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Earthquake Hits U.S. East Coast; Fight for Libya Continues; Will Libya Weapons End up in Terrorist Hands?; Washington Cathedral Damaged in Quake; Rare 5.8 Quake Rocks East Coast; Hurricane Irene Barrels Toward U.S.

Aired August 23, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news.

Incredible stories developing on both sides of the globe. First, a moment of fear and disbelief right here in Washington, D.C., and up and down the East Coast. Many of us feeling firsthand a rare, powerful magnitude-5.8 earthquake. We will have the latest on the mass evacuations, the gridlock, and the damage.

And in the Libyan capital city of Tripoli, mass gunfire, black smoke and treacherous mayhem. CNN teams are risking their lives to take you inside Gadhafi's compound, as rebel forces desperately fight to seize control.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the stunning magnitude-5.8 earthquake sending shockwaves from the Carolinas all the way to New England. It struck about 88 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., and is the strongest to hit the East Coast of the United States in 100 years.

You can see the damage at one apartment complex in the area, rows of crushed cars literally covered in rubble up and down the coast. The quake also sparked mass evacuations, forcing millions of bewildered people into the streets. This was the scene right here in our own CNN Washington bureau as it was happening.

The epicenter was outside of Richmond, Virginia, about 88 miles or so from Washington, D.C.

Lisa Sylvester is joining us now from Northern Virginia in Vienna, Virginia, where there has been some significant damage.

Lisa, tell us what you're seeing there.


We were at an office building in Vienna, Virginia. You can see over my shoulder you can see all of these bricks basically fell off from the top of the roof there and fell down on to the sidewalk and on to some of the cars. There are some repair crews that just arrived on the scene a few minutes ago.

But really to take a really good look at this, come over here. We will want to walk over here. You can see they have got the red tape up here, the caution tape. It's one, two, three, four cars. This car, this is a Honda Civic. The owner of this car now has essentially -- look at this. This essentially looks like a convertible right now.

This car here, another car, this Toyota Corolla, smashed, we actually have the owner with us. She walked out and she can tell us what she saw.

This is Ji Seo.

Tell us what you saw when you walked out. This is your car, right?

JI SEO, OWNER OF DESTROYED CAR: When I walked out, there was a lot of people outside. And the whole building, I mean, the roof part, the bricks came down on my car. It was already down, and -- yes.

SYLVESTER: What did you think when you saw this?

SEO: I was like, oh, my God, like how am I going to get home and what is going to happen to my car?

SYLVESTER: Have you contacted your insurance company?

SEO: Yes, I did. I just did. Yes, they are sending a tow truck. Something's wrong with the engine. I can't take it home.

SYLVESTER: How devastating is this for you?

SEO: Well, I live in Baltimore. It's like two hours away. So -- and I don't have another car. So I don't know what to do.

SYLVESTER: This has got to be so frustrating and heartbreaking for you, to come out here. And when you saw your car, what did you say?

SEO: I just freaked out and tried to call people, my mom, my dad, but the phone wouldn't work. So, yes, I was just walking around, thinking, oh, my God, what am I going to do?

SYLVESTER: Were you in the building at the time?

SEO: I was in the building across from this and -- yes.

SYLVESTER: What did it feel like?

SEO: At first it felt like a lot of people were jumping upstairs. But then it got worse. And the whole building was shaking and everyone was just looking at each other like with wide eyes. And when I came outside, it was like this, yes.

SYLVESTER: It's kind of sad, isn't it?

SEO: Yes.


We have someone else that we can talk to, Suzanne Smith.

You were also -- you were in this building?

SUZANNE SMITH, FELT EARTHQUAKE: I was in the building.

SYLVESTER: You were getting your nails done. Tell me what happened.

SMITH: It was just like any other day. I was sitting there, finishing up and the building started to shake side to side a little bit. And I wasn't quite sure. You're always like, what is that? Is that just me?

But things started to shake pretty violently and things falling off the shelves and off the walls. And at that time, I mean, I knew it was an earthquake. I had been in one before. And so I just -- when it stopped shaking, I told everyone we needed to come out of the building. And we came out. We saw what we thought was smoke, but turned out to be all the dust from the bricks falling out.

But it was pretty scary. The intensity increased as the quake was happening. That's when it got a little scary for me.

SYLVESTER: All right, thank you, Suzanne Smith.

SMITH: Thank you.

