go to their independent bookstores or any of the online book shops where they can preorder the copy.

There's the picture now.


CAFFERTY: Much better looking than the picture on the right of the screen, I would suggest, thanks to the air brushes.

BLITZER: "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

All right, Jack, stand by.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: We're going to be talking about this book a lot.

There, the incredible pictures no one can forget. A passenger airliner explodes in a ball of fire and smoke on the runway. Amazingly, everybody got out alive. Now survivors are talking to us about their harrowing escape.

What was it like inside with only seconds to spare?

You're going to want to hear what they have to say.

And one of the greatest men ever put on Earth -- a daughter's heartfelt farewell to her father, who died while trying to save those six trapped miners in Utah.

And another big blow for China's pet food products and a possible new scare for pet owners. We're going to tell you why Wal-Mart is yanking two dog treat brands. Stay with us.



BLITZER: There are fears of people are drowning in floods, contaminated drinking water, even downed power lines flying in water that can electrocute people. As Hurricane Dean torments parts of Mexico, there are many, are many concerns and several relief organizations are there to help.

Joining us on the phone is Daniel Goni Diaz, the president of the Mexican Red Cross.

Thanks very much, Daniel, for joining us.

What are your biggest problems out there?

DANIEL GONI DIAZ, PRESIDENT, MEXICAN RED CROSS: Well, the biggest problem is that basically the most damage that we are having is out of the big cities. And we have to go into people's -- groups of people, 20, 30 (INAUDIBLE) or maybe 1,000, and go to many, many groups to try to help them with their damage.

I think that now that it's coming in Campeche means that the hurricane has gone down to only -- which is going to be a hurricane number one instead of five, and that will help us a lot, saving a lot of the damage that hit Quintana Roo specifically, Chetumal, and all the arounds.

BLITZER: What is your biggest need?

What do you need the most to help these people, not only in the Yucatan Peninsula, where this hurricane has already crossed, but now it's heading across the Bay of Campeche toward Central Mexico?

DIAZ: I would say that the basics for the dates. I mean, water. Some food. But basically the most important that it's going to take time is the reconstruction of these houses. Specifically, they are filled with materials from the sun, from the original way of living, so that makes it not easy to reconstruct all these buildings.

BLITZER: Daniel Goni Diaz is the president of the Mexican Red Cross.

Good luck to you and good luck to everyone in Mexico suffering from Hurricane Dean.

Our next stop is Utah, where tears alternated with laughter this afternoon -- the funeral for one of the three rescue workers killed in the coal mine disaster. Dale Black died while trying to find the six miners who have been trapped since August 6th.

CNN's Dan Simon is now joining us from near the mine -- a sad day for a lot of sad days out there, Dan. DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf, a very somber day for this entire community.

As you mentioned, funeral services taking place for one of three rescuers killed while trying to free those six trapped miners. Dale Ray Black would have turned 49 this Friday. Obviously, a very difficult time for his wife. She actually lost her own father in a mining accident, as well. A tough time for the entire Black family.

Among those who spoke today was Black's daughter.

Take a look.


ASHLEY PRUITT, DALE BLACK'S DAUGHTER: From the beginning of this tragic accident, my dad worked as hard as we knew he would to get those miners out of there. And he never gave up hope. There was times when he was up there that he didn't even need to be. But he just wanted to do his part in the rescue efforts.

On August 16, 2007, we lost one of the greatest men ever put on Earth. He will be loved.


SIMON: Wolf, back here at the mine, things remain grim. Eight outside experts came in here and they basically said this mine is not safe. So this underground search effort will not resume.

What that means is there is a good chance that these trapped miners will never be found. And for the families, that is simply unacceptable. They lashed out at company and federal officials. They accused them of taking away their hope.

I asked the owner about that, Bob Murray.

This is his response.


BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MURRAY ENERGY CORPORATION: I don't believe I took away their hope. I believe that what's ever happened, the lord already dictated. What's ever happened will be. There's no sense in beating around the bush.

You want to be honest with them, you want to be as compassionate as I can be. Sometimes the messenger doesn't get it quite right, but we've done everything to administer to them and so has the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for the last two weeks.


SIMON: A fifth bore hole is still being drilled. That should be completed sometime today. We should know the results of that tomorrow. But bottom line, nobody is saying what is going to happen beyond that, Wolf. There is a strong possibility that these miners will never be recovered. So, in essence, that part of the mine could, in fact, become a tomb for the six trapped miners -- back to you.

BLITZER: What a sad story this is.

Dan, thanks very much.

