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Reactions to the Deadly Bus Accident in Atlanta; Extensive Damage in Georgia

Aired March 3, 2007 - 11:00   ET


This is the third day of March.

Hello to you all.

I'm T.J. Holmes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, good morning, everybody.

I'm Betty Nguyen.

Live this hour, President Bush tours the damage from this week's deadly twisters.

HOLMES: Also, at a hospital hit hard by the tornados, we'll talk live to a doctor who became a hometown hero.

NGUYEN: And keep your eye on the skies because we're going to fill you in on today's rare celestial event.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HOLMES: President Bush is getting a firsthand look this morning at the destruction caused by the killer tornados that attacked the Southeast on Thursday. He took an aerial tour over Enterprise, Alabama, where a twister hit the local high school, killing eight students.

After that, the president spoke with the city's mayor and other officials about the destruction he'd seen and he promised help.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I come down with a heavy heart and I will try to the best of my ability to comfort those who lost life and property. I know you and your council and the citizens here have done that, as well.

I hope it helps for the citizens here to hear that we've declared your county a major disaster area, which will provide some relief. You can never heal a heart, but you can provide comfort knowing that the federal government will provide the help for those whose houses were destroyed or automobiles were destroyed.

And I would strongly urge the citizens here to -- if you've got a question, to call 1-800-621-FEMA.


NGUYEN: Well, the president's next stop is in southern Georgia, where Thursday's tornados killed nine people. You're looking at some of the damage there.

CNN's senior correspondent, Alan Chernoff, is standing by in Americus, Georgia -- and, Alan, to tell us about how people are really trying to recover from all that damage.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The damage is just so extensive here, Betty.

Have a look at this huge pine tree that I'm standing on right now. The root system you see just massive. And the tornado just yanked it out and flopped it right on down. Very easy for a huge today to pull that off.

And the power lines are all down around here. No power here last night. It was completely dark. And you can see that the actual poles were just taken like twigs and tossed all about. These are 45-feet high.

Right now, officials from Georgia Power here digging new holes six-and-a-half feet deep into the ground to get those poles back into the ground so they can put the wires back up.

Now, if we can come right back over here, you can see the medical center from the outside, real devastation. I mean the windows just knocked out. The roof ripped off. And it's bad enough on the outside, but now, come with us inside to the hospital to see where patients and medical staff rode out the storm.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Walk through the remains of Sumter Regional Hospital and imagine the terror that patients and staff endured during the tornado. About 60 patients were here thus night when the twister struck.

Nurse Bridget Barrow was among those caring for them. Today, she feels lucky to be alive.

BRIDGET BARROW, NURSE, SUMTER REGIONAL HOSPITAL: You could feel the suction and the doors immediately -- emergency doors and the doors to the rooms started flapping open. And on and on.

CHERNOFF (on camera): You feel the suction and what are you thinking?

BARROW: I'm thinking we're all going to go onto the ceiling and the roof.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Winds swept away part of the roof, yet everyone in the building survived. (on camera): There were four infants here in the nursery when the tornado struck. Nurses took those infants out of the nursery and then brought them into interior rooms with their moms. Then the nurses gathered herein the hallway, got down low and held onto this railing for dear life.

BARROW: And I was holding onto the rail and I really did, I just started saying, you know, please god protect us. Just be with us. And then truly, really and truly, in that moment, about five seconds later is when it lifted.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Contractor Rick Newell helped build the hospital's newest wing seven years ago and brought CNN along as he assessed the damage.

RICK NEWELL, ALCON ASSOCIATES INC.: The hospital has done an amazing job with getting everybody out in the time frame that they did with no injuries.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Can you believe no one died here?

NEWELL: Not from what I've seen.

CHERNOFF: It's incredible.

NEWELL: It's very incredible.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): The same is true for the devastation. Far more than a hospital was destroyed in Americus. A shopping center, including the Winn-Dixie Supermarket and at least 500 homes, according to the county sheriff.

Alma Camp and her sister, Reena Dariso (ph), in the red, had one of the scariest experiences in their 80 plus years in this town Thursday night.

ALMA CAMP, AMERICUS RESIDENT: It sounds very much like a freight train, you know?

I -- I don't know, I just -- you go -- you go back and try to relive it, it's -- it's terrible.

CHERNOFF: Their home suffered no damage, but it's painful for them to see what has become of their blvd town.


REENA DARISO: Well, that's OK.

CAMP: It hurts to see it destroyed this way.

We watched this place grow and it's terrible...

