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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Summons BP Chief to White House; Oil Coming Between U.S. & Britain?; Sandbagging the Oil; The Nuclear Option; Arkansas Floods Turn Deadly

Aired June 11, 2010 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Rick.

Happening now, the Feds review BP's new plan for collecting more oil from the Gulf, this after researchers double their estimate of crude oozing into the waters.

I'll ask the president's point man in the Gulf, Admiral Thad Allen, about BP's failure to release good and timely information.

As the president gets ready to head back to the spill zone, the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, rates the federal response and tells me about the oil threat to his state right now.

And what if a nuclear blast could finally plug the leaking well?

It's a radical idea, but it's had some success before.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We should find out soon whether the federal government has signed off on BP's new proposal to cover more leaking oil. A decision was promised late today. Almost 100,000 barrels of oil have been collected, as we near the two month mark in this disaster. But that's just a drop in the bucket after researchers doubled their estimate of the flow rate yesterday.

The Obama administration says it's pouring resources into the Gulf, spending about $140 million on the cleanup so far.

A new warning today that oil could destroy the Gulf marshlands and affect millions of birds that migrate there during this winter season for generations -- generations to come.

President Obama returns to the Gulf Coast Monday for a two day tour of the spill areas he hasn't inspected before. He'll be back here in Washington on Wednesday. At that time, he'll confront the chiefs of BP. I asked the president's point man in the Gulf, Admiral Thad Allen, about that and more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: You wrote a letter this week to the chairman of the board of BP, effectively summoning him and his other top executives to come to Washington next week to meet with you and to meet with the president of the United States. I guess a lot of people, when they read that letter, they said, what took so long?

Why has it taken so long for the president and for you to meet with the chairman of the board of BP?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, as you know, as I've stated many, many times, I have frequent daily contact with Tony Hayward. I also meet with members of the board of directors, for example, their managing director, Bob Dudley. And I deal -- I deal routinely with the -- Secretary Napolitano, Carol Browner, the White House and I have frequent interaction with the president.

So there's a flow of information. There is contact both ways. I think it's a logical progression to bring everybody together, have a very focused meeting on the issues that both BP has and the issues that the administration has. And it's my job to facilitate that.

BLITZER: That meeting will take place, I assume, at the White House, next Wednesday.

Will Tony Hayward be at that meeting?

ALLEN: To my -- it's my anticipation that he will. And part of my job today, once I finish the -- the press issues that I'm dealing with right now, is actually to work with both BP and the administration on the agenda for that meeting.

BLITZER: On the agenda.

And the president will participate in some of that meeting, is that right?

ALLEN: That's correct.

BLITZER: Do you trust BP?

ALLEN: Wolf, I get the trust question all the time. Here's what has to happen with BP. We have to have collaboration. We have to have unity of effort. We have to have cooperation. We have to achieve effects. To do that takes a wide range of personal relationships and communications. And when we speak, we have to have some assurances that we're getting accurate information and we can exchange views very, very frankly.

You can characterize that as trust. You can characterize that as any -- any way you want. But that is what we have to have and that is what I am trying to create as the national incident commander. That's what I believe I have when I deal with the officials at BP.

BLITZER: How worried are you that BP could go broke?

ALLEN: Well, you know, that's not my line of work, Wolf. Right now, they are a going concern. They are the responsible party. We are dealing with them that. And my -- my assumption is that that will be that case moving into the future unless conditions change.

BLITZER: And -- and this whole impact that this is having on US- British relations, a lot of folks in Britain are -- are suggesting the U.S. Government is being way too tough on BP.

What do you want to say to them?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, my job is to try and create unity of effort and focus all the resources on this response. I'll leave -- I'll leave foreign relations and that stuff to the -- to the State Department and the political leaders. My -- my focus is on this response.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: We're going to have much more of the interview with Admiral Thad Allen. That's coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask him about the new doubled estimate of oil flow and about local officials' complaints that they still don't know who is really in charge.

The Gulf oil spill may be putting some strain on the United States' special relationship with Britain. The British media are urging the prime minister, David Cameron, to stand up for the embattled BP, that was formerly known as British Petroleum. Cameron is expected to talk on the phone with President Obama this weekend.

