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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Hurricane Ivan Approaches United States, Dozens Dead in its Wake; Are Iraqi Civilians Paying Price in U.S. Air Strikes; Mushroom Cloud: What is North Korea Up To?; Ban on Assault Weapons Expires Midnight

Aired September 13, 2004 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now. Countdown to landfall. The United States coast wondering where Ivan will strike. We have the latest hurricane forecast coming in right now.
Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Caribbean killer. Dozens are dead in Ivan's wake but where's the hurricane headed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone on the gulf coast of Florida all the way over to Louisiana should be watching this very closely.

BLITZER: Air strikes. U.S. forces say they're targeting terrorists but are civilians paying the price?

Nervous over nukes. A massive blast and a mushroom cloud. What's North Korea up to?

Back on the streets? The ban on assault weapons expires in hours. Will it really make a difference?

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Monday, September 13, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Hello today from New York City, where we're monitoring developments in western Cuba right now. It's strongly feeling the effects of Hurricane Ivan. People there are hoping to escape the kind of deadly devastation we've seen already in Jamaica as well as Grenada and elsewhere in the Caribbean. CNN's Lucia Newman is joining us now from western Cuba. She's on the phone. Lucia, first of all, tell our viewers where you are and what's happening right now.

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hello. I'm in Pinar Del Rio. This is the province that's most to the west on the tip of this island. It's the one that's being battered right now by Hurricane Ivan. Right now, it's raining torrentially. Very, very strong wind gusts. And this is just the appetizer, Wolf.

In the next two to three hours, we're being told by Cuba's Meteorology Center, we'll begin to really feel the hurricane's full blast. I'm about 75 miles from the tip of Cuba from where the eye of the hurricane is supposed to pass. It may or may not make landfall, but that really won't make all that much difference to this province, which was already battered by Hurricane Charley exactly one month ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lucia, I understand that Fidel Castro has been in the area himself, taking personal charge and making some bombastic statements saying he's not ready to accept any international assistance from the United States. What's the latest on that?

NEWMAN: Yes, you're right. He's been here since this morning touring the area, the shelters for the people who have been evacuated. There are about some 200,000 in this province alone. And, also, going to areas we understand that are being flooded. There are roads that have already been cut off. On his way back, he reiterated what he said in the past and that is that he won't take a penny from the United States or from any other country -- and this is to quote him -- who has imposed economic sanctions against Cuba. He says that the United States can save itself the hypocrisy of trying to help Cuba out in this situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lucia Newman, please be careful over there. Our best wishes to all the people in Cuba right now who are about to undergo this horrible ordeal, a foretaste perhaps of what's in store for the United States itself.

Floridians, to be specific, especially those in the Panhandle, are watching and waiting. Millions of them lie directly in Ivan's expected path and they're being warned to prepare while there's still time. Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti right now in Panama City, Florida. She picks up that part of the story -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And all day long here, Wolf, emergency management officials have been trying to decide what to do, evacuate or not evacuate. At this hour, they're starting a meeting. They're currently leaning toward a mandatory evacuation that would begin tomorrow morning affecting people who live in flood- prone areas as well as mobile homes here in Panama City. There are about 150,000 people who live in the entire county.

Now, most of the day, we have had overcast skies, intermittent showers. Now the sun is out. Of course, that's good news in a way, because it makes things much easier for people to prepare for the hurricane. And they really have been doing that since Friday, as we understand it, going to various places to pick up supplies, including home improvement stores to get plywood, for example, to board up their homes.

Now, also at the emergency operations center, they've had a hotline in effect for just a few days and they've been taking calls from nervous people wondering where they should go, what they will do if an evacuation is ordered. And there will be four shelters open for people at local schools, a safe place for them to be.

