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No Power And Now No Food; Tests: Arafat Could Have Been Poisoned; Danger on the Fourth of July; Active Duty Service Members Become U.S. Citizens; Interview with Survivors from Costa Concordia Crash

Aired July 4, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a shocking new dimension to the weather disaster in the east. People are going hungry. Plus, was the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, poisoned? Scientists find traces of radioactivity in his clothing and his toothbrush, the same material was used to kill a former Russian spy.

And a special CNN investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody ran towards that emergency boat and pushed him out of the way. Everybody was panicking. Everybody was running for their own lives.


BLITZER: Survivors tell us about their desperate struggle on the night their cruise ship capsized off the Italian Coast.

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



BLITZER: No power and now no food. While many of you are enjoying backyard barbecues all across the country, others are fighting off hunger after that devastating storm that left millions of people in 11 states without electricity. Food has spoiled, grocery shelves are empty, and food pantries now are running very, very low.

It's especially hard in West Virginia, a state not too well-off to begin with. Brian Todd is in West Virginia. He's joining us now. He's speaking with some people who are trying to help people from going hungry. What's the very latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this state has just faced a cascade of disaster. You had the storm on Friday, the unyielding heat wave that is still hanging over this place, the widespread power outages, and now a severe food crisis. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): John Roberts is in a hurry. He's got to get a truckload full of food and water to a shelter soon. Roberts runs a faith-based charity called Mountain Mission. We follow his team as they pull into the Cana City Community Center, a temporary center in Charleston. Dozens who've been without power and food for days, many of them low-income are visibly relieved at his arrival.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.

TODD: People like Ylonda Wilcox, legally blind and on food stamps. She says her family of eight struggled to find food since a tree fell on her house and knocked out the power.

YLONDA WILCOX, STORM VICTIM: We went to churches and stuff like that to get some food, you know? But it's been very hard. Very hard, indeed, because we had to go from place to place, and then it's hot.

TODD: Twenty-year-old Bleu Pack tells an even a more desperate story.

How long did you go without food and water?

BLEU PACK, STORM VICTIM: About four days.

TODD: What was that like?

PACK: Very hard. Very hot. It felt like you were going to pass out. Got trembling, shaking.

TODD: State officials, charity leaders tell us nearly every county in West Virginia is dealing with food shortages. Stores without power have tossed out spoiled food. State food banks are depleted of non-perishables.

JOHN ROBERTS, MOUNTAIN MISSION CHARITY: This has really surprised us. I mean, I've been doing this job for 12 years. We help with a lot of fires, a lot of floods, things like that. But this storm snuck up on us.

TODD: Now, eight groups and state officials are working furiously to head off a worst case scenario.

(on-camera) John Roberts' group has distributed 50,000 bottles of water this size, 4,000 pounds of non-perishable food to the residents here in need. But as far as the federal response goes, a FEMA official tells us this is not another Katrina.

(voice-over) That official says FEMA has learned from hurricane Katrina, has coordinated with state officials from day one bringing 100,000 meals into West Virginia, more than 50 tractor trails full of water, nearly 100 large generators. Some of it clearly has arrived without much time to spare.

WILCOX: It's hard, but, still, we thank God that it is a place that we can come and get food.


TODD (on-camera): Now, one of the biggest challenges here is that of communication. State officials tell us that it's been very hard to get word to some of the people in the remote areas and a lot of the people who've been hit hard by this storm with power outages and lacking food live in very remote areas. It's been very hard to get word to them on where they can go to get food and other help -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, why did those two main food banks in the state of West Virginia get depleted of food so quickly after the storm?

TODD: Well, state official told me that really it was just the storm and the outages compounding problem. They've had to serve -- those food banks, just one in the north and one in the southern part of the state, they're essentially huge warehouses that just give food on a normal basis to people who are in need.

They had to give food to those people as well as people who ran out of it and came to them in dire need. So, they just ran out of it too quickly. And now, they're scrambling to make up for that.

BLITZER: Certainly are. Brian, thank you.

As of this morning's West -- as of this morning, I should say, West Virginia's governor said 300,000 customers were still without power in his state. So, think water pumps, grocery stores, they're still unable to open or refrigerate food, gas stations unable to operate. The scale of this problem remains enormous.