SYLVESTER: You can see here -- look at the devastation and across this area, I'm sure there's going to be more stories of this. The brick building, they have got a lot of work here. They will have to start repairing this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I feel badly for that guy who had that car right behind. Let me take another picture. If you can have the photographer get a closeup of that picture over there, take a look at that car right behind you, really smashed by the falling bricks over there. That's pretty devastating, if you...


SYLVESTER: Yes. We don't know who the owner of this car...

BLITZER: Nobody was in the car, right?

SYLVESTER: No one was in the car. And that's very fortunate because you can imagine, Wolf, if somebody had been. This is a -- bricks just that fell and just collapsed the entire front part of this car. No injuries that know of at this time. But we can see a lot of damage here, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Lisa Sylvester in Vienna, Virginia. That is in northern Virginia.

The epicenter of this quake was down in Mineral, Virginia. That's not far away from the capital of Richmond. Brian Todd is near the epicenter right now. He's joining us live.

Brian, what are you hearing, what are you seeing from your vantage point?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're just outside the North Anna nuclear power plant which is just a few miles from the epicenter. We just got here.

We have some information regarding this power plant. And again, a cause of real concern because it's so close to the epicenter of the earthquake, just a few miles from the epicenter, which is in Mineral, Virginia. We're technically in Mineral. The plant is just over this ridge here.

We have got some aerial shots of the plant to show you. What we're told now about the North Anna nuclear power plant, the two reactors there, the only two reactors, are shut down, that they're going through what they call the cold shutdown process. That means the reactors are shut down. They have to be cooled. That's what they are doing right now. They are doing that on backup generator power.

A key thing that we're told by Dominion Virginia Power, which is the owner and operator of this facility, is that there's been no release of nuclear or radioactive material into the atmosphere, that they say that there's been no significant damage, no injuries here at the plant. One official (AUDIO GAP) there was minor damage, but he stressed not aware of any damage to the reactors at this point, and the minor damage not to any areas that would I guess come under consideration for any safety issues.

We're also told, Wolf, that the Nuclear Regulatory commission is monitoring this plant and several others along the East Coast, because as you have been reporting this earthquake was felt pretty much all over the Mid-Atlantic region and there are several nuclear power plants in that region. The NRC is monitoring this.

They are classifying it what they call as an unusual event. That's the lowest emergency classification that they can give. but the NRC is monitoring this plant, Wolf.

Getting some more information also about the local area here in Mineral. We're told that there were two residential buildings that had experienced complete collapses. No major injuries, but we're just kind of getting on the ground here, getting an assessment of some of the damage here right near the epicenter of the earthquake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In Mineral. And a lot of our viewers, Brian, will remember, when you were in Japan for that earthquake, the tsunami that followed, the Fukushima nuclear reactor there, that was basically destroyed not just by the earthquake but the tsunami that really devastated that nuclear power plant.

Are these power plants, the one in Mineral, where you are, basically similar in design to the Fukushima reactor that caused so much destruction and damage in Japan? TODD: Wolf, I'm not sure exactly what the similarities are to the Fukushima just yet. We will hopefully get some specifications pretty soon.

But with all these nuclear power plants, what you have got to take into immediate consideration what officials there are monitoring is the spent fuel rods and those things that can get very overheated when the power shuts down. Now, of course they have this on backup emergency power in order to cool those fuel rods down.

But that's the major concern as it was at Fukushima. If the fuel rods melt down, then you have got a real problem on your hands. You could have some leakage of radioactivity and some other issues. Again, no signs of that right now here at the North Anna nuclear power plant, but that's something that they will look at very closely in the hours ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will check back with you.

Brian Todd is at the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, about 80 or 90 miles outside of Washington, D.C.

This quake has been felt all over, from the Carolinas, up to New York, to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is in New York. And she felt it as well.

You were at a high-profile news conference when the earth moved. Susan, tell our viewers what happened.


Well, a lot of New Yorkers also thrown off balance. I was attending the news conference that was called by the district attorney for Manhattan about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case and he got about two sentences into it when all of a sudden this is what happened. Everything came to a screeching halt. You will see me wearing this red jacket. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For generations, this standard has protected...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been through earthquakes in Seattle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Calm down. Calm down. I don't know. But calm down.


CANDIOTTI: So, clearly, everyone was alarmed. So was I. At first, I thought someone was rattling my chair. Then I thought, quite frankly, it might have been a bomb.