This happens to be the slowest part of the tourist season, after Labor Day. But you do see some people out on the beach walking about. However, most visitors have left the area, as well as some residents moving inland. And, for example, at hotels, they're moving pool chairs out of the way to make final preparations. Not long ago, late this afternoon, Florida's Governor Jeb Bush told people they should be taking Ivan very seriously if they aren't already.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: There's no reason to want to try to live through a storm of that magnitude. It makes no sense at all. Now, you know, we don't live in a police state. The people ought to take it very very seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now people here, many of them remember what happened back in October of 1995. That's the last time a hurricane hit, Opal, and that was about 80 miles west of here. Yet, people here suffered half the destruction from that storm -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti reporting for us. Thank you very much. Just moments ago, literally, the National Hurricane Center put out a new bulletin on Ivan. Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras has the late breaking information and is joining us from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. What does it say, Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, it says that it's still a strong category five, still 160 mile-per-hour winds. The forecast track recently has just changed a little more north- northwest. It has been on a northwest track. We've seen a little bit of a wobble here again. And that means that eyewall is closing in on to the western tip of Cuba at this hour. The center of rotation is within about 30 miles at this time, so we're going to be seeing some very intense winds. Those hurricane force winds have extended out a little bit further also, at about 120 miles from the center of the storm.

So that's moved out quite a bit. So much of western Cuba getting an extreme lashing at this hour. Our forecast track does have it moving through the channel and then continuing on a north- northwesterly track. Now, what this is going to do, it could start to curve this a little bit more eastward. The last several advisories have been shifting this whole thing to the west and now we're starting to see maybe a little bit more of a sign that this is going to curve eastward possibly before making landfall.

We think once it does reach land it will turn pretty sharply then off to the right and then move across parts of Alabama and then into Georgia.

So we may also see some significant flooding. The timing is still about the same. Likely overnight Wednesday into the early morning hours of Thursday, likely a category three or four -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacqui Jeras reporting for us with the latest information. Thank you, Jacqui, very much. While millions are bracing for Ivan here in the United States, Jamaicans are just beginning to come to terms with the devastation the storm left behind. CNN's Karl Penhaul is on the island. He filed this report, which has some images some viewers may find very disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The storm has passed, but a time for grieving is just beginning. Minutes before we reached the fishing community of Portland Cottage, villagers had just found three more bodies killed when Hurricane Ivan whipped up a tidal surge. One of the dead, 2-year-old Lethan Thompson (ph) was snatched right out of her mother's arms by the raging floodwaters.

REBECCA EDWARDS, MOTHER OF HURRICANE VICTIM: A big water come again and just flushed her out of my hand. She disappeared out of my hand and I couldn't find her because it is night and the place is very dark. I couldn't find her.

PENHAUL: Her husband was carrying their other daughter, Tiffany. She drowned, too, when the tide dragged her from her father's arms. Through their tears and pain, the true horror of that night becomes clear.

(on camera): Imagine this. It's pitch black outside. Close to midnight. And the floodwaters already waist high. And then a huge wave comes rushing in from the sea.

(voice-over): This is what's left of the village. Edwards and her husband take us back to the ruins of their wood home. She finds her only surviving son Jerome, playing in the receding floodwaters. Their possessions were wrecked by the wind-lashed waves. A Ziploc bag failed to protect the birth certificates of her dead daughters. Their tiny shoes still lay in the corner.

The police come and stretcher away the corpses. Nobody seems to know what's next for the living or the dead. Karl Penhaul and the camera of Neal Hallsworth (ph), CNN, Portland Cottage, Jamaica.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Remember this is a category five hurricane. Since 1900 there have only been three category-five hurricanes that have ever hit the United States. This is a deadly monster. Much more on Hurricane Ivan, that's coming up later this hour.

Also, air strikes in Iraq. The target, terrorists. But who's caught in the crossfire? We'll have details.

Also this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people who think that there's going to be a sudden rush and an outpouring of firearms on to the streets are absolutely incorrect. It's not happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, why are so many police officers worried right now about the end of the Assault Weapons Ban?

And the Caped Crusader drops in on Buckingham Palace without an invitation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Iraq, an upsurge in the insurgency. The United States has been calling in warplanes to counter a wave of bloody attacks, but increasingly, civilians are caught in the middle.

