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Nashville's Long Recovery; A Lid on the Leak?; Charter Schools: Help or Hindrance?

Aired May 6, 2010 - 14:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it is just after 2:00 p.m. here on the East Coast in the United States, and we're following two majoring developing stories. One of them, a waterlogged nightmare in Tennessee. The waters are receding, but that only means the scope of the destruction is growing.

And when will people in Nashville -- when and how will they recover?

Plus, any time now, workers in the Gulf of Mexico will finally begin lowering that giant upside-down funnel to the ocean floor. The question is, can it cap the gushing oil leak that is so far down in the ocean?

Let's start in Tennessee, where the devastating flood waters are receding a little more every single day. But the recovery from last weekend's record rains is really just getting started.

Nashville took a huge hit. You have seen the images -- streets, fields, homes, landmarks all or partly under water. The storms were deadly, killing 31 people across three states, 21 of them in Tennessee.

And as the long cleanup begins, rescue teams are still out in force in Nashville. Several people there are still reported missing.

Nashville's mayor says the damage will easily total more than $1 billion. He is scheduled to meet with reporters at any minute now, and we're going to monitor that for you and let you know about any breaking details to come out of that.

People across the region are starting to return home, but in many cases there is nothing left to come home to.

Our Gary Tuchman is out in the flooded areas today. He joins me now by telephone.

Gary, I spoke with you just about an hour ago. What are you seeing now? How are people dealing with this?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we just completed our day with the urban search and rescue team. They were very apprehensive as they entered this one particular neighborhood northeast of Nashville. It's a neighborhood with about 250 homes and a lot of elderly residents. And over the weekend, about 200 people were evacuated on boats. But there are about 400 people that live in the community. So, the police, the fire department, the members of the rescue team, weren't sure if they were able to successfully get everyone out. Now that the water is gone, they're able to get in. They're going door to door, searching for the possibility of people who either got trapped in their homes or who did not survive, since there are people missing.

Well, the good, encouraging news, they've just finished the door-to- door search, and it appears that no one was stuck inside their homes during this disaster, that everybody got out, that there are no fatalities, no one was hurt. And the fact is, because the death toll was so high in Tennessee and the other southeastern states from this flooding, there was great concern that this particular neighborhood where we are, which was as hard hit as any neighborhood, might have had some fatalities. So there's some great relief here.

We just finished talking to a 47-year-old woman named Dodie McLeod (ph), and her house is destroyed. It's sad, but she's so grateful that she wasn't hurt, and especially grateful because when the water was climbing up her house, one thing she told me -- and when you here this, sometimes you're surprised, but you realize a lot of people have a similar story -- she doesn't know how to swim.

And she was concerned. She saw no one around, she didn't know what she was going to do. And sure enough, a policeman came up with a boat, and she got on the boat. And she was just so grateful, and she's still so grateful, that she was rescued. And that's the way a lot of people in this neighborhood fell right now -- Don.

LEMON: And Gary, you know when you have these disasters like this, you see people, many times, reporters -- you've witnessed it, I've witnessed it -- people coming home just to see what happened after either a hurricane or a tornado or flooding has gone through. And many times it's their first time there, and they are picking up the pieces in their front yards and their back yards.

What is salvageable there, anything?

TUCHMAN: Well, Don, one of the saddest things we just saw 10 minutes ago, we saw a family on their driveway. And it's very sunny and hot today, and on their driveway, which is now devoid of water, they had laid out probably 150 photographs of the family that were soaking wet, trying to salvage them.

And yes, we've seen lots of destruction, furniture and cars destroyed, and floors warped, and the houses smell like mold and fish, but that was the saddest sight we saw. They were the saddest people we saw because their memories were destroyed.

LEMON: Oh. It's always so sad.

And listen, insult to injury, I guess in this case, lots of people there didn't have flood insurance, I would imagine, because they don't get floods often. It doesn't happen. TUCHMAN: Right. I mean, there are certain parts of the country where you're required to have flood insurance, but this is not one of them. This is not one of the places that gets floods often.

There's creeks and rivers like our many American cities. But these people -- I mean, what's interesting, not only are the people, the residents, experiencing this for the first time in their lifetimes, but the urban search and rescue, police and fire professionals, you know, the best in the business, this is the first time they've experienced this in Nashville, too, to this degree.

LEMON: Gary, thank you so much. We appreciate your reporting. And we'll see you again later here on CNN.

And to find out how you can make a difference and help the flood victims in Tennessee, make sure you visit our "Impact Your World" page. It's at CNN.com/impact.

Now we want to get to that oil spill. An ambitious, audacious, never- before-tried plan about to unfold in the northern Gulf of Mexico. And not a moment too soon.

Sixteen days after that deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, globs of oil are hitting land, specifically in the Chandeleur Islands, due south of Biloxi, Mississippi. But help is on the way. A four-story-tall, 100-ton concrete and steel contraption that's now poised above the leak soon to be lowered ever so slowly, almost a mile to the ocean floor. Now, if it works, it will siphon the spillage to a tanker on the surface until crews can drill a relief well to stop the leaks once and for all.

Let's get back now to the coast and CNN's David Mattingly. He joins us now from the Venice community in Louisiana.

David, what is the latest now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we're getting our first confirmation today of oil impacting land. That has happened at a place called Freemason Island. It's a small island, the southernmost in the Chandeleur Island chain, the Barrier Islands, off the coast of Louisiana here.

This is a very wildlife-rich area. These are sensitive areas for nesting birds. And this being the nesting season, everyone very sensitive, hoping to protect these islands.