Joining us now is the man Brian just told us all about, John Roberts. He's the executive director of the Mountain Mission in West Virginia. How does this -- he's going to be joining us in just a moment, because this is a subject that, obviously, is of deep, deep concern to all of us not only in West Virginia, obviously, but around the country.

It's been five days now since power went out, John. How bad is the situation as far as food getting to individuals right now?

ROBERTS: Well, it's pretty severe, but government officials, FEMA, local faith-based charities, a lot of churches are pulling together. We've created cooling stations where people can come. They can cool off. They can get ice. They can get food. They can even sleep there if need be. But it is become a neighbor helping neighbor process. I'm real proud of West Virginians that have stepped up and helped their fellow neighbors.

BLITZER: Are you confident, John, that there are -- those people are -- no significant number of people in West Virginia right now who are starving?

ROBERTS: Well, I think, you know, we're doing the best we can on a regular basis. There are people that need assistance due to low income and different things like that, loss of jobs. But in a massive devastation like this, we didn't have just one thing hit us at one time. We had multiple things to hit us. We had wind storms. We had rain with that. We had downed trees. We lost electric.

Then, on top of all that, we have a heat wave. So, you know, with all that combined, Wolf, it's really tough to get to everybody as quickly as we can. But agencies are working around the clock. We are lifting no limits to make sure that we try to meet basic needs of our fellow neighbors. You know, it's not just low income people.

It's people that live in very wealthy neighborhoods that have trees just like right here behind me. You have trees down. Take the lines down. We have to think about the safety of the power company workers and things like that. It's going to take some time. But, I can tell you, I've spent some time with government officials. And I know for sure that we're doing everything within our power and local agencies are as well to meet the need of hand.

BLITZER: I know it's an extraordinary crisis going on, and no one could have predicted this storm that hit not only West Virginia but other states nearby as well. But what I hear you saying, correct me if I'm wrong, is that maybe the federal government, the state government, local governments, they weren't as fully prepared, perhaps, as they could have been.

ROBERTS: Well, I don't know that I'm in the right position to say that. I don't know that I totally agree with that. But what I am saying is that that was such a widespread storm, it's not just here in West Virginia. Other states are having problems as well. And, you know, sometimes, you can plan for the worst.

You always hope for the best, but you plan for the worst. And, you know, you have to have the shelves full of food. But when you are hit multiple times with power lines down, it takes time. We're a very mountainous state, a very beautiful state. But it takes time to get to these power grids and get these systems back up and running.

But I can assure you that all agencies are working as aggressively as possible to get to everybody. We want no one, no one at all, not one West Virginian to go hungry. We don't want anybody to be sick from the heat or anything like that. And we're doing the very best we can. And I'm proud of the success that we've had here.

I know that there are going to be some people that think we should get to things quicker. That's human nature. And, you know, we're doing the best we can. We're humans helping humans. You know, that's really a plus. When things happen here in West Virginia, we become a unit. We become positive. And we make things happen for the good of people.

BLITZER: I know you do. And I know there were important lessons learned after Katrina. There will certainly be important lessons learned after this disaster, as well. John, thanks very much. Good luck to all the folks in West Virginia. Appreciate it.

ROBERTS: Wolf, thank you for having me. BLITZER: In much of the country, all eyes will be on the sky, but in some places, it will be a Fourth of July without fireworks. We're going to tell you what's going on.

In parts of Georgia, flooding is so bad that residents are using boats to get around. We're going to show you where streets are turning into rivers.

And they put their lives at risk for their country. Today, they became citizens of the United States of America.


BLITZER: Doesn't get much more patriotic than this. Service members who sacrificed their lives to keep our country safe become a U.S. citizens on this Fourth of July. It happened today over at the White House. Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, was there on the scene for us as she always is.

Brianna, a very, very nice moment. Everything though that the president does in this election year seems to have some political implications as well. Tell our viewers, first of all, what happened.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, certainly, you know this is something that I think a lot of people look at. These citizens being naturalized receiving their citizenship in quite a beautiful ceremony. Obviously, a great way to support July 4th. But, yes, you cannot escape the political prism here. And it's that President Obama and his campaign are very happy right now to emphasize his positions on immigration.

