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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Hunting Gadhafi; Irene's Fury; Battles Outside Tripoli; Syria Unrest; Hurricane Irene; Ending the Nightmare
Aired August 25, 2011 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause at the CNN Center.
ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay.
Two major stories we're following for you right now.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
SESAY: Fierce street-to-street fighting in Tripoli as opposition forces continue their manhunt for the fugitive Moammar Gadhafi.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
VAUSE: And Hurricane Irene churning up the U.S. East Coast. Hundreds of thousands have already fled, 16 million Americans are in the path of this monster storm.
We've got all the angles covered on both stories.
Right now on WORLD REPORT.
SESAY: It's early morning in Tripoli where rebel forces control most but not all of the capital city.
There's sporadic but fierce fighting in several parts of Tripoli.
CNN journalists report hearing a nearly constant chorus of gunfire as rebels root out Gadhafi loyalists. Well, that sets up gruesome scenes of bodies strewn across a field. No one knows which side is responsible for the killings.
As for Moammar Gadhafi, NATO announced it's helping in the hunt for the Libyan leader. On Thursday, rebels said they thought they had him cornered, but were wrong. He is still missing.
But another audio recording has surfaced. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER (through translator): Do not leave Tripoli for the rats. Do not leave them. Fight them. Destroy them.
You are the overwhelming majority. You have marched in millions. March with the same millions but fight this time. Fill the streets and the fields.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VAUSE: Now, earlier I spoke with CNN's Nic Robertson and asked him why it is that Gadhafi in that apartment building had been surrounded and why it turned out to be wrong.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be based on the fact that rumors surface and they might have been rooted in a piece of good information as far as the rebel commanders are concerned. We talked to one commander this afternoon who'd sent more rebels out to surround an apartment building that he believed that Gadhafi and his sons were holed up in near Gadhafi's former palace compound. Yet it turned out not to be the case. Rebels rushed over there, but it didn't seem to exist in the end.
Then, another rumor came up.
So, essentially the rebels are sort of going after places where they think Gadhafi is, and then sometimes it turns out to be places where they say his loyalists are, families loyal to him or spies in one case sort of burning apartment building, so -- which the rebels said that they'd attacked because there were Gadhafi spies there.
So, I suppose you can say that by sort of eliminating these places that the rebels have rumors about and suspect something about, they are narrowing it down.
But the reality is they're rumors. And the search really is on a massive, massive scale here. They're not making headway from what we can see at the moment, John.
VAUSE: So, and really, ultimately, he could be anywhere. He may not even be in Libya. But from what I've read, there seems to be a certain degree of certainty that he is actually still in the capital of Tripoli.
ROBERTSON: And it's not really clear why there's this degree of certainty. I think certainly in the early days the fact that the rebels said they captured Gadhafi's sons, which has proven not to be true, seems to indicate that Gadhafi and his family were outpaced, outsmarted by the rebels and they believed their own rhetoric, that they were going to be safe, they could win the fight.
But we know that Gadhafi is somebody who's (a), smart, and, (b), paranoid, and that he's planned and will have planned for situations like this. Was he wrong footed?
So he's probably got other places that he can go and hide. And there are still other areas in this country, Sirte, his hometown, tribes in the south of the country, parts of the western country where tribes are still perhaps at least in part loyal to him.
So can he have found places to hide there?
These are all possibilities. And no one knows. And that's perhaps a tribute to Gadhafi's planning that actually nobody has a good lead on him right now.
VAUSE: Well then, how do these statements that we believe are coming from Gadhafi, these radio statements that he's making, could they be some effort to sew confusion, to create doubt, or is it essentially the same as a crazy person yelling at an empty park bench?
ROBERTSON: I think there's something of the park bench in this. Look, I mean, he's calling on his loyalists to not give up the fight for Tripoli. Well, no one really expects Gadhafi's forces to be able to take control here again. The reality is they might be able to put up a fight, might make it hard in some areas for the rebels to ultimately take control. And that can disrupt this government's ability to begin to run the country effectively, can disrupt many things.
But the forces aren't going to come back. The part about the empty park bench is that Gadhafi is sort of shouting into the wind. But at the same time, you know, he still believes, it seems, that he can rally his forces and that there are still people that will rally to that in other parts of the country.
The rebels are far from taking control over the whole country, exerting their influence, making the political deals with Gadhafi's allies that we're going to need to do to run this country.
So, there's a long way to go just beyond the issue of actually catching Gadhafi physically himself, John.
SESAY: Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson there.
Well, the rebels say they control Tripoli's international airport, but forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi are still shelling it and planes have been burning.