And I'll be speaking with a spokesman for the six miners' families.

That's coming up this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, it's where streets are looking a lot like rivers -- there's flooding in Ohio that's so devastating, one witness says whole buildings are drowned. You'll going to hear her gripping account.

And it's the nearest city to the place where Hurricane Dean roared ashore. We're going to take you there to see how that community and the survivors are coping.

Stay with us.


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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a warning for consumers. You won't find two brands of Chinese made dog treats on Wal-Mart's store shelves. The world's largest retailer has pulled those products after customers complained they may have sickened their pets. They are Chicken Jerky Strips from import Pingyang Pet Product Company and Chicken Jerky from Shanghai Bestro Trading.

Now, this follows a massive pet food recall back in March, when more than a dozen dogs and cats died after eating a pet food containing ingredients imported from China.

Police are trying to figure out why several boxes of documents from Walter Reed Army Institute of Research were found in a dumpster in Maryland. They contained personal information. Authorities say Walter Reed staffers ordered the files to be shredded. It's not clear why they ended up in the dumpster instead. They have now been returned to Walter Reed.

The Summer Olympics are a year away and host Beijing is getting a head start by clearing its roads of pollution-inducing traffic. It says a four day exercise that removed more than a million private vehicles from gridlocked streets was a success. Officials say the air quality improved enough for big sporting events, and that's something Olympic officials have been very worried about.

Take a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that.

Up next, it's still a hurricane, it's still lots of trouble and it's over open water once again right now.

So where exactly is it heading next?

The very latest on the forecast. That's coming up.

Stay with us for that. Also, a man who got off this plane only moments before it exploded. You'll have to hear his description of those last terrifying moments.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, President Bush rejects a call to abandon Iraq's paralyzed government. But during a question and answer session in Canada, the president says there is, in his words, "a certain level of frustration with the Iraqi leadership's inability to pass laws and run the country."

Rain, flooding and misery spread from Minnesota into Ohio. Parts of The Buckeye State got nine inches of rain, inundating towns, farm fields and homes. High water shut down a seven mile stretch of Interstate 75 south of Toledo.

And the Space Shuttle Endeavour swoops in for a picture-perfect landing in Florida a day early due to Hurricane Dean. A gouge caused when a piece of foam insulation struck the orbiter on the launch date turned out to be no problem.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Some have called it the creature that's tormenting Mexico. It's darkening streets, ripping roofs off buildings, causing pounding rain. A new forecast says Hurricane Dean continues to move west and it remains ferocious. It's the winds have calmed some. But forecasters warn it could regain its strength and could strike again.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She's in New York.

Mary, you've been looking at some of the pictures that have been coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from this hurricane. What do you see?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are seeing damage but not as bad as feared. So far, there are no reports of casualties.

Mexico's tourist spots dodged a bullet, especially when you consider this massive storm was about the size of Texas and a category five hurricane when it first hit the Yucatan Peninsula today. This is what it looked like when Hurricane Dean slammed into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before sunrise. It put a bull's eye on a sparsely populated area near Chetumal. Its winds lashing up to 165 miles per hour when it made landfall. Streets filled with water. But after the storm barreled through, residents were relieved to find they'd skirted disaster. This man says, while there was a lot of fallen trees, the area fared well. Mexico's president, Philippe Calderon speaking through a translator says he's most worried about isolated communities that were hit.

PRES. FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICO (through translator): It went over to the more poor Mayan areas and I have a great deal of concern for the housing and the lack of services in that general area.

SNOW: The Mexican president cut short a trip to a summit with President Bush and Canada's prime minister to go home. The biggest relief came in tourist Mecca, Cancun and Cozumel. The resort towns were spared the wrath that devastated them in 2005 following Hurricane Wilma. Tens of thousands of tourists had flooded the area, but 20,000 rode out the storm in Cancun. One hotel took no chances and had security guards chain and barricade exits to prevent people from going out on the street.

As Dean churned across land, it lost much of the power but still had punch with heavy winds and steady rainfall. Now as Dean emerges in the southwestern corner of the Gulf of Mexico, one area of concern is the oil rigs. There are more 400 oil wells in the region adding anticipation, Dean, almost 20,000 oil workers were evacuated.


BLITZER: All right Mary. Thanks very much.

It's some of the most dramatic video of the year, a huge fireball erupts from a Taiwanese airliner at an airport in Okinawa. The plane had just landed. All 165 people onboard got off safely only moments before the explosion. Now, we're finally getting firsthand accounts of those terrifying moments.

Let's go right to our Carol Costello.