Then I thought about an earthquake, but quickly we were ushered out of the room right behind the district attorney and his security team, went down -- all of us went down the stairwell about eight floors. He managed to get off a joke about it, saying that I have been through a lot of these because I used to live in California. Like everyone else, I, too, was trying to figure out what was going on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And generally in New York, is it relatively calm now, or are people still rattled by all of this?

CANDIOTTI: Well, I'm sure a lot of people will never forget going through something like this, if they have never been through an earthquake before or felt any aftershocks.

But, yes, a lot of people were thrown off balance when this happened, but the good news is that, according to the governor, according to the mayor, no damage at all. Things are indeed getting back to normal. A lot of people went back to work inside those buildings that had been evacuated for a time.

BLITZER: Yes. I know phone service was disrupted, cell phone service in particular. But that's coming -- slowly but surely coming back to normal.

Susan in New York for us, thank you.

Let's check in with our meteorologist Chad Myers. He's got the bigger picture on this quake.

Chad, it was a pretty significant quake, especially for this part of the country.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It certainly was. And it was shallow, economy means you don't have 60 or 100 miles of rock and soil to pad the shake.

It was only four miles deep. People telling me that they felt two shakes. That would make sense. There are two types of waves that come out of earthquakes. Think of a Slinky. And you take the Slinky and you pull it back and you push it forward, well, that's called a surface wave. That is the P-wave. It comes out right. It's the primary wave. It's the first one you think. It's like rear-ending another car. The car in front of you feels it.

Then take that Slinky and shake it back and forth or up and down. That's the big wave that you felt right there. Some people felt it for almost a minute. It was a very strong shake. And because it was in that region where the land is not all broken up, Wolf -- talk about the East Coast. Felt it in New York, felt it in Buffalo, Ontario, all the way down to Alabama.

Well, technically, what happened was the East Coast rang like a bell today. When the violent shake happened, the entire crust, the entire plate that's here shook. In California, the plate is broken up into a million pieces and so when this piece shakes this piece doesn't feel it. Because the entire East Coast is one very old plate from very old times, the quake could happen any time. It's just you feel it in many, many more spots. It was a 5.8. There have been a couple of aftershocks in the 2.5, 2.8 range.

The biggest aftershock could maybe get to about 4.8, but so far so good -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this is like the worst one in this part of the country, what, in 100 years or so?

MYERS: Yes, no question about it this is the worst earthquake that they have felt in Virginia ever by -- I understand we didn't have seismographs in 1300, so there may have been much bigger shakes many, many -- thousands or millions of years ago.

But other than the 7.3 that hit Charleston, this was the biggest quake. Now, it didn't do a lot of monetary damage so far. And this is out of the USGS. We will talk about this for just a second. The estimated number of fatalities, 78 percent chance that less than 1 person died. That's great.

And now go over here to the estimated losses and damage, there's about a 35 percent chance that the damage here was somewhere between $100 million and about $1 billion. That's a 35 percent chance of that. There's less, maybe 25 percent, chance of it only being about $25 million and then chances of it being more than that go down rather rapidly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, thanks very much.

Much more on the earthquake coming up later this hour.

Also, the other huge story we're following right now, the breaking news in Libya, and a CNN team puts its lives on the line.


BLITZER: Much more on the earthquake and Libya in a moment.

Let's check in Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


Remember Libya? As in many parts of the Middle East, getting rid of the dictator is only the first step.

We're talking about people who, for the most part, have lived under oppression for generations, have no idea what freedom is really about.

Now that governing will be in their hands, it's a good bet that they'll make some mistakes along the way. And change is not going to happen overnight.

You don't have to look far in that part of the world for examples either.

Eight years after Saddam Hussein was toppled, Iraq is still trying to figure out what it wants to be, although massive progress has been made there. Not so in Afghanistan -- 10 years after the U.S. went in to knock out the Taliban, that country is pretty much the same disorganized, poverty-stricken sandbox that it's been forever, ruled by various tribes.

And you can make money predicting that 1,000 years from now, Afghanistan will still be that way. Hamid Karzai and Barack Obama are not going to change things a whole lot, no matter what they think.

Egypt without Mubarak is very much a work in progress and a big question mark. Love him or hate him, Hosni Mubarak was a friend of the United States for a long time and managed to keep the Camp David accords, peace with Israel, in place.

Since his ouster, the peace between Israel and Egypt has become much more fragile.

In Tunisia, the social, economic problems that helped bring about the revolution there are still weighing heavily on the interim government.