But Britain's deputy prime minister is downplaying talk of any diplomatic rift.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK CLEGG, BRITISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It is an ecological catastrophe. It does need to be dealt with. I don't, frankly, think we're going to reach a solution to stopping the -- the -- the release of oil into the ocean there any quicker by allowing this to spiral into a tit-for-tat political or diplomatic spat. So I and the -- all of the British government want to only play our role in as much as we can -- a constructive role to find a solution to what is a huge environmental disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's working the story for us.

It's -- it's a problem right now, even though the leaders probably are trying to downplay it.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really are. But this is very early in this new important relationship between the U.S. president and the new British prime minister. So it's clearly testing that. This phone call has now been scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Eastern time here tomorrow. The president will be doing that in the Oval Office. And -- and, clearly, Prime Minister Cameron under heavy pressure domestically for him, because, as you noted, there is some feeling in -- in the U.K. that maybe there's been some Brit bashing, if you will, here, number one.

Number two, a lot of people are taking a hit in their -- in their pockets, because BP has lost about 40 percent of its value. BP is in a lot of the pension funds there in the U.K. So that's a big issue. But then there's the competing domestic political pressure here for President Obama. And he got some cover today from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said, look, the issue is not about beaten -- beating up on the British, it's about the fact that this company has not been honest with the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They misrepresented the number of barrels, the amount of oil that was being spewed forth into the Gulf and continue to do so. And the scientists now have an update of -- of the minimum of what is in the Gulf much higher than what BP said. And, again, third of all, when they start telling you to cut your hair and send golf balls and diapers for the cleanup, you know that's not the technology of the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: And White House aides are stressing that while BP will be an important issue on this call, there's a lot else on the agenda. Of course, these two leaders will also talk about Afghanistan, etc.

But let's face it, even after this phone call next week, President Obama, as you were just noting, is going to be meeting with these BP officials here. He's going to be pressing them to make sure they're paying these claims, etc.

So it's a very tough balancing act. He's trying to keep relations with the U.K. in -- in a good place. But at the same time, he's keeping the heat on BP -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's not going to get any easier, either.

Ed Henry at the White House.

Here's a look at BP's response to the oil disaster by the numbers. The company says its cap on the leaky well has now captured more than 88,000 barrels of crude. BP says almost 3,600 vessels are involved in the effort and that more than two million feet of containment boom have been deployed. The total cost of the response so far, more than $1.4 billion.

Let's get to the disaster zone now, where crews are using every weapon possible to try to stop the oil from tainting more of the coast.

Brian Todd went on a boat tour with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the front line battle against this oil spill -- part of it starts right here at this makeshift landing pad in Burris, Louisiana. We've got a chopper behind me. They come every few minutes to pick up 1,500 pound bags of sand. Watch him pick it up right now. He's about to lift off a couple of bags. They're taking these out to Pelican Island and Scofield Island, a couple of the other barrier islands around here, dropping them into gaps in the island to prevent oil from kind of sliding through those little gaps in the island.

This is not the berm construction. That's separate. That's going to be filling in gaps between islands. These sandbags are designed to fill in the gaps in the islands, which a lot of oil is slipping through.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. JAMES GABLER, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: We run 24-hour operations here. So we fill sandbags and stage them throughout the night. They fly out about 800 sandbags a day. And we can fill about 900 sandbags a day when we run 24-hour ops. So it -- it's -- we kind of -- we've been able to stay ahead of it so far for the last month. I love it. It keeps -- as -- as a native here, I was here for Katrina and I was here for, I guess, the oil spill now. It is greater -- it makes a real difference on -- on -- on my heart that I -- that I'm able to be here and help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us from Louisiana.

He'll be back later.

Meanwhile, the toll on birds and sea life climbing. Federal wildlife officials say as of today, 504 oiled birds have been rescued along with 55 sea turtles. But 658 birds have been found dead, along with 279 TC turtles. Keep in mind, that's just the number recovered. The actual number could be much, much higher.

In the Gulf Coast crisis, there's a radical option for trying to poll the leaky flood -- a nuclear option, literally. We're talking about a nuclear bomb. Standby.

And the search for victims and survivors after the flash flooding in a popular Arkansas campground. At least 20 people are now dead. Several dozen are missing as of right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, what if this time it is different?

What if 10 percent unemployment is the new normal for as far as the eye can see? "Fortune" magazine has got a sobering piece that explores whether in today's economy, there is no fix for high unemployment.

