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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cruise Ship Nightmare; Olympic Athlete Accused of Murder; Senate Voting on Hagel Filibuster

Aired February 14, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: We're getting exclusive live pictures of the cruise ship the Carnival Triumph. Passengers are calling in. They are sending us pictures of what they describe as revolting continues on board.

There is other big news as well, a key vote on the Republicans' effort to block Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense secretary. That will take place this hour.

And the Olympic athletes millions of you know as the Blade Runner now stands accused of murdering his girlfriend. We have new details about the shooting.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You're looking live at the cruise ship Carnival Triumph that's off the Alabama coast about 30 miles right now from the port and it's moving again after sitting dead in the water for the past few hours. The tug line being used to tow the ship broke. It's just been replaced. That's good news.

But we no longer know how many more hours the roughly 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members will still have to hold on. Passengers have been sending CNN pictures of the truly horrible conditions on board. Look at the floors stained dark with raw sewage.

Another picture shows a bag nearly bursting with filth. Still another photo shows mattresses pulled out on the deck as passengers tried to get away from the horrible stench.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Mobile, Alabama. He's at the port awaiting these passengers.

I assume, Martin, there are a lot of family members anxiously awaiting the arrival of their loved ones?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. They are at least right now about 100 members of families that are up there gathered inside the second floor of the terminal, many others outside waiting to get any information and that's one of the problems that they have had.

Vinetta Hoffpauir one of those family members who is waiting.

It's your son who is on board the ship, right? VINETTA HOFFPAUIR, MOTHER OF PASSENGER: Correct.

SAVIDGE: How is he?

HOFFPAUIR: My son Dusty's on board the ship. Sounds like he's in good spirits, sounds like he's doing well, did the trip pretty well. He said actually he's looking forward for maybe another trip in the future.

SAVIDGE: It's good to see that he hasn't gone off cruising, apparently.

HOFFPAUIR: Yes. Yes.

SAVIDGE: For mom, me a parent as well, I kin the waiting has got to be just really weighing on you.

HOFFPAUIR: Tell you what, the last five days have been tough. I got a text from him on Monday saying they were going to be towed to Progreso, flown to Galveston, just a waiting game, loved us, but don't worry mom. And then with the news and the media and Internet, I was finding out, oh, my God, he's just candy-coating it.

I was glad to hear from him at about noon today. And he sounded in good spirit. He said that pretty much he didn't experience too much of the horrific situation.

SAVIDGE: He's actually said the circumstance for him was not as bad as others have said?

HOFFPAUIR: No. He said their friends had a balcony. They spent a lot of time out on the balcony. Their room was hot, but they were able to have cold showers and stuff.

The only thing is the food was very limited and he said he felt really sorry for the young children and the babies. They were having more of a difficult time, he felt.

SAVIDGE: What's your plans as soon as you see him? Where's he going to go and with who?

HOFFPAUIR: Well, as soon as I see him, I'm going to give him the biggest hug and tell him how much I love him and glad that they are all back safely. And the first thing he wants to do is go and take a nice hot shower and get a nice hot meal.

SAVIDGE: And that is completely understandable.

Vinetta, thank you very much for talking to us.

HOFFPAUIR: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

SAVIDGE: Vinetta Hoffpauir, her son is on board there.

The families have a special area set up inside the Alabama cruise terminal here. There, they get food, there, they get water and there, they get water limited as to the arrival of the ship. And of course it's only when they see that ship tied up alongside, they are going to breathe a sigh of relief. And they continue to come in as the hours drag on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin, Carnival now estimating that the Triumph will make it to shore, make it to the Port of Mobile some time between 10:00 p.m. Eastern and midnight tonight, 9:00 p.m. Central to 11:00 p.m. Central, 10:00 to midnight later tonight.

That assumes no more tug lines are broken, no more glitches. They are going to be moving through the darkness, right? Nighttime is not going to slow this down, based on what you're hearing?

SAVIDGE: No. Now that they are headed up the channel, and headed up Mobile Bay and then eventually going to get into the river that brings them to this particular spot, no, they are committed, one would say, so to speak. That means they are going to get it here tonight.