CHERNOFF (on camera): Well, we'll see what...

CAMP: ... it's terrible to see it gone. (END VIDEO TAPE)

CHERNOFF: Indeed, much of the town will be gone. But it's also going to be rebuilt. The hospital behind me, at least this newer wing, built in 1999, structural engineers have already taken a look and they say it can be fixed, that structurally it still is quite sound. And, in fact, the workmen are going in and out right now.

And as we speak, they are putting in -- Georgia Power workers are putting in one of those poles that we just talked about, 45 feet high. They're going to bang it in right now. Hopefully by tonight, they'll have power back over here and that will be a big step toward the recover here in Americus.

NGUYEN: Absolutely.

It's so great to see that already started and underway.

Thank you, Alan Chernoff.

And coming up in just about 10 minutes, we're going to talk with Dr. Timothy Powell. Now, he was on call at Sumter Hospital in Americus, Georgia right after that tornado hit. It is an amazing story. You want to stay tuned for that.

HOLMES: Well, the Bluffton University baseball team was supposed to play its first game of the season today. Instead, surviving players are mourning on this day, mourning the deaths of teammates after the tragic bus accident in Atlanta.

CNN's Don Lemon is at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital for us this morning.

Hello to you again -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you again, T.J.

You know, they are mourning, but they're also rooting, pulling for four of their teammates who are still here at Grady Memorial Hospital. And they couldn't be at a better place. This is one of the premier trauma centers in the country.

Two of their teammates here are in critical condition, one in fair condition, one in serious condition. And so while the teammates who survived and who are injured, many of them, at least 15 of them, are at local hotels, they're also coming here to check on their teammates, to see how they're doing.

And this morning we spoke to two of them, two of them who were on that bus when it happened. And they received some pretty -- pretty major injuries.


KURT SCHROEDER, BLUFFTON CATCHER: It's really hard to -- to realize that this just happened. Like all day you're just like, is this really happening? You're just kind of waiting -- waiting to wake up.

But then you see your teammates and it's just -- you just realize there's players not there and it just kind of hits you slowly. And it hits you harder sometimes and other times it just still feels unreal.

Just continue to pray for us. And I'd like to say that the community and just everyone around has been extremely supportive and extremely kind. I can't thank them enough.


LEMON: And they were telling some pretty harrowing tales, one of them talking about the smell of gasoline. He awoke to that and then just being upside down. The other one seeing the concrete pavement coming at him as he woke up and then being disheveled and having to call his mother on a cell phone to explain to her that he had been in an accident and several of his teammates, it appeared, might not have made it.

Also, the people who were behind, some of the freshmen team members didn't -- weren't able to go on this trip. And they spent their time back in Bluffton and then found out about this on the television and then made their way here to Atlanta just as fast as they could, to try to -- to try to be with their teammates who are suffering.


SAM FRUCHEY, BLUFFTON PLAYER: I don't know if you can really explain it. I don't think -- I don't -- it's tough. You can't really explain the feeling you're going through right now. You just hope that everyone that is injured still just makes it through.

PEGGY FRUCHEY, SAM FRUCHEY'S MOTHER: It was awful. But I, of course, was so happy that my own son was not on the bus. I mean that's the first thing, of course, that went through my mind.


LEMON: And Peggy Fruchey talking about getting that phone call in the middle of the night to tell parents that, you know, their loved one or their child was on the bus or had been injured. She's saying it's the worst thing that could have happened.

While she is happy that her son was not on that bus, she said she -- her heart is going out to the other team members who were injured and also, of course, to those who died.

The latest, the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board here in Atlanta investigating that crash; also looking into the possibility that that bus may have some sort of data recorder on it. Of course, it's going to be tough to find out, because, as we all know, the bus driver and his wife also died in that crash.

That's the latest from Grady Memorial Hospital in the Atlanta area. Now back to you in the studio.

HOLMES: All right, Don, once again, thank you so much.

NGUYEN: And at Bluffton University last night, there was a candlelight memorial service.

CNN's Jason Carroll has the latest on student reaction from Bluffton.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Students at Bluffton University were inconsolable -- tears for four members of the school's baseball team killed in a bus accident on an Atlanta Interstate while on their way to the first game of the season.

The university is a small Christian liberal arts school with about 1,200 students. The town of Bluffton is a rural community about 50 miles south of Toledo, with a population of only 4,200, including the school student body.

So when something of this magnitude happens, Jake Slager, a senior at Bluffton, says everyone feels it.