You'll remember, he recently unilaterally made the decision, his administration did, to buy some time for young illegal immigrants who do have degrees or are in school or have taken military service so that they aren't deported. And they want to hold Mitt Romney to his immigration position as he has not taken a stance on what they have done.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What a perfect way to celebrate America's birthday, the world's oldest Democracy with some of our newest citizens.

KEILAR (voice-over): Fourth of July at the White House. President Obama welcomed military men and women to be sworn-in as U.S. citizens by homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.


(CHANTING) So, help me God.

NAPOLITANO: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE) KEILAR: Among the 25, Lance Corporal Byron Acevedo born in Guatemala, he came to the U.S. as a boy after his father received political asylum here.

LANCE CPL BYRON ACEVEDO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: He tells me his stories, the rough times that he went through here, you know? Sometimes, not having money to eat or money to do anything.

KEILAR: After a deployment to Afghanistan and with citizenship now under his belt, Acevedo is ready for the next chapter in his life.

ACEVEDO: I'm going to start my state police process in Rhode Island. So, hopefully, wish me -- they're looking at me right now. So, if you get my applications.


ACEVEDO: You know?

KEILAR: These new citizens were legal residents, but it was this backdrop that President Obama used to tout his administration's recent move to protect young illegal immigrants from deportation.

OBAMA: We're lifting the shadow of deportation from serving -- from deserving young people who were brought to this country as children.

KEILAR: And he pressed Congress to do more.

OBAMA: It's why we need -- why America's success demands comprehensive immigration reform, because the lesson of these 236 years is clear. Immigration makes America stronger. Immigration makes us more prosperous.

KEILAR: It's a hot issue in an election year. In a recent CNN/ORC poll, Mitt Romney came out just slightly on top of President Obama when voters were asked, who would handle illegal immigration better? That said, only 28 percent ranked immigration as extremely important to their vote, the tenth most important issue in the poll. Well-behind the deficit, healthcare, and the number one concern, the economy.


KEILAR (on-camera): But, Wolf, as you know, it's a very important issue to a key constituency for President Obama, Latino voters. They, of course, are key in a number of states, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada. And they're also growing in numbers in a number of other battleground states, for instance, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the president will be the next couple of days, and Iowa where he's visiting next week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nice ceremony, indeed, over at the White House. Appreciate it very much, Brianna Keilar reporting.

We've shown you some heart wrenching stories this week from the wildfires raging out in the west. Firefighters desperately trying to hold back the flames. Residents returning to devastated neighborhoods. Now, the worst fire in Colorado's history is mostly contained. And out of the ashes, one family's determined to turn tragedy into a new beginning.

Let's go live to CNN's Jim Spellman. He's in Colorado. He's been watching all of this unfold. What's going on now, Jim?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's hard enough to imagine losing your home to this wildfire. Just imagine losing it if your spouse is overseas in harm's way serving in the U.S. army. Take a look.


SPELLMAN (voice-over): When the fire roared into Colorado Springs, U.S. army captain, Immanuel Mgana, was four months into a deployment in the horn of Africa. Wife, Melissa, was home taking care of the three kids.

MELISSA MGANA, LOST HOME IN WILDFIRE: It was my son's tenth birthday. That day, actually, we picked up his cake. Our home -- the kitchen windows look up to the foothills. And when I saw that fire come over the ridge is when I really knew that it was possibly very serious. And I just said we have to get out of here.

SPELLMAN: The winds picked up and the fire raced down the hill behind their home. She scrambled into the car with the kids and made their way to safety at a friend's house. The bad news came later that evening when she saw this photo from the "Denver Post." Their home front and center engulfed in flame. Meanwhile, in Africa, her husband was following the news from back home on his Smartphone when the picture showed up.

MELISSA MGANA: So, I texted to him, and I just said, you know, here's our home.

SPELLMAN: What did you think when you saw a picture of your house engulfed in flames.

CAPT. IMMANUEL MGANA, LOST HOME IN WILDFIRE: I think, in a way, I was satisfied (ph) that I really knew that there was no question my house was actually burning.

SPELLMAN: He immediately showed the picture to his superiors.

IMMANUEL MGANA: The first thing they said is, you need to go home.

SPELLMAN: Captain Mgana was on the next plane home, but he decided to keep his return a secret from his wife and kids. Less than 24 hours after receiving the photo, he was back in Colorado.