And now Libya finds itself on the threshold of a whole new way of life. In some ways, I suppose it's not unlike an inmate being released after serving a long sentence in prison.

The world has changed a lot. Life without the structure behind the prison walls is frightening and challenging and a lot of them don't make it.

So, here's the question: After Gadhafi, what's next for Libya?

Go to Post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

And after Libya, I suppose at some point we will be asking this maybe if things go right about Syria, huh, Wolf?

BLITZER: Absolutely. All right, Jack, thanks very, very much.

To that bitter battle in Libya right now, where there have been reports of Gadhafi forces firing shots into Gadhafi's compound, just hours after rebels control there amidst brutal fighting.

CNN's Sara Sidner was inside the compound for much of the day, where, at times, it got very, very intense.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a heavy, heavy firefight. It's very different from yesterday, much more tense here, residents fleeing the city.

We're hearing gunfire in the city on a constant basis. So, the streets of Tripoli not safe at this point in time. The rebels saying that they control about 85 to 95 percent of the city.

This neighborhood is definitely where the center of the fight is. This is where we're hearing all of the artillery and all of the blasts and gunfire. We are very, very concerned, also, about the potential of snipers being in some of these homes.

I even see a 7-year-old boy that we just talked to who is holding a gun that is larger than he is.

What we're hearing now is that they have gotten inside the compound, Bab Al Aziziya, that they have gone into the buildings, they have gone into Gadhafi's building, that they could even swim in the swimming pool.

Are they in full control of Bab Al Aziziya?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes, they are in full control of Bab Al Aziziya. And they even burned Gadhafi's historic building.

SIDNER: So they burned Gadhafi's historic building in Bab Al Aziziya?


SIDNER: We were seeing some smoke and we're still seeing some smoke from that area. Why is this day important to you? What does this day mean to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It means I'm free. I can get back to my normal life.

SIDNER: What we're hearing in this neighborhood, in (INAUDIBLE) neighborhood right next to Bab Al Aziziya is that the fight is over, but we are still hearing blasts. They say those are celebrations, those are not fighting. This is not a fight between Gadhafi forces.

I'm literally walking inside. I mean, I'm inside the compound,

We are walking through the area. I'm looking at what appears to be damage right now inside of the compound. I see a lot of smoke coming from one of the buildings. I see people running out of the building with lots of ammunition.

We have gotten close enough. Now you're hearing a large blast. What we have been hearing ever since that they said they have taken this compound are gunfire everywhere and the celebratory gunfire is now becoming extremely dangerous.

It looks like they have left things behind, that they have run away as soon as you came to the gate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you see the tea on the fire.

SIDNER: You can actually see tea still on the fire.

So you were told that Gadhafi and his close special forces, the people that protect him, were inside this compound, but you did not ever see him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Maybe they are under the ground. SIDNER: You think that they might be in tunnels under the ground?

Can I look? Some of the weapons inside of the Gadhafi compound.

If anything, this is definitely a psychological win. Of course, we still don't know at this point where Moammar Gadhafi and his family, where they are.

If you look over here to the right, you are seeing the fire inside of Gadhafi's compound. We're trying to go in to see -- we are told that the whole place has been secured by the rebels. And there are cars driving in and out easily, but there is still quite a bit of gunfire, that gunfire celebratory gunfire. We see another large fire burning right now inside of the compound. But this is -- this is a historic day.


BLITZER: Sara Sidner reporting from inside the presidential compound, what was the compound of Moammar Gadhafi. We're going to be speaking with her live shortly. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, fears are rising over Libya's chemical weapons. As the regime is now falling apart, could the arsenal fall into the hands of a al Qaeda-linked terrorist? There's one man who is very concerned about it, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Senior U.S. officials tell me one of their biggest concerns in Libya right now involves the stockpiling of chemical weapons by Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Our correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been investigating.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Moammar Gadhafi Tripoli's compound is looted for weapons, the new Libya still has the old inventory of artillery, rockets, missiles, and chemical weapons agents that could make a terrorist's head spin.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Al Qaeda could be looking at this and licking their lips, knowing that this is an opportunity to do some open market shopping, if you will.

STARR: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is warning -- quote -- "We must ensure that Gadhafi's stockpiles of advance weapons, chemical weapons, and explosives don't fall into the wrong hands."

U.S. officials tell CNN they hope the National Transitional Council can control the stockpiles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would hope and expect that the new government would be interested in doing that. STARR: But military intelligence officials say that shouldn't be too comforting.

