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President Bush Returns Homes to Face Iraq Debate; Authorities Investigate Suspected Katrina Fraud in Jackson, Mississippi

Aired November 21, 2005 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, from Los Angeles.
A rocky road trip for President Bush -- and Vice President Cheney changes his tone, but the tune is still the same.


ANNOUNCER: President Bush returns home to a new debate about keeping troops in Iraq. But is the administration now changing its tune and showing its softer side in this war of words?

Reports of over $60 million in Red Cross and FEMA payouts to the people of Jackson, Mississippi, but there's a catch. There was next to no damage in that town. Where did all the money go? Tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest."

And reliving the deadliest wildfire in U.S. history -- over a decade since Storm King Mountain erupted -- the lessons still learned when flames were moving a foot a second and the only escape was up.


ANNOUNCER: This is ANDERSON COOPER 360 in the West. Live from Los Angeles, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And good evening to you.

President Bush is back in Washington tonight, but the questions on Iraq that hounded him overseas may be stepping up -- more in just a moment.

First, let's see what's happening right now.

In Pennsylvania, the girl whose parents were allegedly killed by her boyfriend was not kidnapped by him at all. That's according to prosecutors. They say the 14-year-old said she left with her boyfriend on her own will and wanted to marry him. The 18-year-old man is under arrest on two counts now of murder.

A former aide to Tom DeLay could face up to five years in prison. Michael Scanlon is his name. He pled guilty today to conspiracy. The ex-partner of lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted to bribing public officials in connection with Indian tribe casinos. He's been ordered to pay more than $19 million to the tribes. In Iraq, is al Qaeda's number-one terrorist in Iraq alive or dead? The deputy governor in Northern Iraq says top U.S. and security officials told him that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was absolutely not killed in fighting over the weekend where insurgents blew themselves up, rather than surrender. But a U.S. military source tells CNN that forensic tests are being done on the bodies.

And, in Oregon, a Nike corporate jet made a safe emergency landing, that after its right wing landing gear became stuck. The jet landed with its wheels down this afternoon. Seven people were on board. None were seriously injured.

We have a much smoother flight for the president today. But that is about it. He arrived home tonight after three hours early, he was. As for the trip itself, eight days in Asia , it was nothing to write home about, not in terms of policy or politics or even public relations.

When a president is on the ropes at home, a change of scenery can sometimes help him change the subject, but not always. This time, the subject, Iraq, dogged his every step. And, in Mongolia, it left him no escape.

Here's CNN's Dana Bash.



DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reporters on the scene immediately dubbed this the no-exit-strategy press conference. Even the sheepish president couldn't ignore the obvious metaphor.

BUSH: I was trying to escape.


BASH: The hands-down picture of the trip, a snapshot of its theme -- a week in Asia, with no escape from the escalating debate at home over Iraq. The first stop, Japan, was supposed to be the easy one.

BUSH: Prime Minister Koizumi is one of my best friends.

BASH: But, as the president took in ancient Kyoto sights, the Senate rejected a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq, but demanded a plan for success.

BASH (on camera): In that evidence that your party is increasingly splitting with you, sir, on Iraq?

(voice-over): Off his message, but his talking points were ready.

BUSH: That was a positive step by the United States Senate.

BASH: Next stop, South Korea. Once again, Mr. Bush is distracted by red-hot Iraq rhetoric in Washington. This time, it's his vice president, ratcheting up the GOP campaign to discredit Democrats criticizing the war.

BUSH: I agree with the vice president. People are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics.

BASH: Meanwhile, South Korea catches the visiting White House off guard, announcing plans to remove some of their 3,000 troops from Iraq. But that was nothing compared to the bombshell surprise in Washington, influential Democrat John Murtha calling for troops to leave Iraq in six months.

With that, the White House gave up any illusion of an Asian escape, releasing a blistering statement linking Murtha to Michael Moore. And Bush aides uncharacteristically released excerpts of this speech hours before to overcome the 14-hour time difference and make the news cycle back home.

BUSH: Setting a deadline for our withdrawal from Iraq would be -- quote -- "a recipe for disaster."

BASH: Seven days in, China presented the most difficult diplomacy. But Mr. Bush felt compelled to speak about John Murtha, a fine man, but:

BUSH: I disagree with his position.

BASH: Meanwhile, tough talks on human rights and economics with unrelenting Chinese leaders produced no concrete results. And a reporter asked the question on many minds.