MELISSA MGANA: There was a ring at the doorbell.

IMMANUEL MGANA: My daughter, Grace, I believe opened the door first.

MELISSA MGANA: And there he was. And, I mean, the kids were there, and we were all just sort of in disbelief. I mean, just, oh my gosh.

SPELLMAN: They were together again.

When he walked in that door, what was it like?

MELISSA MGANA: Just elation and just the feeling of, OK, we can get through this together. It's great.

IMMANUEL MGANA: I was completely ecstatic. I just wanted to hold all of them altogether. You know, it was something that I just had to be with my wife and my kids.

SPELLMAN: They're spending the Fourth of July in a hotel as they figure out what's next.

IMMANUEL MGANA: After almost 15 years of being together, I think we've weathered a lot of storms together. And we just know how to get through things together.

MELISSA MGANA: And knowing that we will. We just will get through this. It's a matter of time and patience. Lots of patience.

IMMANUEL MGANA: Just a new beginning for us.


SPELLMAN: Statewide fireworks ban here means that all the public celebrations that you would normally find on a patriotic military town like Colorado Springs have been canceled. but my sense, Wolf, is that people are really just taking this opportunity today to spend some time -- quiet time with family and friends and reflect -- even though there's a lot of damage and two people died in this fire, they know it could be a lot worse. I think people here are taking stock of all they have and all they're grateful for today on this Fourth of July -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly good points, Jim. Thanks for all the terrific work you've been doing for us all this week covering this story. A very important story.

A frightening new government report. It says companies that control our water and power have seen a sharp rise in cyber attacks. And the number of times it happened might surprise you. We have new information.

And he doesn't have legs, but that didn't stop him from becoming a world class sprinter. Exciting news about the man they call "Blade Runner."


BLITZER: A new report shows a sharp rise in cyber attacks. Lisa Sylvester is back. She's monitoring that story and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, companies that control infrastructure critical to the U.S. like power, water, and nuclear material are reporting a much higher number of cyber attacks on their systems than in the past, this according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security. The report says there were almost 200 incidents reported to DHS last year up from only nine in 2009.

And the man known as "Blade Runner" is going to the Olympics. Sprinter, Oscar Pistorius will be the first double amputee in Olympic history. He was selected to run for South Africa's 4 x 4 100-meter relay team. The story has had his legs amputated as the baby due to a bone defect. So, he runs on carbon fiber blades, earning him the nickname "Blade Runner." He's a four-time Paralympic games gold medalist.

And the flooding in Camden County, Georgia is so bad right now. Residents are using boats to get around. Hailey Winslow of our affiliate, WJXT, is there.


HAILEY WINSLOW, WJXT REPORTER: I'm standing in a street right now, (INAUDIBLE), and I was here just a couple days ago, and there was no water. And now, in just two days, it's almost up to my waist. And check out this fence, it's almost completely covering the fence. And you can see just how fast the current is moving. These homes over here are under water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a catastrophic happening for St. Mary's river and the people in (INAUDIBLE).

WINSLOW (voice-over): Homes in Flea Hill and John's Fish Camp are in several feet of water.

PAUL TOWNSEND, LIVES IN FLEA HILL: The poor houses here are in bad shape. The few that are lucky enough to still be above water are real fortunate.

WINSLOW: The woman living in this home just had a baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just fixed the trailer up. And the baby's bedroom is under water right now. So, that's not a good thing.

WINSLOW: Mailboxes are almost completely covered. And the streets have turned into river rapids.

TOWNSEND: The road that we're traveling on, the current's real strong. The challenge is to fight the current.

WINSLOW: Aside from the difficulties of getting to work and the store for the few who are still here, they're facing even bigger burdens. Paul Townsend sets alarms all throughout the night to check on his neighbors houses because of break-ins. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were in (ph) in this last flood, some of the same people. We don't like to be kicked while we're down, you know? So, we called the sheriff's department. And they've assured us that they won't come back here no more.

WINSLOW: They also can't drink the water because bacteria could be in the well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're starting to get a high bacteria content in the water as it purges all of these septic tanks and the sewage systems and whatever.

WINSLOW: And it's not going to let up any time soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even after the crest, the full moon's going to keep it in here for a little while.