We've got three crews that have been sent out, two of them on water, one of them by air. They will be assessing what they have to work with there. They're going to be re-deploying the booms that were supposed to be working there, and they will deploy more booms if needed.

So, at this point, it appear that this oil, the booms may have moved, or something where they had them anchored, oil was able to get through. We don't know how much. We don't know if it was that sheen we've been talking about, or if it was the heavier oil that we've seen in patches in the Gulf that actually impacted this island. But now two weeks, two full weeks after that fire went out, and this oil well has been pushing oil out into the Gulf of Mexico, we finally have our first confirmation that it is now hitting land.

LEMON: Let's talk about that containment dome, because even though it may be in place on top of the water, at least to be lowered, it's going to take some time. BP's admitting that, you know, it's not perfect.

So what's next in this, David?

MATTINGLY: Well, they've done the easy part. They've constructed it and they've transported it out to the location.

The lowering of this, and making sure that they put it in exactly the right position, one mile down on the ocean floor, is the very, very difficult part. They're expecting to it take a couple of days. They're thinking they might get started lowering it into the water sometime later today.

But, again, a couple of days. This is an engineering feat that has never been tried at this depth, with this large of a device, and it's really going to be something new.

Everyone hoping that this works, it works the first time, because they didn't make two of these large containers. They're going to try and make this work the first time. And if they do, they will be able to collect, they say, 80 percent to 85 percent of the leaking oil, which would be a huge relief to the environmental damage that's being done out here.

LEMON: You're reading my thoughts, the next question that I had for you, because it's only one. If this doesn't work, then what else? We hope it does, but we'll have to see.

Thank you very much.

David Mattingly joining us from Louisiana, down on the Gulf Coast.

Are they the answer to the country's education problem or just a fly in the ointment? We're taking a closer look at charter schools right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Well, we've been focusing on education here on CNN because it is really important. Improving our kids' minds, fixing broken schools and the education system, that is the goal of this segment. It's called "Tough Talk." And we want to look at innovative ideas and game-changers that will help shame our country's future leaders.

Well, today's subject, charter schools, so pay attention. A lot of you have interest in this.

There's been lots of debate, especially here lately, about increasing the number of charter schools to try to increase student performance. First, let's talk about what exactly a charter school is.

They were created in the 1990s and were designed to be the happy medium, so to speak, between private and public schools. Now, they are funded with public money much like public schools are, but the difference is that a private group, even a for-profit company, can apply and get approval for a charter to run their own school.

These schools do not have to follow some of the rules and regulations as public schools, but in exchange for that freedom, charter schools are expected to achieve specific results within a certain period of time, typically three to five years, or their charters are revoked. Right now there are about a million schools enrolled in more than 3,500 charter schools nationwide.

So, let's get to the debate now. Is it better to have more charter schools to give parents more choices in educating their kids, their children, or are charter schools taking desperately needed funding and resources from public schools? That's the question.

So joining us now to talk about it is our education contributor, Mr. Steve Perry. He is in Hartford. And then our parent activist, Leonie Haimson, is in new York.

Thank you so much.

Leonie, you are concerned about the money being taken away from public schools. You don't like this idea much of charter schools? Is that correct?

Well, that's one of the issues I'm concerned about. Right now our public schools throughout the country are hemorrhaging.

LEONIE HAIMSON, PARENT ACTIVIST: Our mayor announced this morning that he intended to lay off 6,500 teachers. Class sizes are going up everywhere. The school year is being shortened. And our regular public schools just cannot afford to lose any more resources and space. These are the schools where the vast majority of our public school students attend, and we really need to keep the focus and the funding on these schools.

LEMON: And Steve Perry, I know that you're a big supporter of charter schools. You actually like that idea.

What do you think of what Leonie says?

STEVE PERRY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think she means well, but she's wrong.

The reason why charter schools are necessary is because they provide families with a viable choice. It's not about saying that charter is better than traditional public schools. It's about saying that choice is more important, because when children perform well, it's a direct result of their fit to the school.

So, if a child wants to go to a technical high school because they're interested in doing something that requires a technical training, then they will do better in that school than they will do in a traditional school. It's the only choice that they have --

LEMON: But Steve, doesn't she have a point though about the funds?

PERRY: No. No, she doesn't.

LEMON: It doesn't take funds -- because these funds -- if it weren't for the charter schools, you don't think the public schools would be getting these funds?

PERRY: No, because if the money follows the child, and the child doesn't go to the traditional school, then why do you need the traditional school seat? If the $10,000 was supposed to go to the child, then it shouldn't stay at the school that they left behind, it should go to the school that they go to.

LEMON: Let me let Ms. Haimson get in, Steve.

Go ahead.

HAIMSON: Yes. I mean, what most parents' first priority is in terms of their choices is they want to be able to send their kid to a good neighborhood public school. Right now, those neighborhood public schools are being undermined by the rapid expansion of charter schools, many of which are actually run, as you pointed out, by profit-making enterprises. We cannot afford to have people making maybe making money off of our kids right now.

LEMON: Ms. Haimson, I want to ask you this, because --

HAIMSON: The largest study that was ever done on charter schools was recently released and found that their quality on average was no better, and many of them were worse than our existing public schools.

LEMON: I'll let you -- respond to that very quickly, Steve, because I need to move on to another subject.

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: I need to get in here.

First of all, the study that she's talking about was put out by the Teachers Union. So let's consider the source.

HAIMSON: No, no, no. Stanford University.

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: If you're going to talk over me, then you're only going to hear yourself. If you're going to talk over me, you're only going to hear yourself. And think we're supposed to be talking.

