Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
West Virginia Mine Disaster; Meltdown Madness; Making Subs & Saving Lives
Aired April 6, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin tonight with breaking news. The race on to locate four coal miners who might, might still be alive after the worst mining disasters in decades. There is hope, but it is slim. It is a race in slow motion, however, through dangerous ground that may not yet yield answers until tomorrow afternoon.
They are drilling right now, at the Upper Big Branch Mine, South of Charleston, West Virginia, four separate holes about six inches wide to try to let in air and lower down listening equipment; drilling more than 1,000 feet down into a mine that could still be full of explosive gases. We know, of course, 11 of the 25 killed have been identified and their families have been notified.
The other dead miners and the four who might still be alive are still down there and their families are hurting and some of them are angry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE MCKENNEY, DAUGHTER OF BENNY WILLINGHAM: We want to know, excuse me, why we have not been contacted. No one from Massey has called my mother or any of us children or his mother. He still has a mother that is home grieving.
We don't know where my dad's body's at. We want some answers and we want them today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Michelle McKenney. She wants to know where her dad's body is. She's angry at Massey Energy, which is the mining company.
I want to walk you over to the wall here and show you the man she's talking about, her father Benny Willingham. He was a 61-year- old miner. He'd been a miner for half his life, just five weeks to go until his retirement.
And this is the man his daughter is angry at right now, Massey CEO, Don Blankenship. His mine had a worse than average safety record, 458 citations last year alone. He's controversially spent millions of dollars, critics say, to sway the state Supreme Court in West Virginia.
We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, checking his record, the mine's record, also that case which made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joe Johns and Jeffrey Toobin have been investigating that.
Also tonight, Sanjay Gupta is live at the main hospital in Charleston. He spent time today with a woman who has a cemetery in her backyard full of family members who worked and died digging coal, a long tradition in that community.
Tom Foreman is at the wall with what is going on right now underground and what happened yesterday when the explosion hit.
We begin, though, with Gary Tuchman, not far from the mine.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three small children who don't understand what happened to their grandfather. And they're not the only ones in the family who don't know what happened with West Virginia coal miner, Ricky Workman.
SHERI MAYNOR, RICKY WORKMAN'S GREAT NIECE: We know that he was in the mines and we know that he didn't come out. So, I mean, that's all we know. We don't know if he's one of the ones that's there, that's deceased, or he's one of the ones -- we're praying and we're hoping he's one of the miracles that walks out of there.
TUCHMAN: Ricky Workman has lived in the West Virginia Mountains his whole life. His whole career has been in the mines. His relatives are traumatized and confused.
GLENNA BAILEY, RICKY WORKMAN'S COUSIN: I feel really sad and I cried when I heard about it.
TUCHMAN: But many of his kin are counting on a miracle.
BAILEY: I think that God will -- heaven will get him out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like they say, don't give up hope. Don't give up.
TUCHMAN: A drill is now cutting into the top of the mine. It has to go 1,100 feet, and that process is not expected to be finished until Wednesday. The plan is to pump fresh air into the mine. The hope is to find evidence of survivors and then attempt a rescue.
(on camera): If rescuers make the decision to go into the mine, we can give you an idea of what it might be like. That's because three years ago I was given permission to go into Utah's Crandall Canyon Mine where a collapse trapped six miners.
Here is how I reported it back then. (voice-over): We entered the Crandall Canyon Mine through the same tunnel the six trapped workers went through; a three-mile journey in a small truck that would take about a half hour in utter darkness. We passed rescue workers in their vehicles on the way to our ultimate destination.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there is where the rescue effort is going on.
TUCHMAN: This is as far as we could go. This is where the mine had collapsed. You're looking at the effort to drill into the coal and rock to rescue the six men.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where the damage is here, we're about 2,000 feet deep.
TUCHMAN: But the process had to stop for almost two days, because of seismic activity that has shaken up the mine and made it too dangerous for rescue workers. The work to get to the miners originally began at a different point of the mine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had this cleaned up 310 feet. The machinery's still in there.
TUCHMAN: But another shift in the earth caused another partial collapse, and the cleared area filled with coal again.
(on camera): Frankly, it's very eerie standing here, knowing that 2,000 feet behind me and maybe less are the six trapped miners. It's cold, it's dark, it's foreboding, a claustrophobic could never cut it here. There's a steady wind blowing, the ceilings are low. We're 30 minutes away from the nearest exit.
In normal times, it's very stressful. But right now there's a lot of tension. Nevertheless, the workers here, the rescue workers, the people who normally work in the mine are calm because they have a job to do.