WINSLOW (on-camera): Another problem they're having to deal with, the ants, the spiders, the snakes, and the alligators. Because of all the high water, these insects and reptiles have found a new home.

In Flea Hill, Hailey Winslow, Channel 4, the local station.


SYLVESTER: The flooding was caused by tropical storm Debby, and many Camden County residents were forced to evacuate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lisa, thank you. There's one thing everybody expects on this Fourth of July. But this yea,r towns and cities all across the country are banning fireworks. Police are on the look out for those who violate the ban. We have new information.

And was the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, poisoned? Scientists found traces of radioactivity in his clothing and on his toothbrush, the same material used to kill a former Russian spy.


BLITZER: In the Middle East right now, stunning new suspicions that Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned by a radioactive substance. The Palestinian authority is willing to exhume the body of the long- time leader who died of a mysterious illness eight years ago at the age of 75.

This, after a Swiss scientist tested some of Arafat's effects including clothing, a toothbrush, and even his trademark black and white head scarf. They found abnormal levels of polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope.

But one of the scientists stresses the results do not mean Arafat suffered radioactive poisoning, noting that details of Arafat's medical records are not consistent with that. But there has been one dramatic case of plutonium poisoning which may offer some clues.

Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has been looking into this story for us. He's joining us now from London. What are you finding out, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the fact that polonium 210, this very rare radioactive isotope has been linked in this way by this clinic in Switzerland to the death of the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is potentially a very dramatic development, dramatic twist in this already, you know, very highly questionable circumstances around his death.

Of course, Alexander Litvinenko was a former Russian spy-turned- Russian dissident killed here in London back in 2006 using exactly that same substance. Take a listen.


CHANCE (voice-over): The grim picture of the only person known to have been murdered with polonium 210. Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy-turned-dissident, was killed in London in 2006, two years after Yasser Arafat died. Investigators say he was administered a massive dose of the radioactive isotope. His death was agonizing and slow.

Word the same substance may now have been detected on the clothes worn by Yasser Arafat raises the question he was killed in a similar way. Though the Swiss scientists who conducted the test told CNN direct comparisons were difficult to make.

DR. FRANCOIS BOCHUD, INSTITUTE OF RADIATION PHYSICS: It's hard to compare directly Litvinenko because Mr. Litvinenko was diagnosed as being poisoned by polonium as he was alive. So that means the activities were huge. In the case of Mr. Arafat, we just suspect potential poisoning by polonium, but we are the other end, one-million time (INAUDIBLE) down. So it's hard to do the measurement.

CHANCE: It would be an astonishing revelation if this rare radioactive substance were in any way linked to the Palestinian leader's death.

(on camera): Firstly, polonium 210 is extremely difficult to produce. Ninety-seven percent of the global supply is made in Russian nuclear reactors, then sold to U.S. companies for use. Analysts say it's unlikely anyone except a state-backed agent would be able to get hold of enough of it to kill.

But polonium has advantages as a weapon. We've seen its devastating impact on Litvinenko. It is a reliable killer. It's also very hard to detect, requiring special equipment and decays extremely quickly. It has a half-life. It halves in quantity every 138 days. The evidence in other words can simply disappear.

(voice-over): But once detected, experts say polonium 210 can easily be traced to its source, though that's not necessarily a flaw.

DR. CHAM DALLAS, TOXICOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: The only reason I can think of that somebody would want to use such a rare and easily traceable element is that they would want someone to know that they were using it. They would want to make a political statement or some kind of bold statement.

CHANCE: Andrew Litvinenko, it's said, had powerful, vengeful enemies. Yasser Arafat, of course, may have had many more.


CHANCE: Of course part of the problem is there's been a lot of questions hanging over the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004. There was no real autopsy or at least there was no real cause of death established. And that's led to all sorts of conspiracy theories since then. These findings at the Swiss clinic have only added to that debate.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right, Matthew. I remember at the time he died immediately there were all sorts of conspirator theories coming out. He was only 75 years old.

Matthew, good report. Thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper on what's going on. Could -- could Yasser Arafat have been poisoned? If so, by whom? Why?

Our foreign affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us now from Jerusalem. She's been investigating what's going.

I know you were our in Ramallah in the West Bank, Elise. You're back in Jerusalem right now. Why is this all coming out now?

ELISE LABOTT, FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, these are the -- the study was a product of an investigative documentary by the Arab network, al Jazeera. The network and his -- Arafat's wife Suha Arafat asked to test the clothing, the toothbrush of Yasser Arafat and also look at the medical records in the days leading up to when he died. And as you know, as we've been saying, a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding Yasser Arafat's death. But now, the Palestinians didn't have any proof. And now they're saying these findings confirm their suspicions he was assassinated.

BLITZER: So, how seriously is the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others, how seriously are they dealing with it?

LABOTT: Very seriously, Wolf. President Abbas wants an international investigation. His wife Suha and the Palestinian Authority are saying they will exhume his body. They want to have further testing because as we've been discussing, you know, these results aren't conclusive. They don't necessarily say he's been poisoned.

But it's been eight years, Wolf. We really don't know if these findings will ever be conclusive. But what they're saying is Yasser Arafat was no ordinary man. He was the leader of the Palestinian people, considered the father of the Palestinian people. And the people deserve to know what happened. And that's what I heard today on the streets of Ramallah, talking to ordinary Palestinians.

But, Wolf, they're also -- they're pointing the finger at Israel. They say Israel had motive, as we've been discussing. That they had access to this kind of polonium, only advanced nations have access to this, and also the motive -- the motive and the access, because as we know the relationship has been very tense with Yasser Arafat.

What the Israeli officials said to me today, these accusations are baseless, they're absurd. And the Palestinians themselves can clear up the mystery surrounding his death by releasing his own medical records which have been sealed for eight years since his death, Wolf.

BLITZER: Elise Labott, investigating for us. She's on the scene. We'll check back with you, Elise. A dramatic story indeed.

I met with Yasser Arafat, by the way, in Ramallah, on the West Bank, two years before he died. He was holed up at the time in his compound called the Muqata, which seemed very disorganized. It was crowded with his very loyal aides.

As was his style, we met in the middle of the night when he seemed to be right at the top of his game. We had a very, very long exchange about a possible two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Watch this.


BLITZER: Are you closer today to an independent Palestinian state that will live along side in peace with Israel than you were then?

YASSER ARAFAT, PALESTINIAN LEADER: Yes. And don't forget, when I left Beirut and you remember --

BLITZER: I was in Beirut then.

ARAFAT: Yes. When they asked me, where are you going, Arafat? I said then, to Palestine. And now, we are in Palestine. And we hope that we have this Palestinian independent state side-by-side with Israeli Jewish state.

BLITZER: It's a significant state.

ARAFAT: No, for me, not to forget, they are our cousins.

BLITZER: It took me an hour to get you to say that.


BLITZER: Unfortunately, however, those words didn't wind up reviving the peace process. And sadly, very sadly, tragically it still remains dormant right now.

This year, fireworks are against the law in towns across the United States. And police are ready to arrest anyone trying to light them. You're going to find out where the bans are in effect and why.

And coming up, pictures you've never seen before -- the panic inside the cruise ship that capsized off the Italian coast.


BLITZER: There will be Fourth of July celebrations across the United States though but without fireworks for a lot of folks. Several Western states are struggling to put out massive wildfires. And almost everywhere else people are dealing with the extreme heat. Fireworks may be a popular tradition, but with weather like this, they could also be extremely dangerous.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: We found police are stepping up fireworks patrols throughout the metro area, cracking down on those who violate the ban.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just sad that they still sell it. That's what I don't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Tammy York (ph) says it doesn't make sense that you can still purchase fireworks in Colorado if it's illegal to use them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's up to the consumer. What their risk tolerance is. Again, normally I would buy a lot more serious fireworks, but sticking to the real smoke bombs and sparklers this year -- nothing that goes up in the air.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Those who use any fireworks should know that police are taking the ban seriously. Even with the crackdown, she's still hearing fireworks in her neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got dry trees around here that could just catch on fire. You know, see what happens tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: While the firefighters' primary concern is keeping the area where they launched the fireworks wet out here in the park where everybody watches them is also a big concern.