The second part of this is here -- when children have a choice, then they have a better opportunity of selecting a school that meets their needs. The schools that we're talking about are failing. For the most part, our traditional publicly schools are failing. So, give the children a choice. LEMON: OK. So, anyway, that will be the last on that. We understand that you guys disagree on that.

Here's something that I find interesting, Ms. Haimson. You said that you believe that charter schools increase racial segregation.

HAIMSON: Yes. There was another study done out of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA which showed that, on average, the places -- charter schools are increasing segregation across the country. And that's one thing we really don't need in our public schools. Already, they are far too segregated.

And I just want to make the point that the independent study I mentioned was done out of CREDO at Stanford University. It was actually financed by the charter school industry. It had nothing to do with the Teachers Union.

LEMON: Ms. Haimson, I have a short time left. I'm going to let Steve respond to the racial segregation point.

PERRY: Well, the second part of the racial segregation point that she hasn't made is that those students who do go to those schools, in many cases, outperform the students who are in the traditional public schools, meaning students of color are typically outperforming other students of color when they have an opportunity to go to schools that meet their specific needs. So, the issue here is, who are we opening the schools for, the children or the adults?

The reason why the traditional public schools are not being able to meet their funding needs is because their revenue is not consistent with the resources that are being expended on the teachers' salaries. The teachers and administrators are receiving raises when there's not enough money in the kitty to pay for the raises.

LEMON: And Ms. Haimson, I know you want to jump in, but --

HAIMSON: Well, how can you justify profit off of our kids?

LEMON: Yes. It's tough for me to cut a parent off.

HAIMSON: Many of these charter schools are making money off of our kids.

LEMON: We're going to have to go.

Thank you, guys. This is a debate that's going to continue. And I promise you, we're going to continue to do this here on CNN. This is something that's our focus. I wish we could go on and on and talk about it, but unfortunately, the computer is going to cut us off if we keep going.

So thanks to both of you, Ms. Haimson, and also Mr. Perry.

HAIMSON: Thank you.

LEMON: See you guys soon. Thanks for joining us. PERRY: Thank you.

Planting the seeds of knowledge in our children. Our next story might turn your backyard garden into a classroom. It's one simple thing, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Let's go now to New Jersey, because in New Jersey, higher learning is taking on a new meaning. Students wanting to learn more about the environment went straight to the top of their building.

Anderson Cooper tells us it's one simple thing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tucked between apartments and vacant factories in downtown Newark, New Jersey, you'll find a rooftop garden.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It also absorbs the what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nutrients.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nutrients.

COOPER: This 4,500 square foot rooftop is part of a program called EcoSpaces at St. Phillip's Academy, an independent school where 360 kids are learning about sustainability and healthy living.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even if you just go like this and just breathe, what does it smell like, Johnny? It smells like mint.

FRANK MENTESANA, ECOSPACES FACILITATOR: It was a way to create environments for teachers to utilize -- to get kids to learn about the closed food loop cycle, meaning the idea of a seed being planted in the ground, nurturing the seed, growing the fruit of the seed, harvesting, cooking and then actually bringing it back to composting and putting it back to the earth; something that our urban kids generally aren't really getting when they go to a local supermarket and seeing things under plastic and processed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go to our plots.

COOPER: The EcoSpace program includes three main learning environments, the teaching kitchen, the cafeteria and the rooftop garden.

JEN KOTKIN, ST. PHILLIP'S SCIENCE TEACHER: And it's almost like we timed those sirens to go through but when you're dealing with an urban environment and you're dealing with student who have never been exposed to a carrot or a tomato, we decided that when we got to this location, we didn't just want ornamental grasses. We wanted to pull some of these ornamental grasses, sell them to families and orchards and nurseries and begin to plant a sustainable garden.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to spread out the flower on the table.

From the garden to teaching kitchen, where students take a hands- on approach to learning fraction. Children embrace the program, taking what they learn beyond school walls.

NONI JACK, ST. PHILLIPS' ACADEMY STUDENT: I actually recycle at home with my parents, and try to encourage them to turn the lights off at home.

KAYA MOODY, ST. PHILLIPS' ACADEMY STUDENT: My daddy, when he sees the garbage, he picks it up and throws it in the recycling bin or trash can.

CHRISTOPHER SCANTLEBURY, ST. PHILLIPS ACADEMY STUDENT: I think it's important because we have to stay green. I mean we only have one earth. The more plants you have, the better it is for us.

COOPER: The teacher hope other schools in urban settings will adopt some of their programs.

KOTKIN: You don't have to be a master gardener; you just want to teach your kids what a seed looks like when it grows. Then you can get everyone else on board and keep it simple.

COOPER: A simple approach using nature as a learning tool.

Anderson Cooper, CNN, Newark, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Let's get you some breaking news now. We want to take you to Greece.

Take a look at these pictures. We have told you over the past couple of days about the rioting that has been going on there for days because of some unpopular measures the government put in place to try to stem off -- stave off that huge debt that they're facing there.

We want to get straight to the ground now in Athens and our Diana Magnay.

Diana, it looks like we're seeing riot police there and they're going after the protesters.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Well, we're just running away from that (INAUDIBLE) right now. We're caught up in a big demonstration.

It was amazing, actually, because for a long time, in the main square, there was essentially just a standoff between (INAUDIBLE) protesters. And they were throwing bottles and a few sticks of dynamite at the police. And it was a very tense situation, where, essentially, ,you were just waiting -- waiting for something to happen.

And then I'm not sure what exactly what it was that kicked it off, but the police pushed forward, sprayed tear gas. And now all the demonstrators are being pushed down into the side streets. Thousands of people pouring into the side streets while they fire tear gas.