MARKS: Where is it located, who has the keys to the facility, and who knows what is supposed to be in there and what are they doing about it routinely to ensure it doesn't grow legs, it doesn't disappear?

STARR: So what weapons are there? The number-one concern, the 10 tons of the deadly blister agent mustard gas which is stored in a facility located south of Tripoli and other agents that could be used to make deadly sarin gas.

In addition to the thousands of handheld weapons, there are perhaps as many as 300 Scud surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, rockets, and artillery. The chemical material could not quickly be put into weapons form. But what if Libya's new power brokers can't be trusted with Gadhafi's one-time arsenal?

MARKS: ... we're focused on is this transitional period, the final collapse of Gadhafi. That's important. But there has to be someone who is paying attention.

STARR (on camera): Even now, NATO and the U.S. are using drones, aircraft, and satellites to keep watch 24/7 on Libya's weapons sites to make sure security is maintained.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Rogers.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: You saw Barbara Starr's report. Anything there you could quibble with?

ROGERS: No, I thought it was probably the best report I have seen on their WMD and other weapon systems that Libya has.

It's very concerning. And if you have seen the chaos in the street, even as victory is just about to take hold there, it doesn't give you a warm and fuzzy that these troops, who are very undisciplined, will be able to secure the weapons sites.

We know that al Qaeda is interested in some of these weapon systems, and we know that the black market is alive and well and would love to get their hands on some of this stuff.

BLITZER: Well, has al Qaeda infiltrated some of these rebel forces inside Libya?

ROGERS: Well, we can't know that for certain, but we do know through other intelligent sources that al Qaeda is present in Libya and is interested in obtaining certain types of weapons systems. We don't have a very good acuity beyond that. But we do know they're interested, which means that even, I think, turns up the temperature on the U.S. interests when it comes to national security about securing and accounting for all of those weapons systems that we're worried about.

BLITZER: They have sarin gas, mustard gas. How much of this kind of chemical weaponry do they have that's operational?

ROGERS: Well, they have tons of mustard gas that we know of. Some -- they had sarin gas experiments. We just don't know how much they had. We do know, again, that they've had tons of mustard gas that wouldn't take a lot. You can imagine the terror of that type of a weapon.

BLITZER: If it got into the wrong hands?

ROGERS: If it got into the wrong hands. They also have something called manpads: shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. And there are a lot of them there.

BLITZER: How many?

ROGERS: Thousands.

BLITZER: Thousands.

ROGERS: And...

BLITZER: They could shoot down a commercial aircraft easy?

ROGERS: That's certainly a concern. So if they fell into the wrong hands, you can imagine what that might mean for U.S. national interests, our allies, really every place around the world. So I argue that we must be aggressive on making sure that it's not just -- the chemical is very, very concerning. The sarin gas very concerning. But also these other weapon systems, incredibly concerning.

BLITZER: The shoulder-fired missiles, especially.

ROGERS: And the only folks that can really do that, that can secure these facilities and account for these weapon systems has to have the help and assistance of the United States.


ROGERS: NATO allies can help.

BLITZER: They can do it.

ROGERS: We have -- we have so many abilities.

BLITZER: What I hear you saying, Mr. Chairman, is that U.S. -- the U.S. would have to send experts in to secure those facilities, presumably at the request of this new Libyan government? ROGERS: I would work with them right now about gaining that assistance and start heading out to these particular places that we know of and where we find new sites. We ought to be all over it. So we need to be prepared. That means you have a surge of diplomatic efforts. Our NATO friends can be incredibly helpful. But we offer certain special capabilities that I think need to be applied to this problem in our own U.S. national security interests.

BLITZER: Well, I assume if you're that concerned, as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense, General Petraeus, the new director of the CIA, they must be equally as concerned.

ROGERS: Lots of discretions, including working with the administration. We have a good working relationship with their National Security Council. They know of my concerns. We're hopefully working some issues in the very near term.

But this is a time not for hand-wringing about what should we and what should the footprint look like in this? We're not talking about boots on the ground, necessarily, but we do need a surge of diplomatic and experts that can handle this particular problem, and we should do it now. Two weeks from now, three weeks from now, four weeks from now, we may regret that we didn't act quickly.