Our Arwa Damon got a bird's-eye view of the fighting and destruction when she was inside the airport's control tower.
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're up in the control tower on the tarmac of the Tripoli international airport. We have to stay a bit low because the rebels say there's a sniper who's been shooting at them.
But we wanted to show you this, that smoldering airplane. This airport complex has been bombarded relentlessly by Gadhafi loyalists using various kinds of artillery and Grad rockets.
And if we come over to this side, we can actually still hear the sounds of explosions of gunfire. But if we move around, we can see even more of the wreckage that has been caused by the Gadhafi loyalists' assault on this airport complex.
Now, if we come over to the other side of the air control tower, you can see the wreckage of an aircraft that was hit overnight.
And the rebels say that the assault on this airport complex is so intense for a number of reasons. First of all, the senior commanders here believe that Gadhafi loyalists are trying to keep huge swaths of land that rebels don't control free so that they can perhaps try to sneak Gadhafi himself through them.
But also the rebels believe that Gadhafi loyalists are employing a scorched earth policy. They want to demolish anything that they possibly can. They're still facing a fierce and intense battle at this airport complex from Gadhafi loyalists.
SESAY: I got a chance to talk to Arwa and ask her if NATO forces are key to repelling those airport attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON: What they're telling us is that NATO can't strike most of the Gadhafi loyalist positions here because they continue to use villages as cover. That being said, NATO did say that it hit a number of targets in the vicinity of Tripoli earlier yesterday. And the commanders here told us that yesterday NATO struck one of the military installations. They said that two of the fighting position, that loyalists were using, two of the vehicles they were using to fire their artillery at were hit as well.
But this is where the battle gets tricky when these Gadhafi loyalists decide to use villages as their cover. That prevents the rebels from going in and using artillery, that prevents NATO from striking those locations.
But at the end of the day, yes, this is a fight in which the rebels rely heavily on NATO for their support. They would not have come this far were it not for the assistance from those NATO forces, those firefighter jets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: We caught up with NATO secretary general and we'll hear what he has to say about the organization's role going forward.
And later --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, this is the house of resistance, a potent symbol of Gadhafi's stand against the West, that has now been completely overrun by his enemies.
(EDN VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: CNN's Dan Rivers gets amazing access to the Gadhafi compound, and some of the horror he found there. Watch his report in about 20 minutes from now right here on WORLD REPORT.
VAUSER: Now to another major story we're following. The biggest hurricane threat the U.S. has seen in six years.
Hurricane Irene is barreling towards the nation's East Coast. The category three storm is packing winds of 115 miles per hour. That's 185 kilometers an hour. It could strengthen by the time it hits the coast.
Earlier, Irene tore through the Bahamas. No deaths or injuries were reported, but there are widespread power outages, damaged buildings, impassible roads and flooding.
As Irene moves on, a hurricane warning has been issued for coastal North Carolina. Thousands of tourists and residents were evacuated from their homes.
Emergency preparations are being made as far north as New England.
SESAY: All right. Let's talk about some of the impact Irene is already having here in the United States because she's already affecting some events and transportation.
Major airlines are dropping ticket change fees for passengers scheduled to fly to or from many cities along the East Coast this weekend.
The U.S. passenger rail service Amtrak has canceled most service south of Washington Friday through Sunday.
More than a dozen cruise ships have changed their itineraries.
And many events have been postponed, including Sunday's dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington itself.
All right. Let's get an update on where hurricane Irene is right now.
VAUSE: Yes. Ivan Cabrera is at the world weather center.
And, Ivan, of course, the hope is that maybe somehow Irene could weaken? Is there any chance?
IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The chance is certainly there that it could weaken certainly into the next couple of days. But the chance that it's going to miss the U.S., that's over. The models at this point really just locking in on a U.S. hit. We have run out of real estate to make a significant right-hand turn here. It's just not going to happen.
If you're watching this, U.S. viewers from Florida, you're just finally getting the outer bands. The latest from the National Hurricane Center, no significant change, the winds are still 185 KPH, that translates to 115 miles per hour which in turn leaves it at a category three storm. Still potent here, no question about it.
East of Florida, battering waves are going to be with us through Florida and the ripcurrent threat.
Here is the center of the storm -- we've been watching the water vapor channel the closer satellite infrared imagery, it is looking very organized to me. We're not going to be surprised this if this peaked as a high end three or a cat-4 before it weakened again, heading into the Cape Hatteras area as we head into the next 24 to 36 hours. You see all the watches and warnings that are posted.
Let us talk about the cone here, because, again, it is a cone of uncertainty. It is not a line, it is not a point. And this is a large -- geographically large tropical cyclone here. Here it is at 24 hours at 194 KPH, and then again the winds down a little bit before it slams into North Carolina and then makes that dangerous hug right along the coast here with that potential for significant storm surge.
If this moves a little bit east of the cone, we are going to be OK along most of the coast because the winds are going to be coming in from north to south. That is pushing the water away from the coast down to the south.
But if it hugs the center of the cone here, then we're going to talking about winds coming in from the south. And that's not what you want because that is what would cause a significant storm surge, especially in New York City.
So, the next 24 to 48 hours will be critical. And then that eventual track will be very important indeed.
The track has already passed through, of course, the Bahamas and Nassau, and our Jim Spellman was there.
JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Winds have finally died down here at Nassau, Bahamas, after a full day of heavy rain and driving winds all day as hurricane Irene made its way. Early reports indicate no damage at the popular tourist areas here. That's good news for the Bahamians in Nassau.
In some of the smaller islands, not such good news. Early preliminary reports mentioning catastrophic damage to some of the small settlements, as many as 90 percent of the structures in some of these villages just simply destroyed.
They're so confident here of how well that they've made it through here in Nassau that the tourist hotels are already looking to get people back in and the airport will open tomorrow. The cruise ship dock has already opened tonight. And so, they hope to get people back in as fast as they left.
This is just a preview of what the United States is going to face on its East Coast as this monster storm makes its way there tomorrow and through the weekend.
Jim Spellman, CNN, Nassau, Bahamas.
CABRERA: All right. We do have to talk about what's going on in the Western Pacific. If you think Irene is big, take a look behind me here. We're talking now a super typhoon that is in the Western Pacific. The winds are now up to 241 kilometers per hour into the 140 range. We're almost at a category five storm here, super typhoon Nanmadol.
Look at this eye. That is just textbook stuff. An unbelievable pin hole of an eye just to the east of the Philippines here. The eventual track is going to be critical. It may skirt with extreme northern point of Luzon here in the next 24 hours.
Regardless of that eventual track, the torrential rains, Isha and John, are right on top of the Philippines right now with significant flooding and the potential certainly for mudslides and landslides in the days to come.
SESAY: Yes, it has a lot of people very, very concerned. Ivan, thank you.
We'll get Ivan back here for another update hurricane Irene in about 30 minutes from now.
We're also going to see how one of the world's biggest cities is preparing for a possible direct hit.
VAUSE: We'll also go back to Libya when we return to hear what life is really like for residents caught up in the midst of this bloody war.
SESAY: As pockets of fighting continue in Libya's capital, the number of casualties is climbing. Most victims are civilians, and hospitals have been overwhelmed. They're short of doctors and nurses, and supplies are running out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. HABAS: We don't have any things to do to prepare (INAUDIBLE). So just we are doing the basic things, stop his bleeding. That's all that we are trying to do now.
REPORTER: How many bodies do you have here?
SAAD MUQTALA, SURGEON: There's a lot of bodies. A lot of bodies. There is bodies in here, and there's bodies in the other morgue. (INAUDIBLE) and fighting in the streets and they got shot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAUSE: As the rebels liberate more and more Tripoli neighborhoods, they're finding new places of horror. Lindsay Hilsum went to one former Gadhafi stronghold and met those who had witnessed the carnage.
LINDSEY HILSUM, CHANNEL 4 NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The war is still within sight of Tripoli's Mansoura district, and what happened here will never be forgotten.
A local computer engineer, Abdul Hamid, showed me where Colonel Gadhafi's neighborhood thugs had their headquarters.
(on camera): Big picture of Gadhafi here --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
HILSUM: -- now gone.
(voice-over): It was a place everyone feared.
Decorated in the Brother Leader's favorite green, it's a monument to his eccentricity and to the brutality of his rule.
Just outside, we found a group of young men who had watched in horror last Saturday as three people carrying the new Libyan flag had approached the Gadhafi checkpoint.
ANAS MOHAMMED BANI, EYEWITNESS (through translator): The militiamen stopped them and kicked them to the ground. The people in the flats opposite called out, "Why are you doing that to Libyans?"
They said: "If you don't like Gadhafi, we'll do the same to you. Watch us."
HILSUM: The bus shelter bears the marks of what happened next. All three were shot in the head and left to die on the street.
Next door was another Gadhafi stronghold where his followers would gather, a place to avoid in normal times, and even more so recently.
(on camera): This was supposed to be a sports center, but it seems that Gadhafi's people used it for something much more sinister. There's a patch of blood on the ground here and a terrible smell. The local men say there was a refrigerated truck here. And they found more than 10 bodies inside.
(voice-over): We went to the flat of the El Goula family. Two sons are still missing. Two have returned from a horrific ordeal. Arrested last Saturday night, they were interrogated for three days, but then released by Gadhafi's soldiers.
Munir's story is almost too raw to relate.
MUNIR EL GOULA (through translator): When they opened the gate, mercenaries came and pushed the soldiers back into the jail. They shot an old man in the leg. I didn't think they would kill us, but the mercenaries entered the jail and shot the prisoners in the legs.
One took a grenade and threw it in. Five times, they opened the door, shot inside, and threw a grenade. A lot of people died. My brother Abdullah was behind me.
HILSUM: He says, somehow, he escaped, but believes 20 soldiers and more than 100 prisoners were killed.
The local mosque has become the center for a new kind of neighborhood rule. They're trying to establish law and order. The computer engineer, Abdul Hamid, showed us stolen goods they have taken from looters and the weapons licenses the mosque committee issues to men on roadblocks.
It won't take too long to clear up the physical scars in Mansoura. The mental scars will take much longer.
Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News, Tripoli.
VAUSE: Well, NATO's role in this conflict is now evolving a bit.
SESAY: Yes, it certainly is. After the break, we'll hear from a general about helping in the rebels' hunt for Moammar Gadhafi.
VAUSE: As rebels gain ground in the battle for Tripoli, the fight is far from over. Fierce battles continued in areas where Gadhafi loyalists remain, mostly in the south of Tripoli. Special Forces from Britain, France, Jordan, and Qatar are on the ground supporting the rebels. There is word that Moammar Gadhafi was in an apartment building, but after rebels moved in nothing was found.
Meanwhile, the United Nations announced it was releasing $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets for humanitarian aid.
On the political front, the National Transitional Council says it's relocating its headquarters from Benghazi in the east to Tripoli.
SESAY: Well, right now in Libya, weapons are everywhere -- among them shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles or SAMs. The U.S. believes Libya had as many as 20,000. NATO official told CNN that military alliance is investigating just how many SAMs and their launchers are left. And crucially who controls them.
Earlier, our own Becky Anderson asked NATO secretary general what the military alliance is doing right now.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: For security reasons, we don't comment on intelligence and operational details, but I can tell you that, of course, we continue to monitor the situation closely, and we continue to conduct intelligence and reconnaissance operations with the aim to protect civilians.
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: But if you were specifically giving intelligence and reconnaissance information to the rebels as they try to hunt down Moammar Gadhafi, surely, sir, that would be outside your remit.
RASMUSSEN: I can assure you that we conduct our operations in strict conformity with the U.N. mandate. We continue to monitor the situation. We continue our intelligence and reconnaissance operations, and, of course, we do all we can to make sure that we avoid civilian casualties.
ANDERSON: So, if NATO knew where Moammar Gadhafi was, would that be a target, a legitimate target for you, or would that have to wait to become a target for the rebels?
RASMUSSEN: Individuals are not targets of our operation. But, of course, command and control centers can be legitimate targets if they are used to plan and organize attacks against civilians. And in that case, they will be hit by our air strikes.
ANDERSON: So you could conceive of Moammar Gadhafi becoming a target for NATO.
RASMUSSEN: Individuals do not constitute a target within our operation, but if necessary we would take our command and control centers to protect civilians against attacks.
ANDERSON: How do you respond to concerns from South Africa over the past 24 hours that NATO could be responsible for the death of civilians on the ground? The deputy prime minister there has gone so far as to say there are clear links and coordination between NATO and Libyan rebels. The hints being that ICC itself should be looking to investigate NATO commanders on the ground.
RASMUSSEN: I clearly denounce these allegations. I can assure you that we have conducted and we will continue to conduct our operations in strict conformity with the U.N. mandate, and that is to protect civilians against attacks.
And the fact is, that since we took responsibility for this operation, we have carried out more than 20,000 sorties, more than 8,000 air strikes. We have taken out more than 5,000 military units that could be used to attack civilians. And so far, we have no confirmed information that we have caused civilian casualties. And that's a great success.
ANDERSON: Just how much longer do you believe NATO will be needed in Libya?
RASMUSSEN: We will continue our operation as long as necessary to protect civilians against attacks. Hopefully, we are in the very, very final phase of this operation. But we want to make sure that we fully implement the U.N. mandate, so we will continue our operation until no threat against the civilian population in Libya exists.
ANDERSON: And that could be days, weeks, or even months at this point, could it?
RASMUSSEN: Well, you never know. We are committed to this operation, and we will succeed through to a successful ending. But personally, I do believe that we are in the very final hours or days of this.
SESAY: Well, Libya's National Transitional Council continues to make key diplomatic gains. Chad, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, former allies of the Gadhafi regime, are the latest to accept the NTC. More than 40 countries formally recognized the NTC as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
And today, NTC leaders are meeting with the Libyan contact group in Turkey created in March. The contact group is made up of 30 countries and international organizations, including the U.S., United Nations, European Union and the Arab League.
VAUSE: Well, a disturbing report on the war in Tripoli is coming up next. Hundreds of injured civilians and evidence of executed prisoners.
SESAY: As well, hugs and tears. Journalists celebrate their freedom in Tripoli all coming up on CNN, the world's news leader.
SESAY: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isha Sesay at CNN Center.
VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. Let's get you caught up on the latest headlines right now.
Parts of Tripoli remain volatile and dangerous as rebels fight forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi. Rebels are still looking for the Libyan leader and at one point thought they had him surrounded, but he remains at large. The only sign of him was an audio message urging his supporters to keep up the fight.
SESAY: The National Transitional Council says it has begun moving its headquarters from Benghazi to Tripoli. The NTC says several offices are already operating there.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has released $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets for humanitarian aid.
VAUSE: Another big story, thousands of people are leaving their homes as Hurricane Irene heads for the U.S. East Coast. Some airline flights and rail routes have been canceled. Dozens of events have been postponed. Earlier the category 3 storm barrelled through the Bahamas with heavy rain and high winds, but no deaths or injuries have been reported.
SESAY: You've seen the scenes of chaos. Tripoli is a long way from being secure for its citizens. And evidence is emerging of atrocities, and there's concern more horrors melee undiscovered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESAY: The heavy battle of Gadhafi forces continued both in and outside of the leader's compound.
Dan Rivers reports from the city left reeling from the conflict. We must warn you, his report does contain some disturbing images.
DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was the very heart of the regime. A potent symbol of Gadhafi's resistance against the West, now overrun by his enemies. So is the writing on the wall for the colonel, the rebels would like to think so and they are determined to flush him out with minimal collateral damage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't like to spend a lot of blood, you know, because they are -- even they are our brothers.
RIVERS: We've got to be careful at every coroner in this part of the city that Gadhafi's compound.
We're not sure if they're shooting at us, but we don't stay to find out.
The streets are awash with guns, all toted by the rebels. So far we haven't seen a single Gadhafi loyalist here.
Among the fighters, Zyad Tariq, who was held in prison for political dissent. He says he can't remember for how long, but he does remember the torture.
ZYAD TARIQ, FORMER POLITICAL PRISONER: We've been beaten. We've been put electricity in our foot. We've been held with our hands tied up like this.
RIVERS: We visit the Matiqua (ph) military hospital, now echoing with the screams of children caught up in this mayhem.
Kirstie Campbell works for an aid agency and has been watching hundreds of injured citizens being rushed in for treatment. KIRSTIE CAMPBELL, INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CORPS: Women who have been killed, they're basically hiding from snipers into the houses, from mortars into the houses, not even in the streets, in their homes.
RIVERS (on camera): It's pretty sickening.
CAMPBELL: I've worked for 10 years in warzones and this one was bad.
RIVERS (voice-over): I meet Uday Idominer (ph), a 27-year-old fighter shot twice by a sniper yesterday. This is near to where he was shot. Hardly a surface that's not punctuated by the ferocious fire fight.
And at the end of this folk filled street an intersection littered with bodies. I count a dozen, a grizzly tableau of urban warfare, the victims' hands bound behind them.
The rebels say they were executed by Gadhafi's men, but these bodies appear to be black Africans. Black Africans make up a large portion of Gadhafi's army, raising questions about whether the men were executed by the rebels.
(on camera): These terrible scenes sum up the horror of parts of Tripoli now. Bodies strewn across the street, gunfire echoing through the sky, and large parts of the city remaining a no-go zone.
Dan Rivers, CNN, Tripoli.
SESAY: Very, very troubling.
You can find much more about Dan's tour of the Gadhafi compound on our Web site. Check it out at CNN.com/International.
VAUSE: And Libyan rebels who went through Muammar Gadhafi's compound have discovered a photo album filled with, well, photographs of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The two did meet in 2008. They shared a late-night dinner together. And according to Politico.com, Muammar Gadhafi is an admirer of the former top U.S. official.
Now, in 2007, Gadhafi said, quote, "I admire and I am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. Leezza, Leezza, Leezza, I love her very much. I admire her, and I'm proud of her because she's a black woman of African origin".
SESAY: Thanks, John.
As Libyan rebels continue the fighting, warfare in some sections of Tripoli, the rebels have expanded their fight east of the capital to the important oil towns of al-Brega and Ras Lanuf. The battle ground is moving ever closely to Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown. Frederik Pleitgen has more on that.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Muammar Gadhafi's forces continue to crumble, rebels are on the move in the country's east.
(on-camera): As rebel fighters are about to head to the frontline, it's only a few kilometers in this direction over there we've been able to hear the thumps of artillery in the distance. They say their ultimate goal is to take the town of Sirte, which is one of the last strongholds of Gadhafi.
(voice-over): This amateur video the fighters gave us shows them facing off with pro-Gadhafi militias near Ras Lanuf, a key oil refinery. The clips show intense gun battles with the rebels ultimately winning out and taking the area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I promised my family I would not come home until we defeat Gadhafi, this fighter says.
PLEITGEN: And though they seem very close to achieving that goal, the civil war continues to take its toll. Casualties arrive each day at this medical center in Ras Lanuf even though Habib Mortadi, the doctor in charge says he's receiving fewer wounded than in past weeks.
DR. HABIB MORTADI, DOCTOR-IN-CHARGE: Yesterday, we got two dead people. And one injured man. He lost his lower jaw. That was the most severe injury.
PLEITGEN: As they push Gadhafi's forces back, the rebels inspect their latest prize, the oil and gas refinery at Ras Lanuf, the biggest such installation in Libya. Some of the storage tanks were destroyed in the early days of the civil war, but the refinery is intact the fighters tell us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The airplanes came in and bombed them. We fought the Gadhafi forces and they ran away.
PLEITGEN: The rebels on the eastern front are already celebrating what they say is the end of the Gadhafi regime. But major battles are still going on here as some in Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte refuse to lay down their arms.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Ras Lanuf, Libya.
VAUSE: Now meantime in Syria, human right activists say the government there has launched a new wave of arrests. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 3,000 people have been thrown into makeshift jails. Now, CNN is not allowed to report from inside Syria, so we can only see what's going on through social network -- YouTube videos. Jim Clancy has this story and a warning. Some images in his report are difficult to watch.
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's little left to the imagination by Syrian security forces as they meet out rough justice to captured demonstrators. These images were purportedly shot in Homs earlier this month. Human rights activists say this scene defines Damascus' latest strategy in dealing with the unrest.
NADIM HOURY, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The regime now has been for the last few months trying to break the will of the protestors. And they are throwing the book at it. The repression book from -- they've tried encircling neighborhoods by the army, proceeding to mass arrests. But so far it hasn't worked.
CLANCY: This is Homs, Syria. A U.N. team recently in the country echoed human rights groups that say the regime is using snipers to clear the streets. Human rights watch says Syrians are now arrested by the thousands and face horrific prison conditions.
MOUSAB AZZAWI, THE SYRIAN OBSERVATORY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: I can tell you some places in the security branches, there are about 80,000 in 4 x 4 meters. They eat just once and they are fed just once a day. They don't have any access to healthcare. And you know like within these crowds, all the pandemics, all the diseases can spread like a spark.
CLANCY: According to the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 220 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in mid-March. And some Syrian activist groups say the death toll is even higher. More than 350 people reportedly killed since the start of Ramadan just three weeks ago. Syria has restricted access into the country for foreign media, so CNN cannot independently confirm those figures.
Friday prayers, the spark for mass protests over the past five months, will likely continue to test whatever strategy President Bashar al-Assad has for quelling the unrest.
Jim Clancy, CNN.
SESAY: We also want to update you on the story that's been developing over the last few hours out of Mexico. Again, new details. At least 40 people have been killed after a grenade attack on a casino in the northeast. Investigators in Monterrey say two people drove up, then one of them tossed three grenades into the building. The blast trapped dozens of people inside that burning building. No word as yet on the motive for this attack. The region has seen several grenade attacks this year.
We're going to continue to monitor this for you and bring you new details as when they come into us.
OK. Well, coming up I should say, Ivan Cabrera will give you the latest update on the path of Hurricane Irene.
VAUSE: Yes, we'll see how people all along American's eastern seaboard are now preparing for nature's fury, and it's a bad one. You're watching CNN, the world's news leader.
SESAY: Hurricane Irene has churned through the Caribbean and is expected to bear down on the U.S. East Coast this weekend.
VAUSE: Yes. Our iReports have been out there tracking this storm and its effects every step of the way. They're sharing some incredible pictures with us. Take a look.
VAUSE: Lots of incredible stuff there.
So let's go check right now of where Irene just off the East Coast.
SESAY: Ivan Cabrera joins us from the World Weather Center with the latest details.
Ivan, what are you seeing?
IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, no big changes. It's still 185 per hour kilometer storm here. Again, 115 miles per hour. Still a category 3. A dangerous hurricane here. It is north now of the Bahamas. It is going to continue to improve for our good friends there east of Florida. And now it has begun that northerly movement, 22 kilometers per hour.
If we draw a straight line to the north, there you see it slamming into North Carolina. That's exactly what we think is going to happen over the next 24 hours.
In the next 24 hours, it's going to be right here gaining strength as it does. So water temperatures still here very warm, but the gulf stream here so we're not going to lose any significant intensity before it makes either a landfall or very close pass to the outer banks of North Carolina. That would be for Saturday afternoon. So we still have time to prepare if you're watching this from the mid- Atlantic and certainly south-eastern United States.
You're OK Georgia, Florida and even South Carolina, I think is out of the woods here, but North Carolina and points to the north, that is where the danger zone is going to be in the next 48. And then of course 72 hours.
It remains to be seen the exact track, the eventual track. That's going to be important on whether we get a significant storm surge in New York or not. If it moves further to the east, we don't. If it hugs the coast, or even goes further inland, then we get into that dangerous easterlies side of the storm where the water gets pushed on in. And then we're going to be not only flooding from of course the significant rains that are coming but also from the storm surge as well. There's the red line. That's the official track. And there you see the models kind of converging right on top of New England.
Living in Boston ten years, I tell you, it does not take much to flood the subways there and New York like-wise there. So even the water that is coming from the sky that is this arm of water that would be enough to flood you. Then of course you're dealing with the potential for a storm surge.
So folks are preparing. We have little time. We have about a day before this thing makes landfall in the Cape Hatteras area and then points to the north.
And our CNN's John Zarrella spoke to Joe Johns earlier about the precautions you should take.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ZARELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The first thing you've got to do, Joe, is you've got to go out and you got to make sure you've got water. Enough water for four days for each member of your family. You've got to make sure you've got a medical hit handy. You've got to make sure that you've got medicines that you might need bagged up and ready to go in case you have to evacuate. You've got to have an evacuation plan.
Know where you're going to go. What roads you're going to take to get there. Make sure they're not impassable and underwater by the time you make the decision. And if you do decide to leave or are told by your emergency managers to leave, do it when they tell you to do it. Don't wait. Because that's when you start to run into trouble.
Here on Atlantic Beach, Joe, we are -- you can see right here one of the things they've done, Burt's Surf Shop. They've started to board up. They've boarded up almost all the entire building except for the front door. There's one other building right across the street here. You can see they're all boarded up. But our cameraman, one of our cameramen, Mike Miller, took a ride up and down. And so far we haven't seen much else boarded up here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: All right. Big updates coming in throughout the day. Obviously, we'll stay on top of this Hurricane Irene with those 185 kilometer per hour winds.
And then our other big story, of course, Isha and John, in the western pacific, I'll be talking about the super typhoon threatening the Philippines, as well in the next hour of "World Report."
VAUSE: There is a lot going on. They have not seen anything like this in the U.S. since 1821. Ivan, thank you.
SESAY: Ivan, appreciate it. Thank you.
Well, one city that could be particularly vulnerable to the ravages of Hurricane Irene is NEW YORK. Mary Snow explains why residents of the Big Apple should be concerned.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If anyone is worried about a hurricane hitting New York, it's coastal geology Professor Nicholas Coch. And to understand why, he took us to Southampton, New York.
NICHOLAS K. COCH, QUEENS COLLEGE, NEW YORK: This is actually where the 1938 hurricane broke through and made Shinnecock Bay a branch of the ocean.
SNOW: Coch says most New Yorkers forget that it was here that a powerful category 3 hurricane made landfall in 1938. It was called The Long Island Express, and it caused widespread damage even in New York City, some 70 miles away.
(on-camera): Even if New York City is spared a direct hit --
COCH: That's right. It's going to have massive flooding, yes.
SNOW: For years, Coch has been sounding the alarm about how vulnerable New York City is because of its topography. He says storm surges could trigger massive flooding in low-lying areas, particularly lower Manhattan.
Consider the simulation done by NOAA, showing what a category 2 hurricane could do to a tunnel linking Brooklyn and Manhattan. Donald Cresatelo (ph) with the Army Corps of Engineers mapped out some scenarios.
A category 1 hurricane, for example, could flood the subway station at the southern tip of Manhattan with 3-1/2 feet of water. A category 2 storm, he says, could put JFK Airport under 5-1/2 feet of water.
DONALD CRESATELO, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: If a storm were to occur it could be catastrophic given the population density in the northeast.
SNOW: High winds are also a big concern. And city officials have evacuation plans at the ready. Despite all the preparations, Coch says it's not the hurricane he's most worried about.
(on-camera): What's your biggest concern?
COCH: The New Yorker.
SNOW: Why? COCH: Because they don't listen. You can always tell a New Yorker, but you can't tell them very much.
SNOW: Mary Snow, CNN, New York.
SESAY: That's such a great line.
VAUSE: Ain't that the truth?
SESAY: Ain't that the truth.
All right. We're going to continue to of course watch Hurricane Irene.
Thirty-six journalists are free after five days in captivity at a Libyan hotel.
VAUSE: And after the break, you'll get to meet the CNN producer who helped secure their release from pro-Gadhafi gunmen.
SESAY: Well, this was the scene Wednesday as CNN producer Jomana Karadsheh and 35 other journalists were finally let out of the Rixos Hotel ending a five-day nightmare.
The journalists had come to Tripoli to cover one of the year's biggest stories, and they wound up becoming the story.
VAUSE: Yes. You know what happened, in the end, Jomana actually struck up a relationship with one of the pro-Gadhafi guards. They talk about their families, especially their children. And Jomana actually spoke to Anderson a little short time ago, and she explained how she actually managed to build up this relationship.
JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN PRODUCER: I spent time in Libya, this time in a previous rotation, so I got to know the people there. And there are actually many, many really nice people that I've met over the time I've spent there.
And this man was a friendly one. He would always come and check on us. I was spending time with him, having tea, talking to him. It was myself and a few of the other Arabic speaking journalists with us.
We just built this kind of weird relationship with a guy who was stopping us from leaving, but we did build that relationship.
COOPER: What do you think it was that finally convinced the gunmen to let you go? KARADSHEH: I think, Anderson, it was -- there was one turning point where, you know, we really wanted to get out of there. We felt that the hotel was turning into a front line and we had shells over the hotel. You had sniper bullets coming into, like through the windows.
So we really did not feel safe. We all felt that pressure on that last day, on Wednesday, that we had to get out of there no matter what. So I just sat with him. I just sat on the floor and I looked at him and I'm like, we need to get out of here. I miss my family. I need to see my family.
And I knew he was going through that because he hadn't seen his family for days. And he was telling me and other journalists about his five children, the youngest of whom is 3 years old. Of course, the fighting was going on across the city and he had no news of them because there was no phone lines and no power.
So I think that was the turning point. He got all teary when I said I missed my family. He said, OK, let's try to get you out of here.
COOPER: Were they receiving instructions in real time, or had they just been told, you know, at the start of all this, just stay here, keep these people here?
KARADSHEH: I would say it was very unclear, Anderson. We were always trying to figure out what had happened, but it seemed like, you know, as the battle intensified, we were basically forgotten. So the initial command was probably just keep them in there, do not let them out.
And we tried reaching officials, because we were told that the office of Saif Gadhafi was basically in charge of the media now while we were there. And we tried in every way to reach officials, people we have worked with and dealt with. No one was even picking up our calls, Anderson, even when we could get through.
COOPER: It's remarkable in one of these situations how quickly you begin to feel the effects of being held against your will. What was it like?
KARADSHEH: It was really, really, really tough, Anderson. I think the good thing that helped us all was that in this group of more than 30 people in that hotel, that it was a really good group of people.
But of course, there were those moments where you were imagining every possible scenario of what could happen to us. What were they going to do to us? Are they going to leave us in there? Are they going to use us as human shields possibly?
COOPER: What was the toughest moment for you?
KARADSHEH: There were a few tough moments. Like in the early days, I think it was on the second day, on Sunday, we had lost power in the hotel. And it was two wings in the hotel. And we tried to move from one wing to the other.
And as I was walking past, I got basically caught in a conversation with one of the gunmen and he was waving an AK-47 as he was talking to me. I must tell you, that was one of the scariest moments for me, because I could see out of the corner of my eye, people in the lobby were slowly moving away.
So it was just me, him and a few other gunmen. As I was trying to calm him down, and he did say that you are the journalists who are trying to turn Libya into Iraq and, you know, create a blood bath here. So that was really hard. I really don't know how I got out of that one, but we did.
VAUSE: And we are glad they did. Jomana and Matthew Chance, Dan Price from the BBC. All of them.
VAUSE: Stay with CNN for the very latest on the conflict in Libya.
SESAY: As well as up-to-the-minute details on the path of Hurricane Irene. It's already causing major travel disruptions all along the American east coast, and residents along the eastern seaboard already making preparations for this very powerful storm.
Our weather experts are busy tracking Irene and we're also closely following the National Hurricane Center, and we'll bring you their updates as they come into us.
I'm Isha Sesay.
VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. Stay with CNN, the world's news leader.