People are breaking windows in the same style as we saw yesterday during the general strikes, and the demonstrators are moving down the road we ducked into, the side street. And the police are coming down this way.

LEMON: Hey, Diana?

MAGNAY: Yes?

LEMON: Diana, I have to ask you -- you sound like you're out of breath, and I'll talk over these pictures until you catch your breath a little bit as we're looking at these riot police.

You heard Diana Magnay say there were protesters there, thousands of them gathered. And she's not exactly sure what happened.

And then police, she said she believed, began spraying tear gas. And then it was chaos there.

Diana, as I said, I want you to catch your breath here. What about your safety? You weren't sprayed, were you? Are you OK?

MAGNAY: Our safety is fine at present. We're OK.

It is one of those situations where the main streets are full of demonstrators, and the riot police pushed down the main street. But if you ducked down side alleys, which we have done, you can escape that. You just get clouds of tear gas, which is fairly unpleasant, or pepper spray, but nothing to worry about.

But, yes, it was --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I imagine the force of the crowd sort of pushed you through as well, so when they started running, you had to do it as well.

So, Diana, again, catch your breath a little bit. We're going to talk about this for a time. So, we have some time here.

This is happening because -- people are taking to the streets because they're upset over the government putting in place all of these new things. They passed a lot of dramatic measures.

They have hiked taxes there. They have cut pay there. They have upped the retirement age there. So people are really fed up.

Look at that. You see live pictures of burning on the street.

Back now to our reporter, Diana Magnay, who got caught up in what only can only be perceived as a riot there. She said that they were spraying pepper spray and tear gas.

I'll give it back to you now, Diana. MAGNAY: Yes, it's amazing how quickly these things fill up, you know? That happened really in the space of one minute. Suddenly, the square filled with thousands of people was cleared.

I can see burning on the street in front of me, presumably a petrol bomb. These are scenes similar to what we saw yesterday.

There were general strikes here in Athens yesterday, tens of thousands of people on the streets. And those strikes culminated in three people, bank employees, being killed when a petrol bomb was thrown into their bank. So there's been significant violence here, and this is just another sign of that.

LEMON: I want to tell Diana and our viewers that we're looking at live pictures from Athens now, and that's exactly where our reporter, Diana Magnay, is there. And you see riot police on the street. And these pictures, again, riot police, pepper spray, tear gas. It's virtual chaos going on there.

Diana Magnay, I want to ask you this. You say three people died yesterday from a petrol bomb. How many deaths overall in this? Do we even know now?

MAGNAY: Oh, absolutely. No, it is three deaths and three deaths only. And all of these protests is a result of this austerity package, these new very severe spending cuts that the government is having to implement because of its massive debt.

And that bill just passed the parliament today, and that is why all these thousands of protesters have come out to protest those measures which are going to significantly cut their spending power. But, I mean, three deaths in a European capital is very, very significant. Riots do not normally claim lives here in Europe.

LEMON: So, listen, the vote took place earlier today? Is that right, Diana?

MAGNAY: No. These were riots that took place yesterday.

Yesterday was a general strike called by the main unions here, and about 25,000 people came on to the streets to protest. And the rioting broke out pretty much immediately.

They gathered at around 11:00 Athens time. By 12:00, the riots were in full force. And they continued for a couple of hours, just waves of tear gas from police, followed by the crowds pushing back. But what the unions have said today is, obviously, the people who threw the petrol bomb into this bank were anti-capitalist anarchists, and they do not represent the vast majority of people who had come out to strike yesterday.

LEMON: And what I was saying, the protests, we know they started earlier in the week, Diana. I was talking about the vote was earlier today. That vote was 172 in favor, 121 against, and these three abstentions. When we talked to you yesterday in our segment about austerity measures, that's exactly what they passed today. And so, during that vote the rioters could be seen going out on the streets, and after the vote, just a short time ago, we have this, these new pictures in now from Greece of the protests here.

I'm Don Lemon here at CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, but on the streets of Athens is our reporter, Diana Magnay, who is there at one of the protests, got caught up in one of the riots. As you can see there, riot police information.

Diana Magnay, you witnessed all of this. Take us to the scene now. What did you see?

MAGNAY: OK. Well, I'm now seeing a line of riot police. In front of them, protesters who are booing them. This is what they've been doing all along in front of the parliament building, where this very unpopular package was going before parliamentarians.

The protesters were shouting, "Thieves! Thieves! Burn down the parliament!" Chanting that kind of thing.

I'm now seeing a fire, probably set by a petrol bomb to my right. And a long way down the street, protesters holding up banners and the riot police moving down towards them.

And it's been said that people here in Athens are very used to violent protests. This is quite normal for them.

Yesterday, in the general strike, people came out prepared with gas masks, just small white masks. And some people brought the gas masks because they knew that tear gas would be used. But certainly, to see deaths like we did yesterday on the streets of Athens is very, very unusual -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Listen, the two unions here have called the workers to meet on Thursday evening in front of parliament to protest the measures there and Athens police say they expected about 5,000 protesters. I would imagine that this was a culmination of that.

And just to give you an idea, before we go back to Diana, what they are protesting is, we talked about wages, lowering wages, increasing the retirement age. And, really, this is sort of, you know, luxury taxes and things that affect your life -- quality-of-life things -- that have been added here. More taxes on cigarettes, pay purchases, gambling, fuel, and on and on. Luxuries and increase in the value- added tax consumers pay on purchases like that and an increase in their retirement age for women in the public sector.