In addition to all the jobs that have disappeared overseas never to return, it's all about technology. We've already seen computers and robots wipe out lots of manufacturing jobs, as well as clerical and administrative jobs. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg. Advanced technology might one day replace not only factory workers, but also professionals and jobs that require a college degree or specialized skills.

The skeptics say that while new technology might eliminate some jobs, it also creates new employment sectors. And that's fine. But there's a catch. Innovation is likely to erase jobs in more labor intensive professions, while creating new jobs that rely more on technology and don't require as many people.

Also, whereas in the past, new technological advances would wipe jobs out in one industry at a time -- for example, in agriculture -- this time around, it's expected to hit across the board. And if all this is true, it could mean that the U.S. must one day fundamentally begin to change the way this economy works. Higher unemployment would likely mean a drop in consumer spending. That's the engine that drives our economy. And it could also mean that people rely more on government social safety nets, while there are fewer tax dollars coming in and our deficits are exploding.

Also, "Fortune" magazine suggests that mainstream economists are completely oblivious to the fact that jobs may never come back to our economy.

It doesn't bode too well for the rest of us, does it?

Here's the question -- what if high unemployment is here to stay?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: I hope it isn't, because millions of people will suffer if it is, Jack.

Thank you.

Countless suggestions have been made for stopping the massive oil leak deep below the Gulf of Mexico. One of the most controversial -- nuke it.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is joining us from New York.

She's looking at this.

What if they did decide to use what they call the nuclear option.

How farfetched is that -- Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not as farfetched as you think, Wolf. As a matter of fact, the public debate, as you can imagine, would be huge, especially with so many countries moving toward nuclear disarmament.

However, the scope of the current ecological disaster is so great, that some people are saying it is really time to consider this seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one!

FEYERICK (voice-over): It's a crazy last resort kind of idea, but what if it works?

What if nuking the well finally stops the oil from surging into the gulf?

(on camera): Do you remember where you were standing when this nuclear device was detonated?

MILO NORDYKE, FORMER PROJECT DIRECTOR, PROJECT PLOWSHARE: Oh, yes. I was standing at the control point. It was exciting to know that it went well and that everything worked about as we expected.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Eighty-year-old Milo Nordyke is one of the few people you'll likely meet who saw not one, but nine nuclear explosions. He helped run project Plow Share, a program in the 1950s and 60s and 70s to find peaceful, practical uses for low radiation nuclear devices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the tremendous energy of the peaceful atom.

FEYERICK (on camera): When you see what's going on in the Gulf, did it sort of come into your mind, this is a perfect use for some sort of small nuclear device?

NORDYKE: Oh, it certainly did. And, of course, knowing that the Russians had done it many time -- a number of times -- brought it to the top of my attention.

FEYERICK (voice-over): That's right, the Russians, who successfully shut down four out of five runaway gas wells by nuking them.

(on camera): The red and white is the device.

(voice-over): As seen on YouTube, this Russian well had been burning nonstop for three years.

NORDYKE: They said the -- the gas flame was so high that it could be seen 50 miles away.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Watch as the nuclear device detonates. A shock wave rattles the earth. Moments later, the flame extinguishes and the well is finally sealed.

NORDYKE: The shock wave would initially melt the rock and then it would crush the rock and then it would compress the rock so that it would be crushed completely shut.

NATHAN HULTMAN, ASST. PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, UNIV. OF MARYLAND: There really isn't any certainty that doing this kind of a detonation under the water and in this particular geologic situation would work.

FEYERICK: A nuclear option to plug the well is downright laughable, says Nathan Hultman, who has studied civilian nuclear power.

HULTMAN: There are certainly questions about radiation leakage. There are questions about damaged ecosystems. There are questions about the impact of a shockwave.

FEYERICK: But because of where the nuclear device would be placed, Nordyke disputes concerns about radiation release or damage to wildlife. The blast would take place more than a mile below the ocean floor, near the ruptured well. The nuclear device would be lowered down a secondary tunnel similar to the relief well now being built.

NORDYKE: The explosion tends to seal all the rock around it so that radiation doesn't -- doesn't escape.

FEYERICK: The force of the shockwave is the great unknown.

Could it destabilize more oil wells miles away?

