Friday, August 03, 2007
This one hits close to home
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Two nights ago, I was sitting at my desk, making a to-do list for the next day, when I heard someone say, "Oh my god, look at this bridge collapse on TV." As I turned my head to see what was happening, I heard a voice in the distance say, "Alyssa, isn't this where you're from?" I stared at the TV while my brain clumsily attempted to compute what I was seeing, but all I could fixate on was the word "Minneapolis" in the banner. That was all I needed for my heart to start pounding.
Even though I grew up in Minneapolis, leaving just two years ago for this job, my brain started to freeze and I couldn't figure out which bridge had collapsed. All of a sudden, the tangled web of highways racing through my head unwound, and my heart dropped. My mom had recently moved to a condo on the river downtown, blocks away from the bridge. I frantically started dialing her cell number and it was busy. I hung up and dialed my dad, my step-mom, my sister, friends, cells, landlines ... all busy signals. I have never heard a worse noise in my life.
Moments later, my dad got through to me and let me know that he and the rest of my family were OK. What he said next would become a theme I'd hear from friends and family again and again: "I would have been on that bridge at 6 p.m. tonight if I hadn't decided to pick a file up from the office in the morning instead of swinging by on the way home."
Less than 24 hours after this conversation, I was standing on the roof of the Minneapolis Holiday Inn, staring in the distance to the void that used to be a bridge. It reminded me of the pit at ground zero. I couldn't believe how vast it appeared in person.
I've never been able to truly understand a story from the aerial footage that helicopters shoot. For me, it's about a single moment or image. One of the TV guests I was speaking with said that right after the bridge collapsed she watched as a car that was clinging to the road crept over the edge and plunged in to the water. That, I get.
Helping cover a story like this when it's so close to your heart is a surreal experience. I want to show my colleagues everything and make them understand what a special city this is. I want to help them tell the story well. While gathering guests and stories for our show, I want to look people in the eye and say simply, "I get it."
Forty-eight hours ago, I was sitting in New York, fretting over the fact that I never seem to make much progress on my to-do list, and in a split second, with razor sharp focus, there was only one thing I cared about. Just one.
-- By Alyssa Caplan, "360" Associate Producer
I just met Superwoman
Fire Captain Shanna Hanson won't like being described as Superwoman, but I think it's perfect. This 16-year-veteran of the Minneapolis Fire Department was sitting at home when the Minneapolis bridge collapsed. She literally leapt into action.
Hanson rushed to the scene and then jumped across rooftops to start rescuing people from the Mississippi River. If you were watching CNNs breaking news coverage Wednesday night, you probably saw her swimming in the mangled debris looking for survivors.
But what you and I couldn't see is how Hanson got there. When she mentioned leaping across rooftops to me, I quickly replied, "You did what?"
When I met Shanna Hanson this afternoon in Minneapolis, she was anxious about discussing her experience in the water. She was worried about "the heat" she'd soon be receiving from her fire fighting comrades. Of course, her story should be told.
Shanna Hanson wasn't the only human doing superhuman things Wednesday night in Minneapolis. But one person's heroics can sometimes tell the story of many.
-- By Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Families carry photos of missing loved ones
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- We're at the Holiday Inn in Minneapolis. This is where the Red Cross set up its family assistance center.
It doesn't take long to spot the family members still looking for loved ones. It's heartbreaking.
Some carry pictures, hoping that perhaps someone will recognize their loved one. I spoke to one woman who thinks her ex-husband may be missing; he didn't return any calls. She didn't know where to turn.
Another woman can't find her pregnant cousin. One family is hoping their loved one will be found as a "Jane Doe."
These families file into a restricted area. Counselors and chaplains are standing by, according to the Red Cross. I asked a Red Cross representative what can be done at this point? He told me "listen."
-- By Mary Snow, CNN Correspondent
Disabled man crashes van to save himself
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- She spoke Spanish in a quiet voice, still shaken by what her son had been through.
"God and the Virgin Mary saved my son, because otherwise he would have tumbled into the water with all the other cars," Ignacia Cruz told me.