So, these people are not happy about it, and we talk in this country, we see the protests happening, you know, and we see the people outraged by big government and the tea parties, nothing ever like this, though. This is what happens when it gets at its worst.

Diana Magnay is witnessing all of this, witnessing the riots, the police. Diana, what are you seeing right now?

MAGNAY: Hi, Don.

Well, now, the situation seemed to have calmed. I'm not seeing any more tear gas. The demonstrators are moving down the road, the riot police have moved on towards them. You described these benefit cuts as sort of luxuries, and you're right about that. It's strange.

I've been talking to demonstrators who have come out the last couple of days and asked them, why are you here? And they have been saying, you know, I don't want to have to retire at 60, at 65. I was due -- I was owed my retirement at 55 and I want that. And most people retirement (INAUDIBLE), they say, yes, but I've worked for 30 years and it's my due.

So, these are benefits that a lot of other people in Europe don't understand, a lot of people in the States won't understand. But one thing that is a difficulty for people here is that they have a very low base salary. So when these benefits are taken away from them, they're left with really not very much in comparison to the rest of Europe and that's what makes them believe that their spending power is being significantly cut whilst the cost of living is going up -- and that's why we're seeing these people on the streets now.

LEMON: And you're saying it appears they're dispersing or they're moving down the street. They could be moving to another location. This has been happening for days and really is no indication, I would imagine, at this point that there are any signs of slowing.

Hey, Diana, describe to us where you are. I think you said that this was a square or a street that is right across from the parliament building. Tell us where you are.

MAGNAY: Yes. We were in the main parliament square. It's called Constitution Square, and it's in front of the parliament building where lawmakers were debating passing that bill today. Around that square, there are various big streets, one of them completely sealed off by riot police, and it's interesting because every day at a particular time, at this very heated time in Greece, the riot police have come out in the afternoon and sealed off that street with their buses.

But what's happened now all the demonstrators have moved down the side streets. I'm not sure what pictures you're seeing of the main square now, but I presume it's cleared. That's what happened during the general strike yesterday when the police pushed everyone out of that main square and into the side streets where you have this endless wave of rioting.

We've been trying to assess the police strategy, and it does seem to be one where essentially they stay to the side for as long as they can. They're trying to be as un-provocative as they can, and then suddenly, when they start to move, you know that you've got to get out of the way, because once they're moving, you can expect tear gas, pepper spray, that kind of thing -- Don. LEMON: All right, Diana Magnay, reporting to us live from Athens, Greece. She said she is right across -- she's in Constitution Square, right in front of the parliament building where they have been debating these added taxes and really this big government plan to try to boost their economy there.

When Diana first came to us, she was out of breath. She was caught up in all of this, had to run from the pepper spray and the tear gas that you saw live here on CNN. Riot police there, spraying on people. Now you see someone there just walked out of the screen, with a fire extinguisher trying to put out fires.

Rioting on the streets of Greece because of what's happening with their government. They're upset about what their government has imposed -- taxes, taxes, big government. That's the equivalent there, except it's out of control.

We're going to move on now and take you to Nashville because it is used to cranking out records, right? But never like this -- we're talking about record flooding now, about $1 billion in damage. When will Music City's nightmare end?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Really big story. We've been talking about the flooding in Nashville and keeping an eye on the Gulf of Mexico.

Our Chad Myers joins us with the very latest.

Chad, what do you have?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We just watched our Brooke Baldwin on the live shot from the Gulf of Mexico, just feeding in. She's 25 miles offshore and she has oil all around her boat. That's going to be coming up in a little bit.

We're also talking that this oil is just kind of spreading out. The longer it sits there, the more it's going to spread out, so the more people and the more animals, the more wildlife will be affected with this.

We're also going to see today this big container, basically what it is, it looks almost like a big upside down milk carton being dropped down into the water 5,000 feet down, that is one mile down. They're going to drop this thing all the way down to the bottom of the ocean and on top of the oil leak which is right down here where the wellhead is, and then there's the blow-off preventer here that was supposed to stop the leak.

They don't know why it didn't work. It may actually have worked, but because there was actually a well -- a drill bit in there, a pipe in there, when you put those two bits together, and you screw them and there's a joint there, there's a lot of metal. And as these things may have tried to come together to stop the oil, it may have hit all that metal and not been allowed to get all the way together, and so, therefore, it may have been stopped by that. There's a lot of other things that could have went wrong, too.

But this thing is going to drop all the way to the ocean floor, so then it -- this pipe is going to come down here. It's going to continue to leak. They don't care that it leaks.

LEMON: Eighty-five percent, I think, that it's going to cap, right? They hope.

MYERS: It's going to float to the top here. The oil is going to float up into this cone, up to -- you know, it looks like a pyramid, and then it's going to get into this and they're going to suck this oil up and out of the way.

If we want to go "Off the Radar," because I think "Off the Radar" today is extremely cool.

LEMON: OK.

MYERS: I want to go "Off the Radar." Can I go "Off the Radar"?

LEMON: All right.

MYERS: All right. Where do you want to put -- where do you want to put "Off the Radar" video?

LEMON: They said we can go "Off the Radar."

MYERS: We can go "Off the Radar." Well, let's go "Off the Radar." Let's put it in number four. The guys, they don't know what I'm talking about here.

So, here's number four, we'll put the video in here of what we can do to fix this. What possibly can go right? We can spray hay on it. We can spray hair on it.

LEMON: Hair, that's one that's --

MYERS: We can spray peat moss on it or somebody wants to freeze it with carbon dioxide being sprayed out of a pressurized container and so, therefore, you would actually literally get this thing frozen and be able to pick up the piece of oil.