We have been noting that they have been bringing in lights, portable lights and clearly they are going to be illuminating this area and they will make it nice and bright. They are preparing as best they can. You can see the gangway, hence the large glass and steel structure.

That's the gangway that will be taking the passengers, the only one, by the way, that will be -- let me just step out of the shot -- that's how they will put it right up against the vessel when it's here, much like you see with airplanes and the gates there. They will then come off that.

That brings them on the second floor of the Alabama cruise terminal. There, they will be brought inside. It's presumed the customs has al been taken care of on board the ship. They are trying to do that under way so they can immediately be running into the arms of the family members that have come here waiting for them or begin the process of transporting them.

The logistics of that is huge. That involves airplanes, buses, and hotel rooms spread out amongst two cities. There is a lot that has to be done even after the ship ties up alongside -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We are showing our viewers on the right part -- there it is on the full screen -- live pictures. We have a helicopter flying overhead now.

Our own Sandra Endo, Martin, is on board that helicopter. These are live pictures, exclusive pictures that we're showing our viewers what it's like on the upper deck of the Triumph. As you can see there, it's moving slowly, pretty slowly now that that tug line has been reattached. The Carnival cruise organization is saying it's moving at a speed of about 5.4 knots, which is the equivalent of 6.2 miles per hour.

I think we have established connection with Sandra Endo on board that helicopter.

Can you hear me, Sandy? I'm not sure that Sandra Endo can hear us. But we can clearly see those pictures.

Sandy, if you can hear me, tell us where you are, what you're seeing. I think we have the same shot from your helicopter.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

If you can hear me, it's very difficult, I'm sorry, to hear you right now, but we are circling on top of the Triumph right now. You are seeing live pictures of what exactly is going on, on the upper deck. We're seeing more people out enjoying the sunshine, it looks like, waving to our helicopter right now.

(INAUDIBLE) live aerial pictures (INAUDIBLE) More people are out waving. They obviously can see land and a lot of them excited to see land. (INAUDIBLE) We're also seeing a lot of people waving white towels and some have signs on some of the railings, some of them saying, help us.

And you mentioned, Wolf, you were talking about the tug line that snapped. We're seeing a setup right now that is much more stable (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: Sandy, I'm going to interrupt you for a second.

We're going to try to reestablish the line. We're having a little trouble with the extraneous noise hearing you. But you're on a helicopter, which obviously makes that totally understandable.

There's a lot of noise inside that helicopter. But these are live pictures that we're getting from that helicopter. This is the Carnival Triumph that you're seeing right now. You see people outside. I assume they can't be inside too much because of the stench and the filthy conditions. And some of those filthy conditions are out on the decks as well.

Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is watching these pictures.

Sanjay, it sounds disgusting and a breeding ground for disease on that ship. How worried should we be about the health of these 4,200 people on board the Triumph?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this may surprise you, Wolf, but I don't think the health concerns certainly from an infectious disease concern is really that high.

It's disgusting, as you mentioned, not sanitary, unhygienic, a collective misery I have heard described, but you look for the basic things, still. Is there water? Apparently, there is. It may not always be cold. Is there refrigeration in case people have certain medications that need to be refrigerated and is there food?

It sounds like they have those things. Wolf, you remember after Katrina, you know, there was this concern about infectious disease outbreaks given the very unsanitary conditions at that time. We didn't see those infectious disease outbreaks. This will surprise people as well, but when you're talking about some of the fecal material -- this is tough to talk about even -- but that typically isn't what leads to people becoming sick due to infectious disease. Again, this is going to surprise some people, but I don't think it's that big a concern, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have got a picture -- and I think we can put it up on the screen -- one of the passengers that we have established contact with on board the Triumph, Ed Buck (ph), we're going to be speaking with him shortly.

He did send us a picture with a biohazardous waste bag that the folks have been given. There it is right there. You can see it. I assume that they have got some sanitary conditions, but when you have to worry about this, it raises all sorts of alarm bells I'm sure in my mind and a lot of our viewers' minds.

GUPTA: Yes.