Sadly, the bodies of the six miners were never recovered and tragically, three of the rescuers were killed days after we were in the mine following another collapse.
That was three years ago. Today, Ricky Workman's relatives pray for a vastly different outcome.
JOYCE WHITT, RICKY WORKMAN'S IN-LAW: God will take care of everybody. God will take care of everybody. And he's going to take care of Ricky. He'll take care of Ricky.
COOPER: So, Gary, they're drilling now, but they are not going into the mine, why, because there is -- there is too much toxic gases around?
TUCHMAN: Right, they just can't go willy-nilly into the mine, because unless they have a sign that someone is alive, you saw, it's just way too dangerous. So they're drilling these little tiny holes.
Hopefully by tomorrow, they'll be able to put fresh air into the mine, and then possibly, hopefully, the odds aren't good, but hopefully they'll see some sign of life, and then they'll break open big holes, try to go in the mine, and try for a rescue, if that happens.
COOPER: And again, Gary, I mean, it is slim hope, but -- but you know, for the folks in that community, it's all they have to hold on to. The hope is what -- that those miners, some of them survived and were able to get to the air chambers, the safety chambers that are inside the mine?
TUCHMAN: Exactly right.
And we have to be honest. It's a very slim hope, Anderson, but they are not giving up. And they are prepared to rescue these men if there's any sign of life as they drill these small homes into the top of the mine.
COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, I appreciate it, Gary.
More now, "Keeping Them Honest": on the mine and Don Blankenship, who is head of Massey Energy who owns the mine; he's been called a lot of names by a lot of critics. The president of the Mine Workers' Union saying that Don Blankenship has caused more misery to more people in Appalachia than anyone else.
His Upper Big Branch Mine cited more than 50 times last month for poor ventilation, coal dust, methane and failure to maintain escape ways.
Here's what he told CNN's John Roberts tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON BLANKENSHIP, CEO, MASSEY ENERGY: Well, I think the reason it was operating is that all the people who are very knowledgeable of mining, whether they be with the federal government or the state government or Massey had concluded that the mine was safe to operate. And these violations and the efforts on the ventilation are efforts to improve it.
And I think that everyone involved thought that we had proper ventilation and, of course, we don't know if we're 100 percent sure what happened yet. So we can't speculate on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was mining company CEO Don Blankenship. And he was plenty well known before the explosion for spending more than $3 million of his own money to defeat a state Supreme Court justice he thought was going to rule against him in a $50 million lawsuit. The new judge cast the deciding vote in Blankenship's favor.
How about that? Then again, as Sanjay Gupta is reporting, the undamaged parts of the mine are actually still operating, miners still working. It is a very hard-headed operation.
Joining me now, is Joe Johns and senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
So Joe, what do we know about this guy?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, global warming denier, very controversial guy. This is a guy who actually got into a one-on-one debate with Robert Kennedy Jr. to talk about environmental issues in mining.
But the thing he is best known for around the country is this case that ended up becoming a U.S. Supreme Court case. Started out when he donated about $3 million to get this one West Virginia State Supreme Court Justice defeated, another put on the court in his place --
COOPER: And why did he want that guy defeated?
JOHNS: Well, it's unclear, of course, we don't want to put intent on it, but what we do know is that there was this $50 million case before the Supreme Court in West Virginia --
JOHNS: -- that impacted his own business. He had already lost one round and he was trying to get it overturned. He ended up getting that case overturned.
And then the whole thing went to the U.S. Supreme Court and they said, wait a minute, it's just not right. It's unconstitutional. He should have disqualified himself, this judge that got so much help.
JOHNS: Right, so it turns into a situation in West Virginia where the critics of Blankenship were saying, this guy, essentially, bought himself a seat on the State Supreme Court.
COOPER: Can you do that, Jeffrey? I mean, you can -- I mean, I guess anybody can donate to any campaign they want.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, yes. I mean, but think about this situation. It really is so unbelievable. There's a $50 million judgment against his company. He decides, while the case is pending on appeal, to spend $3 million, which is by far the majority of all the money spent in the whole race, to defeat one guy, elect another. That guy casts the deciding vote to overturn the $50 million judgment.
The Supreme Court, which usually stays out of these things, the United States Supreme Court said, wait a second, this just stinks to high heaven. Five to four, opinion by Anthony Kennedy they say, you have to send this case back to West Virginia to do it again. But we have to point out, when it went back to West Virginia, Blankenship won again.
JOHNS: Coal field, yes.
TOOBIN: And again, the verdict was thrown out again.
JOHNS: Coal field politics.