LEMON: Here's my question that I want to ask an environmentalist or someone who knows about this. We are doing all the stuff with oil. Obviously, we don't want the oil but then we have all of this, you know, dispersement (ph), the chemicals they're spraying and all of this stuff. That can't be good for --

MYERS: It can't be good. Do we have the video of the peat moss, guys?

LEMON: I think we -- I think we have to move on because of the breaking news.

MYERS: OK.

LEMON: We have -- we have it now. Yes, let's play it.

MYERS: I want to show you what I believe to be the biggest potential positive here. This is out of a company in Quebec. And I just called the company. It's real, real peat moss. It doesn't absorb water, it only absorbs hydrocarbons.

This guy has turned and activated this peat moss. He dumps it into basically an automatic transmission fluid floating on top of water in a beaker, and it absorbs all of the automatic transmission fluid in a big clump.

It's possible. How much peat moss can we find until we get this guy to make us more? I don't know. But it was, really, it's one of the real things that are "Off the Radar" today.

LEMON: Things that make you go hmm.

MYERS: You can see it on YouTube.

LEMON: On YouTube.

MYERS: Yes. OK.

LEMON: Let's put it on CNN.com.

OK. So, hey, listen, we've had some breaking news. Our Chad Myers had something extra for us. So, I'm just going to say this. We're back in a moment here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: This is really some breaking news here on CNN.

Take a look at the Dow. Just in the last couple of -- just in a minute or so, I watched it go from 400 to 480. You see it sliding down and down and down. It hasn't been good day. It's now 494.

There's a situation going on obviously and we told you about this situation in Greece. Many people believe it is directly related to that, that the Dow, the markets here, are having trouble. We're going to have our money team on this.

Again, the Dow down almost 500 points at this point -- we're going to keep an eye on that.

But just -- we want to go to -- now to the United Kingdom, because the polls are getting ready to close there and they're picking a new parliament in one of the closest races in recent memory. It could shift the power in the U.K. and the attitudes as well towards the U.S.

I want to go to Becky Anderson.

Beck, what's going on? When will the polls close? And when will we know the results?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're about 2 1/2 hours away, Don, from what you suggested as being one of the closely contested elections in a generation.

Polls close here at 10:00. It's been a busy day for the leaders of the three main parties. They've been out and about, but only in their own constituencies and only to vote. It's been a long campaign. It's three weeks -- not long I guess in terms of U.S. campaigns, but three weeks here.

It's been a grueling one for the prime minister, Gordon Brown. He leads the Labour Party, of course. The opposition leader, David Cameron, of the conservatives; and what has been a bit of a wild card in this election, from the third party, the Lib Dems, they've done pretty well as this campaign has gone along.

And as I say, today has just simply been a day to spend with their families, really. They've been out to vote as has the rest of the general public, and if the suggestions are, because of the weather, at least, that the numbers of people out there voting today have been pretty good.

Now, lest we forget why, Don, this election is important. Let me explain. Three main issues that the parties are very -- have very different ideas on, and that is the idea of election, policy on foreign affairs, and policy on the economy. Don't forget, Don, that the U.K. has a big black hole to the tune of $250 billion.

The Labour Party wants to do one thing with it, but if the conservatives get in, they'll do something else. They're looking to take $6 billion out of the public sector deficit very, very quickly and the international markets will be watching U.K. plc like hawks. Any suggestion of a sort of inadequate or vaguely insecure government going forward and that could be a minority government or a "hung parliament," for example, and they will swoop and sell British assets like they are going out of fashion.

So, this is an extremely important election, not just for Britain, but for the international community as well -- Don.

LEMON: Yes. And we are watching the Dow here with just a couple minutes until it closes, actually about an hour that it closes. And it is going down. It all comes down to money.

Hey, listen, down here 731 points here in the United States. We're keeping an eye on that, Becky. And we're also keeping an eye on what's happening in Greece because it's related. This is right across the European Union, what's happening in Greece.

ANDERSON: Yes.

LEMON: And it is, you know, believe that because of what's happening there, that this is happening.

Becky, I'm going to let you go. You said, you know, three weeks that was a long election for you guys? Ha!

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: That's nothing for us. Listen, I got to get back to the Dow --

ANDERSON: Long time in politics three weeks.

LEMON: It's good to see you. And we'll be monitoring your elections.

Listen, let's talk about the Dow as I turn to the big wall, just -- I think it was, what, like 406 points it was down as we were in the break, about 400. It's gone down 400 double that just within the last couple of minutes as we were talking to our Becky Anderson, down 845 points.

You saw that video coming from Athens, Greece. The thousands of protesters who were out there because of what their government did, putting all of these things into place, new taxes, lowering -- raising the retirement age for women and, you know, putting taxes on what they say on some luxury items. They are upset and it could be affecting the markets here in the United States.

Again, the Dow is down 900 points just as I turn. We're going to continue to follow this here on CNN, because this is a big breaking news story.

Our money team is on top of this, and, you know, anytime something like this happens, everyone gets jittery, because the economy's already bad. The markets have already been down for years now. We've had a slump in our economy. People are saying, do you know what, their 401(k)s are worth nothing now, half or less than that of what they use to be worth. Many people don't look at it anymore because it's so depressing.

Look at these numbers, down and down, it keeps going down and down as we speak here -- 962 points, and then the Dow closes, what, 3:59:59 Eastern here in the United States? It's just a little bit over an hour away.

I don't know. I'm not an expert on this. Ali Velshi's probably a little bit more abreast to tell you about it, but at this point if it's gone down this far, chances are, it will not go back up. Fingers crossed, though.