This is an amazing story here, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. You know some aboard the plane were American. One of them, Sergeant Shane Bertrand, he's a marine stationed in Okinawa. He was seated near the wing and saw the fire in the smoke. He figured some would take care of it. But then he and another American marine onboard noticed fire on the other wing and then the windows started to melt. That's when people inside the plane started to panic.

SERGEANT SHANE BERTRAND, U.S. MARINES: They were screaming, yelling, obviously some in Chinese, some in Japanese and a couple in English. But for the most part, none of the Americans were yelling, that I noticed of the 13 Americans that were there. And when we finally got the opportunity to start stepping forward, that's when you could see the smoke coming in, you know?

COSTELLO: Can you imagine? There was a man ahead of him who had sprained his ankle having trouble getting out. People began jumping over the seats to get around him. They were screaming as you heard the sergeants say. Finally, Sergeant Bertrand got to the exit, he jumped on the chute, and he says 25 seconds later, the plane exploded. Even he thinks it's amazing no one was killed.

BLITZER: Did that marine, the one who just spoke who was on this plane, did he actually serve in Iraq?

COSTELLO: He served three tours, survived all of them intact, and he thought, wow, I'm going to die on a plane on the way back to the base. He has quite an effective guardian angel sitting on his shoulder, Wolf.

BLITZER: What an amazing story. I see those pictures. It's chilling. Thanks very much, Carol.

Carol Costello reporting.

Mine officials now say those six trapped coal miners may never be found. The men's' families understandably are furious. We're going to tell you what they're saying. That's coming up.

And an Iranian-American scholar is finally free after spending four months in a terror-run jail. But will she be allowed to return home to the United States? Will she be allowed to leave Iran?

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


BLITZER: It's been two weeks and a day since the earth shook and six miners were trapped inside a Utah mountain. Now that the mine operators are saying those men may never be found, their families are understandably angry, impatient, and they're speaking out.

Attorney Sonny Olsen is a spokesman for the Utah miners' families.

Sonny, thanks for joining us. Our heart goes out to those the six families. Give us a sense of their despair, their anger right now.

SONNY OLSEN, SPOKESMAN FOR THE UTAH MINER FAMILIES: Thank you for having me on. A difficult time as you can imagine for the families right now. They had some very strong language delivered to them yesterday. However, it's not my sense that the families have given up hope even at this point. This is a very strong community. We're used to disasters. If you recall the Wilberg incident. I believe it was '84. I don't really - to say it's despair, I wouldn't characterize it that way.

BLITZER: Listen to what the owner of the mine said. Because I want you to respond on behalf of the family. BOB MURRAY, PRES. & CEO, MURRAY ENERGY GROUP: I don't believe I took away their hope. I believe that whatever happens, the lord already dictated it. What's ever happened will be. There's no sense of beating around the bush. You want to be honest with them? You want me to be as compassionate as I can be. Sometimes the messenger doesn't get it quite right. But we've done everything to administer to them and so has the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration for the last two weeks.

BLITZER: All right, Sonny, what do the family members want to say to Bob Murray?

OLSEN: Bob Murray had a difficult job yesterday. He had a difficult message to deliver. The families acknowledge that. They don't dispute that. The families are concerned at this point and they're displeased with Mr. Murray in that the families do not feel that Mr. Murray or Murray Energy or MSHA for that matter has done everything they can or used every asset, every means at their disposal to find the family's loved ones.

BLITZER: What else do you want them to do? Three rescue workers, as you know, were killed. They were buried today. There was a memorial service going in. Obviously a very dangerous rescue operation.

OLSEN: Well, the families' hearts go out to Dale Black and all of the rescuers, they're all heroes. I attended Dale's funeral today. It was a very emotional time. And I know some of the other family members did.

You ask, what do the families want Mr. Murray to do? They want Mr. Murray to use every asset at his disposal to help find their loved ones. For example --

BLITZER: Should they -- give us some examples. What else he should be doing that he's not doing?

OLSEN: Well, first, I'll acknowledge, I'm not an expert in mine rescue. On behalf of the families, the families have expressed concerns to Mr. Murray and to myself -- they wanted and have wanted for sometime simultaneous bore hole drilling. In other words, these eight-inch holes they've been drilling if it's a hit and miss approach, the families want to know, and I don't think it's been explained adequately, why have there not been simultaneous efforts?

Additionally, the family has requested that the larger 36-inch drill be on site so that in the event that life is found, that their family members will be retrieved as quickly as possible. And the families do not know if that drill is here. They've been told it's on its way. But here we are on week two.