I knew it gave her some comfort to speak in her native tongue about what had happened. I explained that my mother was from Spain and that she could speak freely and I would understand.
She went on: her 26 year-old son, Marcelo, had called her around 6:20 p.m. yesterday to tell her to turn on the news. The bridge had collapsed and he wanted her to know he was okay.
"I began to cry and cry, because this was the 2nd time he was saved," Ignacia said.
Marcelo had already escaped death once as a teenager when he'd been shot in a street fight, a fight that left him paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. So unlike all the other terrified drivers on the bridge yesterday, Marcelo had an added problem: how would he get out of his vehicle if he managed to survive?
"He could see cars in front of him falling straight into the water," Ignacia said anxiously, imagining the horror her son must have felt. Marcelo's split-second decision to crash his van into the bridge's wall stopped it from going over the edge, and likely saved his life.
But Marcelo had another problem: he couldn't get out of his van, because it was on a slant and he would have rolled into the water had he tried to extricate himself. Two rescue workers found him soon after and pulled him to safety.
-- By Jordana Miller, "360" Producer
Expert: Collapse was one-in-a-billion
Dr. Ted Galambos said he hopes to live long enough to find out exactly why this Minneapolis bridge collapsed.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota -- Baffling. Sudden death of a bridge. As if a 50-year-old man with no prior health issues suddenly dropped dead while walking down the street.
These are the descriptions just given to me by Dr. Ted Galambos, emritus professor of structural engineering at the University of Minnesota. Galambos, the man I went to for answers on why this bridge collapsed, actually had none.
Galambos says the bridge design, its structure and its four decades carrying traffic over the Mississippi, make what happened here yesterday virtually impossible.
I asked all the questions: Cracks in steel? Construction accident? Salt corrosion?
Galambos says anyone of them can bring down a bridge-but not like this. It was complete and instant failure. Cracks and corrosion give warnings, construction accidents can be witnessed. There is no evidence, he says, of either.
The surveillance video seen on CNN shows an event he calls one-in-a-billion; it just doesn't happen.
And yet it did.
We of course are searching for instant answers. Dr. Galambos says the methodical piecing together of how the bridge collapsed will take time and much patience. He is 78-years-old. He told me he hopes to live long enough to learn the real cause.
-- By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Thinking about the families...
I'm on a flight from Los Angeles to Minneapolis, about to take off. There was good news this morning -- the death toll was lowered to four. Last night, authorities had been saying there were seven confirmed fatalities. Many remain missing right now. Let's hope they can be accounted for.
The atmosphere on board the flight is strange. Or perhaps I'm just imagining it. I always feel odd when traveling to a place where something terrible has happened. I keep thinking of all those families waiting for word about their loved ones. It must have been an agonizing night for them, and there are many difficult hours ahead.
-- By Anderson Cooper
DOT: 27 percent of bridges have problems
Anyone worried about their local bridges, and that must be just about everyone today, should check out a sobering report from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The headline: 27 percent of the nation's bridges have significant structural problems. Read on...
-- By Steve Turnham, CNN Producer
What the divers might face
When I heard that a bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River, I immediately thought the worst. Growing up in Memphis, which is also on the Mississippi, I have heard the dangers of the river my entire life, including the strong currents and murky waters.
I called Peter Gannon, president of Dive Rescue International, and asked him to join Anderson during the show to talk about water rescues. He gave some great insight into what the rescuers are facing, including zero visibility and the safety hazards from the debris. In fact, it was so interesting that he is doing an underwater demo for Anderson tonight to show us what kinds of obstacles the rescue divers face.
-- By Kay Jones, "360" Producer
Hot Links: Minneapolis bridge collapse
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
The news from Minneapolis
We're changing plans and devoting the program tonight to what appears to be a catastrophic collapse of a freeway bridge in Minneapolis. We know it gave way during the evening rush hour. We can only imagine how many cars and people were on it at the time.