What does it all mean? Our money team, as I said, assembling all of this. I can tell you what it means right, if you have investments -- I'm going to walk over here -- if you have investments, look at this, it just keeps -- 983 points -- 976, that's good, at least it's going up a little bit -- 968 points, still going down -- 942.

So, listen, what does this mean? It basically means that your investments now are not in a good place, at least for today. This is just really a short indicator, one day's work of exactly of what this means, one day's -- one day's work.

But when you average all of this out, obviously it is not good for any of this. It was down to 900 points now, it looks like it's getting a little bit better, but not by much, I have to tell you, when you look at the 863, as it was oppose. So, it would be great if the next hour and 15 minutes if this, you know, would come up a little bit and it looks like it's trying to.

And as we were showing you, if we can shot -- if we can put that video up somewhere, at least in a box, happening in Greece because as I talk to Stephanie Elam, as I talked to Becky Anderson there, there were concerns that this was spreading across the European Union. You heard Becky talking about the markets there, that this election in the U.K. was pretty much about the markets.

That was at least one point what's happening with the government. That vote that they had just a short time ago about money as well and they believe that that is what is affecting this. It spread across the European Union and Stephanie Elam said it was going to spread here to the United States and this may be the result of that.

But, again, you know, the Dow keeps going down and as we look, it appears to be getting better. So, hopefully, this is all for naught, but, as I said, within the next hour and 10 minutes, it would certainly take a whole lot for the Dow to come back up.

That video that you're looking at there on your screen, live -- are these live pictures or is this tape from earlier? This is tape from earlier, videotape from earlier.

We have our Diana Magnay in Greece, really on the ground in Athens and she was caught up in a riot there -- riot police. They said they had pepper spray. They were spraying on people because they were upset about the government. All the chaos there and people who were so mad about that, they are concerned about their government, big government, as we know, as we've been hearing so much about here in the United States that they took to the streets in protest.

What money experts worried about in all of this -- first, everyone's worried about the safety of the people there. But what the people who are concerned with the markets and the retirement and money and all that, they were concerned that this rioting would affect everything -- and from all indications it looks like it may be affecting that.

And then I'm not sure how much the elections in the U.K., if the U.K's unstable, we don't know who the leader's going to be, that's probably going to affect the markets as well.

So, all of this concern about this spreading to the markets, people are getting jittery as it becomes -- as it comes closer to the end of the day. I want to go to our Alison Kosik who is with the CNN money team. She's joining us on the phone.

Alison, thank you for helping me out here. You are an expert on this. I'm not a money expert. I don't even want to look at my portfolio right now. I can't even -- I can't stand the sight of it because who know? And I'm sure a lot of people are like that.

What's going on here, Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's what you said, it's the European debt crisis which is definitely giving investors -- it's definitely spooking them today. And it's also surprising a lot of specialists and traders here on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I was talking to a few traders down here just a few minutes ago, I said, "What is going on?" They looked at my with their jaws open and said, "I don't know, it's all Europe, it's all Europe, it's all Athens."

They're also standing around, all the TV screens here, they are watching the riots in Athens and they're even, you know, audibly reacting to it. Almost like a boxing match, they say, oh, you know, when they see someone get hit hard. So, they're focused on the TVs but now, the action has picked up on the floor. They're looking at the boards. They're standing up looking at the boards with their jaws open -- T.J.

LEMON: You know, so listen, unbelievable here. Let's I want -- I want to ask you this. We're going to go to Robert Gibbs now. Alison, stick around.

We're going to go to Robert Gibbs in the White House briefing. He's talking about it now.

Listen in, folks.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes?

REPORTER: The leaders of the House Republican Conference have objected to U.S. participation in the IMF loan to Greece. I presume the president supports this. Tell me why he feels it's needed.

GIBBS: Yes. I -- let me -- let me get something more specific on that for you. I don't -- I've not seen the House conferences.

REPORTER: They sent a letter to Geithner, basically characterizing it as a taxpayer bailout of Greece. So, the U.S., of course, doesn't --

LEMON: That's Robert Gibbs at the White House briefing talking about the situation in Greece, and its effect really on the economy.

Let's go now to Alison Kosik. She's joining us now.

Alison, you said you could hear the sighs and people standing around and going, what's going on? Here's the interesting thing. We saw it start. I watched it start.

We were just moments from coming out of the break, Alison, about a minute or so, maybe 30 seconds coming out of the break. It was down maybe 406 points. Within two minutes later, it was down 900 points at one point. Now, it looks like it is coming up.

Do you think it can recover by the time -- by close today?

KOSIK: You know, it probably will recover, but, you know, it's anyone's guess at this point. I can't prognosticate what's going to happen.

But I tell you what, the volatility that you were just talking about, those 100-point jumps in a matter of minutes, that literally took the traders here by surprise. I mean, they were staring at the big boards -- something they don't do, they've got the information right there on their screens. But they were out here in the open looking at the boards just in disbelief.

Usually at this point in the afternoon, let's say it's about 10 to 3:00 in the afternoon, the floor is quiet. It's usually pretty quiet here. A lot of the trading done here is done electronically. You know, a lot of people kind of filter out as the day goes on.

The floor is very busy ride now. Traders and specialists are bustling all over the place. They're trying to figure out what's going on.

LEMON: Hey, listen, Kelly, if you're listening in the control room, if we can get a shot of this, keep the big board up. If we can also get some pictures of Greece and can we get a shot of the White House briefing? Because I want to talk about how this now -- and if we have anything in the U.K., do it.