BLITZER: Because I see these rag-tag soldiers, these rebels. Some of them were teachers or accountants or whatever, vendors only a few months ago, and now they've got the weaponry. But they're not a disciplined force that can go in there and know how to secure a technically very dangerous situation like that.

ROGERS: And think of it. You have ethnic differences. Right now the only thing keeping all of these rebels together is that Moammar Gadhafi is still alive and has some regime elements. When he's gone, all of those tensions, from -- from ethnically speaking, from tribal pressures, other political pressures, the black market folks, all of that starts to rub against each other, and you do that in an element of which you have seen is not a disciplined fighting force.

It's not what gives you a warm fuzzy at night that these are the folks that are going to secure these facilities in the way that we would do it. That's why I think we need to be a part. TNC needs to be involved in this, absolutely. I think they -- it's in their interests to secure these sites. You don't want proliferation of these weapon systems across Libya, across Africa, and other places.

BLITZER: Yes. And that black market element is something that I've been told is very -- these are valuable commodities. Shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, mustard gas, canisters, along those lines. There's money that can go in, and all of a sudden, they could disappear, some of these rebel.

ROGERS: Think about it. These could be very good people sent to do that mission in a time that we know after any -- any kind of an event like this where there's a change of power the way this has. There's economic tough times ahead. We know that that's coming. And when somebody shows up with a little bit of cash, that's how this stuff walks off in a hurry, and that's what we've got to prevent. We really must secure these facilities upfront.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming in.

ROGER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm alarmed, as are you, I'm sure. Appreciate it.

Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

We felt today's earthquake right here in our CNN bureau in Washington. We're going to show what you it was like. Our video, the cameras, the security cameras were rolling. We've got some pictures when we come back.


BLITZER: Look at this computer when the earthquake struck. Let's watch and listen.




BLITZER: Wow, that was from a Web cam. You can see what was going on.

The tremors shook all parts of this area from Washington to Virginia. The epicenter outside of Richmond, Virginia, all the way up to New York down to the Carolinas.

Here in Washington, the Washington National Cathedral sustained some damage in this earthquake. Let's bring in CNN's Jim Acosta with this part of the story for us. What happened at the Washington National Cathedral?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the national monuments here in Washington were all a concern after the earthquake occurred, and the National Cathedral is one of them. This is a site that is of major significance to the country when national tragedies happen. We remember the services after 9/11 that occurred at the National Cathedral.

Well, if you can look at this video, you can see three of the four corner spires at the top of the cathedral sustained some damage. You can see the tops of those spires actually came off of the building.

Cathedral officials are calling this significant damage, not just because of those spires but because of the flying buttresses. Those are the support structures at the top of the cathedral. They sort of come together like this, Wolf, and they really help keep that cathedral standing. There are major concerns because of the way the cathedral was constructed, stone on stone, that any weakness in that construction could cause some major damage and might keep the cathedral closed for some time.

I should tell you, Wolf, we were down in Virginia at another national treasure earlier today, Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington. As the earthquake hit, I want to show you some video here. If we can play the sound up, you can actually hear it happening.




ACOSTA: And one thing that you can -- one thing you can also see there is the tourists. The tourists are rushing out of the building at that time. The folks at the mansion on the estate rushed those tourists out of the building at that time as a precaution. They were concerned about their safety, obviously. No injuries, no damage reported at the Washington -- at George Washington's Mt. Vernon.

And we were down in the mall also earlier today, Wolf, keeping an eye on the Washington Monument. There were concerns about that, as well as the other big monuments down on the Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial. We understand that all of those structures are fine, and they should be opened as soon as possible, according to park officials.

BLITZER: The Washington Monument, there was some suggestion maybe it was leaning a little bit, but park police say that's not happening?

ACOSTA: As a matter of fact, Wolf, they flew a helicopter with national park police investigators inside the helicopter. You see right there, something you never see in Washington, D.C., circling very close to top of the Washington Monument. They were inspecting the structural integrity of that iconic structure. And at this point, a preliminary report from the U.S. park police is indicating that there isn't any major damage, no damage to the Washington Monument.

And they're taking precautions, at this point, keeping it closed, keeping the tourists out of it until they're absolutely sure it's safe to go back inside.

BLITZER: I'm going to play some video from the security cameras here in our Washington bureau. I was on the eighth floor. I ran out of my office. You can see the security cameras. People, all of a sudden, they started realizing that this is an earthquake, and they start running out.