JAKE SLAGER, BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Everybody pretty much knows each other, at least of each other. So everybody is impacted.

CARROLL: Baseball players Tyler Williams, David Betts, Scott Harmon and Cody Holp were killed in the crash.

Colin Yoder and his friends, who are athletes at Bluffton, knew them all.

COLIN YODER, BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I played basketball against Tyler and with Tyler and I had class with David Betts. And, you know, just to think that, you know, one day you're sitting in class with these guys, you're playing basketball with them. And then something like this happens, you don't even know how to react, really.

CARROLL: Rustin Pickett was on the baseball team for two years before he switched to play football. But he never forgot his friend, who played outfield.

RUSTIN PICKETT, BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: A good friend of mine was Tyler Williams. We just hung out and played ball together and worked out together. So in -- since we're so close, like Colin said, you see everybody every day.

CARROLL: Classes at Bluffton were canceled after the accident. Crisis counselors are here for anyone who needs them. So, too, are alumni, like Bluffton's mayor, Frederick Rodabaugh. He has lived here all his life.

(on camera): How painful is it for you at this time? MAYOR FRED RODABAUGH: It's not as painful -- I wouldn't say it's as painful as losing someone from your own family, but it's very close to that. And you feel very sympathetic toward the families of those that were lost and those that were injured.

CARROLL: As flowers start to collect on Bluffton's baseball field, the students here are trying to cope with a heartbreaking lesson in how fragile life can be.

BEN MCCULLOUGH, BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY STUDENT: We're all 18 to 22- year-olds who think we can do anything in the world and nothing can affect us. But there's always those accidents that can happen and it's just a rude awakening.


NGUYEN: And Jason Carroll joins us live.

The question for you, Jason, is what are students doing today? What are they planning to do, not only for the classmates who survived, but to remember those who unfortunately died in that crash?

CARROLL: Well, Betty, many of the students that we spoke to who were here yesterday tell us that it's spring break here at Bluffton University, so school is out.

So what many of them are planning to do, if they haven't done so already, is they're heading down to Atlanta to provide whatever support they can for the players and their families that -- that are there -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right, CNN's Jason Carroll, thank you for that.

And treating victims while fighting the elements -- we're going to be talking about this because coming up, I'm going to speak to a doctor on call at Americus, Georgia, at the hospital there, when it was hit by the tornado.

HOLMES: Also, a potential smoking gun surfaces in the investigation into conditions at Walter Reed Hospital.

NGUYEN: And later, an extraordinary reunion between an Olympic medalist and the father he was separated from two decades ago.


HOLMES: Here now, some of the stories we're following here in THE NEWSROOM.

Today, President Bush in the South, visiting with grieving families in Enterprise, Alabama, as well as in Americus, Georgia. This week's fierce tornados swept through those towns, killing at least 19 people.

Also in Copenhagen, nearly 200 young people were arrested in a second night of rioting. Schools were vandalized, cars burned, buildings damaged. Leftist groups are upset over the forced eviction of squatters from a youth center.

NGUYEN: Well, back here in the U.S. a hospital is supposed to be a place of healing. But in Americus, Georgia on Thursday night, Sumter Hospital was a place of danger. It took a direct hit from a tornado and patients had to be evacuated very quickly.

Dr. Timothy Powell is an anesthesiologist at that hospital.

He joins us live to talk about exactly what he went through that night.

And it's really quite amazing because you were on call at the hospital.


NGUYEN: You were, in fact, at home at the time when the tornado blew over it.

POWELL: Correct.

NGUYEN: Tell me what happened then.

POWELL: Well, the tornado actually went right by the cabin I was staying in, which is was frightening experience. And I checked in with family in order to let them know I was OK, and one of my colleagues up North called me. And there's another member of the team, Chris McWilliams at CRNA (ph) that I work with in Americus. So he was there.

I tried to contact him and was unable to, I think just because of the volume of calls.

NGUYEN: And he was there at the hospital?

POWELL: Yes. He's -- he was actually staying across the street.

NGUYEN: So you're thinking, look, I've got to get to the hospital...

POWELL: Right.

NGUYEN: ... because there are going to be people who are injured?

POWELL: Right. And Chris being right next to the hospital, I wanted to make sure he was OK. So we communicated through a third party. He called Noon (ph) and I called Noon. So the messages were relayed.

I worked my way out of the subdivision I was in. I had to climb over several trees and some downed power lines. And there was a sheriff's deputy there and he got me about half way to the hospital. And then from there I had to walk the rest of the way.