Because it is believe, Alison, stick with me, that all of this is connected. We have the riots in Greece. We have the U.K. elections going on. We have Robert Gibbs at the White House briefing talking about all of it. And then, of course, the big board, the Dow down now 457, almost 458 points.

These huge, huge hundred-point, you know, ups and downs, this volatility, it makes people jittery, and the concern -- I'm sure -- will be, like, what is this foreshadowing later on in the week? One more trading day left before Saturday.

Alison, are you there?

We've lost our Alison Kosik.

KOSIK: I'm here. I'm here. I'm here.

LEMON: Yes. Really quickly, if you think --

KOSIK: Sorry about that.

LEMON: Yes. Go ahead. I just want to talk about the volatility there. One more closing -- on more day until the weekend.

But stand by, stand by, Alison, because I want to go to Ed Henry. Ed Henry is standing by. He's going to bring us reaction from Washington and the White House.

Ed, what are you hearing?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, you know, I'm just outside the White House briefing room. My colleague, Dan Lothian, is in there.

And we understand that Robert Gibbs was just asked about the Dow plunging. Obviously, no White House press secretary wants to weigh in that directly on the markets and potentially making the situation worse. So, what Robert Gibbs said was that the Treasury Department is monitoring the Greek debt crisis, trying to keep a close eye on it. They're hopeful that there's going to be a resolution to it.

In the short term, though, as you can see with the riots in the streets, there's a direct impact on world markets specifically. The Dow -- as you've been noting, though -- potentially some good news in the last few moments, we saw it as bad as 900 points. It was down -- I haven't checked the last few seconds -- but it was about 400, 500 points down.

They know that this Greek debt crisis has been bubbling and bubbling. The Greek prime minister was here at the White House just a month or so ago, but there's no resolution to it and that's why the markets are really spooked by it, Don.

LEMON: And so, Ed, listen, I want you to stand by.

Our Alison Kosik is standing by. Ed Henry is at the White House. You see him right outside the White House there. Our Alison Kosik is standing by. She is down at the New York Stock Exchange watching it.

I want to go to our Stephanie Elam, who I spoke to about earlier about this.

Stephanie, you and I were talking, and in the questioning and answering, the question and answer that we did, you said, hey, listen, it's going to spread to the European Union. That's a concern there and it's going to come to the United States.

And it looks like that's what happened here.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is really about the fear of that happening, Don. It's the uncertainty. Wall Street doesn't like to see this kind of uncertainty.

And if you take a look at those images we were just taking -- we were just seeing coming out of Greece and this volatility that has hit the streets there, that shows you that they don't know what's going to happen because so much energy has been concentrated on resolving this issue with Greece. If it turns out that there is a serious debt issue, a more -- a larger credit crisis that involves Portugal and Spain, Italy and Ireland, if that were to happen, they do not know whether or not the European Union would have enough resources to support all of these countries.

That uncertainty has led to this fear, and as I was on the air live on CNN International with Richard Quest, we were watching the markets drop at an enormously fast pace. I was watching the Dow go down to, like, 950 points. We've now come back, we're off 385 points which it's weird to even say that and sound like that's a good thing, but compared to what I just saw happen, this is a great thing. So, now, we're off 3.5 percent.

But this is completely about uncertainty and fear and panic and about whether or not this will spread, and because the U.S. economy is so directly connected to what goes on in the European -- it's a much smaller world now, Don.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, Steph --

ELAM: So, because of that, that's the issue here.

LEMON: Stand by. Steph is standing by. Ed Henry is standing by at the White House. Alison Kosik is standing by as well.

I want to go to CNN's Paul La Monica standing by.

Paul, what can you tell us?

PAUL LA MONICA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's incredibly surreal how quickly everything just deteriorated. As Alison pointed out, I think you do have to probably blame a lot of the computerized trading for how rapidly the selloff took place

I think what everyone's been saying about Greece, it is really is hitting home now when you look at the pictures, at the riots, just how bad the reaction had is there and everyone is worried about this spilling over into many other European nations and that's a big reason why stocks are taking such a big hit this afternoon.

LEMON: Do we still have Ed Henry standing by? Ed Henry is standing by outside the White House.

Ed, you were, I'm sure you heard the briefing earlier and you heard Robert Gibbs talk about the situation in Greece. Stephanie Elam says this is the fear of that spreading over here.

What did Robert Gibbs have to say?

HENRY: I'm trying to get it off my BlackBerry here. Basically, he was -- in fairness to Robert Gibbs, we should point out, that he's in the middle of the briefing and was not near a screen watching CNN and seeing the Dow go down. So, he didn't have all that information.

But when asked generally about Greece debt crisis, he was saying basically, the Treasury Department is monitoring the situation closely, the reforms that are needed to be enacted in Greece are important and will take some time and we will continue to monitor that.

And Stephanie is exactly right -- the real problem is that uncertainty of when these reforms are going to kick in, when the European partners are going to step up and essentially help bail Greece out. That uncertainty out there is spreading beyond the European markets obviously to the U.S. markets.

The last thing Robert Gibbs wants to do, though, is weigh in, you know, in too much detail to potentially make the situation worse. Any sort of errant comment from that White House --

LEMON: Yes.

HENRY: -- podium in the briefing room could make the situation worse, Don.

LEMON: Hey, Ed Henry, and all of our money players, please stand by because this is a big, developing story that we're going to be covering here on CNN.

You can see now that the Dow is down some 400 points -- again, at one point down about 900 points. It happened right in the middle of the newscast, and that's what we do -- breaking news. Hope we provide some context for you.

I'm going to throw it over to my friend now who I'm sure will be covering this story and much, much more. Rick Sanchez with "RICK'S LIST" -- Rick.