COOPER: Coal field politics. That's what they call it there?
JOHNS: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, there's all kinds of stuff that goes on. You could talk about coal barons.
COOPER: It's incredible to me, though, that the mine is still open. I mean, there are still -- according to the reporting, that the parts of the mine that weren't damaged are still open today, miners are still being told to go to work.
TOOBIN: Sanjay Gupta this morning said it was open this morning.
TOOBIN: You know, I mean, it just shows --
JOHNS: How desperate people are --
COOPER: You think they could at least give them a paid day off.
TOOBIN: You would think.
COOPER: You know.
TOOBIN: But you would be wrong.
COOPER: Incredible. Jeff, I appreciate it, Joe Johns as well. Thanks very much.
A lot ahead tonight to talk about, a lot more to this story we're going to be bringing you, along with the late developments throughout the night.
Also, a quick reminder: the chat is up and running. Let us know what you think about what's goings-on in this mine at AC360.com.
Up next, we'll take a look at the wall and view what it's like in the mine. The kind of work they were doing when the explosion hit and what we know about the efforts under way now to drill.
We've also got an expert joining us as well, taking your questions, a mining expert. If there's anything you'd like to know about an industry frankly we all take for granted, text them along with your first name AC360, that's 22360 and of course standard rates apply. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: So the drilling under way deep into the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine, 25 people killed, four miners missing still. More now on the rescue work, the explosion itself from Tom Foreman, who's at the wall -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really there's a tremendous amount of activity. This is the main entrance to the mine where CNN has been all day. But let's go over and look at the explosion location, which is about a mile and a half away from here. From the mountaintop, it just looks like a big mountaintop with a mine, underneath, all sorts of activity where mining has happened before.
And pay particular attention to this area right here. This is the field in which they were doing that long wall cutting to get to more and more coal in this area. This is a huge, huge area here. I'll show you roughly how big it is, if I can bring up the area. About 2,800 feet long down here, 725 this way. So it gives you an idea of what a big area we're talking about.
I'll turn that back off and we'll go back to the notion of just looking at these places and some specific targets they have to look at.
First of all, let's look right here. This is where the Man-trip was. The Man-trip is one of those underground little railroad cars sort of things that you've seen now and then in videos about mining that fellows go back and forth in.
There was a Man-trip, it had people on who were ending their shift, on the way out. Seven miners were killed at this location and located here.
We move a little bit further over. This is where that cutting was going on, on the face. Look at this. This is the kind of machine they're using for what's called long wall cutting. It's a big grinder that they put up against the wall of coal and it spins around and cuts loose the coal, which falls into a conveyor belt and is carried out.
This creates a tremendous amount of dust and releases a tremendous amount of methane, both of which are hugely explosive. You see all that water? That's meant to calm the dust down and to keep blowing the methane away. That's part of the purpose of it. This has been a big concern for a long time.
This is an overhead view from a Department of Energy report from just a few years ago, talking about this problem. You can see the same machine. That's the grinder, that's the grinder, that's the spray. And they're warning in this document about how methane builds up in front of this machine, there are other areas where it builds up too.
It's been a persistent problem and if methane is the key here, this would be one of the worries, because this long wall grinding creates an awful lot of methane, which is the number one by-product in this process.
In this area, they had 18 miners who were near that grinding. We don't know how close and we don't know if the explosion was exactly there, but they were closer to the explosion site. These 18 were lost here.
And then lastly, of course, we have the group up here. This is where the drilling is going in that we talked about a while ago, Anderson, you mentioned at the top of the show. They're trying to cut down through all of that, open a hole into what they hope is a rescue chamber down there, which would allow some of the gases inside there, these poisonous carbon monoxide gases and methane to come venting out and possibly to get some oxygen down in there in case people are still inside there.
We do know in that location, what we're talking about is four miners unaccounted for. So when I turn them all on, Anderson, you can see what we have here.
We have the four miners up here unaccounted for, 18 near here, seven over here. And in each case, what they're going to have to look for is whether or not there was a connection between some sort of release of methane, coal dust, and a spark of some site that ignited it or something else -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, it is so sad. Tom, thank you very much. Difficult work going on right now.
Let's bring in Mark Radomsky, Director of the Miners Training Program at Penn State University. And Mark, I guess it is important to point out that this is still very much an ongoing rescue operation. I mean, there's slim hope, but hope nevertheless, that -- that's its possible these four missing miners could still be alive, right?
MARK RADOMSKY, MINERS TRAINING PROGRAM, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: That's right. You always have to consider it to be a rescue when you don't have it verified that everyone has perished.