QUESTION: This morning, with President Hu, you seemed a little off your game.

BUSH: Have you ever heard of jet lag?

BUSH: Typical jet lag perhaps harder to shake when the bruising Iraq debate is your constant companion.

Dana Bash, CNN, Ulan Bator, Mongolia.


COOPER: Well, we noticed it -- we noticed today in Washington a change in tone.

You might remember, last week, the war of words between Republicans and Democrats was downright nasty. The tipping point may have been this moment, when Republican Congress Jean Schmidt took to the floor on a Friday night to criticize Democrat and Vietnam vet John Murtha.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R), OHIO: He asked me to send Congress a message. Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run. Marines never do.


SCHMIDT: Danny and the rest of America and the world want the insurance from this body...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will...

SCHMIDT: ... that we will see this through.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order. The house will be in order. The House will be in order.


COOPER: Congresswoman Schmidt later issued a retraction.

Today, from the president on down, a different tone, but, in substance, pretty much the same tune.

Here's CNN's chief national correspondent, John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vice president's mission was to tone down one Iraq war political fight and sharpen the already heated rhetoric in another.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But he is a good man, a Marine, a patriot.

KING: Those kind words for Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, whose call to bring the troops home in six months initially drew a scathing White House rebuke.

But, before heading home from Asia, the president told senior aides the initial Murtha rebuttal was too personal and said publicly that, while he disagreed with him, the congressman is a fine man.

Echoing the president's tone, the vice president called Murtha a friend, but made clear the White House thinks his timetable carries a dangerous risk.

CHENEY: Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with Zarqawi, bin Laden and Zawahri in control of Iraq?

KING: The sharper rhetoric was aimed at Democrats who suggest the president deliberately exaggerated the Iraqi threat to win public and congressional support for the war.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The war in Iraq was and remains one of the great acts of misleading and deception in the American history.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: The fact of the matter is that -- you can't escape this -- is that the administration manipulated the evidence.

CHENEY: Flaws in the intelligence are plain enough, in hindsight. But any suggestion that pre-war information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false. This is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety.

KING: Rebutting the argument Mr. to sledding the country to the war because the toll on the president's credibility is mounting and has ramifications for his entire second-term agenda.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: At this stage of the game, the American public says, "I no longer believe you." And we are not talking about those people who are liberal Democrats. We're talking about the middle of the electorate.

KING: Another reason the administration believes it can focus more on the pre-war intelligence debate is, even Democrats who label the Bush Iraq policy a disaster, like Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, disagree with Congressman Murtha's six-month withdrawal timetable.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: The hard truth is that our large military presence in Iraq is both necessary and increasingly counterproductive. Our presence remains necessary, because, right now, our troops are the only guarantor against chaos.

KING: While tough on Bush policy, Biden said, at best, U.S. troop levels could reduced from 150,000 to 100,000 by the end of next year. And, with that the emerging Democratic consensus, many Republicans are pushing the administration to lay out a plan for beginning to reduce U.S. troop levels.

(on camera): The president has consistently said his decisions will be based on progress in Iraq, not political pressures. But senior administration officials tells CNN, if next month's Iraqi elections go well, Mr. Bush is prepared to embrace reducing U.S. troop levels, perhaps in his State of the Union address early next year.

John King, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: You probably noticed a lot of politicians talking about what the troops want. Republicans and Democrats both seem to be hearing different things from the troops they talk to, particularly wounded veterans, men and women who left an arm in Iraq, or a leg, or perhaps just their innocence.

Today, CNN's Tom Foreman paid a visit to them directly, what they think about the war and the debate over it.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In wheelchairs, on crutches, any way they could, casualties of Iraq came to the Potomac River. The Disabled American Veterans arranged this holiday cruise to help these troops move beyond the war that won't go away.

AIRMAN MICHAEL FLETCHER, U.S. AIR FORCE: It's bigger than us. Bigger than me.

FOREMAN: Airman Michael Fletcher lost an arm, an eye and his nose when his vehicle rolled during a high-speed maneuver in the midst of the battle zones.

(on camera): Has this expression changed your opinion of the war?

FLETCHER: In a way. I want us to get out of that country. You know, I'm -- I'm tired of seeing airmen, soldiers, Marines, you know, getting killed every day, senseless killing. But I don't think it's time to leave, you know? I don't think that that country...

FOREMAN: Why not?