Our senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers reports from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. Air Force F-16s dropped two 500-pound bombs on what the military called, quote, "a confirmed Abu Musab Zarqawi terrorist meeting site in Fallujah. Zarqawi has a $25 million bounty on his head. The Americans believe he is orchestrating murderous attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.

Iraq's Ministry of Health reports 20 people were killed, 38 others wounded -- among them, five women and children. The U.S. Military reports 25 of Zarqawi's fighters were killed in the latest bid to decapitate insurgent resistants in Fallujah using air power.

The outgoing Marine commander here says Fallujah has become a cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly, the Marines that we have here right now could crush the city and be done with business in four days. But that is not what we're going to do. Frankly, we can contain Fallujah, like we've been doing now for quite some time. And so, there's no immediate -- sense of immediacy or urgency, I believe, associated with it.

RODGERS: Perhaps, but here in the Iraqi capital itself, the insurgents seem to be getting more powerful rather than being contained. Over the weekend, at time, it seemed to literally rain rockets and mortars in Baghdad, and the devastating effect of car bombings and about 80 Iraqis died nationwide Sunday alone.

One of the worst incidents was when insurgents hit this Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The crew was evacuated safely, then jubilant Iraqis danced around the burning Bradley celebrating. A U.S. helicopter sent in to destroy the Bradley killed at least 22 Iraqis, including this Al Arabiya TV journalist. His last words, "I'm dying. I'm dying."

America's allies continue to die here, as well. Sunday, three Polish soldiers were killed in an ambush; three others were wounded. (on camera): A top U.S. general predicts this latest spike in violence will continue at least through the U.S. presidential elections in November. Many here believe it will bleed into the Iraqi elections in December and January, and nobody in Iraq is willing to predict when this violence will end.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In Indonesia's capital, a solemn vigil for victims of last week's bloody bombing outside the Australian embassy. Police have reportedly found a key clue: the chassis number of the vehicle that carried the bomb. And they are hunting for two leaders of a group tied to al Qaeda.

There are extraordinary new images of the attack itself. Our Jakarta bureau chief Maria Ressa reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bomb was rigged in a small truck picked up by a surveillance camera next door to the Australian embassy seconds before the blast. Across the street, another surveillance camera showed the vehicle overtaking the police van in front of the embassy.

Then, 200 kilos -- about 400 pounds of explosives -- rip a crater outside the Australian embassy, killing at least nine people, injuring more than 180. Authorities say it was nearly double the amount of explosives used in the JW Marriott attack last year. That was blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, or J.I., which also carried out the Bali bombings in 2002 -- both attacks funded, authorities say, by al Qaeda.

Police say Thursday's bomb bears the hallmarks of J.I. At the top of the suspect list, two Malaysians: Dr. Azahari Hussin and Noordin Top.

DA'I BACHTIAR, INDONESIAN NATL. POLICE CHIEF (through translator): We need to continue to track and capture these people. We are still facing a terrorist threat.

RESSA: Intelligence sources say Noordin Top taught at a J.I. feeder school in Malaysia. Allegedly in charge of logistics for the Bali bombing, authorities say he is now actively recruiting suicide bombers in Indonesia.

Dr. Azahari is an engineer trained in Britain. Allegedly J.I.'s top bomb expert, he is the author of its manuals on explosives and is believed to have built both the Bali and Marriott bombs. Thursday's explosion, high-end, low-velocity, police say, show Azahari's sophisticated bomb-making skills.

On Sunday, police reconstructed the blast site, each of these lines marking the trajectory of the debris, pinpointing the bomb's epicenter. (on camera): Police say the two Malaysians rented a house for two months, but stayed only four days. By the time the police got there, they found traces of explosives identical to that here at the blast site, but the Malaysians had left just three days earlier. The hunt continues.

Maria Ressa, CNN, Jakarta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What's being described as a mushroom cloud over North Korea -- what exactly was it? There's new information out right now.