We heard the announcements from the -- the personnel here in the building -- "evacuate, evacuate, evacuate the building" -- and people start running out. Here you can see the courtyard outside of our building. And you see that statue on the right. You can see it starts to sway over there.

ACOSTA: That's right. BLITZER: And people, you know, just start running out. All of these buildings here up on Capitol Hill near Union Station, the main train station here in Washington, within a matter of a few moments. I was out there. Thousands of people were standing in the streets. They were worried. They didn't really appreciate what was going on. It was an earthquake. We obviously know that now.

ACOSTA: And you've been in this area a long time, Wolf. I was born and raised in this area. Nobody in this area -- and I'm sure you've talked to people who have said the same thing -- has ever experienced anything like this in the nation's capital. When we were standing out at Mt. Vernon earlier today and felt our knees buckling and the earth moving under our feet, we were experiencing something in this area for the first time in modern -- in modern times.

BLITZER: I've been here since 1970. I've never experienced it in Washington, D.C., although I have experienced an earthquake out in California, which is more common out there.

ACOSTA: That's right. Californians will tell you this was nothing compared to what they're going through.

BLITZER: They're getting all these tweets. They're laughing at us, 5.8. They don't think it's a big deal. Believe me; it was a big deal.

ACOSTA: It was serious to us.

BLITZER: When it happened. All right. Thanks very much.

Some homes in the Washington, D.C., area sustained some serious damage in the earthquake, including one belonging to the mother of one of our producers. She'll join us when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the stunning 5.8 earthquake felt along the East Coast. Joining us now is Jackie Laner, who live in Fairfax, Virginia. That's in northern Virginia. Part of her roof actually collapsed in the earthquake. She also happens to be the mother of one of our producers in THE SITUATION ROOM, Peter Laner.

Jackie, tell us where you were and what happened.

JACKIE LANER, FAIRFAX RESIDENT (via phone): Well, when the earthquake occurred, I was in the kitchen, and the cabinets came open, and several of the spice bottles fell out and crashed on the floor.

So then after -- you know, but that was about it, and I didn't think much about it. And some few minutes later I went upstairs just, you know, to go to the bathroom, actually, and all of a sudden when I turned the corner, I realized that there was a big hole in the ceiling.

So apparently, some bricks had fallen off the firewall inside the wall of my townhouse and fallen through the ceiling and, you know, there was all the debris on the vanity in the bathroom.

BLITZER: It looks like serious destruction over there. The fire department came over. What did they find?

LANER: Yes, Fairfax County fire marshals were fantastic. They came over, and they got up there and looked, and they really cannot assure me of the structural integrity of the wall at this point. So tomorrow, I have to get a structural engineer out to confirm that it's safe. Right now, I cannot go in any -- you know, that part of the house at all.

BLITZER: But you don't have to go to a hotel or anything?

LANER: Well, unless CNN is footing the bill, I don't think so. Not really.

BLITZER: No, but as long as it' safe. We just want you to be safe, Jackie.

LANER: Thank you so much. I'm fine. It was quite a surprise and, of course, as you might have guessed, no, I don't have the earthquake rider on my home owner's insurance. I had no idea, but it turns out I don't.

BLITZER: You don't have it. So the insurance is not going to pay for it. What do they say? How long is it going to take to fix it and how much is it going to cost? Do you have any idea?

LANER: I have no idea. We'll have to start with the structural engineer and go from there. If I'm lucky, it was just some random bricks on top that, for some reason, you know, were jarred off. If I'm not lucky, maybe the whole wall in the house may be a problem. So I don't know. It's going to be step by step tomorrow.

BLITZER: I guess we're going to multiply your case by many, many thousands. All up and down the East Coast of the United States, people are in the same shoes a you are. Jackie Laner, thanks very much for sharing your story.

LANER: You're welcome. Bye-bye.

BLITZER: FEMA is warning that the entire East Coast should get ready for what should be a monster storm. We're talking about Hurricane Irene. It's barreling toward the United States after battering the Bahamas. We're going to tell you where it's expected to hit.


BLITZER: As the northeast recovers from today's strong earthquake, the southeast is bracing for what could be a very dangerous hurricane in the coming days. I want to bring back CNN's Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center.

What's the latest forecast, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All indications, Wolf, all models, taking this to a Category 3 or higher hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas, right over Nassau. Don't go there from the U.S. Missing Miami. Missing Florida, really, proper. Although there's a chance it goes left. Florida, you are out of the cone for now.