FLETCHER: I don't think they're stable enough.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Many of these troops were in Iraq only weeks ago, waging the daily battle with insurgents. Now, in rehabilitation at stateside military hospitals, they're watching the political battle over when and how the war might end.

CORPORAL MATTHEW ZEBACK, U.S. MARINE CORPS: It -- it was about a -- a three-foot concrete block. It had wires coming out of the front of it.

FOREMAN: Like many, Marine Corporal Matthew Zeback, who lost two fingers to a makeshift bomb, will talk of duty, but not the debate.

(on camera): Should the war be over? Should we be out of there?

ZEBACK: That's -- that's not my call, sir. I'm -- I'm an infantryman. And -- and that's decided by people much -- by much -- much higher than me, sir.

FOREMAN: But you would go back?

ZEBACK: Yes, sir. Today.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Certainly, in protests across the land, some veterans are speaking out against the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes me sick to think that we're doing this in America's name. We need to bring the troops home.

FOREMAN: But Army Sergeant Nick Zwicker, injured when his team stopped an insurgent attack, is not ready to give up the fight.

SERGEANT NICK ZWICKER, U.S. ARMY: Personal view, if we pulled out right now, everything we have gone after and everything we have started to do over there would pretty much be shot down.

FLETCHER: If that means me losing an arm, me losing an eye or whatever, so be it. So be it.

FOREMAN (on camera): And you feel like, for all you have been through, that it is still needs to be finished?

FLETCHER: It needs to be finished.

FOREMAN (voice-over): This was just one group of wounded troops on one rainy day, of seemingly a group that's not willing to give up on this war -- at least not yet.


FOREMAN: There is a great deal of deference among of these various service members to their commander in chief, the president, because he is their commander in chief.

But, by and large and much to their credit, they steered away from politics. Most of them say it's up to the politicians and the leaders to decide when and if and how we get out of that war. But, right now, they say it's their job to fight that war. They want as much support as they can get in that process.

And all of them spoke of the need to feel some kind of accomplishment. They say they don't want to leave until they can say they completed the mission they set out to do, however that becomes defined -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, I'm always amazed, whenever I talk to -- to people who have recently returned, is -- is -- I mean, they talk, even those who don't want to go back, because they -- they don't necessarily believe in the fight or -- or they just don't want to reenter the fight, they want to be there because their buddies are still there. The -- the men and women they served with are still over there. And they feel they don't want to let them down.

FOREMAN: Every soldier, every sailor, every Marine, every airman that we talked to today said that very thing today, Anderson.

And it really is quite inspirational. Some of these young people you saw there have only returned a few weeks ago from these really horrifying injuries. And every one of them said, if they were asked to go back, they would go back for their country and, most of all, for their comrades.

These are the people who are fighting this war that we're all talking about. And they deserve a tremendous amount of respect.

COOPER: It is the -- the American fighting men and women, a -- a remarkable thing. Tom, thanks very much.

Coming up next on 360, the latest on al-Zarqawi. All weekend long, you know, there was that talk that maybe he was dead. We are going to take you to the dark heart of the insurgency with a man who has spent time with killers on the ground.

Plus, wildfire season here in California -- in a moment, how a small firefighting mission turned into the most tragic in U.S. history. Look at the images. Tonight, we take you back to Storm King Mountain. What went wrong? New clues and what can we -- what can we learn from them today?


COOPER: And we are live in Los Angeles. You are looking at a scene from downtown L.A. tonight. A beautiful day, it has been here in California.

As we mentioned at the top of the newscast, this weekend, there was a lot of buzz coming out of Iraq, speculation that the most wanted terrorist there, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, may have been killed in a military operation on Saturday. But any hopes for that were soon dashed. Both U.S. and Iraqi officials said that reports of Zarqawi's death were not credible. That means he's likely still alive, still out there on the run, but planning attacks.

Earlier, I discussed al-Zarqawi and the importance of foreign terrorists with "TIME" magazine's Michael Ware in Baghdad.


COOPER: Michael, how important does Abu Musab al-Zarqawi still remain in this insurgency?

MICHAEL WARE, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Abu Musab continues to play a vital role.

Though his significance or his -- his relative control over the insurgency at large shifts and ebbs with varying tides, at all times, he remains a central, driving character. And it's certainly the insurgents whom answer to him who are responsible for the high- profile, in fact, some of the most deadly attacks here in Iraq, that dominate the headlines.