Also, Bill Clinton's recovery from heart surgery. A new picture of his time out of the hospital.

And as Ivan gets closer to possible U.S. landfall, we'll take a closer look at how destructive a Category 5 hurricane can actually be.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A massive blast and a towering mushroom cloud. Is North Korea up to something sinister behind that smoke screen? Let's turn to our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, the answer, in a nutshell, is that the U.S. doesn't know for sure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): The explosion occurred September 9 as North Korea celebrated its National Day. The huge cloud of smoke stretching two miles long was spotted along North Korea's border with China, near the Yongjori missile base.

South Korean officials tell CNN no radioactivity has been detected. And while the Bush administration says it's confident it wasn't a nuclear test, it still isn't sure what it was.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: And as you know, the North Koreans have announced today that they were doing some demolition work for a hydroelectric project and they are inviting visiting foreign officials, especially from the United Kingdom, to visit the site.

KOPPEL: During recent negotiations with the United States and its allies, North Korea threatened to test a nuclear weapon. The U.S. claims Pyongyang may have processed enough plutonium for five or six nuclear weapons.

But experts say even if North Korea did conduct such a test, it would most likely happen underground and would not produce the kind of cloud noticed last week.

PETER BROOKES, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: People generally don't do above-ground testing because of the possibility of radiation fallout. KOPPEL: The explosion came amid reports President Bush and his top advisers had recently received fresh intelligence indicating North Korea might be preparing to conduct its first test explosion of a nuclear weapon.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're certainly watching certain indicators to see whether it looks like just routine activity or whether something more is going on.

KOPPEL: Known for its saber-rattling, some officials speculate the activity could be an effort by North Korea to influence the November presidential election. Despite a flurry of diplomatic activity in North Korea and other Asian capitals, six-party talks with North Korea appear stalled and further complicated by the start of an IAEA investigation into South Korea's admission that several years ago, it secretly enriched uranium, a key ingredient in developing nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: The Bush administration's official line is that all options remain on the table, but some experts say that if North Korea were to test a nuke, it would just be too difficult and too dangerous for the U.S. to launch a military strike, Wolf, because that could spark a second Korean War -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel with that report. Thank you very much.

Even without a huge cloud of smoke, it's tough enough to guess what's going on in that secretive country known as North Korea. Is there room, though, for new concern? Joining us now from Washington, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen, he's now the chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group.

What do you make of this ominous development that North Korea might be on the verge of actually testing a nuclear bomb?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think we have to take that very seriously. And the likelihood is that they are planning to conduct a test. Whether it be would have ground I think is doubtful. But as the previous piece indicated, likely to be underground.

And so I think we have to be prepared for that. This was not a coincidence. Whatever its origin, in terms of building a dam, a hydrodam, the timing of it was not coincidental to come on the day of their National Day, so to speak.

It was also I think a signal to the South Koreans as well as to the rest of the international community that as long as the south is considering the possibility of enriching uranium they have the north to contend with.

And so it was partly to send a signal to everyone that they are serious about their program and perhaps trying to get some leverage out of that from these six-party talks. BLITZER: President Bush has made it clear that the United States cannot accept a nuclear North Korea, that Kim Jong Il with a nuclear bomb would not be acceptable. But the CIA already estimates he probably has one or two already, may have enough plutonium for six nuclear bombs.

Is it too late for the military option to try to preemptively destroy that capability?

COHEN: I think a military option is probably the least likely means that we can call upon to try and contain whatever program they have now. China has a real interest in seeing to it that North Korea does not go forward with a production capability.

They may have one or two right now or even five or six pieces of plutonium. But the notion that they would start an active production facility and what that means for the proliferation is really ominous.

Secondly, it would set in fact a motion perhaps by the Japanese and the South Koreans to say that now that the North Koreans are going forward with their nuclear production capability, we have no alternative but to have an indigenous one.