BLITZER: Do they believe it's possible that the six miners are still alive?

OLSEN: The family has indicated to me, unequivocally, they feel these miners are alive. And I think that it would be unwise given that we haven't seen anything to indicate otherwise to call this -- to -- you heard Mr. Murray say he's going to leave the bodies where they lay. He will not use this rescue capsule unless there's life found. The families are very concerned right now that they're never going to know what happened to their loved ones.

BLITZER: It's a heart breaking story. Sonny Olsen is the spokesman for the Utah miner families. Sonny, please express our hope and our prayers to all of these families. The nation has been watching their ordeal, obviously with great, great interest.

OLSEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Sonny. Let's hope for the best.

An important development today in the story we've been following in Iran. An American scholar who's been held in one of Teheran's most notorious prisons is finally free.

Let's go to the state department correspondent Zain Verjee. She's been in touch with relatives over here. Update the viewers on what we know, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, her family is really thrilled that she's finally out of prison. But her ordeal is not over.

She's out of prison on bail. But Iran's government still holds the key to Haleh Esfandiari's freedom. The U.S. based scholar has been locked up at the notorious Evin prison since May. She says she's happy to be out, grateful to everyone who made it happen. Iran has accused the 67-year-old grandmother of being involved in a U.S. plot to undermine the government and even aired a documentary last month with Esfandiari appearing to confess. The U.S. says the allegations are ridiculous. Her husband, Iranian expert spoke to her by phone from Maryland and told CNN I'm happy to hear her voice after nearly four months and adds he counts every minute until she can come home. He says his wife is at her mother's presentment in Tehran free to move around the city, but it's unclear if she'll face trial or return to the U.S. No word on the other three Iranian Americans being detained.

GONZO GALLEGOS, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I think the important thing to us that all of the Americans will have the opportunity to be released first and then to come home.

VERJEE: Some experts say, Iran wants to strike fear among Iranian American intellectuals.

AFSHIN MOLAVI, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Iran may continue to see the Iranian-American academics as potential pawns in the larger struggle with the United States in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Palestinian territories, in Lebanon.

VERJEE: U.S. officials, Wolf, say that letting Esfandiari out of prison is really just a half gesture. What they're saying is Iran is basically trying to show that it has a reasonable and a rational face while at the same time maintaining the leverage as the U.S. turns up the heat.


BLITZER: You can see the pictures of her what she looks like now as opposed to when she was running in the Middle East studies program in the Woodrow Wilson Center. Shocking to make that comparison. All right, Zain. Thank you very much. Let's hope she gets out of there soon and gets back here to Washington.

Some wonder if it's a symbol of religious inclusion or simply a bad idea. That would be plans to open an Arabic-themed public school in New York City. Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think. Jack, with your email, that's coming up.

And in parts of the Midwest flooding so bad, it's already submerged cars. You're going to hear one woman's account of wading through water that was up to her chest.

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


BLITZER: Getting dramatic pictures of the flooding that swamped parts of northern Ohio. Let's go back to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, who's watching this story for us. How bad is this flooding, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, take a look at the pictures from Vicki Smith sent in to I-report at CNN. This is Mansfield, north central Ohio here. This is the view from her building earlier on this morning and she was telling us just a couple of hours ago what a narrow escape she had. She talked about the speed with which these floods came in the commercial area of downtown Mansfield. She was in the van, there's what's left of it as the water started rushing and she found herself wading away in chest-deep water along the rushing water to try and get to safety. This is the post office there. She says it was drowned. And as the water is subsiding today, they're seeing vehicles they didn't know were there underneath the water. A few miles to the west is Bucyrus. And these pictures here sent us video from Nate Roshon who also sent us video from an elevated position of the community hospital where he works. He said there was a tremendous amount of lightning and constant steady rain for about 12 hours overnight. All these pictures sent in to, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much Abbi. What dramatic pictures they are.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty in New York for the Cafferty File.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour, should New York City go ahead with plans to open an Arabic-themed public school. Renee in Aurora, Illinois, "What is wrong with this country aside from all of the inept money running it, we've had to deal with catering to all of these foreigners moving in, many illegally and we're being forced to accept the flying of their flag, the use of their language, etc. I think it's absolutely abominable to have any school specifically geared toward one race or culture.

Jean in Georgia, "I'm against supporting specific ethnic groups. However, if this school will teach a lot of our American children Arabic then I think it's probably a good idea. We're in a clash with a lot of Arabic speaking people now and we need to be able to communicate and understand them."

