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Families of U.S.S. Cole Crew Await Final Word on Missing Persons

Aired October 12, 2000 - 1:33 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The attack on the U.S.S. Cole in the Gulf of Aden at port in Yemen today killed four people aboard the U.S. destroyer; 35 people were injured and a dozen or so are missing. So it is presumed that the death toll will rise in this attack, which the U.S. government is saying, by all accounts, looks like terrorism as the investigation goes forward.

The U.S.S. Cole is based in Norfolk, Virginia. CNN's Gary Tuchman is there now to bring us the latest on reaction and how the families are handling this -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the Norfolk Naval Station is home to the U.S. Atlantic fleet. About 80 Navy ships are based here; the U.S.S. Cole is one of them.

And right now the mood here at this base, as you might imagine, is very somber. As we speak, grief counseling is now available. Child care for family members who come here wondering about their loved ones, and also all the information needed is being provided to these families members.

Keep in mind, 350 men and women aboard this ship, that means there are literally thousands of relatives throughout the United States wondering if their loved ones were victims aboard this ship.

Admiral Jay Foley, he is the commander of the naval surface vessels -- he spoke earlier today. He did not want to definitively say here that this was terrorism; but he did say quote, "it was the act of, certainly, severe belligerence."

He also updated the situation.


ADMIRAL JAY FOLEY, NAVAL COMMANDER: There was an explosion caused externally to the ship. There are more than 30 injured, some seriously. There has been severe damage to the ship structurally. As reported in the news, there are four dead that we know of right now and some missing sailors from Cole.


TUCHMAN: As is usually the case, it's impossible to ascertain how many of the sailors are from the Norfolk area -- 350 people aboard the ship, it's likely a large percentage of them have family members in this area, but also many people live in other parts of the United States.

The U.S.S. Cole left Norfolk on August 8. It was a six month mission, so they were two months into this mission when this happened. There is a phone number for concerned family members, a U.S. Navy phone number to call for information. People are standing by to take the calls right now. The number: 1-800-368-3202. Once again, that's 800-368-3202.

We will be standing by here as the day progresses with more information.

Natalie, more back to you.

ALLEN: And, Gary, presuming men and women serve on to this ship?

TUCHMAN: Men and women served aboard the ship, obviously a lot more men, but we are told there were women aboard the ship also.

ALLEN: Gary Tuchman at Norfolk; thank you Gary.

Now over to Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Senator John Warner joins us now from Capitol Hill. Senator Warner, formerly, was a secretary of the Navy.

Senator, this is an especially somber day, as Gary Tuchman just reported from Norfolk. What would you tell the families now of the victims of the U.S.S. Cole?

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: I just stepped off the floor of the United States Senate where the mood is indeed somber, particularly among those of us like Senator McCain -- I just chatted with him -- Senator Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner in the United States Navy, particularly those of us that had the privilege of wearing navy blue and gold in our career.

And we understand most especially the concern among the families awaiting the acknowledgement of those that have been killed and wounded and missing. These are very tense moments in any family life, and it should serve as a reminder for all America that men and women of the armed forces of the United States, together with our allies, every day risk their lives in the cause of freedom.

This ship was on its way in to join others to enforce the sanctions against Iraq, and most particularly, Saddam Hussein, who just less than a decade ago racked absolute hell and havoc all through this region. And unless we as nations, free nations with a strong military, stand guard, others could come along and take his place.

Now at the moment we must await the investigation as to exactly why this happened. But so far as I know -- I wish to commend the secretary of defense, chief of naval operations -- whom I spoke with earlier today on two occasions -- and all others who are at this moment doing everything possible, first to care for the men and women abroad in this region, and secondly, of course, for those here at home awaiting the news.

We're now standing at high alert on all ships in this region. Ships in ports elsewhere are moving out to sea to give them the added protection.

But it must be understood that the small craft that inflicted this damage had to be under the control of some governmental authority, namely the port authority there in the port in Yemen, or indeed the government itself, because it was participating in a routine berthing of this ship for a refueling.

Now those refuelings take place at odd times, but of course, we give notice, sometimes three or four or five days, to a port authority that we're coming in for refueling.

And given the magnitude of this blast, it couldn't have been put together in a garage overnight. Somebody had to do some careful planning to cause this much damage, this much loss of life and injury to our loved ones.

WATERS: Senator, as far as I know, that is the first indication of anyone in the United States government even suggesting who might be to blame for this. Can you give us...

WARNER: Well, I simply said, very carefully, that this ship was part of what you call the mooring team that come and are supplied by the harbors throughout the world.

As you know, a pilot ship brings a vessel in, then a mooring party provided by the local harbor governmental authority assists that ship in berthing and handling the heavy lines necessary to tie the ship up so that it can be refueled.

This was simply a stop and refuel, not a liberty, but a stop and refuel operation as it transited on up into the Persian Gulf.

And I'm simply saying that this wasn't some odd craft that was out floating around in the harbor. This was part of the mooring team that was under the jurisdiction of some authority which had responsibility for the mooring of this and other ships.

WATERS: I wanted to get your reaction also to the news we're getting out of the Pentagon of Iraqi troops moving west of Baghdad today. What would you make of that?

WARNER: That information, at this time, we're going to be briefed on it in the Senate here. I've asked for a briefing for all senators. As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that is my responsibility. It will be done here very shortly, and until such time as we get the full facts, I'd decline any comment on that.

WATERS: All right, Senator John Warner, former secretary of the Navy, thanks so much, sir.

WARNER: Thank you.

WATERS: Good luck for the rest of the day.



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