Even Milo Nordyke admits that threat remains unclear, but says in a worst case scenario, it's a last resort worth considering.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Now the agency in charge of nuclear security for the United States says exploding a nuclear device in the Gulf of Mexico is not really an option. And, of course, timing is a factor, because while the blueprints exist for low radiation devices, it still would need to be built. And that, clearly, Wolf, would take time.

BLITZER: Wow!

All right, Deb.

Thanks very much.

Deborah Feyerick reporting.

It's a state known for its beautiful beaches. Now those beaches are in direct line of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. The Florida governor, Charlie Crist, has seen it for himself. We talk about what he thinks will be at stake in his state. Stand by.

The dead of night -- sleep -- in the dead of night, sleeping campers. There's a sudden surge of water and then disaster. We'll have the latest on those deadly floods in Arkansas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's the most frightening kind of disaster. In rugged Western Arkansas right now, dozens of campers are rescued, but dozens more are dead or missing after being blindsided by flash flooding.

We're following this tragic event that's unfolding even as we speak.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is here.

She's got more information.

Tell us what's going on.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, people like to use the word tragedy. But in this case, this really was a true tragedy for these families. As many as 300 people were camping in Arkansas at a camp site along the Little Missouri River. Now, imagine this. It is in the middle of the night. You are sleeping with your family, your kids, you're on a camping vacation, when the water level rises from three feet to 20 feet in the middle of the night, when it's pitch dark.

At least 20 people now dead, dozens more missing. We have pictures from around the Albert Pike Recreation Area. They are just devastating. You can see pictures that we can put up of cabins crushed and destroyed, pieces of asphalt where the road just simply washed away. You see the pictures there. RVs were moved and turned over, flipped over.

And we also have some sound that we can let it play for you.

CNN's Rick Sanchez spoke to a woman named Janice McRae, who was at the cabin, was there last night. She describes helping rescue a family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANICE MCRAE, CAMP ALBERT PIKE RESIDENT: There was two kids on the top of that cabin, on the roof. Of course, that's all that was sticking out was just the roof.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were the parents?

MCRAE: What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were their parents?

MCRAE: They were -- they were up with their grandparents, which are elderly, very elderly grandparents. And he was in the water. We could see him. There was a man that was with me. We both waded out to him into the water and got him and pulled him to safety. And then we found the grandmother. She was down in the water behind the cabin there and we got her out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SYLVESTER: And there were also a number of kids, by all accounts, there. And we have a camper witness, a man, a young man named Dylan (ph). We've got some sound that we can play for you, as well, where he shares his experience and talks about his mother waking him up in the middle of the night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DYLAN (PH) FLOOD WITNESS: I was in the second bunk right over here on top. And my mom just woke me up in the middle of the night and just told me to pack my stuff because the water's about to flood over the cabin.

When we went back inside of it later, the water was -- it left like a layer of mud about that thick on the floor. It was disgusting.

Around here, the pavilion -- this place over here, the kitchen was destroyed. The bar's moved around. The giant refrigerator was knocked over. In the office, the refrigerator they had in there was floating. So it did a lot of damage.

It was kind of scary, because, yes, like there was a couple over here with their family. And they were all -- they were on air mattresses and tents. They'd come in the middle of the night. And the waters rose around them. And they didn't realize it. So they were out there in the current. And they had to like pull the wife out with a rope, because she was pinned against a tree. And their truck got stuck back there. And they had to tow it out. It was -- it was a mess.

It's kind of scary what can happen to you when you go on vacation. Yes, it's just a bad experience, I guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Wow! That's something else. And these people are so fortunate and lucky, the ones that made it to be alive.

Now, the Arkansas National Guard is on the scene helping with a special helicopter that's geared for search and rescue. So far, 30 people were rescued. But again, Wolf, with still have dozens more that are unaccounted for.

BLITZER: So they're looking for them right now.

SYLVESTER: They are. In fact, we also heard that there's an Oklahoma National Guard helicopter that's on the scene that has special night vision equipment, because, as you can imagine, it's getting dark right now. They think that there might be a possibility that people who floated downstream might have been able to grab onto a rock or a branch.

And this was a true flash flood. So the water came up very suddenly and then went down very suddenly. So they think that maybe there might be a chance for more survivors and they're going out there looking for them now. BLITZER: Let's -- let's hope there are.

You'll keep us informed.

SYLVESTER: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks, Lisa.