The Greenfield Fire Department decided to make their own rain in preps for their 30-minute fireworks display Konkel Park.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we don't want to occur is a fire on the ground while they're still loading fireworks in the tubes. So if we can get them successfully launched in the air, we're confident that that will be a safe show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll see guys on the roof at 9:00 and they'll have full turnout gear, hoses be laid all over the parking deck as well as adjacent roofs, just as preventative measure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Most of the time, shooting fireworks is at worst a nuisance to your neighbor. But shooting fireworks this year can endanger your entire neighborhood.

The festive lights that fill the evening sky could still go on in some towns across Arkansas, but if you want to shoot off your own, think again. White County Deputy Chief Jeremy Clarke (ph) says so far they've avoided major fires and they want to keep it that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're way beyond nuisance. It's potential danger. It's potential life threatening now because of the conditions.


BLITZER: Let's have some more on the country, let's get an update now on this Fourth of July with a forecast from CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis.

Karen, what's going on out there?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, we have temperatures exceedingly hot. They may not be at record-setting levels, but they're approaching it. Washington, D.C. reporting 98 degrees right now. Chicago, I think you've come close to a record high. Certainly a record for St. Louis with a temperature right now of 104 degrees. Also Des Moines reporting 100.

But here's something a little ironic. In Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, the temperatures there in the desert are in the 70s. And they've had a recent water rescue due to heavy rainfall in Tucson as that monsoonal moisture begins to make its way more towards the north. So it looks like Mother Nature fireworks there, rainfall and abundance of it in the desert and just not enough across other parts of the U.S.

But take a look at the temperatures that we do have right now. Kansas City, 101 degrees. And a number of cities in Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Tennessee extending into portions of Colorado. Dozens of cities in Colorado, also dozens of cities in Utah reporting that they're not going to allow any fireworks.

Now, this is a view right around Park City, Utah. This comes from Tom Kelly. He's an iReporter. He says that it's very dry there, but this smoke is about 20 miles away from him home. But he says there is ash falling near his home. And they are not allowing any private or public fireworks.

The Deep South expecting some hit-or-miss thunderstorms. And folks going out to watch the fireworks in Atlanta, Georgia, also in Washington, D.C., can't rule out, Wolf, the chance of an isolated shower there -- back to you.

BLITZER: Just what we don't need right now after what we've gone through these past few days. I see it's only 68 degrees in Los Angeles behind you. That's quite a difference than what it is out here on the East Coast.

Thanks very much, Karen Maginnis.

Details emerge about a plane crash that killed hundreds. A new report shedding light on what might have caused an Air France flight to go down.

And almost everyone agrees the boxer, Manny Pacquiao, got robbed by the judges last month. But did they commit a crime?


BLITZER: Panic, chaos, people running for their lives trying to escape the Concordia cruise ship after it struck rocks and turned on its side. That's what some of the survivors are sharing with us about the night the disaster hit and almost took their lives.

Our senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, has been digging into why the ship capsized and why 32 people died.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the order to abandon ship was given, Hector Perez and Sohaim Khan were at a lifeboat.

The crew member with access to the boat told passengers to calm down.

HECTOR PEREZ, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: As soon as he opened the door, everybody ran towards that emergency boat and pushed him out of the way.

Everybody was panicking. Everybody was running for their own lives. A lot of them didn't realize they were going to let people jump into the boat without an actual seat. Those that realized it, they jumped into the boat and they just stayed standing on the boat. It was way over 150 people limit.

RIVERS: The boat carrying Kahn and Perez made it to the sea. But even then they were not safe.

PEREZ: I look up and I see the emergency boat a go sideways one way. Suddenly, it went this way again and it fell right on top of our boat.

SOHAIM KHAN, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: If our boat would have turned when we were evacuating when the second boat fell on us, we would have been dead.

RIVERS: Several lifeboats couldn't be lowered and with the ship listing, the problems of evacuating people multiplied.

The Ananias family boarded a lifeboat but were forced to return to the ship when the lifeboat wouldn't launch.




C. ANANIAS: The boat flips.

DEAN ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: It takes another 5/8 degree more roll to its starboard side.

RIVERS: One of the crew told investigators that some officers literally pushed passengers into the water. But the Ananias family turned around and tried to climb across the ship with nothing to hold onto.

VALERIA ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: The side of the ship is now the bottom of the ship. So you're literally walking on the side of the ship.