No, I can completely understand that, certainly. And if I had a family member on the ship, that would be concerning to look at those pictures. But the biohazard bags, they're been used in lieu of adequate irrigation for the toilets. I think some of that's been reestablished now.

But that is what it is being used for. And obviously it causes quite a stench and it's a very unsanitary sort of condition. But if the specific question is, are these people going to more likely to become sick, the answer's probably no. We don't see that in other situations that are similar, again, after natural disasters.

You worry about people sleeping close together only because if one person has an illness, it's more likely to spread to other people. But overall, I think as miserable as it looks, as disgusting as it seems, I think the health risks are low.

BLITZER: Because even on an excellent cruise, when everything is safe, sometimes because of the cramped quarters and so many people in a relatively small area, somebody gets sick, it spreads pretty quickly, even under the best of circumstances.

GUPTA: That's right.

BLITZER: These are clearly the worst of circumstances.

We have reported that one mother is meeting her daughter at the dock and bringing antibiotics. Here's the question. A lot of people are driving to the dock right now. Should they be bringing antibiotics?

GUPTA: No, they don't need to do that. Two reasons. Really a couple reasons, primarily.

One is, first of all, they do have medications, we're hearing, that are on the boat. If someone needed antibiotics because they had an infection, they may already be getting it. Second of all, you don't want to be giving these medications prophylactically or protectively. Again, I get the sentiment. I completely understand it, but you don't want to do that. If someone doesn't have an infection, you're giving antibiotics. You could actually make them sick. It could also increase the resistance to these antibiotics. It's just not a good idea.

You want to do everything you can. You want to try and help your loved ones who are coming off the ship, I understand that, but that's just not a good idea, Wolf.

BLITZER: Quickly, while I have you, Sanjay, mental health, are there mental health concerns for these 4,200 people who are about to get off this Carnival Triumph?

GUPTA: There might be. This is a pretty significant emotional trauma.

One thing I will point out is that the time periods where lack of information -- where there was a lack of information are the most vulnerable. People who -- they don't know exactly what's happening, and maybe after that fire, they are not sure if -- how serious the situation is. Those times they are not getting enough information, that can be quite painful emotionally.

That can have longer-term effects. Children and elderly tend to be more resilient. The children look to their parents or elderly people there for cues in terms of how they should behave. It's really important that young people are watching.

Wolf, these types of situations brings out the worst in people and the best in people and I have been hearing from some of the folks on the ship that people are really galvanized together, giving each other a hand and trying to help each other out. That can be very empowering, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's not forget, 3,143 passengers, 1,086 crew members, and the crew members are obviously suffering as well. More than 4,200 people on board this ship.

And you're seeing live pictures from our helicopter that's now flying over the Carnival Triumph. And a lot of people out there. They're trying to get some fresh air. They clearly don't want to be inside.

Sanjay, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

Now that the cruise ship is getting closer and closer to shore, more and more of the passengers are actually in cell phone range. Their calls are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to be speaking with passengers on board the Triumph. That's coming up.

We're also following other major news, including a showdown right here in Washington, a showdown vote to deal with a Republican filibuster under way against the defense secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel -- that vote only minutes away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Take a look at this. These -- these are live pictures, live pictures from the upper deck of the Carnival Triumph. These people, these are passengers. They are trying to spell out, I believe, the word "help."

Our helicopter is flying over right now. Sandra Endo is inside.

But you can see these people, they are trying to get the message. Obviously, we know they need help. But they are doing something. They want to try to be productive. You can see, they are really on the highest deck of this Carnival Triumph, this cruise ship that has been such a disaster over these past few days.

They're only a few hours away now from arrival in Mobile, at the port there. They now say between 10:00 p.m. Eastern and midnight. That's what Carnival is now saying.

Sandra Endo is on that helicopter.

Sandy, can we hear you? Can you hear us?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can, Wolf.

These images are just amazing. We first got on the scene here earlier this morning at around 11:30 Eastern Time and we just saw a very lifeless, spiritless ship.

And now, it seems like there's some life on the boat. It seems like passengers are excited. They are seeing land. They are seeing help all around their ship.