It could be the next state to bear the brunt of that massive oil spill in the Gulf.

As Florida prepares, is it getting the help it needs from BP?

I'll ask the governor, Charlie Crist.

He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the point man on the government's response to this crisis now responding to reporters' claims that they're being denied access to areas around the spill. You're going to hear what Admiral Thad Allen tells me what he's planning to do about all of this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's growing urgency right now in Florida, as the Gulf oil disaster spreads to a state famous for its beautiful beaches.

Let's talk about that and more with the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist.

He's joining us from Pensacola.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA: Thank you, Wolf.

It's always great to be the with you.

BLITZER: How worried are you that what we're seeing in Louisiana, God forbid, could happen in Florida?

CRIST: Well, that's my greatest fear. Obviously, I want to protect the state, protect our beaches as much as we can, our wildlife, our estuaries. They're so critical, as you know, to the beauty that makes Florida so special.

And it's very important to us economically. You know, in Florida, our economy and our environment are inextricably linked. We get about 85 million tourists come to the Sunshine State every year, I think, in large measure, because Florida is such a beautiful place to visit and a great place to come. But we're doing everything we can to try to protect her and we'll keep doing that every day.

BLITZER: How far has the oil spread to the beaches of Florida at least right now? GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, (I) FLORIDA: Not that far. And that's the good news, at least in the short-term. Now, we don't know what the long-term effect is going to be, nobody does. And that really is all contingent upon capping that spew that's coming out of the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. We're glad that they got a cap on top of it that is siphoning off at least some of that flow. But really, the long- term solution is to plug the hole and get that thing done, and BP needs to be responsible and do that.

BLITZER: Do you have to close any beaches in Florida yet?

CRIST: Wolf, we haven't yet, no. I was talking with Governor Riley of Alabama today. They've had some minimal closures, but we've had zero. And I was on Pensacola Beach this morning, it is absolutely beautiful. It was pristine. There are some tar balls that come up occasionally, but they're easily cleaned off. And almost every beach in the sunshine state is gorgeous, beautiful. People ought to continue to come down. The water is clean. And the beaches are pristine.

BLITZER: We know the president of the United States will be coming down to Florida Monday and Tuesday, be spending the night in Pensacola, I believe. I'm sure you will meet with him. What will you say to him? What do you need from the federal government right now?

CRIST: Well, just a greater focus, if you will, on this issue, what's happening in all of the Gulf States. Obviously, I'm about Florida first, but I think that, you know, having the leader of the free world come down and be on the Gulf Coast during this time is absolutely critical. I believe this will be his fourth time coming down. We're grateful that he's coming back, you know, to the Gulf States and in particular, to Florida on this trip.

When the president of the United States comes in, questions get answered a lot more quickly, assets get mobilized a lot more rapidly, and things get done in the fashion that they should. So, those are things I'm going to talk to him about. Additional boom, additional skimmers, good coordination with the coast guard, and forcing BP to do the right thing.

BLITZER: Are you getting the cooperation from BP, the financial assistance, the other technical assistance that you need right now?

CRIST: Well, we always need more. So, the answer is no. I mean, I think they're trying, Wolf. But they've got to try harder. They've got to do more. You know, it's a struggle from day-to-day. And we just want to make sure we have every possible asset to protect our beaches. Let me give an example. We have about 311,000 feet of boom already deployed in the panhandle of Florida. Close to another 200,000 that are staged or stored if you will ready to go to really protect the marshes and the estuaries first. That's most important.

We always want to get more skimmers. We continue to ask for more. You couldn't be too many of them. In fact, every skimmer on the planet ought to be in the Gulf of Mexico right now protecting the Gulf States, in my view, Florida in particular. BLITZER: Do you trust BP? That's a question I asked Thad Allen, on the scene point man for the federal government. What do you say? Do you trust BP?

CRIST: Well, we all want to. But what's making that difficult is that we get continuing moving numbers. You've been reporting them as well as everybody else. You hear one amount of gallons that are spilled into the Gulf during a day and then a week later, oh, no, it's really twice as much. And so it makes it difficult and creates sort of a natural cynicism, if you will. And I'm more of an optimist, and I'm a trusting kind of guy, but I'm also trust but verify. And we've got to verify the information that we're getting. It needs to be accurate. Otherwise, it makes it hard to respond accordingly.