And, in a terrorist war, a war of images, that counts. So, Abu Musab is never to be underestimated, in terms of his role in the Iraq war.

COOPER: There seems to be conflicting reports and information, though, about the role that -- that foreign fighters, foreign terrorists, are playing in this insurgency.

On the one hand, you have some military personnel saying, you know, it's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who is recruiting these people. And then, just recently, in "The Washington Post," there was an article recounting how when, in -- in Tal Afar, of the more than 1,000 people insurgents detained, none of them were foreign fighters.

WARE: The involvement of foreigners here in the war in Iraq has always been minimal and always will be, at best, maybe 5 percent.

They would be lucky to reach 7 percent of the total insurgency, which, conservatively, is estimated at about 15,000 fighters in the field on any given day. The point is, they have an impact that far outweighs their numbers. It is they who are responsible for the suicide bombings. It is they who are driving the most brutal and hard-line elements of the insurgency.

COOPER: What is it that has changed? Because I recall, at -- at the start of all of this, when the U.S. first got to Baghdad, a lot of military commanders on the ground were saying, well, you know, it is not in the Iraqi character to suicide bombings.

Well, now we have, you know, three Iraqis in -- in Jordan who blow themselves up and numerous attacks inside Iraq. What has changed in the Iraqi character, if anything?

WARE: Two things have happened.

One is, the Bush administration brought this war here. And, secondly, Abu Musab arrived. Both of these elements are what contributed to the rise of the suicide bombing character within Iraqi culture that did not exist under Saddam.

I mean, some of the motivation for these Iraqis, who still only account for a -- a relatively small percentage of suicide bombings, comes from a motivation of anger and disenfranchisement at a foreign occupation, which is capitalized on by the Islamic hard-liners.

The other thing, though, is -- is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself. As his intercepted letter to Osama bin Laden from January 2004 revealed, he had every stated intention from the beginning to introduce what he called a true sense of jihad into the Iraqi insurgents, a true sense of martyrdom. And that is precisely what he has done.

COOPER: Michael, there's much debate here about a timetable for withdrawal. There are some calls recently for a relatively immediate withdrawal or a withdrawal over the next six months.

For the foreign fighters, for the Zarqawi, a withdrawal is what, a -- a sign of -- that they have won?

WARE: It would depend on the conditions and the circumstances of the withdrawal.

Zarqawi fighters I -- I have met over the past three years, who, in 2003, were fighting to free their country and said, if the Americans left, my fight would be over, now these men say, if American soldiers leave, I must follow them wherever they go to spread this fight, to Europe, to parts of Africa, and, ultimately, to the continental U.S.

So, this war is being infected with a sense of Islamic extremism and internationalization. This is a byproduct of creating the next generation of Zarqawi-led al Qaeda.

COOPER: Michael Ware, it's always good to talk to you. Michael, thank you.

WARE: My pleasure. Thanks, Anderson.


COOPER: If you donated money to help Katrina victims, you might be surprised to learn where some of it may have ended up. We are keeping track of where your money went in a moment.

But first, Sophia Choi from Headline News joins us with some of the other stories we're following tonight.

Hey, Sophia.


Well, in Iraq today, five people were killed and 11 others wounded in a car bomb attack near a busy market east of Baquba. Earlier, four Iraqis were killed when a U.S. military patrol opened fire on a civilian vehicle driving near an American base outside Baquba.

Detroit, Michigan, major job cuts by General Motors -- the carmaker says it will slash 30,000 jobs and close or scale back operations at about a dozen plants in a bid to save $7 billion a year and halt huge losses in its core North American auto operations.

Hollywood, California, the magic is back and how. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the fourth film in the series about the young wizard of the title, took in more than $101 million during its first weekend in theaters, about $9 million more than the third film, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," when it premiered in July of 2004.

And Chattanooga, Tennessee -- winner and still champion. Takeru Kobayashi of Japan swallowed 67 Krystal's hamburgers in eight minutes to win $10,000.

And, Anderson, I'm thinking he's going to spend some of that 10 grand to buy some Maalox, huh?

COOPER: Oh, man. I -- I don't think we needed to see quite such tight shots of those people ramming...


COOPER: ... Krystal burgers down their throats. You know, this -- this is the same guy who -- who holds the world's hot dog-eating record. I think we have some video of him eating hot dogs. He inhaled 49 hot dogs in 12 minutes at -- at the Fourth of July thing that Nathan throws on in Coney Island.

What is up with the guy? Does -- does -- can me make a living out of this, you think?

CHOI: Well, I -- I don't know. But I know he has his own technique called "The Solomon." And -- and, basically, he breaks the hot dogs in half and stuffs them in his mouth. And -- and that's pretty gross to watch, too.


COOPER: You knew more about this than I ever imagined.


COOPER: Sophia, thanks very much.

Coming up -- coming up next on 360, money for nothing -- how some folks in post-Katrina Mississippi got disaster relief, really without suffering any disaster at all. Wait until you see how the money -- some of that money was spent.

And wildfire season out West -- we are going to take you inside an inferno on Storm King Mountain, uncovering the fatal mistakes that can -- that caused this -- helped this disaster claim so many lives. And what can this disaster teach us today about fighting fires?


COOPER: Well, this just in to CNN: The Federal Emergency Management Agency will now provide temporary housing in hotels to Hurricane Katrina victims until December 15.

Now, that's two weeks after the original December 1 deadline. Critics had said the original deadline, which was announced last week, didn't give evacuees enough time to find their own housing.

Tonight, in our "Keeping Them Honest" segment, a look at the allegations out of Jackson, Mississippi. As "The New York Times" has reported, you had residents in the area who hadn't suffered any real loss due to the storm, but they were embraced by cash-rich relief agencies determined to give away millions of dollars in aid.

Some of that money was apparently ill-spent.

CNN's Joe Johns has been investigating.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jackson, Mississippi, isn't exactly shoreline. It's a three-hour drive to New Orleans, for example. So, alarm bells started going off after Hurricane Katrina when a slew of people in Jackson put in for and got millions in relief money from FEMA and the Red Cross. If you look around, it just didn't seem like there was enough hurricane damage in Jackson to justify the payout, by one estimate, more than $60 million.

Now the federal prosecutor for these parts is sifting through about 1,000 complaints of alleged fraud from those who said people were scamming the system to get money they were not entitled to. The director of the county emergency department claims there's a huge discrepancy between the number of people claiming they're displaced and the number of destroyed homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The figure now is closer to 6,100 or 6,200 people who claim that they have been displaced, needed immediate food and sheltering during the storm. I still can't go that high. Twenty- five to 30, I will take into consideration there's a possibility that I did not see every home in the city of Jackson. But I still would not go but 45 or 50 homes that were considered unlivable.

JOHNS: Make no mistake; there were some Katrina-related problems here, but the storm damage that occurred was much less extensive than on the coast, most of it the result of power blackouts.

The Red Cross isn't so sure there was as much fraud as some expect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that Jackson was a hub for evacuees. So, we know that we had a lot of evacuees that came in from South Mississippi. We know we had evacuees who relocated there from Louisiana. So, it's very possible that a lot of the assistance we gave out in the Jackson area was to people who relocated there from other parts of the country because of the hurricane.

JOHNS: There has not been a firm accounting yet, but there are a lot of anecdotes, including nagging reports that some people here got relief checks and went on spending sprees, not for the necessities of life, but for things like electronics and jewelry, as first reported by "The New York Times."

The U.S. Attorney's Office, which has been monitoring a 1-800 fraud-complaint hot line, says there could be an announcement of some indictments as early as Tuesday. They hope vigorous investigation will serve as a deterrent. The officials we talked to said there was no mechanism in place to monitor an emergency assistance program of this magnitude.


JOHNS: The House of Representatives has also ordered an oversight investigation into spending of relief money. A team of former law enforcement officers is being hired and is expected to get on the ground soon in some of the affected areas -- Anderson.

COOPER: Joe Johns keeping them honest tonight.

Thanks, Joe.

Coming up next on 360, take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just the roar, the incredible roar. This is not deployable fire. This isn't your little grass fire that's going to burn over in 30 seconds. This is a roaring bastard that's going to eat you.


COOPER: Trapped on a mountain inside an inferno. New clues about the fatal mistakes behind one of the world's -- or one of the country's worst disasters in firefighting history.

Also ahead, he was just 12 years old when he was forced to have an operation now considered barbaric, a lobotomy. Why was a 12-year- old boy forced to do this? He is now a grown man and he is looking for answers.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are live in Los Angeles tonight.

New clues in one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. We're going to bring you that story ahead.

But fist, here's what's happening at this moment.

A shocking admission from the girlfriend of an accused murder. This 14-year-old girl says she wanted to marry the man who allegedly shot her parents to death. Today prosecutors said the 18-year-old defendant did not abduct the girl after the crime. Rather, they insist she left with him willingly.

More to come on this at the top of the hour.

In Tacoma, Washington, a chilling warning from a suspected gunman. Police say the man who opened fire in a shopping mall yesterday called them moments before the attack saying, "Just follow the screams." The shooting left six people injured, one of them critically.

In Phoenix, a monsignor arrested and accused of child molestation. This man, Dale Fushek, is the former vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. He was arrested for allegedly engaging in sexual activities with minors and adults from 1984 until 1994.

And in Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney assails critics who say that President Bush misled the country about prewar intelligence. At the same time, he called Representative John Murtha a good man and a patriot. Murtha, a Vietnam vet and Democrat, says the troops should leave Iraq within six months. Outside Los Angeles, the wildfire that's destroyed nearly 4,000 acres since Friday, it is 90 percent contained. Over the weekend, more than 1,000 firefighters battled the blaze. Only two suffered minor injuries. In other words, it was a very good ending.

Wildfires can be deadly on a dime. Even the smallest fire can erupt into a killer.

Tonight, CNN's Rick Sanchez is going to take us inside one of the greatest disasters in firefighting history. Only now, years later, is it becoming clear why and how things went so terribly wrong.

The story begins on a mountain near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Storm King is a killer. It's not the highest, but it may be the meanest. It's best known as a fire-breathing dragon, a mountain that provided the ultimate test of leadership and planning.

It's a killer. Brad Howell (ph) was there. He knows the terror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing that clicked in my mind was the sound, just the roar. The incredible roar. This is not a deployable fire. This isn't your little grass fire that's going to burn over in 30 seconds. This is a roaring bastard that's going to eat you.

SANCHEZ: A "roaring bastard," as Howell (ph) calls it, that would eventually bring him and 16 other elite firefighters to their knees. But back when it happened, neither he nor anyone else knew that this would become the most tragic wildfire for firefighters in U.S. history.

But why? How did these fire crews get trapped in the mountainous inferno? What really happened on Storm King Mountain?

The answer comes 11 years later from, of all places, a business school professor who's an expert on leadership. Michael Usine (ph) looked at each step in the moment of crisis and looked at who made the critical decisions so we can now better understand the catastrophe that appears to have been all but certain from the moment the fire crews arrived.

It's very visual, very tangible to be here. And we can use it with a knowledge of what did happen, to literally have people stand where these decisions were made.

SANCHEZ: On July 6, 1994, 40 men and women were dropped on to this mountain peak. Their job, to put down what appeared to be a small, routine fire.

The first to parachute in was veteran firefighter Don Mackey. According to protocol, that was enough to make him team leader. However, Mackey was confused. Should he be in charge? Or should the local fire chief call the shots?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Don Mackey says to the man he's with, "By the way, Kevin, who's in charge here?"

SANCHEZ: The professor points to that conversation as an example of ambiguity of leadership, that confusion that would set off a cascade of missteps. For example, no lookout was posted to check on the fire's spread. No one assigned to check weather reports to see if conditions had changed. No one knew they were, in fact, getting worse.

Usine (ph) says those are decisions that should have been made. Mackey didn't make them.

The most important decision Mackey did make carried huge risks. Even today, you can see what they did. Take a look.

This is a fire line they cut. It's a thick path to contain the spread of the fire. Mackey tells his crew to make the cut up the mountain, above the flames. It's a flawed strategy. That means if the fire spreads, the only escape route for his crew would be up. They'd have to climb the steep slope to try and outrun the flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to give it a phrase, you've got to think strategically. Suppose the competition, suppose the traffic that you're following suddenly does something unpredictable, which is pretty predictable. Do you have enough space between you and the next car in front of you?

SANCHEZ: What happened next was unpredictable. For the fire crew, there simply wasn't enough space in front of them. In fact, the local weather service did change its forecast, but Mackey and his crew were operating blind.

The wind shift began blowing the flames uphill toward his crew and then it quietly jumped the fire line. Without a lookout, no one noticed.

Hotshot Brad Howell (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somewhere down in this area right below us, a log had rolled across the line, and it started another spot fire.

SANCHEZ: A spot fire that quickly convulsed into a blazing inferno. The ground vegetation so dry it was like a match hitting a gas grill. Instantly, a 100-foot wall of fire was stalking Mackey and the 16 members of his crew. The only way out was up.


COOPER: An unbelievable story.

Next on 360, a terrifying race and impossible odds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: The firefighters were running uphill, like I am right now. I ran about 10 feet at a gradient of 55 degrees. It took me three seconds. The fire would be moving that distance in just one second. That's why essentially it would be impossible for anyone to outrun it.


COOPER: What 17 firefighters faced on a mountain that exploded in flames, and how some survived against all odds. And new proof of why the disaster did not have to happen.

Plus, one of the roughest corners of Los Angeles. Just 15 square miles and home to more than 30 gangs. Inside the world of Hollenbeck, where fighting for turf is a daily and deadly battle.


COOPER: Welcome back. We are live in Los Angeles tonight.

We return now to Storm King Mountain in Colorado, where a group of seasoned firefighters, tough, experienced warriors, all of them, are trapped and frantic with a 100-foot wall of fire barreling toward them. It will go down in history as one of the worst firefighting disasters in the U.S.

Few of those caught up in it would survive. At least one would die trying to save the others. Those who lived would never forget the terror they felt.

Here again, CNN's Rick Sanchez.


SANCHEZ (voice over): It may be the closest thing to hell on earth, a rare, nature-driven event that occurs when conditions in a place like this become so dry, the air so super-heated, trees so constricted, they actually give off flammable gases and explode. Add to that 40 to 50-mile-an-hour wind gusts, a wildfire, and what you have are the ingredients for nature's own version of a megaton bomb.

It's called a blowup. And on July 6, 1994, this's exactly what happened near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, high up on Storm King Mountain.

Few have ever experienced, no less survived, a blowup. Brad Howell (ph) can say he's done both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the wind is laying the fire down and driving it uphill, you've got all this super-heated air in here which is preheating that fuel even more to the point where pinon trees will almost explode. Just boom.

SANCHEZ: Seventeen firefighters were left with only one way out, straight up the mountain, against a steep incline. It was a race that was almost impossible to win, because while steep inclines slow down climbers, they can actually accelerate a fire. The odds were stacked against them.

(on camera): The firefighters were running uphill like I am right now. I ran about 10 feet at a gradient of 55 degrees. It took me three seconds. The fire would be moving that distance in just one second. That's why essentially it would be impossible for anyone to outrun it.

(voice over): Brad Howell (ph) and two others were close enough to the summit to escape by throwing themselves over the top of the mountain.

(on camera): Did you jump over the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fell, ran, tumbled. Basically went out of control for probably 100, 200 feet down the hill. And crashed into a tree. And that's when I kind of looked around and realized -- it's like, "Well, where's everybody else?"

SANCHEZ (voice over): But everybody else was downhill, below the summit, possibly trapped, including Don Mackey. Had he waited too long to get his men out? Would he have been able to react faster if he had more information?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had he known that that wind was going to come, the forecast that it was, at that point, who knows? But he probably would have said we've got to get out of here.

SANCHEZ: But even without the information, Mackey seemed to sense that something horrible was about to happen, because seconds before the blowup in what may have been a premonition, he ordered fire jumper Sarah Norring (ph) to get out. Mackey saved her life.

(on camera): Is there a lesson there that we should follow, our premonitions, our instinctual reactions to things at times?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's a great point there because intuition, if it's well formed, well informed, practiced and built on experience, is a good guide.

SANCHEZ (voice over): Mackey could have followed Sarah Norring (ph) and gotten himself out. But there were 13 other firefighters he needed to warn. And they were in the other direction where the fire was heading.

(on camera): He made a decision he wanted to be with his men.


SANCHEZ: Even though it might cost him his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's virtue, it's honor, and it's also what you might call servant leadership. The Marine Corps puts it this way: mission first, you're second.

SANCHEZ (voice over): It was Mackey's final decision and one that showed that while he may not have known he was a leader, he died like one, making the ultimate sacrifice.

(on camera): This is the very top of Storm King Mountain. It's a place where 14 firefighters lost their lives, all of it right there in that area behind me.

It's now considered a sacred ground with firefighters from as far away as California coming here to leave tokens, to New York City. They come here, they say, to remember, to honor, and they tell us, as well, to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Storm King Mountain for me individually is a very powerful place, and it's sacred ground. And there's lessons to be learned out here about our business and the way we conduct ourselves and the decisions we have to make and the consequences of those decisions.

SANCHEZ (on camera): You could get those out of a book, though, couldn't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Not like you can here.

SANCHEZ (voice over): A visiting firefighter, who like this professor and so many others before them, come annually to climb Storm King. And when asked why, they answer, because it's there, that lessons are learned.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, Glenwood Springs, Colorado.


COOPER: Lessons learned, indeed.

Coming up, the story of a boy forced to have a lobotomy. He was just a child. He's now an adult and wants answers about why it happened.

But first, Sophia Choi from Headline News joins us with some other stories we're following tonight.

Hey, Sophia.

CHOI: Hi there, Anderson.

Well, according to a Kansas-based research firm, the most dangerous cities are -- ta-da -- Camden, New Jersey; Detroit, Michigan; and St. Louis, Missouri.

Now, at the other end of the list, safest of all, Newton, Massachusetts; Clarkstown, New York; and Amherst, New York.

According to the United Nations' annual HIV and AIDS update, more than 40 million people are now suffering from the disease worldwide. That's an increase of some 900,000 cases over the estimate for the previous year.

Now, on the brighter side, HIV infection rates are starting to decrease consistently in some countries for the first time, indicating that prevention programs are finally yielding results.

Laverdon (ph), Holland, if you'd like to see what 4.3 million dominoes falling down one after another looked like, well, here you are. It's pretty nice, huh?

This is a world record attempt marred when a confused sparrow flew into the hall and prematurely knocked over some 23,000 dominoes. The bird was killed and is now something of a tragic fallen hero in Holland.

And here you have the current star attraction at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., the Titum Arum plant, which only blooms for a day or two. So why are the visitors holding their noses, you ask? Well, the Titum Arum, also known as the corpse plant, is known, Anderson, for its, yeah, aroma. Pretty stinky.

COOPER: Man, known as the corpse plant. Charming. That's a charming visual.

CHOI: Exactly.

COOPER: Sophia, thanks very much. We'll see you in the next hour.

More to come tonight. Not all of it smelling like a rose.

Just ahead, her parents were murdered, her boyfriend the suspect. But is there something just a little fishy about her own role in the affair? New details tonight, new developments that cast the story, well, in a much darker light.

Plus, forced to have a lobotomy. The boy was just 12 years old. He's now a grown man and is seeking answers about why.


COOPER: Tomorrow's stories are on our radar tonight.

Watch tomorrow for Tom DeLay. Lawyers for the former House majority leader head to court tomorrow. They tried to get the case moved, the judge tossed. Now they're trying to get the charges dismissed.

From "The Purpose-Driven Life" to "I'm OK, You're OK," to Dr. Phil, self help is a multibillion-dollar industry. Does self help really help, though? Or are we self helping ourselves to a heaping helping ruin as a country? We'll put it to Mr. Self Help himself, Tony Robbins.

And right here in L.A. tomorrow night, some 2,000 men and women will spend the night on the streets downtown. On the Nickel, they call it. It's the dark side of this glamorous city. CNN's Randi Kaye investigates allegations that hospitals, jails and other municipalities have been dumping the mentally ill and homeless on the streets of L.A.

On the streets every night. On the program tomorrow, those stories on the radar tonight.

Ahead on 360, though, a young man allegedly shoots up a mall after text messaging his girlfriend his plan. Tonight, new details about the shooting, the hostage standoff, and security at your local mall.

Plus, gangs of L.A. Police say they're domestic terrorists. We'll take you inside an L.A. gang and show you what the gang life is really all about.

And living with a lobotomy. He was just 12 when his parents made him get a lobotomy. Thousands still live with the scars of decades ago. You're going to meet -- meet the man who was the boy when he had the lobotomy at the age of 12. He wants answers about why it happened.

His story when 360 continues.


COOPER: Hello from Los Angeles. Welcome to 360.

A teenager's parents are dead, her boyfriend's accused of killing them. But did she willingly leave the crime scene with him?


ANNOUNCER: New details emerging about 14-year-old Kara Borden and the role she might have played in the murder of her parents. Was she kidnapped, or is there more to her story?

Surviving a lobotomy. Once championed as a medical breakthrough, the operation caused paralysis and even death. Tonight, its legacy on the thousands that underwent the procedure and were never the same again.

Plus, get a life. Are men taking a page from the fairer sex and actually working less and spending more time with the family? A look at the growing trend.


ANNOUNCER: This is ANDERSON COOPER 360 in the West.

Live from Los Angeles, here's Anderson Cooper.


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