RIVERS: The speed with which the Concordia tilted first one way and then the other has alarmed maritime experts.

(on camera): This is the Safety of Life at Sea rule book, the maritime safety bible if you like, issued by the International Maritime Authority here in London. It specifies that ships should remain stable with two watertight compartments flooded and they should be able to be evacuated within 30 minutes.

(voice-over): But the loss of power, the flooding of the pumps and backup generators had turned the Concordia into a helpless hull. As the water continued to rise, the ship tilted yet further, more than 60 degrees.

GEORGIA ANANIAS, CONCORDIA PASSENGER: And then I remember us all starting to pray and saying our good-byes. And I can remember thinking, oh, my gosh, we are going to die, let's just get it over with.

RIVERS: By now it was nearly 1:00 in the morning. The Ananias family and dozens of other passengers were still trying to climb a metal ladder to reach the outside of the ship. But it was still a mad scramble to escape.

D. ANANIAS: Men pushing women aside, pushing children aside.

V. ANANIAS: I put my foot down and said, this is not going to happen. I'm not going to sit here and watch one other person jump in front of this mother and child to get his way up there. It wasn't going to happen.


BLITZER: Tonight's CNN presents the infinitive investigation into the sinking of the Costa Concordia, why the ship came so close to shore, the lives lost and how the industry is work to prevent the next cruise ship to disaster. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for our northern American viewers. Also airing Sunday on CNN International.

The mystery of the deadly plane crash may be solved. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on?


Well, the French news agency, AFP, says both human mistakes and technical failures caused the deadly Air France crash in 2009. The information comes from a French report that will be presented to the families of the victims tomorrow. We'll learn more details then.

But the initial report concludes pilot error and malfunctioning speed sensors caused that crash. Two hundred twenty-eight people died when the flight crashed on its way from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris.

And the Nevada attorney general says no crime was committed by the judges at a recent boxing match in Las Vegas. They called the highly anticipated fight for American boxer Timothy Bradley, although many who watched the fight thought Filipino fighter Manny Pacquiao had actually won. Many in the Philippines thought this fight was rigged but investigation found no criminal violation occurred.

And Roger Federer is moving on at Wimbledon. His record-setting 32nd trip to a grand slam semifinals. And that next match is guaranteed to be a good one. Federer will play world number one player Novak Djokovic Friday.

Federer said he was inspired by a couple of famous fans at the match. Apparently Prince William and Catherine were there sitting with tennis legend Andre Agassi.

And it's always for kids to be helpful, but a Connecticut man may have taken it too far. He's accused of having his 11-year-old daughter take a breathalyzer test for him. Police were called because the man was reportedly drunk and the daughter told them she blew into the ignition breathalyzer to start the car. He pleaded not guilty but his children were taken into protective custody.

And who says having a baby prevents you from doing some things. OK, take a look here. Check out this Atlanta Braves fan making -- yes -- an incredible catch while holding his baby with the other hand. It looks like even the Braves' players are a little impressed. Let's just hope the guy gets to keep the ball because it is certainly going to make for a great story to tell his child some day.

The child seems not jostled a bit. She just seems like she's taking it all in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, good thing the baby is OK. It could have been a disaster if he would have let go going for the ball. The ball costs $10. The baby is priceless.

SYLVESTER: I know, we've actually seen video of that, too, where, you know, somebody calls into question the parent's priorities. Go for the ball or the baby. But in that case, the baby looked to be safe the entire time.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you.

Here's a special Fourth of July edition of "Hot Shots" in Colorado Springs. Firefighters have been battling the Waldo Canyon wildfire raise a flag at the top of the mountain.

In Paris, chefs put the finishing touches on an American flag dessert during a Fourth of July party at the United States embassy.

Here in Washington, fireworks are on sale for customers wanting to add sparkle to their holiday.

And in New York, patriotic fireworks made a big bang after the Mets and Phillies game that was last night.

"Hot Shots" -- pictures coming in from around the world.

To our international viewers, the news continues next right here on CNN.

For the viewers in North America, we're going to take you to a field of weeds that's much more than an eye sore. It's a gigantic tax break because, believe it or not, the federal government considers it a farm.

We'll also take you inside a congressional race where the issues seem to be taking a backseat to name-calling.