COOPER: And the biggest danger in terms of the drilling right now is sparking another explosion, right?
RADOMSKY: Well, most of the drilling right now is well above the mine itself, so that really doesn't become a problem until -- until much -- much later, but that's a possibility.
COOPER: We've been going through some of the violations that this mining company, Massey, has amassed in recent years, 458 last year alone. How does that compare? I mean, are they above -- they're above average, aren't they?
RADOMSKY: Well, it's really hard to say. I mean, you -- you would really have to look at mines of the same size and with the same types of geological conditions to make a lot of comparisons. You know, it seems like a lot of violations, a lot of mines are getting a lot of violations right now post-Sago. COOPER: We've got a "Text 360" question that hits on this point. A viewer from New York asks, "At what point does the state or government step in and shut down a company like Massey when they've had years of violations, putting the lives of their workers in danger?"
RADOMSKY: Well, really the only time they -- they close a mine or shut a portion of a mine is when there is an imminent danger. And as long as that company is, you know, mining and complying and getting violations, you know -- unless it's a real, you know, pattern, where you have unwarrantable failure and you have negligence, then the mine is allowed to continue.
COOPER: So it's very rare to actually shut down -- I mean, even if you get, I mean, I think this company had more than 50 violations last month, even if you get that, and I guess the company contests some of those violations, which buys them some time.
So it's very rare to actually shut down part of a mine?
RADOMSKY: It is. It is. And like I say, parts of mines are closed down or shut down, but mostly that's temporary.
COOPER: Does it surprise you that -- that the parts of the mine that weren't damaged are up and running today? That, you know, miners were expected to show up to work today and get back in the mine?
RADOMSKY: Well, I'm really not sure what you're talking about, exactly. I mean, is it on the surface, is it some units in the mine itself? You know, I really don't know what portion of the mine is active. Certainly, the surface facility is probably active, but as far as the underground, I don't know.
RADOMSKY: It could -- maybe you could verify that.
COOPER: Yes, we should look into more exactly where these folks were reporting to. And we heard from a woman, though, at the beginning of the program who said that her father died yesterday in the mine and that no one from the company had called her or her mom or anyone in the family.
We had talked last night that there is supposed to be a liaison to the families, isn't there?
RADOMSKY: That's correct. Yes, that's perplexing. That would -- that certainly flies in the face of what I would believe would be proper -- proper protocol. Again, you know, post-Sago and the provision of having a liaison and the improved communications and having the families, you know, isolated and informing them and so forth.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's unimaginable, what they are going through right now.
Mark Radomsky, I appreciate you being on with us again. Thanks Mark.
RADOMSKY: You're welcome.
COOPER: Coal pays the mortgage certainly in Appalachia; a lot of mortgages pays the bills.
Up next, the toll it takes in return. You'll meet a woman who knows all about the dying that goes along with making a hard living in the mines.
Plus, other stories, the little boy who ten years ago this month was at the center of a bitter diplomatic battle. Remember Elian Gonzalez, he's now a teenager, and well, we'll see if you can recognize him, ahead.
COOPER: Still ahead, three teens facing felony charges entered pleas today. They're accused of bullying a classmate who later killed herself, the case of Phoebe Prince. We've been talking about her a lot on this program. We'll have the latest on the case ahead.
But first, Lisa Bloom is here with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Lisa.
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thanks, Anderson.
A magnitude 7.7 earthquake off the coast of northern Sumatra triggered two small tsunamis, each measured just under a foot. No immediate reports of damage or injuries, but residents of Banda Ache (ph) are without power.
The White House said today a May 12 visit by Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai could be called off if he keeps making troubling political remarks. On Sunday, Karzai told a gathering of tribal leaders that the U.S.-led alliance will not move against Taliban fighters until the tribal leaders say they can.
Meantime, President Obama has announced a shift in U.S. nuclear policy, saying the U.S. won't use nuclear weapons against nations that don't have them and will stop developing nuclear weapons. Some Congressional Republicans said the changes could weaken the nation's defense.
Job openings rose in several sectors of the economy in February. The Labor Department says hiring picked up in retail, manufacturing, transportation, restaurants, and hotels.
And Anderson, it's hard to believe that it has been ten years since we first saw this photograph of Elian Gonzalez. Who could forget it, taken as federal agents stormed the Miami house where he was living with relatives. He was returned to Havana. Well, Elian is now 16 and Cuba's government has released this photo of him. Take a look.
Elian was found floating in an inner tube off Miami's coast in 1999. His mother had drowned.
COOPER: I can't believe it's been ten years.