BLITZER: Do you support offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida?

CRIST: I do not. I mean, if ever there was a wake-up call to say that we should not drill off the beautiful coast of Florida, this is it. I mean, I can't imagine anybody in their right mind thinking that this is a good idea to do something that would potentially have the secondary effect of one of these spills again. I think, you know, most smart people have learned the lesson. This is not the thing to do. Not near Florida, not now, no way.

BLITZER: Because your Republican challenger for the senate, Marco Rubio, he said this on MSNBC. Listen to what he said about the offshore oil issue in Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: There is going to be drilling off the coast of Florida, there is right now. Other countries are going to be drilling in the Gulf and off of Florida's coast. Cuba's exploring, Russia's exploring, China, Brazil, Venezuela. So, the issue is not whether there's going to be offshore drilling or not, the issue is whether America is going to benefit from it or not. And so we -- that's a separate issue and an important one to have a conversation about because at the end of the day, we're still going to be using gasoline. And who are we going to continue to buy it from? Hugo Chavez or our own producers?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He sounds like he's open to offshore oil drilling because it's going to happen whether Cuba or some other country does it. You disagree with him?

CRIST: Yes. Significantly disagree with him. I just think it's the wrong thing to do. I mean, you know, just because other countries might be doing the wrong thing doesn't mean the United States and Florida should do the wrong thing. I mean, that's hardly a logical conclusion to be drawn from that. We need to protect our beaches. We need to protect our tourism. You know, so many people have a tie or connection to Florida, if you will. Family members, and so many people come to visit the sunshine state. We have a duty and an obligation to protect our beaches. This is also a wake-up call, I think, for us to go more green and more clean in terms of the types of energy that we generate whether it's wind or solar or nuclear. We have to look to other means, be responsible, do what's right, and certainly not plug another hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico to potentially create another one of these catastrophes.

BLITZER: Let's hope there isn't another catastrophe. Governor Crist, good luck to you and to all the folks in Florida down there. Let's hope the oil stays far, far away. Appreciate your coming in.

CRIST: Thank you, wolf. From your lips to God's ears. We're fighting for Florida.

BLITZER: New tensions in the Middle East as Israeli police restrict prayer to Jerusalem mosque. We're going to tell you what's going on.

And new details just released about Supreme Court Justice nominee, Elena Kagan. You'll want to hear about the key roles she's played in some rather controversial periods during the Clinton administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A developing story we're following. Let's check back with Lisa, the flash floods in Arkansas. What's going on?

SYLVESTER: Well, we have two developments. The first one that we should mention is that we now have a statement from President Obama that was just released, and we can read it for you. Quote, "Michelle and I would like to extend our heart felt condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives during this horrible flash flood. And we offer our prayers for those who anxiously await news of loved ones still missing. State and local first responders continue their critical life saving efforts on the ground.

I have instructed FEMA to be in close contact with the Arkansas Emergency management officials and to report back concerning any unmet needs. And I will ensure that FEMA continues to coordinate with our state and local partners throughout this tragedy. When natural disasters strike, our first responders are on the front lines providing emergency assistance and keeping our communities safe. Many of them are showing true bravery today, and for that, I thank them."

That statement from President Obama that was just released. The other development, Wolf, that we have to share with our viewers is that the death toll. It was at 16, but within the last hour or so, it went up to 20. Now, they are revising that number back down to 16. So, at this moment, we have 16 confirmed dead in that devastating flash flood out of Arkansas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this story for our viewers. Lisa, thank you. Almost two months after oil began spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama summons BP executives to the White House. Why has he waited so long? What should he tell them now? Our strategy session is just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us are two CNN political contributors. Democratic strategist, James Carville, and Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. James, first to you, we learned that the president is now, next Wednesday, going to finally meet with the top leadership of BP at the White House. Fifty days plus into this tragedy, is this wise? Should he be doing it? What should he say?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: well, I mean -- I don't know. I think it probably given everything that's happened it makes some sense. I think if I were him, I would be very aloof. If BP would be a supplicate, I would be the president of the United States. It would be giant thought freezing (ph), perhaps a criminally cartable (ph) corporation, and I would treat them that way. I wouldn't -- I would let them know who's in charge. I would demand answers to any number of questions from the access of our journalists to the constant underestimating what this is. And I would -- I would -- if I was him, I'd be decidedly aloof and cool, if you will.