NGUYEN: How far was that? POWELL: About a mile-and-a-half, probably.

NGUYEN: And so, of course, you're seeing all the damage as you're coming up on the hospital.


NGUYEN: And when you get to that emergency room, when you get to the hospital, what did you see?

POWELL: Well, I had to cross the parking lot. And you can see -- I could see the front of the building. And all the windows were blown out. And the emergency generator was on. So there were lights in the rooms and -- I mean it was kind of devastating. You just can't imagine the amount of destruction.

And I walked around to the north side of the hospital, where the emergency room entrance was. And debris everywhere and yard refuse inside the emergency room. And I mean you notice the little things like the glass is blown out of the doors, but as I walk up, the door is opened. I mean it's -- you just see the little things.

And inside, it was controlled chaos. People were doing their job. There were a lot of people there. And the first concern, of course, was moving the patients out, you know, so...

NGUYEN: Well, did they have the equipment to do their jobs?

Because a lot of this was really destroyed.

POWELL: Yes. Well, they -- we had lost a lot of our equipment. Radiology was destroyed. So when I met up with Chris McWilliams, we immediately went to the operating room and took a survey to see what was serviceable in case we were needed.

There are six operating rooms there. We only had one serviceable operating room. The rest were being flooded. I understand there was a busted water main on the third floor and it was pouring all around us.

So quite quickly it came -- became a matter of let's evacuate the patients because the building is not serviceable anymore.

NGUYEN: And so with the critically ill patients, what did you do then?

I mean obviously you had to evacuate them, but how did you keep them alive? How did you keep them hooked up to what they needed to be hooked up to?

POWELL: Well, we -- we brought the -- fortunately we didn't have anybody that was so critical that they needed life support systems. But we moved them downstairs on their mattresses. We lined them around the operating room in the dry areas and immediately the hospitals in the surrounding communities responded very rapidly in mobilizing their forces to accept our critically ill patients. NGUYEN: You know, and as we're trying to envision this and picture this controlled chaos, as you describe, there are people who are starting to trickle in, people who were injured in this tornado that are coming to the place that they think is going to provide them with some kind of help.

What do you do then?

POWELL: Well, we -- we set up a triage so that those who come in who are just -- have slight injuries, you know, we have to send them to the side. We also had a lot of people who were coming to check on loved ones who were in the hospital at the same time, who were not injured.

But in addition to those people coming in, we had all the people who worked there. The crews responded immediately and all the people who checked their family, made sure their families were OK. They put on their garb and they came to work.

NGUYEN: Isn't it amazing how people pull together in times of need like that?

POWELL: Yes. It's a great community. It's a very strong community. The hospital is the center of their community and we hope they rebuild soon.

NGUYEN: Well, good job.

Dr. Timothy Powell, anesthesiologist, who was really called into action that day.

We thank you for your time and sharing your story with us.

POWELL: My pleasure.

HOLMES: Well, the Midwest, as well, finding harsh weather of its own. We'll get an update on conditions. That's just ahead.

NGUYEN: And why is the hunt for Osama bin Laden taking so long?

Well, coming up, we're going to give you a reality check.


HOLMES: Parts of the Midwest digging out and shoveling out and whatever you call that thing out -- from a massive winter storm. Thousands are waiting for the power to come back on. At least 15 deaths being blamed on the storm, which brought winds of more than 40 miles an hour and dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas.

NGUYEN: Well, let's get a look at the severe weather outside today.

Reynolds Wolf joins us with really the latest on what you have going on -- hi there, Reynolds.



HOLMES: Well, how can a high tech truck help the government respond better to disaster?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you roll the bus over or any of that nature, you know, it -- you're going to have people dying.


NGUYEN: Driving a bus is not for the feint of heart. We're going to hear from someone who takes that responsibility on a daily basis.

HOLMES: And the responsibility for treating wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has now been handed to a new commanding officer.

Did political policy lead to the problems at the facility?


NGUYEN: We want to welcome you back to the CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: And I'm T.J. Holmes.

Thank you so much for being with us.

It's certainly been a busy, busy morning for us here.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes.

Two big stories that we are following for you all day long.

First, President Bush tours the tornado zone, where there are lots and lots of people to speak with and a lot of damage that he's going to be surveying there in the South.

HOLMES: Also, the bus crash tragedy. We'll hear more from the victims. We're also taking a closer look at bus safety.

That's in the CNN NEWSROOM this morning.

NGUYEN: All right. Let's get straight to it. President Bush is expected in Americus, Georgia, shortly. The president is touring areas hit by a series of tornados on Thursday. Now, earlier this morning he was in Enterprise, Alabama where a twister hit the local high school killing eight students. Mr. Bush told the mayor and Federal government that he will help the storm survivors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: I come down with a heavy heart and I will try to the best of my ability to comfort those who lost lives and property. I know that you and the council and the citizens have done here have done that as well. I hope it helps for the citizens here to hear that we declared your county a major disaster area, which will provide some relief. We can never heal a heart, but you can provide comfort knowing that the Federal government will provide help.


HOLMES: FEMA, of course, is helping out with the recovery efforts in Enterprise, Alabama. The Federal agency learned some lessons from its Katrina mistakes and is trying not to repeat those now. Miles O'Brien reports.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FEMA says it's on the road to recovery and this truck is part of the solution to its colossal Katrina failings. It's a rolling communications hub brimming with radios, phones, computers and cameras.

MARK HALL, FEMA: It's so versatile. It's small. We can move it around. It's got such good equipment in it.

O'BRIEN: It's designed to keep field workers in touch with Washington and give the leadership there a clearer picture of the disaster. I spoke with FEMA Director David Paulison using the teleconferencing rig inside the truck.

DAVID PAULISON, FEMA DIRECTOR: One of the lessons learned in Katrina was not having on ground visibility or situational awareness, not having good communications and vehicles like this give us that capability, let's us see real time what's happening. If we had had vehicles like this in New Orleans, we would have known very clearly what was happening at the superdome, know very clearly what was going on with the convention center and real time the live shots of what's going on with the levees instead of just guessing. This has got tools, going to be invaluable for FEMA to really get a hands on situational awareness of what's going on with these disasters.

O'BRIEN: The truck is also designed to make it easier for the patchwork of local state and Federal emergency responders to communicate. This bank of radios serves as a switchboard between different frequencies.

HALL: We can patch them through to each other.

O'BRIEN: Do you have to be in the middle of that conversation or can you actually directly they can create a direct conversation?

HALL: They call in and they call in on this radio and then using the software on the AC-1000, then I can connect them to say this radio so even though they have separate radio systems.

O'BRIEN: The communications truck rolled out with another FEMA team charged with getting to a disaster scene like this first. They are also equipped with satellite links, generators, an all-terrain vehicle, and a place to sleep and meet with local officials.

NED WRIGHT, FEMA: What we're supposed to do is help those on the ground and say what do you really need and so that we can make sure that those resources get here quicker and it's the right resources.

O'BRIEN: Miles O'Brien, CNN, Enterprise, Alabama.


NGUYEN: And the coach of the Bluffton University baseball team and six of his players, they do remain in serious or critical condition today. Here's the scene, though, after that bus carrying the team to Florida plunged off of an overpass in Atlanta earlier yesterday. The driver, his wife, four team members died in that accident. About 500 people attended a candlelight memorial service on the Bluffton campus in Ohio last night. Bluffton is a small closely- knit school affiliated with the Mennonite church.

HOLMES: And our Veronica de la Cruz has been tracking this story, tracking it online and Veronica, you have been finding a lot of interesting stuff and this is a way we've been able to get educated about these young men.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN.COM: That's right, T.J.. As you know, I have been spending the morning scouring the web for more information on these four young men who died in the crash. They were sophomore Tyler Williams, sophomore David Betts, freshman Scott Harmon, and freshman Cody Holp. Now, we would like to tell you a little bit about David Betts. He comes from a prominent family. His great grandfather was once president of Bluffton University. His two older sisters are also graduates of the school. And from other information that we've gleaned, Scott Harmon's former high school coach recalled Scott getting hit hard on the nose during a play once and despite the bloody injury, Harmon came back to hit a home run that helped them win the game.

This is also what I have gathered. From reading his page on a couple on (INAUDIBLE) .com. A couple of these players have personal web sites. It seems that Scott Harmon not only played baseball, but he was also a football fan too. He played football as well. Now, Cody Holp, we were just telling you about him. He had his own page on Let's take a look at that. I have been looking at the site all morning. He was clearly an enormously popular young man. A lot of people have been posting all morning long, as well as yesterday. Cody was the prom king and some friends describe him also as the class clown. Many condolences like I mentioned, have been posted on his site.

Then there was also Tyler Williams. Tyler Williams' high school coach remembers him as a funny individual, says that he was always smiling and laughing. Also, I was able to find this on the web. This was from It said that Tyler Williams wanted to be one of the first to get a college degree in his family. Now, if you knew any of these young men or you would like to share your thoughts on this tragedy, you can email us here at T.J..

HOLMES: All right, Veronica, thank you so much, a lot of good stories. Interesting to learn a lot about these young men. Sounds like a bunch of good guys. So thank you so much, veronica.

NGUYEN: Which makes it all the more tragic. Bluffton University is a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Mennonite church USA. The campus is 60 miles south of Toledo, Ohio, 1,155 students are enrolled this academic year alone. More than 95 percent receive some sort of financial aid. The school's baseball team played in the heartland conference and had been scheduled to play in a game today in Florida.

HOLMES: Well, when the Bluffton baseball team's bus plunged off that overpass in Atlanta yesterday, that drew some new attention to bus safety. CNN's Ted Rowlands takes a closer look.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stanley Tsugawa has been driving a bus for more than 40 years. He says having passengers' lives in his hands is an awesome responsibility.

STANLEY TSUGAWA, BUS DRIVER: If you roll a bus over or anything of that nature, you are going to have people dying.

ROWLANDS: According to Federal statistics, more than 300 people are killed in a wide array of accidents involving buses each year. This 2005 Houston bus fire which killed 23 nursing home residents was caused by poor maintenance. In 2002 a Greyhound bus accident in Fresno, California, was caused by a passenger attacking the driver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were screaming, and all of a sudden it flipped on its side and slid, and it was bumping.

ROWLANDS: Two people were killed in that accident and three passengers were killed in Santa Maria, California, when a Greyhound driver suffered a seizure. Stanley says most drivers have had some close calls. He has had a few involving bad road conditions. He has even had passengers fight on his bus.

TSUGAWA: Those things you never forget. It's like a brand. It's branded, and you'll never forget it. Like I say, life goes on, so you just have to continue on.

ROWLANDS: Stanley says every time there's a major accident like the Atlanta tragedy, bus drivers across the country think of the danger and the responsibility they face on the road.

TSUGAWA: Yeah, it's a reminder. No one wants to remember it, but it's a reminder.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE) NGUYEN: The war in Iraq, the crisis in Lebanon, Iran's nuclear program, all expected to be high on the agenda during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahminejad's first official visit to Saudi Arabia today. Now, one key meeting is expected to be with Saudi King Abdullah, which is a major ally of the U.S. The Bush administration accuses Iran of supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents and believes that it is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies both charges.

HOLMES: We're going to talk about the search for Osama bin Laden now. It took a new twist this week when the U.S. announced the al Qaeda leader is believed to be in Pakistan. Now, that had ramifications for a major U.S. ally. It also introduced new questions about why after all this time, bin Laden remains at large. Joshua Levs joins us now with this CNN reality check and I heard someone joke once that Osama bin Laden must be the king of hide and go seek because you can't find this guy. Why is it so tough?

JOSHUA LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Got to joke about it all, but I hear what you are saying. You know what folks, if you think about the date right now, it's almost five and a half years since 9/11 and in about one week we're going to meet the five and a half year date and throughout pretty much all of that time, everyone has been saying in the U.S. intelligence community that they know the general area where he is. So why can't they go there and get him? Here's the story.


LEVS (voice-over): The most wanted man in the world, the face of the 9/11 attacks. He has gotten videos out, but eluded the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. now says it believes both bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are in an ungoverned tribal section of Pakistan.

MIKE McCONNELL, DIR. OF NATL INTELLIGENCE: To the best of our knowledge, the senior leadership, number one and number two are there and they are attempting to re-establish and rebuild and to establish training camps.

LEVS: The U.S. has long thought bin Laden is in the mountains near the Afghan-Pakistani border, but on which side? Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. says --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is in Afghanistan. He has never been in Pakistan.

LEVS: Vice President Cheney was just in Pakistan where he requested tougher action against al Qaeda amid reports that the group is having a resurgence there. The former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit doubts President Pervez Musharraf wants to face the ramifications of capturing the Islamist leader who has many supporters in his country.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FMR. HEAD OF CIA BIN LADEN UNIT: I don't think he is protecting him, but I'm very confident he doesn't want to turn him over. LEVS: Pakistani leaders deny holding back, pointing out that their troops have fought al Qaeda and arrested suspects. Scheuer acknowledges Musharraf has been tough.

SCHEUER: And now it's going to be up to the United States.

LEVS: U.S. troops have stayed out respecting Pakistan's wishes though, President Bush has said he would send troops if there's actionable intelligence. The next step is unclear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you, do we have to seek authority to go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan?

LT. GEN. DOUGLAS LUTE, DIR OF OPS, JOINT STAFF: Again, here we're into some very fine authorities. I'm happy to answer your question, but we would need to go to a closed session.


LEVS: And now this is becoming increasingly a major issue in the early presidential race. You got almost all the candidates saying that they will be the one to fight against al Qaeda and even in some cases specifically to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, Senator Hillary Clinton in one of her recent events, T.J. said she believes it's about time that the United States, quote gets serious about finding this guy.

HOLMES: All those themes I'm sure popular in a political season.

LEVS: Yeah.

HOLMES: Josh, thank you so much.

LEVS: Thanks a lot.

NGUYEN: We do have some video just into CNN of President Bush visiting Enterprise, Alabama, where, as we have been watching over the past couple of days, people recover from the tornado damage there. You see the president walking down the steps at Enterprise High School. That is the same very high school where eight students died on Thursday as they huddled inside trying to protect themselves from this tornado.

Learning a lot about the damage there in Enterprise. This is not that big of a town. some 20,000 residents. The school has 2,000 students and according to Alabama state representative Terry Spicer (ph), it could cost as much as $60 million to rebuild the school at its present site. Now, it's still not known if that is the plan to go ahead and rebuild right where it stands, in the same place where those eight students died. A lot of questions still being answered this afternoon, but the president did say earlier when he arrived in Enterprise, Alabama, that this area is a major disaster area which will clear the way for some Federal funding. So we hope to learn much more as the president not only finishes touring Enterprise, but is on his way to Americus, Georgia, another area that was hard hit by the tornadoes that blew through on Thursday. We'll keep you updated. HOLMES: On to the story about Walter Reed where a couple folks have lost their jobs over the issue there. We're going back here because we have this video of President Bush speaking there. We're going to listen in to what he has to say.


BUSH: I met with the president of the student body who recognizes that the end of her senior year is going to be difficult, but as a student leader, she will have the opportunity to help people rebuild and that she will learn that out of the devastation and her classmates will learn, that out of the devastation can come hope and a better tomorrow, and so we is ask for the blessings on the students and their families. We ask for the blessings on the principal and the administrator. We thank this good community for rallying strongly by the side of those who have been affected and I thank the people of Enterprise for the warm welcome I have received here. The people of America have got to know that the citizens here, even though affected by devastation, have shown great courage and compassion for their citizens in need and it's really part of the strength of the United States to know that there are such decent, decent folks. God bless, everybody. Thank you all.


QUESTION: How did it look from the air, sir?

BUSH: Looked as bad from the air as it looks from the ground, and you can see right here the effects of the storm. The biggest effect of the storm is the shattered lives. We can rebuild buildings and the fundamental question is will the spirit stay strong in Enterprise, Alabama and I predict it -- I not only will say strong, it will be strengthened. That's my prediction. It's easy to tell when you talk to whether it's young or old, this town refuses to be -- to be devastated.

This town is a town full of people that will not be -- will succumb to the effects of this storm. The mayor is strong. The principal of the school is strong. Superintendent and the children, high school seniors and so it's -- these are very tough times for the people here. They're going to be tough times for the people in Georgia that were affected. I just hope they know that a lot of people are praying for them, that a lot of strangers that they'll never have met care for them and that out of this rubble will emerge a better tomorrow and that's the commitment that I hear here in Enterprise, and the role of the government is going to help to the extent we can. Thank you all.


HOLMES: And listening into President Bush there right outside of Enterprise High School that was devastated in that storm there, embracing a couple of students there. Students having a hard time keeping it together actually as they listened to the president there address reporters and some of the devastation he saw. But of course the president taking a tour there of some of the devastation in Alabama, also heading to Georgia. Stay here with CNN. We'll have full coverage of the president's visit there all day, plus other headlines, other news of the day. Don't go away. We're going to take a quick break.


NGUYEN: Want to get you some more new video coming into CNN of President Bush visiting those -- a family just devastated by the tornadoes on Thursday that blew through the southeast. He is in Enterprise, Alabama, where 10 people total have been killed in those storms, eight of them just students at Enterprise High School. You see video right now of him touring Enterprise High School. Today he will also be going on to Americus, Georgia, another area that was hard hit by these tornadoes. In Americus, two people have been killed in the state of Georgia, nine on a whole. Out of three states 20 people have been killed in these storms, so the president doing a lot today to extend his condolences to the families dealing with not only the loss, but the people of these cities dealing with just the devastation and destruction that's come to their town. As soon as we get more on this, of course, we'll bring it to you live here on CNN.