BLOOM: It's amazing. He is all grown up, isn't he?
COOPER: The time -- where does the time go? These kids today, they grow up right before our eyes.
BLOOM: And he's a good-looking young man now.
COOPER: Still ahead, a baby everyone thought was orphaned by the quake in Haiti, but her parents were found. They went through a big ordeal to be reunited with her. You're going to see the reunion, in a moment.
COOPER: Tonight's "360 Follow", the tearful reunion for a family torn apart following the earthquake in Haiti. This is a story about a baby girl named Jenny. She was pulled from the rubble four days after the disaster struck. She was flown to Florida for urgent medical care. That was her then.
Her parents, who survived the quake, have spent months trying to find baby Jenny, months hoping to have her in their arms again.
Well, tonight the search is over and their prayers have been answered.
Elizabeth Cohen reports.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The story of baby Jenny starts here, in this collapsed apartment building in Port-au-Prince.
When the earthquake hit, 2-month-old Jenny was with her mother, Nadine Devilme, who was knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital. Every day, Nadine told her husband, Junior Alexis, to go back to their home and search for Jenny in the rubble. And every day, for four days, Junior came back with the same answer, "I can't find Jenny."
The couple started to give up all hope of ever finding their daughter alive, until what the parents call a miracle happened.
(on camera): On the fifth day, somebody else found her alive and whisked her off to the hospital.
(voice-over): Jenny was brought to the field hospital where I was stationed.
DR. ARTHUR FOURNIER, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI PROJECT MEDISHARE: Has got a depressed skull fracture and something we call a flailed chest. She's had broken ribs.
COHEN: Doctors say Jenny would die within hours if she didn't get to a real hospital in the United States.
(on camera): I thought the State Department wasn't allowing Haitian patients --
FOURNIER: I don't care what the state department cares about.
COHEN (voice-over): Defying the law, doctors put Jenny in an ambulance to get on a plane to Miami. They assumed she was an orphan and told the driver, "If you can get to the plane on time, we'll name the baby after you." The driver's name was Patricia, and for months, that's what the baby was called until it was learned that Jenny was her real name.
(on camera): Jenny was let into the United States and taken straight here to Room 16 of the pediatric intensive care unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Now, by the time her parents found out she'd been taken here, it was too late. They weren't allowed into the United States. They had no passport, no visa, they didn't even have proof that Jenny was their baby.
(voice-over): For nearly two months, Nadine and Junior tried to get Haitian and U.S. authorities to believe them, that this was their child. I visited them at their home in a tent city.
(on camera): So you say this is your baby?
NADINE DEVILME, JENNY'S MOTHER (through translator): Yes. Jenny is my daughter.
COHEN: I mean, how does it feel, as a mother, to know that your baby has just flown off without you to another country?
DEVILME: I feel a lot of problems. I can't sleep.
COHEN (voice-over): Meanwhile, back in the United States, lawyers arranged for a DNA test. It took weeks, but finally approved that Nadine and Junior were truly Jenny's parents.
Several more weeks of legal work later, Nadine and Junior were allowed to come to the United States.
(on camera): Today is the day.
(voice-over): At the Port-au-Prince airport, Nadine and Junior thanked the doctor who saved their daughter's life and boarded a plane to Miami to the foster home where their baby has lived for months.
A happy reunion for parents who once thought their daughter was dead in the rubble of Haiti's earthquake.
COOPER: Very cute baby. How long are they allowed to stay in the United States? COHEN: Anderson, they're allowed to stay in the U.S. for one year, and that's because, as you can see, Jenny still has injuries. You can see the gash on her head. Also, she needs physical therapy so that her left hand will work properly.
Now, what's interesting here is that they're being taken care of by the International Rescue Committee. They're going to help them settle in a house, get them some clothes, and hopefully get them work. And if anyone wants to donate money to this family or to other families in similar situations, you can go to the Web site for CNN's Impact Your World, that's CNN.com/impact.
COOPER: Elizabeth, thanks. Great story.
We're going to continue following the breaking news tonight, the rescue attempt in the West Virginia coal field. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us in a moment.
Also, tonight, the Wall Street collapse and the core group of investors who knew it was going to happen. Their stories in a mesmerizing new book about the crisis; we'll talk to author Michael Lewis in the "Big 360 Interview".
COOPER: A little good news to report from Wall Street today. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed at their highest levels in more than a year and a half. But at the same time, the Federal Reserve is now warning that new data shows the economic recovery may be slowing.