BLITZER: All right. What about your strategy advice for the president, Ed?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: James and I seldom disagree, and obviously, this is his turf. But I would be very, very serious. They talk about the president dropping by this meeting. This is not a drop-by meeting. I would have a one-on-one with the CEO of this company, and I would make it very clear that what they've done to this point is totally unacceptable, and from here and out, it better be performance. And if they don't perform, the United States government and the power of the presidency will be down their throats.

I think this is at a point where it's gone on for 50 days. America's in a crisis point. And if it's not fixed as quickly as possible, he's doing great damage to the environment, great damage to America.

BLITZER: Because as bad as it is right now, James, as you know and a lot of our viewers know because they've been e-mailing me. There's still a great deal of fear. This situation could get worse. These remedies that they have out there simply might not work and might even make the matter worse.

CARVILLE: It's time to let us know. We've been hearing all of this garbage. This thing is not going to be capped in August, you know, October, and that might be, if you're lucky, they're going to stop that. And the volume is worse than any 40,000 barrels. Everybody knows that. They want them to go down and get the instruments. And people are just tired of being jacked around. People are tired of being given all of these roses scenarios and everything. And I don't see anything inconsistent with O said or Ed said, but I would be very demanding, like I say. I would let BP know who's in charge. As I said earlier, Obama's got to let them know that he's the daddy around here.

ROLLINS: There's one other thing that could happen that I think is very important. Once he comes out of the one-on-one meeting and I don't know how they're going to format it, but there are other players here, the governors of the states down there. They need to let this company know what they need, and they need to let the federal government know what they need. At the end of this meeting, there better be a clarity of thought that here's how we're moving forward.

I read the "New York Times" last week that the state of Louisiana spent 30 days trying to get permission for certain things that they could help to prevent this and couldn't get it from the federal government. So, to a certain extent, this has to be a meeting where they all come together. The president bangs their head. He ought to go back and look the news reels (ph), Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman, these two presidents who were tough with industry and walk out of this meeting, and he's the man in charge. He's already taken responsibility and he better make sure that they function well.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier in the day with Thad Allen, James, the overall point man for the federal government, the coast guard admiral. And he said you know what? If we, the BDF, we have any problems getting access to BP related areas. They're not letting us shoot video or talk to individuals, let him and his staff know, he'll order them to open it up, unless, there's a legitimate security concern. Do you buy that?

CARVILLE: Well, no. I mean, I know reporters haven't been able to get through, I mean, at least that's what the journalists are telling me. I know that it took Senator Boxer how many days to get the high definition video of which we got. I know it took time for Markie (ph). I think it was day 30 before we got any video. Maybe there was miscommunications between the admiral and the Hill and miscommunications between journalists and things, but I don't think people are satisfied.

And one of the things that we are reporting is that the scientists are saying that if they had access to the rupture point, they could get instruments out there. They would get a better, more accurate count of the flow. I don't know why they don't have that. They should call Admiral Allen and tell them we're going. Yes, of course.

BLITZER: It is a little ridiculous when you think about it, Ed, that so many days into this, some of these scientists and we're going to be speaking with one of them in the next hour. Professor Ira Lifer of University of California at Santa Barbara who's involved in this government backflow rate technical committee, only in recent days has he had access to stuff he really needed over the past several weeks. This is a little ridiculous, isn't it? ROLLINS: It is. BP has acted like this is something going on their board room, and they're talking financial statements. The bottom line is this is an environmental disaster like we have never seen in this country. Every smart person that can be available needs to be involved in this. And what's brought this to the front, the American public's attention is the media. And the idea that the media cannot have access is absurd.

If we didn't watch it, you didn't watch it, you didn't make this thing happen. They'd still be way behind on doing any of the stuff that they're having. This company is in jeopardy, put the American public in jeopardy, and only the scrutiny of the media is going to make this change any behavior pattern.

CARVILLE: And let's be accurate, when you say the media, you're talking about 60 percent of it is this network. I don't talk (ph) this because I work here. This network has done twice as much as anybody else to bring this story to light. And if it wouldn't be for CNN, we'd still be probing around in the dark now, and that's just a fact, that's not a corporate suck-up (ph) statement.