The big story is a potential landfall at 115 to 125 miles per hour on the eastern coast of either North Carolina, possibly if it's on the left side of this line, all the way to about Charleston. Charleston, less chance there. To the east here, less chance there. Somewhere in the middle, the highest chance.

The scariest thing we've seen all day is that the models are turning this a little bit more to the left at the end. And what does the left mean? The left means a New England or a northeast landfall. Maybe a secondary landfall as it moves away from North Carolina, takes a slight turn to the left, and then gets up into Long Island, Massachusetts, into New England as a 75- or 85-mile-per-hour storm. That would be devastating to the northeast.

I'm more worried about what this could do to the northeast than 125 over Ocracoke Island. I know it's a beautiful seashore. I know there are homes there. But today the North Carolina state from Hyde and also parts of Dare counties, they said you have to get out of those Outer Bank areas if you are a visitor. It's mandatory tomorrow, 5 a.m. You must leave.

Right now it's a Category 1 over the Bahamas. It's getting much more purple. That means it's getting stronger by tonight. By the time we get on with Anderson Cooper, I bet this is back up to a Category 2, and by tomorrow, Wolf, with all this warm water, we're into major hurricane territory at a Category 3.

And to be precise, Chad, even if it hits and makes landfall in south Carolina, let's say, people in Florida and South Florida, they could -- they could feel some of the effects, and it could be serious.

MYERS: It could be serious because the waves generated by a Category 3 hurricane, 125-mile-per-hour spin offshore in Florida, will make significant rip currents, will make huge waves. The waves may be 15 feet.

Now, think of a 15-foot wave coming onshore at Ft. Lauderdale. Think about what that would do as A1-A is right there. And that water would just pour right into the coastal areas of Florida, even toward the St. Johns River, into Jacksonville, maybe even to coastal Georgia and South Carolina. This will make a large wave pattern through here, and that could be just as big of a problem for some people.

BLITZER: All right, people should be very careful and watch us for all the latest information. Chad, thanks very much.

The earthquake that rattled nerves up and down the East Coast of the United States and Libya's revolution. We'll have much more on the breaking developments at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

And what's next for Libya if -- if -- Moammar Gadhafi really does fall from power? Your e-mail and Jack Cafferty coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: "After Gadhafi, what's next for Libya?"

Brian in San Diego writes, "The process of building a government from scratch, never easy. At the very least, though, the Libyans will be able to determine the structure of their new government themselves, rather than having someone else do it for them. The responsibility clearly and utterly in their own hands, so the Libyans will have a much better chance of creating a system that their whole country can accept, and they don't get to pin all the blame on us if it doesn't work."

Ed writes, "Civil war, Jack, civil war. I'm afraid these rebels have little understanding of or will to move toward democracy. The warring mullahs will have their militias and tribes, and they'll fight for supremacy. The strongest, most brutal will win, and it will be back to repression of one group over all the others. What makes us think democracy's even on the table? This is tribal warfare. It's not enlightenment."

Wilhelm writes, "Hopefully, a stable democratic republic. But because Libya's much like much of North Africa and the Middle East, while they have no history of democracy, I fear we could end up trading one dictator for another. People thought the shah of Iran was a despot. Look what happened when they replaced him."

Carol writes on Facebook, "The Arab Spring will not produce democracies. Libya will likely become a tribal, chaotic hodgepodge."

Michael in Virginia: "With Libya being the supplier of a lot of the world's oil, I'm confident the politicians in Washington will extend the olive branch and come up with a get-well plan."

And Dan on Long Island writes, "Halliburton is working on the answer and will get back to you with it shortly, Jack."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog at or through our post on our SITUATION ROOM Facebook page, I think -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you feel that earthquake in New York City today, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I didn't. But you know, I was coming into the building I think about the time that it happened. And I wasn't aware of it at all. But when I was walking down the hall, one of those public safety guys came on the intercom over the bullhorn saying that there had been a tremor, that everything was OK, not to worry. They had things under control. And that was the sort of first that I became aware. But then, as I got into the building and got around, people were talking about it. But I personally didn't feel anything.

BLITZER: They make you evacuate the Time Warner Center? CAFFERTY: Oh, no. No, not at all. There was no -- they were very quick to assure us that there was no danger to the building, that the building was solid, that there was no reason to evacuate at all. We kept getting these e-mails from the safety people, so they had their -- they were all over it.

BLITZER: All right, good to know. Jack, thanks very much. See you tomorrow.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.