Melanie in Georgetown, Texas, "No, no no, an Arabic school should not be opened. If this school is opened, others are sure to follow. Our nation's already falling away from the Christian values it was founded on and it will be the destruction of our country when it does."

Julia writes, "If teachers and kids of varying face can begin to work together face to face as in school let's do it. Getting to know someone who's different from us is one of the best ways to develop peaceful connections."

Vera writes, "Why don't you go to the Middle East and open up a school in Iraq or Saudi Arabia and teach about Christianity there? Take your bible and teach these demons about who Jesus is."

Aaron writes, "It's an outrageous expenditure of taxpayer money. I'm a naturalized American. I gave up my Irish ways to integrate into my adoptive country. Now I should want a school that teaches Gaelic and Irish tradition at taxpayer expense? This political correctness is completely out of hand."

And Darren writes from Trenton, Michigan, "Sure, we can even tear down those old New York City churches and replace them with brand new mosques."

If you didn't see your email here, go to We post more on line along with video clips of the Cafferty File.


BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much. Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty File here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, a special preview of CNN's "God's Warriors" with Christiane Amanpour that airs tonight. You're going to want to see what's coming up. Stay with us.


BLITZER: A look at the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures for preparation of Hurricane Dean and its destruction.

In Mexico, fishermen on the Yucatan peninsula push a boat out of the water while getting ready for Dean.

In Belize, a dog walks past a wind-blown house after the hurricane passed over. A dusk to dawn curfew is in effect.

In this state of Vera Cruz, Mexico, tourists enjoy the water as the hurricane approaches. Dean is expected to reach that coast in the coming hours.

In southeastern Mexico, workers take down umbrellas on the beach under clear blue skies while waiting for the hurricane.

Some of the Hot Shots, pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Would you kill someone for your religion? According to a new poll, 91 percent of Americans say no. But religious zeal leads some people to do the unthinkable. Tonight in a major CNN event, our senior international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour begins a three-part series on "God's Warriors." Tonight, Jewish zealots that become bombers. Watch this.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yahuda Yetzion (ph) was an early leader in the movement to settle the occupied territories. Like many religious settlers, he believed there was a higher authority than Israel's political leaders. But he went to extremes, plotting to literally dynamite the peace process with the vigilante group that became known as the Jewish underground.

YAHUDA YETZION (ph) (through translator): I had serve in the army and I knew how to use explosives.

AMANPOUR: In 1980, after six Jewish students were murdered in the west bank city of Hebron, the Jewish underground conducted the first operation. You and your group of conspirators, you decided to take revenge?

YETZION (ph) (through translator): You know, in the Jewish tradition, the period of one month has a special meaning. It's the period of mourning, so we decided the timetable of one month.

AMANPOUR: And so they planted bombs in the cars of Palestinian mayors in three west bank cities. One of them, Basam Shaka, the mayor of Nablus.

BASAM SHAKA, MAYOR OF NABLUS: The bomb went off the minute I stepped on the clutch. My legs were instantly blown off. They tried to save my knee and this leg, the longer one, so they kept it. So within two days, I had gangrene and almost died.

AMANPOUR: Basam Shaka and the others were targeted because the Jewish underground believed they were behind the six kills in Hebron. But the underground was wrong according to Carmi Gillon, the former chief of Israel's internal security agency, Shin Bet.

CARMI GILLON, FORMER HEAD OF SHIN BET: We had no information they were involved in any terror act. AMANPOUR: The car bomb attacks remained unsolved for years, until 1984, when Shin Bet uncovered a plan to bomb Arab buses in east Jerusalem. One arrest led to others and ultimately to the most sensational plot of all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With explosives, we would destroy the dome of the rock.

AMANPOUR: The dome of the rock is Islam's third holiest site, a 1300-year-old shrine towering over this enormous outcropping of limestone. Sitting nearby, on a throne like chair, Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric told us why the rock is so important.

SHEIKH MUHAMMED HUSSEIN: (through translator): We consider this to be the spot where the prophet Mohammed began his assent to heaven.

AMANPOUR: But Jews also revere this spot at the site of their ancient temple which some believe must be rebuilt for the redemption, the coming of the messiah. He and his co-conspirators believe blowing up the dome of the rock would undo the peace with Egypt and make room for the Jewish temple.

HUSSEIN: Damaging the holy shrine would lead to repercussions, the scale of which I can't even imagine.


BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour takes us to the front lines of a volatile battle where religion and politics sometimes collide, come face to face with "God's Warriors," for an unprecedented event. That airs tonight, 9 P.M. Eastern only here on CNN.