BLITZER: This is the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. We should be all over this story. And I really fear it could get worse. Let's hope it doesn't. But I'm very, very worried right now based on everything I'm hearing. Guys, thanks very much. We'll continue to cover the story.

ROLLINS: James, you hang in there.

BLITZER: Thank you.

ROLLINS: Keep fighting, James. Keep fighting.

BLITZER: New estimates put the flow regular massive spill around perhaps 40,000 barrels a day. Some fear, though, it could actually be gushing a whole lot more right now, and it's taking a devastating toll on wildlife in and around the Gulf Coast. Our John King spent the day with the turtles.

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BLITZER: Let me go right back to Lisa. There's another developing story right now, and it's very, very disturbing. What exactly are we learning, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

This involves a natural gas leak in Houma, Louisiana. There was apparently a supply vessel that at the time was mooring to a natural gas riser platform and pipeline when we don't know exactly what happened, but it resulted in this natural gas leak. There were 41 people on board this vessel. Of the 41 people, 36 people were taken to the hospital, treated for things like shortness of breath, disorientation, being nauseous. And of those 36 people, 2 of them are being considered in serious condition. We're going to continue to monitor this story, though, Wolf, and bring you the latest developments.

Oh, and I should mention, this is not related, although it is in the general area, this is not related, Wolf, to the oil spill that we've been hearing so much about but is a separate incident.

BLITZER: But this is a separate incident, but it's the same company, Deepwater Horizon involved in this explosion or whatever it is, the one that you're talking about, right?

SYLVESTER: Yes, the information that we're getting is coming from the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center. And this is something, you know, obviously, the coast guard is looking in to this incident. They're working out of the same facility. So, that's one of the reasons why we think that the information is coming, but yes, we're going to have to sort that all out exactly what the deepwater connection is here, but that's what we're hearing at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: You let us know because it's the same company.

SYLVESTER: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The sand bags and booms are out and plans are underway to protect the state's coastline and the wetlands from a flood of oil. Why the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, says they're not waiting.

And tragedy in Arkansas. We're following the latest developments in the race to find survivors of last night's deadly flash flood.

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BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the associated press.

In South Africa, wooden statutes representing world cup soccer players are displayed in a shopping mall.

In Afghanistan, two girls look out from behind sunflowers growing in a field.

In Berlin, sunbathers crowd a beach on a warm day. Also in Berlin, a woman explores an art installation made with tape.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Let's go to jack for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour -- what if high unemployment is here to stay? "Fortune" magazine suggests in a piece they did that we could be looking at 10 percent unemployment or worse for as far as the eye could see.

Chris in Washington writes, right on the money. Automation should be a dream come true for working people. It ought to mean more leisure time, more time for family, friends, and community. However, in our monopoly controlled economy, it only means more unemployment, more depression, more poverty. It's a crazy system.

Fred writes, if such is the case, I'd say look for lower living standards and a declining population. In the absence of other positive intervening factors to correct high unemployment, attrition will effectively pull the numbers back into line.

Greg writes, technology's always challenged the job market from the cotton gin to the automobile to the computer. No use complaining about it. You have to learn to adapt.

Lou in Virginia writes, competent scientists and engineers believe that by the middle of this century, technology will displace nearly all human labor. Whether they're off by a decade or so, the trend is clearly heading that way.

R.E. in Shreveport, Louisiana, if this is the new norm, it will at least help stop immigration. Studies have proven the higher the unemployment rate is in America, the lower the immigration rate, so maybe it's not such a bad thing after all.

Lynn writes, what did they expect to happen when they sent good jobs out of our great country? I can remember when you had all kinds of job opportunities, you could get a job in manufacturing, steel mills, on the river, coal mines, clothing mills, and also make a good living being self-employed. I don't think it will ever be the same, from Reagan through Bush 2, the jobs flew out the door.

And Bruce in Philadelphia has a really dim view. Jack, it's here. We've entered a depression, and no one will admit it. I don't know if it's that bad yet.

If you want to read more about this, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf?

Blitzer: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now --

The amount of oil gushing into the Gulf is believed to be much higher, much higher, than previously thought. Researchers have now doubled their estimate on the oil flow. But I'll speak with a member of that government-backed team who fears the leak may even be worse. A whole lot worse.

Is it time for the Obama administration to get tough with the oil giant, BP? I'll ask some tough questions to the government's point man in the Gulf, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.