Tonight's "Big 360 Interview" is Michael Lewis, the author of the new book, "The Big Short: Inside the doomsday machine". He sat down recently to look at how we got into this mess and whether we're really on the way to getting out of it.
COOPER: As I was reading the book, the terrifying notion that kept going through my head is, has anything really changed?
MICHAEL LEWIS, AUTHOR, "THE BIG SHORT": One -- one concrete thing is that it's now the U.S. taxpayer who's underwriting the risk- taking of Wall Street banks rather --
COOPER: We're on the hook for it now?
LEWIS: Yes. So that's, in fact, if anything it encourages even more bad behavior, because the risks are now explicitly socialized, the downside.
COOPER: But I mean, you know, when the story broke, and in reading your book, you know, you read about credit default swaps and all these arcane -- these instruments that even the people who were operating them and selling them did not really understand. And you think, "Well, that must have all been done away with." But it's all still there. LEWIS: No, it's all still there. The -- but there's one other thing that has changed, that I think bodes well for the -- for reform is that the relationship of the Wall Street firms to the rest of society has completely changed. I mean, they've gone from being a master class that nobody questions --
LEWIS: -- to being, you know, enemies of the state.
COOPER: What's fascinating about the book, too, is that you focus on the few individuals -- and there were basically, I mean, a handful of individuals who actually profited -- who saw this coming collapse and just made a ton of money.
And one of them -- one of the guys you focus on has Asperger's Syndrome.
LEWIS: And a glass eye.
COOPER: And a glass eye and yet saw what no one else or very few other people could see.
LEWIS: Yes. I mean -- and this was, to me, there were some deep questions that these people, the existence of these people sort of forced you to confront. I mean, they were, say between 10 and 20 investors who really -- who did this, who bet against the subprime mortgage market and had very clear -- laid out very clear reasons at the time why they were doing it. And it became obvious to them.
But in each case, they were kind of sane men in an insane world. Everybody around them thought they were crazy for doing what they were doing. And he, Michael Docker (ph) and Michael Murray (ph), the Asperger's Syndrome, one-eyed investor, was one of them.
And the question that kept coming back to me was why these people?
COOPER: The people whose job it was to see that did not see that?
LEWIS: Yes. And the -- what provoked me to write the story was that, when Lehman Brothers went down and everything was at its worst, you got this signal coming out of Wall Street, you know, especially from the CEO level -- and you're still getting it. And the signal was, "Don't -- you know, don't blame us. This tsunami swept over the whole financial industry, and nobody saw it coming. We're sort of victims. We're sort of, you know -- I didn't know, but no one knew."
And it's not true. Some people did know.
COOPER: And what's amazing is it does not seem as if their -- their mind-frame has shifted at all because they have now been bailed out by U.S. taxpayers and continue to be -- these banks are still being bailed out. And yet they are now paying the same big, huge bonuses, bigger than before in some cases, and they don't seem very -- to have changed their behavior.
LEWIS: You know what's funny? There's a lot of emphasis on the political right on the entitlement mentality that exists in the lower classes. That if you -- you know, the effect of welfare is debilitating, because it creates a mentality where people are owed something.
We've got exactly this mentality at the very top of the social scale; that there is an entitlement -- a sense of entitlement about people who work in these firms. That they -- the assumption --
COOPER: Did Dick Fuld --
LEWIS: Yes, yes. It was -- exactly right. There's a sense that, if you got yourself to this seat inside of Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs, that you are entitled to a certain level of pay, because you're surrounded by a lot of other people who are equally entitled.
COOPER: Well, also, now they make that argument, "Well, if we're not paying them these huge bonuses, they're going to go elsewhere" which is sort of like, well, OK, they weren't that great to begin with.
LEWIS: You know what? I mean the most telling thing is that the Wall Street bonus pool in 2007 was bigger than it has ever been in history. And in 2007, Wall Street destroyed more wealth than anybody has destroyed in the history of mankind.
So the question is, you know, what's to lose? I mean, if they're all going to leave, if they're not paid, maybe that would be a good thing. You know, I think, actually that a brain drain out of Wall Street would be a healthy thing for the society.
COOPER: So where do you invest money?
COOPER: Yes, do you keep everything under your mattress?
LEWIS: Close. Close. But I have -- I keep some -- my fear is inflation. I think that -- look, we've created these massive deficits. As a society, we do not seem to be really willing to live within our means.
And so what I do is I put my money in things that are likely to resist that. But I'm dull. I'm not actually that interested in it. I never was. I don't -- I don't spend very much time at all --
COOPER: I'm actually not interested in it either, but I find your books fascinating; and this one in particular, because I mean, they're really -- they are human stories. And they're -- it's told in a way -- I mean, you have this remarkable knack, as you know, of telling these stories -- LEWIS: Say it again. No --
COOPER: No, but it's true. You're able to tell these things in a really compelling way.