So the nuclear proliferation would be really quite adversely impacted. So for all of these reasons, I think the military option is not a positive one. It could be used as an ultimate last resort, but I think it has to come about through diplomacy, through the international community, principally, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States.

BLITZER: There are some analysts, and I spoke to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, who suggest it's possible that Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, might want to test before November 2nd, the U.S. presidential election, to try to hurt President Bush and try to help get John Kerry elected.

There has been some speculation along those lines, presumably he might think that John Kerry might be more flexible in dealing with North Korea. What's your assessment?

COHEN: My thought is that John Kerry, as a presidential candidate, should make it very clear to Kim Jong Il that there will be no differentiation in our approach to trying to negotiate a settlement of this, that they should not take any kind of comfort that if there were a President Kerry they would get a, quote, "better deal."

President Bush has indicated that if the North were willing to give up its nuclear ambition, there would be a robust economic package available to it. I don't think that John Kerry, as senator or presidential candidate, should adopt any other position, saying, we have one policy in dealing with the North.

Yes, we're willing to sit down and discuss or negotiate, but you won't get a better deal out of a President Kerry than you will out of President Bush. Otherwise, they may very well try to split the opinion in this country and try to interfere in U.S. electoral politics. I think it would be a big mistake and the best way to prevent that is for candidate Kerry to put that aside.

BLITZER: William Cohen, thanks very much for that analysis.

And to our viewers, here's your chance to weigh in on this very important story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this: Do you believe North Korea's explanation for the mushroom seen over that nation last Thursday?" You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/wolf. We'll have the results for you later in this broadcast.

It's the battle over a ban, one creating a political firestorm in Washington and, indeed, around the country, now that the assault weapons ban is expiring. But what happens next?

Plus, fearing the number five. How the category of a hurricane makes a huge difference in its devastation.

And later, Batman, yes, Batman at Buckingham. This protester gets past the queen's guard in a cape. Pictures you don't want to miss. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Controversial decision. The ban on assault weapons is expiring. We'll get to that.

First, though, a quick check of some stories now in the news.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is giving the Kremlin more power to fight terrorists. New measures include the naming of regional governors and an overhaul of the electoral system. Critics say he's exploiting the recent school siege in which more than 330 people were killed in southern Russia.

The European Union is threatening sanctions against Sudan unless the Sudanese government takes steps to disarm Arab militias. The militias have been accused of conducting genocide, a genocide campaign in Sudan's Darfur region.

And we're getting a look now at former President Bill Clinton following his open heart surgery. This photo, take a look at it, was taken over the weekend, the former president wearing a baseball cap and a T-shirt. He's walking outside his home in Chappaqua, New York. The former president left the hospital after a weeklong stay in which he underwent a quadruple bypass surgery operation.

Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.

The 10-year-old controversial assault weapons ban is expiring.

CNN's Ceci Rodgers is live in Washington. She's joining us with more -- Ceci.

CECI RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we just took a visit out to western Illinois to a gunmaker who says he'll never forget the frenzy of buying of military assault weapons just before the ban went into effect a decade ago. But he says he's not seeing anything like that today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RODGERS (voice-over): Gun manufacturers have been gearing up for this day. Despite pleas from police agencies, politicians and gun control groups, Congress is letting a decade-long ban on military style semiautomatic weapons expire.

SARAH BRADY, GUN CONTROL ADVOCATE: The American public needs to know and understand that the assault weapons are coming, AK-47s, Uzis, and clips of up to 100 rounds back on our city streets.

RODGERS: But gunmakers like Mark Westrom, who's preparing to manufacture the so-called pre-ban rifles as early as Tuesday, say they're seeing a trickle, not a surge, in orders from their customers.

MARK WESTROM, CEO, ARMALITE: The uptick of interest that we're seeing is not enough to bring us back to last year's sales level. So it's -- you know, the people who think that there's going to be a sudden rush and an outpouring of firearms onto the streets are absolutely incorrect. It's not happening.

RODGERS: ArmaLite expects to ship about 30 of the pre-ban rifles a day beginning sometime this week. The law banned 19 specific models, large capacity ammunition magazines and other weapons with certain military features.

WESTROM: The pre-ban guns could have five features not allowed during the post-ban period, a flash suppressor or a grenade launcher mounted up here, a bayonet lug, a pistol grip, and a collapsing butt stock.

RODGERS: The National Rifle Association calls it a cosmetic ban. It was easy to get around and ArmaLite did, producing more of the rifles than ever before in the past decade. Similar to a hunting rifle, collectors and serious target shooters bought them.

Similar to a hunting rifle, collectors and serious target shooters bought them.

WESTROM: Ten years ago, misuse of rifles of any sort, especially of our type, was vanishingly small. It still is.

RODGERS: So what happens next in the battle over guns? Both those for and against gun bans say it likely hinges on who wins the White House in November.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROGERS: With the ban expiring, first thing tomorrow, ArmaLite says it will be retrofitting its civilian assault rifles to include the military features it says its customers want -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ceci Rogers in Chicago, thank you.

John Kerry fired one of his toughest attacks against the president today over this issue of the assault weapons ban. Kerry accused the president of ducking his responsibility to protect Americans from crime and terrorism by allowing the ban to expire.

CNN's Ed Henry is joining us now live with more -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have no plans to extend the ban on assault weapons, so it will expire at midnight. While the issue rests in the hands of Congress, you're right that Senator Kerry is trying to lay the blame at the door of the White House.

At a campaign event today here in Washington, Kerry slammed the president for saying he's in favor of the ban, but not actually doing anything to get Congress to extend it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And so tomorrow, for the first time in 10 years, when a killer walks into a gun shop, when a terrorist goes to a gun show somewhere in America, when they want to purchase an AK-47 or some other military assault weapon, they're going to hear one word, sure.

Today, George Bush chose to make the job of terrorists easier and make the job of America's police officers harder. And that's just plain wrong.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: The National Rifle Association's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, is glad the ban is expiring. And he believes Democrats will not put this issue too hard, for fear of a political backlash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: They're not going to walk down that dead-end street that President Clinton persuaded so many Democrats to walk down in '94, and then it backlashed in the polls in the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: In fact, some Democrats think Kerry is courting a bit of danger here, because it's widely believed that the gun issue in 2000 cost Al Gore swing states like West Virginia and New Hampshire.

But the Kerry camp insists that harping on the assault weapons ban is a political winner, especially among suburban women. And at campaign stops across the country, Kerry tries to inoculate himself politically by stressing that he's a hunter. And, in fact, in West Virginia last week, Kerry even held up a rifle that he was given as a gift, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry in Washington -- thank you, Ed.

President Bush refused to discuss the assault weapons ban during a campaign swing in Michigan today, but he did focus on other domestic issues.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us now live from Battle Creek with more.

Unfortunately, I think we just lost Suzanne. We'll try to fix that, get back to Suzanne Malveaux later this hour.

They're monstrous and they're very, very mighty, capable of destroying everything in their paths, Category 5 hurricanes, their fury feared like no other. Up next, anticipating Ivan, what history has taught us.

Plus, the storm from space, how a hurricane looks high in the sky. A NASA scientist joins me live.

And, later, a major breach at Buckingham Palace. How this caped crusader got through the guards.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As we've been reporting, the president didn't want to discuss the assault weapons ban during a campaign swing earlier today in Michigan. But he is focusing on other domestic issues.

Once again, our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is live in Battle Creek. She has the latest -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president in the past has said that he would sign reauthorizing that ban if it crossed his desk. That did not happen. The president is not calling for it publicly, which has led some people to say he's disingenuous, he's not expending any political capital on the issue.

It was earlier today in Holland, Michigan, he stopped to meet and greet voters in an ice cream shop. He was asked how it was that he allowed this assault weapons ban to expire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Why allow the assault weapons ban to expire without a fight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, guys, thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: He did not answer the question, but his campaign and the White House said that gun prosecutions are up. Crime rate is down, the lowest in some 30 years. They say that the president -- it's no secret that he's close to the gun lobby, but also he's received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, that he's striking the right balance.

Now, Wolf, the real focus here today of course was about his health care plan, his policy contrasting to that of Kerry's. Earlier today, the president calling to cap medical malpractice rewards, calling for creating personal health savings accounts. Kerry says that, if he was president, that he would actually have the federal government picking up 75 percent of Americans' most serious health care costs.

Now, President Bush framed this as a government-run system that was not good for patients or for doctors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm running against a fellow who's put out a health care plan that is massive, it is complicated, it is a blueprint to have the government control your health care.

(BOOING)

BUSH: And he can't pay for his plan. Today, there's an independent study out that says his health care plan today would cost taxpayers $1.5 trillion new dollars.

(BOOING)

BUSH: No, that's just the kind of plan you would expect from a senator from Massachusetts.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, the Kerry campaign discredits that report, because it is by the American Enterprise Institute. They say that that organization has close ties to the Bush administration, particularly the Cheney family.

Also, the Kerry campaign saying that this is simply the president's way, the campaign, of masking the fact that health care costs have soared. Many people have lost their insurance and that it's big insurance companies that have benefited -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

Let's get back to our top story, Hurricane Ivan on the way right now to the United States. Since 1975, meteorologists have used the Saffir-Simpson scale, named after its creators, to rank hurricanes based on wind speed. The most intense, the relatively rare and extremely deadly Category 5.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Even by the standards of killer storms, these are monsters. From space, they appear to swallow islands and countries whole. On the ground, they are hell on earth. With winds in excess of 155 miles an hour, they lay waste to almost everything in their path, buildings obliterated, trees, shrubs and signs almost all gone.

And what the wind spares, water likely claims instead. Storm surges usually top 18 feet, sometimes cutting off coastal escape routes as much five hours ahead of landfall. Since 1900, only three Category 5 storms have hit the United States. The most infamous, Hurricane Andrew, which pummeled South Florida on August 24, 1992, it caused more than $26 billion damage in the U.S. and claimed at least 23 lives. Andrew was so powerful, it destroyed official wind gauges. A review of data 10 years later led the National Hurricane Center to posthumously upgrade the storm from Category 4 to 5.

The only comparable storms to have hit the U.S. were an unnamed hurricane that swept over the Florida Keys in 1935 and Hurricane Camille in 1969. It slammed into Mississippi August 17 with sustained winds now estimated at near 200 miles an hour and a storm surge of almost 25 feet that scoured the coast; 143 people died in Camille's first blow. Her remnants went on to drop more than two feet of rain over parts of the Virginias, where another 113 people died.

But Camille's floods were dwarfed by those of Hurricane Mitch, a late season Category 5 that decimated parts of Central America in October 1989. By the time it made landfall in Honduras, Mitch had weakened to a Category 1. But the storm's intense rains brought flooding and landslides that killed at least 9,000 people and left as many missing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Here to help us understand more about hurricanes is Jeff Halverson. He's a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Center. He's brought along some of the latest tools used in hurricane research.

These new images that you've come up with at NASA, how can they help us better understand these hurricanes?

JEFF HALVERSON, NASA GODDARD SPACE CENTER: It used to be we could just look at the tops of clouds in these storms and try to infer what's going on inside. Now it's like we have X-ray vision. We can use satellites such as the TRIMM satellite, where we can see three- dimensional rain structure and winds inside these storms.

BLITZER: So does it mean you can better track these storms now?

HALVERSON: These improvements we have are leading to track enhancements. We've narrowed the uncertainty from 300 to about 120 miles. Certainly, the intensity of storms, we're much able to better forecast that, knowing the machine, how the three-dimensional structure, as you see here, these towering rain clouds which release vast amounts of energy inside the system that gives us a lot better gauge of the intensity of the RPM of the storm.

BLITZER: Jeff, some people have called this new technology, this imaging almost like a CAT scan that doctors would perform, radiologists would perform on humans. Is that an appropriate analogy?

HALVERSON: It's -- absolutely. Like I say, we can see the processes inside these clouds. These storms are very dynamic. We can look at the rain structure. We can look at the heat being released. We can look at the winds blowing above the surface of the ocean.

Put all that together, you understand the machinery, the engine of the hurricane, which is a tremendous leap in our knowledge. And it's going to help us with prediction in the near future.

BLITZER: So these pictures come from satellites. Have you had a chance to take a closer look with this new technology, this new imaging, of Hurricane Ivan?

HALVERSON: Yes. We have several good overpasses of Ivan since its inception, where it began in eastern Africa, far, far away. We can look at the ocean surface temperatures. We can look at the precipitation structure. It's just tremendous the eyes in the sky these satellites are giving us now.

BLITZER: So I guess it's appropriate to say anyone in the path of Ivan better get out of that path as quickly as possible.

HALVERSON: The potential is there for a very powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States, absolutely.

BLITZER: Jeff, thanks very much for joining us, Jeff Halverson of the NASA Goddard Space Center outside Washington, D.C.

HALVERSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Security breach at Buckingham Palace, but, this time, it's a superhero, so-called, that is, on the wrong side of the law.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: What was Batman doing at Buckingham Palace?

James Mates of ITN has the answer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES MATES, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): How could it happen? Three years after September the 11th, after innumerable security breaches, many involving the royal family, a man in a Batman costume stands on a ledge near the main balcony of Buckingham Palace.

To say it's embarrassing is just the half of it. It's also a most serious indictment of security at one of our most prominent potential targets. These still pictures, which appear in tomorrow's "Daily Mail," show how easy it was for the protesters from the pressure group Fathers For Justice. An aluminum ladder over iron railings and barbed wall and up onto the wall. Once there, it seems, getting about the outer wall of the palace was easy.

Batman made it. His sidekick, predictably enough, Robin, didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got on. A police officer challenged me with a small-arm, said, come down or I'll shoot you. So I sort of thought about it very quickly and came down.

MATES: The two men found a weak spot. As colleagues created a diversion at the front gate, they scaled a low wall at the side. Once up on the ledge, it was an easy walk around to the front of the palace to unfurl a banner and play to the cameras.

Once there, the police could do little but try to talk him down, offering him a drink while they did it and try to explain why they hadn't acted more robustly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The officers identified immediately that this was what it was, a publicity stunt. And they had any concerns that it was something more serious, then the outcome could have been extremely difficult -- different.

MATES: But the police recognized the protesters because there have been so many, the purple flour bomb in the House of Commons in May, the man dressed as Spider-Man who paralyzed the London Eye on Saturday, and sundry superheroes on the Clifton Suspension Bridge and a crane near Tower Bridge.

As today's protest entered its sixth hour, Batman finally revealed himself to be Jason Hatch, a leading member of Fathers For Justice, who is complaining of lack of access to his children, despite court orders in his favor. Hatch finally agreed to come down in a cherry-picker. Once again, he and his fellow protesters have proved to superb at winning publicity. The police took him away. But they and those who run security at Britain's most sensitive buildings are going to be answering some pretty searching questions this evening.

James Mates, ITV News, Buckingham Palace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Think of Batman showing up at the White House. That's what happened in London today.

In a moment, why this reporter became trivia on a popular TV show.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how your weighing in on our Web question of the day. Take a look at this. Remember, though, it's not a scientific poll.

Finally, we seldom do stories about TV quiz shows, but there's a question on today's new season of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" that caught our attention. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?")

MEREDITH VIEIRA, HOST: For $100, razor burn is an irritating skin condition commonly caused by what activity, shaving, flossing, shampooing, kissing Wolf Blitzer?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A, shaving, final answer.

VIEIRA: You're right for $100!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: One hundred dollars. Again, kissing Wolf Blitzer, does not -- does not -- cause razor burn.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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