We are circling in the sky around Triumph right now and you can see the people sending messages to us, that human sign, they spelled out help.

We saw one passenger got on his knee, spread his arms open, waving a white towel to us, obviously signs they want to get off this ship. We're also seeing people hanging signs off the railing, "Help us, Galveston or bust."

And the conditions, you're getting an idea of what they are going through because of their actions, because of their desperation, we've seen passengers on mattresses that are on the outer decks and they were bundled up in white robes earlier this morning, just trying to stay warm and, again, just asking for help.

Right now, we see a more secure tug line. We mentioned before that one tug line snapped and we noticed that earlier that the ship was really veering off one direction. The tugboats were leaning another direction. Now, it seems like a very secure situation as the Triumph makes its way to the mouth of Mobile port.

And, obviously, these passengers are just waiting to get to the port but it's going to take many more hours until they can touch land, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's 4,200 people, 4,200 people. There's a news conference that Carnival is now doing, Sandy. Let's listen in.

TERRY THORNTON, SR. V.P. MARKETING, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: From what we've learned, since we were here earlier this morning. At about 12:00 local time, the ship did begin to enter the shipping channel and proceed into the cruise tunnel here in Mobile. Unfortunately, at about 1:00 p.m., the lead towboat had a tow gear that broke.

And so, we had a spare tugboat in place and we replaced that tugboat in place that had the broken tow gear with a second tugboat. We put that tugboat in position. We re-established the tow line and unfortunately, as we put stress and began the tow operation, that tow line snapped.

So after that point in time, we had to replace that tow line so the ship did not begin progressing back into the cruise terminal until approximately 2:00 p.m. Right now, at about 2:30 p.m., the ship is in the entrance of the channel.

And as I mentioned to you this morning, our estimate based on everything we know now, is that the time frame from now until the cruise terminal will be approximately seven to 10 hours. So the time frame of that change -- didn't change the time that the ship -- the navigation time that will be involved but we did lose time based on the issues we had with the two tugboat issues.

The other thing that we just want to point out to you is that this cruise ship will be, by far, the largest cruise ship that has ever docked at the port of Mobile. So there's not been a ship this size. So, once we pull alongside with the tow operation and with the ship being large, it will take us a bit of time to get the ship tied up and secured once we reach the cruise terminal.

Now, we're turning our attention now to once the ship is turned and docked, how can we make the process as quick and efficient and as comfortable for our guests to get ashore. So, we have -- as I mentioned this morning, we have 200 people here of our team standing by and a full plan in place, both here ashore as well as our ship port team working with the people aboard to facilitate as quick and as efficient a process as possible to get the people off the ship.

There are some limitations. We know that up front. The ship still does not have power. We only have one functioning elevator aboard. So that will be challenging.

And honestly, our best estimate right now, once the ship ties up, we estimate that it will take four to five hours to complete debarkation of all of the guests. So it will take us some time but we do have a good plan in place and we have a lot of people in place.

We'd like to thank the Customs and Border Patrol and Protection who have been a great help to us. They actually sent their advance team aboard the ship earlier today to begin the clearing process for the ship and the clearest process for the guests. So, in normal circumstances, that process would have taken place inside the terminal, once people debarked the ship. That process is now taking place during the transit, down the channel, and will facilitate us getting people off the ship in a much quicker fashion. So we'd like to thank them for that.

We also, as you know, have great cooperation from all of the officials, the city of Mobile, the port of Mobile, and they've really helped us get ready and be as efficient as we can of helping our guests get ashore as quickly as we can.

One thing you should know is, because -- the way it's going to work in debarkation for our guests is our guests are going to be carrying their own luggage but what we have done is we'll station all of our crew, among every stairwell and there will be a -- what we call a luggage brigade. So, our crew will be there to help assist hand to hand, bringing the luggage down as needed, and it's a very efficient process to help them with their luggage.

One thing that we've been asked about is how we are going to prioritize who gets off the ship and so one of the things we've certainly prioritized is anybody with special needs and children and those people will be the first to debark the ship.

We did have one other situation. We had a guest aboard with a medical issue. The patient is stable but out of an abundance of precaution, we did debark that passenger. We did debark one additional guest that had a medical issue.

The one thing that we've been trying to work hard on today, too, we know we have a lot of families of the guests aboard. And so, what we've done for the families here that have come to mobile to meet their -- the people that might be on this ship, we've offered them hotel rooms, day rooms, night accommodations. Obviously, they are getting food and service in the terminal and our guest care team has been assigned to them personally to keep them updated with the information that we know and to keep them as comfortable as possible as we wait for the ship to arrive alongside here in Mobile.

The other thing is, we've also mentioned a couple of different times that we've had our localized team here. We have a full team in Miami handling calls. So, as we've distributed information, we've provided phone numbers for family and friends to call and get information about what's going on with the ship, how's their family doing, and we've taken over 7,000 calls in Miami assisting family and friends of the people aboard the ship and providing them with the much needed information that they need to know.

At this point, we're going to continue the process today as we described it this morning. As we have additional information, we'll come back out with a briefing and provide you with factual, confirmed information that as the debarkation, the ship arrival, and that process actually unfolds.

So I'm prepared to take a couple of questions at this time.

REPORTER: Can you share a little bit more information on the medical emergency? What was the emergency? How were they gotten off the ship?

THORNTON: I don't have the details of the specific condition that the guest had but it was determined, as I said, out of an abundance of caution, it was best to get the passenger off the ship and to provide medical care. We were assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard in helping that happen.

REPORTER: Was it an adult or a child?

(CROSSTALK)

THORNTON: I don't have that information.

REPORTER: Adult or a child --

THORNTON: I don't have that information.

REPORTER: Are they hospitalized now?

THORNTON: I just now that they were evacuated from the ship. But beyond that, I don't have that information.

REPORTER: You said it's going to be about five hours once they arrive here and get everybody off the ship. Is there additional power that we will see you bring in just to provide service to these people, or are they going to remain uncomfortable for those five hours?

THORNTON: Well, we will not be providing much additional power to the ship. There's not a capability of doing that once the ship docks. We will not be providing much additional power but we have a lot of manpower that we were going to throw at it.

So, the conditions will not be materially different. But we have a lot more assistance both from shore and ship that we can provide in getting the people off as quickly as possible.

REPORTER: Do you have a more specific time of when we'll expect?

THORNTON: In terms of when we expect the arrival?

REPORTER: Of when it will dock.

THORNTON: As I said, we expect seven to 10-hour transit from approximately 2:30 p.m.

REPORTER: What's the difficulty docking a ship like this at night?

THORNTON: We don't expect any particular difficulties with night. The tug operators are experienced. Our ship team is experienced. So, we don't experience any difficulties docking a ship at night.

REPORTER: What would have happened though if any of those lines are broken? (INAUDIBLE)

THORNTON: The ship was not at any safety risk at the time that happened. There are still other tugs in place. It was just a matter that we lost forward towing capacity.

REPORTER: The families are reporting that in order to get the $500 offered by Carnival, that they have to sign some sort of waiver. Do you (INAUDIBLE) what that waiver says?

THORNTON: That is absolutely untrue. There is no waiver for the guests to take advantage of the compensation we've provided.

REPORTER: Can you explain why (INAUDIBLE).

THORNTON: Because of the power outage on this ship, the satellite communication and other communication was powered by the same systems that we had trouble with, we didn't have power to do that.

REPORTER: Are there any backup plans in case other tug line breaks once they get into the channel? What the plan is?

THORNTON: Well, we have tugs in place. As I said, if there's another situation that happen, with the tug line breaking, the ship would not be unsafe in that situation and we believe that we could get replacement capacity and get that towing operation going. But we're not anticipating any additional difficulties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much. We need to go back. Sorry.

BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. The latest from Terry Thornton, the vice president of Carnival cruise lines, updating us on what's going on. He said seven to ten hours from 2:30 p.m. I guess they are talking local time, which is Central Time, 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

We still estimate that, assuming there are no more snags, it will arrive in the port at around -- sometime after 10:00 p.m. Eastern, around -- between then and midnight.

You're looking at live pictures coming in from our helicopter that we are flying over the Triumph right now. People are trying to send messages. They are writing on bed sheets, they're making even human letters to send out the word "help" if possible. We're going to have much more on this story coming up.

He did say it will take four to five hours to get all of those people off this ship, four to five hours. There's only one elevator that is working on this ship. So we'll have much more coverage, including more of our exclusive pictures coming in from the "Triumph."

There's another big story we're watching on the Senate floor right now. There is a vote under way on the confirmation process of Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary. We're going to update you on what's going on. This is a critically important vote. You'll see what happens when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There it is. It's a beautiful picture. Looks like a great ship. Unfortunately, not so great these last several days. The Carnival "Triumph" is making its way very slowly towards port. It should be arriving barring any additional problems sometime between 10 p.m. later tonight, Eastern and midnight. We're watching what's going on. There's another story we're watching right now on the Senate floor. I just want to update you, the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary succeeding Leon Panetta. There's a vote underway. Dana Bash is our chief congressional correspondent. Dana, what is this vote all about?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, what the vote is to stop the filibuster and to allow Chuck Hagel's nomination to go forward and we expect it to fail. Meaning we expect the filibuster to continue. I'm looking down because this vote is going to end momentarily and we will get the final tally.

But this is happening, Republicans say, in fact, most Republicans are expected to vote against it because they need more time. They say that Hagel is simply too controversial to push through so quickly because the Armed Services Committee just approved his nomination at a committee and a party line vote a couple of days ago.

But Democrats say, you know, basically, give me a break. They think that the Republicans are trying to delay this in order to look for more information about Hagel in order to effectively torpedo his nomination as defense secretary.

Wolf, the White House really put out on a full-court press today to try to stop what we think is going to happening in a couple of minutes from happening. Joe Biden I'm told may call the Republican senator. I was even told that there was a compromise potentially in the works to not have this vote at all if Republicans promised to just allow a vote after congressional recess next week.

That would be a simple majority, 51 votes would get through. That didn't happen and so that's why we're having this vote. Again, Republicans say probably after the recess, after they have more time, they will vote to confirm Chuck Hagel. We were told that before.

One thing I just want to add to this, and it's important to point out, we reported on the show last week that we counted 60 votes to confirm Chuck Hagel and that changed. It changed in the past 48 hours primarily because some of those key senators who told us that on the Republican side, John McCain included, reversed themselves. They felt a lot of pressure from fellow Republicans who did want more time and they bent to that pressure.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Gloria Borger into this conversation. Gloria, you need 60 votes to break a filibuster if you will. So it doesn't look like the White House is going to get those 60 votes. The vote is still happening right now.

So they -- that means even if all 55 Democrats, 53 Democrats, two independents, they vote to break it, you still need five Republicans and there aren't five Republicans, apparently, who are willing to vote against the majority of the Republicans.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And as Dana points out, that is the case right now. When they come back from their break, that will probably change and the White House really did go on this full-court press, both Jessica Yellin and I have been reporting today that the White House said, look, I had wanted senior administration officials say to me that the notion that they would stop backing Chuck Hagel and would actually withdraw his nomination, he called that insane to me, insane.

And what he also said is that they are not quite sure what the Republicans want other than delay. Is this about Chuck Hagel? Is this about Benghazi? And as this source pointed out, look, they wanted Hillary Clinton to testify on Benghazi, they got her.

They wanted Leon Panetta to testify in Benghazi they got him. They wanted the timeline supplied to them about what the president knew, who he spoke to and when, they said they've now gotten that.

So they believe and another source described it to me this way, they believe that they just want to be vindictive, that this is now about president Obama and that in the end if they continue this, they will look petty, as one source put it.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise, Dana Bash, this vote is still continuing. We don't know if the vote has failed or succeeded or what's going on. But we assume that there aren't -- what you're hearing is that there aren't probably five Republicans who will join 55 Democrats in breaking this filibuster?

BASH: That's right. Going in, the Democrats did not think that they had the 60 votes and we could only potentially find three Republicans who were going to agree to stop this filibuster, but again, you know we probably will see this any minute. The vote is technically over but sometimes they have to wait for senators to come in to cast their votes.

One thing I will say, though, is we were talking about the fact that probably Hagel will be confirmed after the senators come back from a week-long recess. At this point I'm a little bit gun-shy. I wouldn't even take that to the bank and the reason is because we've seen this before.

I had several republican senators say to me, point blank today, that they will vote no today but vote yes next week because they want to give their colleagues more time. You never know what's going to happen next week. Hagel's opponents are determined to take him down and block him from being defense secretary.

That's on the one hand. The other hand, you might ask, if that's the case, if Democrats are hearing from Republicans that they need more time, why are they holding this vote? There's a good political reason, from their perspective. It's politically helpful to show that Republicans are blocking the president's defense secretary. They think that it makes them look like obstructionist.

BLITZER: I want you both to stand by. We wait for the final vote. It has not yet failed. It might fail, but we'll wait for the final vote to be counted and then we'll know and of course update our viewers as soon as that happens. It's going to take a few more minutes. Gloria, stand by, Dana Bash, stand by as well. We'll see if Chuck Hagel on this day wins or loses. It looks like he's going to lose, but we'll wait to see the vote actually counted. We'll take a quick break.

When we come back, we're also watching the Carnival "Triumph." There you see live pictures. It's moving slowly towards the port. We're going to be speaking with a passenger on board this cruise ship live when we come back.

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BLITZER: All right, you're looking at live pictures of the Carnival "Triumph" as it slowly makes its way to port in Mobile, Alabama. It's now estimated, barring any last minute glitches, 10:00 p.m. Eastern to midnight Eastern. That's the estimate a spokesman for Carnival says it will then take four to five hours to get all 4,200 people on board the Carnival "Triumph" to shore, four to five hours.

Obviously young children, people with special needs will have first opportunity to leave. Only one elevator is working. That makes it very, very difficult. We had shown you live pictures from our helicopter flying overhead exclusive pictures of what was going on in the upper deck.

But these are live pictures coming from shore as we see this huge vessel making its way to Mobile. Terry Thornton, the vice president of Carnival telling us just a few minutes ago that this will be the largest ship ever to dock at this facility, at this port in Mobile.

So obviously they've got a lot of problems. That little tugboat you see at the front is moving, is moving this ship all the way. So it's obviously a very, very significant situation.

Ed Buck is one of the passengers aboard this ship, the Carnival "Triumph." He's joining us on the phone right now. Ed, thanks very much for calling in. What's it like right now? What can you tell us?

ED BUCK, CRUISE PASSENGER (via telephone): I just had a crab sandwich with lobster for lunch because they are finishing off all the food. Life is good. People are very excited right now. We're getting back. You know, I think the media's made a lot of -- made it sound real bad.

It's not quite as bad as everybody says. It was kind of like everybody gets together. The Carnival did us right. They fed us pretty well the whole time. Lines were long. The big problem that we had was the bathrooms.

But we had water most of the trip and they've been doing everything they can possibly to take care of us. They've offered us all our money back, vouchers for another cruise, and $500 cash.

BLITZER: I like your attitude and it's a very positive attitude. It's different than some of the other passengers we've been speaking with. And you've been kind enough to send us some pictures and I want to put them up on the screen. Tell us what we're seeing. There's one of you with a hazardous waste bag. There it is right there. What's that all about?

BUCK: Those are the red bags and those were for using the bathroom, doing number two. And they -- as soon as you did, you would then put them outside your door and the cabin folks would immediately remove them. So that was kind of how we were handling it and then all of a sudden, the day before yesterday, they finally got some of the toilets working.

We were up on the 11th floor and they haven't worked. That's really the only problem on the ship. We lost water for two days and then we got it back and the ship was listing. So it was a matter of what side it was listing to what side you could take a shower.

I think they've had at least 15 helicopter drops on to the ship. At one point, we had three other Carnival ships circling that were sending lifeboats over with plenty of food. So there's plenty of food on the ship.

BLITZER: That's good to hear.

BUCK: Yes.

BLITZER: There's another picture you sent us with a bunch of mattresses piled up outside. Walk us through that.

BUCK: Yes, sir. The story is, some of the cabins -- the very back of the ship flooded because when the fire happened, the -- a lot of state rooms and all of the floors in the very back that flooded because the sprinkler systems came on and plus with no light and no air condition.

They got very stale for -- you know, floors were living out on the deck which was, by the way, in the first day and a half was beautiful out there and then we unfortunately had some rain and then all of a sudden as we got closer to land it was cold. And so people had moved in.

So, yes, all of the hallways are like tent city, but everybody was very friendly. Things were good, for the most part, under the circumstances. And just one plug for Carnival, they have gone head over heels to help us out and even two nights ago they opened up the bars and had free beer and wine for everybody.

And the struggles that people are having right now are no electricity to keep their cell phones going. Otherwise, I would have sent you a lot more pictures but my battery is dying. They are having what they are calling charging parties.

And different outlets around the elevators have as many as 50 people sitting around with strings of power strips and everybody plugs in and it's very orderly. You get half a charge and you move on.

BLITZER: Well, that's good to hear. Ed, I want to stay in close touch with you, assuming your power is still around. It's going to be at least another six, seven, eight hours until you're able to start getting off that ship. But we'll stay in close contact. Ed Buck is a cruise passenger. Where are you going to be winding up? BUCK: We're from Houston, Texas, and our car is down in Galveston. We have cruised 13 times. I will absolutely cruise again and cruise on Carnival, too, as a matter of fact. We do a lot of traveling on cruises and think it's one of the best vacations that you can and this is just a rarity that something like this has happened.

Again, it's not as bad as people have been talking about, but I will say some people did suffer because if you were down in the lower decks with no air or light, it was a problem.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, I love your attitude. It's a very positive attitude under these kinds of conditions. We're going to continue this conversation later. Ed Buck from Houston joining us from aboard the "Triumph." Thank you.

If you get an opportunity to send us more pictures, we'd be grateful as well. Appreciate it very, very much. We're going to stand by. We're going to be watching what's going on. These are live pictures you're seeing of the Carnival "Triumph" making its way slowly towards Mobile. We're watching that.

The other part of the screen, you see a vote still under way for Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary, a critically important procedural vote. We'll update you on the fate of Chuck Hagel when we come back.

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BLITZER: We're watching the Carnival "Triumph" slowly make its way to shore. It's going to take several more hours. We've got live pictures coming in.

Also the other side of the screen, we're watching the vote on Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary. Still waiting for the outcome of that. Stand by.

But let's get some other news including important news from South Africa. A world famous Olympic athlete stands charged with murdering his model girlfriend. CNN's Robyn Curnow is joining us from Johannesburg right now. What a story, Robin. What's the latest?

ROBIN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What a story. Just to give your viewers some background, Oscar Pistorius was that double amputee, the man who runs on blades, the man called the fastest man with no legs who ran in the Olympic Games against able-bodied athletes, men with legs and he made it through to the semifinals.

His has been a story, Wolf, of inspiration, of triumph over adversity. Essentially he's been the golden boy of international athletics. All of that changed today in a terrible Valentine's Day tragedy. It appears that he shot dead his model girlfriend.

As you said, police say he'll be charged officially with murder in a magistrate court on Friday morning. They say that he will -- that they will oppose bail, which points to the fact that they have a good case against him. There's been speculation as to what happened. The police hinting at perhaps domestic violence, a spat between this couple in the early hours of the morning at his home. Other speculation is that he tragically thought she was an intruder coming into his house, perhaps sneaking in to wish him a Valentine's Day. All in all, many South Africans absolutely shocked by the man that they considered inspiration and a role model. Back to you.

BLITZER: What a tragic story indeed. Robyn, when you get more information, let us know. Robyn Curnow joining us from Johannesburg. Tragic story indeed.

We'll get back to our top story, this cruise ship making its way towards the port of Mobile, Alabama, 4,200 people on board under miserable conditions. We're watching. Got live pictures coming up. Also, we're awaiting the outcome of the roll call vote on Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary.

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