LEWIS: Well, I'll tell you what. If I'm not interested, I can't write. And in this case, it was riveting to me that the decisions that this handful of investors made who got it right were not -- they were investment decisions, but they were character-driven investment decisions. That they were -- the decisions were rooted in their personalities and experience of life.
And that -- well, that energized me. Then it becomes literary. It becomes -- you're talking about human behavior. And in the end, this whole thing is about human behavior. It's not about numbers or about complex financial interests. It's about people and what drives their behavior.
COOPER: And all the people are still there, and it could all happen again?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. I mean, I have hope for reform. I really do feel kind of hopeful, because I feel the anger in the country, but, yes. If nothing -- if nothing were to change, it would happen again. Only, it would be worse.
COOPER: Michael Lewis, thanks.
LEWIS: Thank you.
COOPER: Scary stuff.
Coming up, a lot more ahead. You can go to AC360.com for exclusive access to an excerpt of Michael Lewis's new book, "The Big Short". It's a great book.
Coming up next, though, Dr. Sanjay Gupta in coal country, who visited with a woman today who knows all too well the price that so many families that paid for working in the mines.
COOPER: We've got an update of the breaking news. They're drilling right now at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine to let in air and lower down listening equipment. The work under way, obviously, in hopes of finding four miners missing since the blast at the facility yesterday; 25 other miners were killed.
We know so many things can wrong deep inside the mine. There's a lot to worry about, even if you make it home safe each night.
360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta tonight takes a look.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A whole day's gone by, more than 24 hours, and Lorelei Scarbro is still waiting for any word from inside the mine. Friends and people she loves are not yet accounted for.
But you know, it took me just minutes to realize that, while we all wait with her today, in fact, Lorelei has been waiting and worrying for decades.
LORELEI SCARBRO, LIVES IN COAL REGION: You're always concerned. Every time they walk out the door, about a roof fall, about an explosion, about the danger, you know, that exists there. There's so many things that can go wrong.
GUPTA: So many dangers, some intense and unpredictable, and others that seem to creep into miners' lives over time. Lorelei's husband went to work at the mines for 30 years.
SCARBRO: Going a couple of miles underground in a very, very dark hole, where it's dark and damp and, like I said before, if the mountain starts falling in on you, there is nowhere to go. And when the lights go out, you don't have any idea where to go or what to do.
GUPTA: And that's in the case of an explosion. But Lorelei is also talking about something else, slower deaths: black lung, coal dust killing off your lungs and literally turning them black. Over the past decade, 10,000 miners have died of black lung disease. Kidney disease affects about 20 percent of miners; and there's neurological complaints as well.
(on camera): This is an area where people come to after their shift ends, just about every day. And you probably know a lot of the people in this --
SCARBRO: I used to work behind this counter.
GUPTA: We've come to a place where a lot of miners gather after shift change. It's this little grocery store here. They buy cold drinks. They'll buy food. They'll gather. Today they gathered, as well.
Many of them would talk to us, sharing their grief and what has happened over the last day. One thing they would not do, though, is talk to us on camera. When we asked why, they said they're worried about the long arms of Massey and what might happen to them if they talked.
(voice-over): Not only would they not talk, many of them donned their jackets and got right back to work less than a day after the blast and the mine collapse.
SCARBRO: My daughter called me early this morning and she was -- she was very, very upset, because she said one of the hardest things that she had to do was to send her husband to work today.
GUPTA (on camera): Today? SCARBRO: Today. He's terrified. We all are. We all are. Because I mean, this could happen again today. And we're disposable commodities here. And, you know, this is the only game in town. We live in a model (ph) economy.
GUPTA (voice-over): The waiting did end for Lorelei a few years ago.
(on camera): This is your husband's -- this is his gravestone?
SCARBRO: Yes, it is.
GUPTA: What happened to him?
SCARBRO: My husband was diagnosed with black lung, totally disabled with black lung, by the time he was 51 years old.
GUPTA: What does that -- I mean, what was he experiencing?
SCARBRO: Extreme shortness of breath. I was really surprised the first time that I saw an x-ray of his lungs. Kenny was -- he was a little guy, but his lungs were -- were, when I saw the x-rays, they filled up his whole chest cavity. They looked like these balloons that had been blown up with black lung. He really, really suffered.
GUPTA: And this was definitely due to coal mining?