The early pictures are horrific -- crushed vehicles in the wreckage, overturned cars and trucks in the water, a school bus teetering on the edge of a slab of concrete. If you witnessed the accident, send an i-Report
or write down a comment on this blog.
This story is just beginning. We hope this tragedy has not taken a heavy toll on human life. Our thoughts are with the survivors and the families of this apparent disaster.-- By Gabe Falcon, "360" Writer
Diving Jacques Cousteau style!
Dr. Sanjay Gupta dives near the Carteret Islands to see why they are sinking.
CARTERET ISLANDS -- This week I did something that I will probably never get to do again. In fact, the government of Buka, Papua New Guinea, could not think of anyone who had ever done it before. I went scuba diving on the coral reefs beneath the Carteret Islands. The reason that no one had likely ever done it before is because the islands are extremely remote, even by Papua New Guinea standards. The reason I will never get to do it again is because the islands are sinking and will soon disappear altogether.
To make it happen, we had to get our dive gear from the town of Port Moresby, which is nearly 700 miles away. There were no dive shops that we could find any closer. Still, we did it because it is important to telling the story of the disappearing Carteret Islands. We really wanted to be able to describe what was happening from three points of view. First, from the air where, with the help of a helicopter, we captured some of the very first aerial shots of Carteret. It wasn't an easy trip, given that for most of the journey there was simply no land around and no possibility of an emergency landing. Needless to say, we were a little nervous until the chopper touched down safely. The second dimension was being able to speak firsthand to the people of the Carteret Islands and understand what they had seen and why they believed their land was being swallowed by the sea. Finally, as the destruction and bleaching of coral is such a large component of the story, we needed to dive deep to the ocean floor to see for ourselves.
Of course, as is often the case, especially in remote locations, things didn't go exactly as planned. First off, I am an advanced diver and have been diving for almost 20 years. Neil Hallsworth, our photographer, has been certified since 1993, and Heather O'Neill, the producer for this shoot, has been diving for more than a year now. When we surveyed the equipment, we realized that while there were three sets of fins, there were only two tanks and only one BCD (buoyancy control device). Given that we were in the middle of nowhere and had no other options, we decided to improvise. Heather decided to snorkel near the surface and, most importantly, keep shark watch. Given that these particular reefs had never had divers, we weren't quite sure what to expect as far as wildlife goes. Neil and I traded off the BCD and at times literally carried an air tank under our arm while diving at 60 feet below the surface - Jacques Cousteau style! It allowed Neil to film never before obtained pictures of the Carteret reefs, which we will show you in CNN's upcoming documentary Planet in Peril
. It allowed me to see firsthand what happened to the island of Carteret from the bottom up.
For me, this was one of the most adventurous shoots I have done in the last six years. So, what about some of your best adventure stories?
-- By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
Raw Politics: California facelift
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Fred Thompson's financial troubles and a proposal in California that could affect who becomes the next president. Tom Foreman has the Raw Politics. (Click image at left to play video)
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Of theme songs and lawyers
I know you've been waiting anxiously to find out who the finalists are in our search for 360's political theme song. Frankly, the suspense has been killing me.
But we've run into a bit of a problem. You may have run into the same problem. It's called lawyers.
I'll explain by using Starship's "We Built This City" (voted one of the worst songs of all-time) as an example.
So let's say that '80s artifact makes it to the final round.
Great. Once that's settled, we have to find out who exactly owns the publishing rights to "We Built This City." Our search starts with the artist and the record company.
Assuming Starship (Or Jefferson Starship or Airplane or whatever name the band is currently taking) gives us the green light, we need to negotiate the rights to use it on air. And believe me, it's not cheap.
In fact, it's way more than we thought. Our budget only allows for limited expenses like paper for the copying machine and pizza on Fridays.
So, until our lawyers iron out a deal that our bosses deem financially acceptable, we're in music limbo.
Sorry, and stay tuned.
-- By Gabe Falcon, "360" Writer
Pacific swallowing remote island chain
Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports from the Carteret Islands, a remote island chain that is slowly being swallowed by the ocean.