HOLMES: We do want to turn now to Iraq where we're getting word from the U.S. military that three more U.S. soldiers have been killed there. These three, according to the U.S. military, were killed by a roadside bomb, an improvised explosive device. It blew up next to their vehicle in central Baghdad. Right now the names of these three not being released, waiting to get notification to their next of kin, but we want to bring you this information just into us from the U.S. military that another three U.S. soldiers have been killed by a roadside bomb in central Baghdad.

NGUYEN: There are a number of stories that we continue to follow today, including the storm damage there in several states that occurred on Thursday and what's left. Want to get to the phone now and CNN's Rick Sanchez, who is working on a number of those stories, including a lot of questions out there, Rick, about those eight students who died in Enterprise, Alabama. They were doing what a lot of people told them to do and that was get to an interior part of the building in the school. Was that the right thing to do?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENTSANESSssss eporter: That's a great question, Betty. As I have been watching this as a student or as a parent who has students in high school -- one of my sons is in high school. The other ones are in other schools as well. So I've always been interested in what schools do when there's an oncoming emergency, something like a tornado and what we're going to be doing tonight is we're going to be talking to the structural engineer, trying to get a sense, because it sounds like these administrators did the right thing. The policy is don't let the kids out of the school, put them in a hallway. Well, is that the best thing to do? Is the hallway the safest place in a school? I think those are questions that certainly I as a parent and I think anybody else who's going to be watching tonight is going to be interested in finding out. If there is a better course of action, then we all should know, and that's what we're going to try to break down for you. NGUYEN: It's all very interesting. A lot of answers that many people are seeking as they watch this and see the storm damage. Rick will be watching you, of course, later today right here on CNN. Thank you for that.

For those of you watching right now, you want to stick around because we do have some remarkable pictures from outer space that you don't want to miss. We'll be right back.


NGUYEN: Want to you check out these out of this world pictures, literally. It may look likes a scene from a Hollywood movie, but it's not. These are actually new views of the planet Saturn. NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured these high-angle images of the ringed planet on a recent fly-by. Now, scientists call these never before seen photos simply breathtaking.

HOLMES: Yes, it took my breath away there.


HOLMES: It didn't look real, actually. Fredericka.


HOLMES: How did you like the pictures?

WHITFIELD: I love the pictures actually. It is fascinating to see.

NGUYEN: So are some of the stories you're going to be covering a little bit later today.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely. What a segue. Betty, my girl. I like that. We have a lot coming up in the noon hour. That tragic bus crash, more survivors are being released from the hospital, thankfully and they're telling their stories. We're going to be bringing some of those stories and trying to answer the question as to how this could have happened.

Also, tragedy striking the southeast, three states hit by tornadoes. We know the president has been touring the area throughout the morning and that hard-hit high school in Enterprise, Alabama. Well, imagine being a substitute teacher for the day on that day. We're going to be talking to a substitute teacher who is going to tell us about his experience and that happens to be his alma mater. Yeah. You know, he is going to be joining us in the 2:00 Eastern hour.

And also the 2:00 hour, we're talking presidential politics. Of course, there's a big Republican gathering in Washington, DC, but one very leading presidential candidate is conspicuously not there. Our Bill Schneider will be explaining why and what that all means.

NGUYEN: That is an interesting story too. Thank you, Fredericka.

OK. TV sitcoms so easy even a caveman can do them. Love those commercials. Well, maybe. We have that story next in the NEWSROOM.


GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Getting good tax advice can be as simple as a click of your mouse. You may be eligible to file for free online at or buy a program like Quicken or Turbo Tax. The cost is deductible. If you want a human being to do your taxes, consider hiring an enrolled agent. They are licensed by the Treasury Department to represent taxpayers. At, you can find an enrolled agent in your area.

Certified public accountants are also an option, though you may find their fees higher. Get references on any tax expert and check them out. Beware of tax advisors who open for business just weeks before the tax deadline. Your tax pro should be available to you all year-round. Remember, you increase your chances of getting audited if you pick a tax preparer the IRS considers incompetent or a cheat. I'm Gerri Willis. For more, watch "OPEN HOUSE" every Saturday 9:30 a.m. Eastern time right here on CNN.



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