GUPTA: There's something else that Lorelei wanted to show me as well. This is her family cemetery. And you can just see gravestones everywhere. Just about everyone here has died of a mining-related cause.
GUPTA: Just so -- just so hard to see. So many of those grave sites, Anderson, that one family, you can really see the impact of the mining industry.
We made our way to the hospital, the big trauma center here in Charleston, Anderson. This is where they bring patients after mining tragedies.
One of the most critically-ill patients is in that hospital now, doctors tending to him, taking care of him. He may know a lot more details about what specifically happened in that mine. We're certainly try and talk to him when we can -- if we can when he wakes up -- Anderson.
COOPER: So Sanjay, with black lung, I mean, I guess not every miner gets it. What determines whether or not somebody gets it? Just the amount of dust you inhale? How does it --
GUPTA: It's the amount of dust that you inhale, to some extent, but also the -- how confined the space is in which you inhale it. That really seems to increase the concentrations of it.
Certainly, people who have been miners for a long time, such as Lorelei's husband, over 30 years, they're getting constant exposure to it, so that does seem to be -- you know, it sort of builds up over time.
But it's one of these diseases that causes such a profound inflammation in the lungs, Anderson, there's just very little they can do about it. So, you know, in his case, they gave him a choice to be on a breathing tube, and then eventually they -- they just realized there was nothing more they could do.
COOPER: It's so hard -- a tough way to make a living. Sanjay, appreciate it. Thanks.
Up next, meet two brothers helping firefighters in more than a dozen states. See how they are saving lives and "Building up America" when we continue.
COOPER: We want to introduce you tonight to two remarkable people, brothers -- they're also former firefighters. And as you'll see they continue to save lives but in a very surprising way.
With our "Building Up America" report, here's David Mattingly.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It came from out of nowhere. One second Francisco Tuttle was feeling fine.
FRANCISCO TUTTLE: It was a typical day, typical morning; had a busy schedule that day. And --
MATTINGLY (on camera): This is where it happened?
TUTTLE: Right here, exactly.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): But in an instant, he was on the floor, unconscious, not breathing, no pulse, the victim of a sudden heart attack.
(voice-over): Francisco Tuttle had no way of knowing at that time that his life was about to depend on an unusual act of philanthropy, the donation of a special piece of equipment that came about in a very unusual set of events.
(on camera): Francisco Tuttle was saved by a pickle bucket?
CHRIS SORENSEN, FOUNDER, FIREHOUSE SUBS: In one way or another.
ROBIN SORENSEN, FOUNDER, FIREHOUSE SUBS: Yes.
MATTINGLY: Brothers Chris and Robin Sorenson are former firefighters who founded a national chain of sandwich shops called Firehouse Subs. Their connection to Francisco Tuttle and that pickle bucket we were talking about has its roots dating back 5 years to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
R. SORENSEN: We're giving these people who have lost everything a hot plate of food and half of them were breaking down crying.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): That happened in Pearlington, Mississippi, virtually wiped out by the storm. The Sorensen brothers drove in food and supplies. Not feeling like that was enough, they decided to give the town a used fire truck they found on eBay.
(on camera): And you just couldn't stop after that?
R. SORENSEN: No, that was just the beginning.
C. SORENSEN: You start to see the big picture and believe me, everybody needs something. There's no department that doesn't need some kind of a gear.
MATTINGLY: Since 2005, the Sorensen Brothers Foundation has donated more than $2 million worth of equipment in 13 states. A lot of that money comes from selling pickle buckets emptied by their shops.
R. SORENSEN: We sell 5,000 to 10,000 pickle buckets a month. At $2 a-piece, that all goes in the foundation and it keeps them out of landfills too.
C. SORENSEN: Yes, it's great.
MATTINGLY: That money helped pay for this device called the AutoPulse (ph), donated to the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina Fire Department which brings us back to Francisco Tuttle.
TUTTLE: I was dead.
MATTINGLY: The precision nonstop compressions of the donated AutoPulse brought Tuttle back from the brink. And today I'm bringing him to meet the guys who made it possible.
(on camera): Got somebody I would like you to meet. This is Francisco Tuttle.
C. SORENSEN: Francisco.
TUTTLE: What's up, brother.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): This is the first time the Sorensens had ever met someone saved by their acts of charity.
TUTTLE: If it wasn't for your contributions and your donations, I wouldn't be here.
MATTINGLY: Two ex-firemen finding new ways to come to the rescue.
David Mattingly, CNN, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
COOPER: Helping to build up America.
That's it for 360 tonight.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts now.
I'll see you tomorrow night.