CARTERET ISLANDS -- When I started working at CNN in the summer of 2001, I really had no idea that the job would regularly take me to some of the most remote places on earth. Yet, here I am again, writing a blog from one of those places. Along with producer Heather O'Neill and photographer Neil Hallsworth, I am in the South Pacific for a story on the Carteret Islands -- a chain of islands about 1 square kilometer in size with a population of about 1,600. We are here because these islands are slowly sinking back into the sea, and no one is exactly sure why. One thing is clear though -- people are being evacuated as their homes disappear.
To get to the Carteret Islands requires five separate airplane flights and a helicopter ride that ended on a very small strip of beach. Our origin was Guangzhou, China, in the southern part of the country in the Guangdong province. From there we had a layover in Hong Kong. We then stopped for a few hours in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. After that, we flew to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Then we flew to Rabaul and finally Buka, Papua New Guinea. For most of the helicopter ride, we were flying over nothing but water -- no land for at least an hour in any direction. It was treacherous.
Here we are surrounded by the Solomon Sea, and it is arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Still, we are here as part of CNN's Planet in Peril coverage because the people of the Carteret are being called the world's first environmental refugees. While it will most likely be a few years before the islands are actually completely submerged, the effects of all that water are already being felt. At high tide, the sea washes right over the islands, its salt water ruining the few crops they are trying to grow. The people here are starving and the government of Papua New Guinea thinks it's time for them to leave.
Now if you ask just about anyone living on the islands why this is happening, they will immediately shout "global warming." I was surprised they even knew this term, but they will point north and describe the melting of the ice in Greenland to make their case for climate change. Other people we interviewed described the tumultuous history of the islands, where at one time they used dynamite to fish with resulting damage to the protective coral. They also remind us that the islands are actually part of an old volcano that has a natural history of sinking back into the sea.
To be sure, this remote population of people has hardly any impact on anyone else in the world. Yet, they believe the "rest of the world" is having a huge impact on them. What do you think? Are the Carteret Islands disappearing because of global influences and climate change or is it more of a local phenomenon?
-- By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent
Raw Politics: Blair Switch Project
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A Blair Switch Project, less congressional pork, and a shocking headline. Tom Foreman has the Raw Politics. (Click image at left to play video)
Monday, July 30, 2007
Home-invasion story steals sleep
CHESHIRE, Connecticut -- The home invasion and murder of three family members in this Connecticut town earlier this month is one of the most heinous crimes I have ever covered. A family tied up and beaten, the mother strangled to death, and the youngest daughter, just 11, apparently raped before both daughters were tied to their beds and left to die in the fire allegedly set by the suspects, according to police. The details are enough to make your stomach turn. I've been to the scene, interviewed family members and police. Today, I am going to interview friends of the youngest suspect, Joshua Komisarjevsky.
We see a lot of terrible stuff in this business, but there are those stories that are so dark and the crimes so senseless that they hang with you for a while. This attack on the Petit family is one that I haven't been able to shake. I had never met them, yet feel like I know them after talking to so many people who did. No doubt, they were special and giving, kind and generous, as everyone tells me. I can't get a family photo out of my head -- all of them smiling, 17-year-old Hayley ready to head off to Dartmouth this fall, just like her dad did years ago.
I haven't had a good night's sleep since I wrote my first story on this last Tuesday. I find myself double- and triple-checking the locks on my doors and windows. And I'm not the only one.
Just last week, one of my senior producers, who hasn't even been to the crime scene, told me that he left for work the other day and as he was pulling out of his driveway, went back and double-checked to make sure he'd locked the front door to protect his wife and kids inside. My sister told me she finds herself looking more closely at people in her neighborhood, at random construction workers and delivery guys. Are they there to do no good? Haven't we all wondered that about someone at some point in our lives? Don't you wish it didn't have to be this way?
This is how it is, though, at least for a while, until the next terrible event shakes us out of this gruesome fog and transports us into the next one. And with all the creeps that we read about and report on in this business, it's just a matter of time until something else happens. Knowing that doesn't exactly help me sleep at night.
-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent