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Small Signs of Success in Capping Oil Leak?; Oil Hits Florida

Aired June 4, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: the first small sign of success in the Gulf oil disaster. A cap is now in place on that leaking well, and some crude is now being captured, but it's only a fraction, and work over the coming few hours will prove critical.

Also, the first dark licks of oil are now fouling Florida's pristine white sand beaches, with more oil certain to come. We're going there live.

And President Obama returns to the disaster zone after two highly criticized previous visits. Will this one prove different?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is day 46 of the oil disaster, and deep in the Gulf of Mexico right now, this live video shows that there's still plenty of oil escaping into the water, even though a cap was put on last night. BP says, over the next few days, they will slowly increase the amount of oil being captured.

Much of the oil we see here is escaping because they're letting it out through four vents or chimneys built into the sides of the cap. The plan is to slowly close those vents, so more oil goes up the pipe, instead of out into the Gulf. Why slowly?

BP says, if they seal it too tight, too fast, the oil might push the cap off. You can imagine the disaster that would ensue. It's been 20 hours since we saw this video, live pictures of the cap being put on the oil pipe, but we won't know until tomorrow how much oil BP is catching above the surface and getting into that tanker. BP says they will give their first estimate in the morning. We will stand by for coverage.

Meanwhile, the disaster is now spreading to the Florida Panhandle and some of the country's most pristine beaches. Tar balls are washing up on Pensacola shores, and oil could reach as far east as Destin, Florida, by tomorrow afternoon.

CNN's Rob Marciano's in Pensacola for us.

Rob, tell our viewers what you're seeing, how bad it is right now. ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, the good news is these beautiful white sand beaches that you see behind me here in Pensacola Beach, well, they're still white, at least for now.

The bad news is, there have been spots where there are tar balls that have washed up onshore. Just a couple of miles from here, this is what washed up onshore just to our east. Take a look at that. I mean, that is unmistakably oil from the oil spill. And you can see -- actually see over the past couple hours, now that it's been sitting in the sun, it's actually started to bubble up.

So, certainly, some -- that weathering, as we have been talking about, some evaporation happening, but this looks to be very, very fresh. This was about two baseball- to softball-size tar balls that were placed in that cup, and then over the last couple of hours have -- have since melted.

The beaches here, there have been clusters of -- of smaller tar balls that have been found here, and people have been reporting those since early this morning, so certainly a disturbing find. For a while there, folks were thinking, you know, maybe -- maybe the oil wouldn't get here, but now that it's beginning to arrive, at least in the form of tar balls, it's beginning to set in.

BLITZER: This must be heartbreaking for the folks who are out there. And you have spoken to a lot of them, Rob.

MARCIANO: Certainly have.

And, you know, those pictures we have been showing of the wildlife and the wetlands in Louisiana the past couple of weeks, the oiled birds and turtles and dolphins, that certainly hits home, but this is an area frequented by people. People is what drive the economy here.

And now the people are affected. And we ran in to several locals, and they certainly had some feelings about this.

BLITZER: Does it look like the beaches will remain open? Because I take it, you go into the water there, it could be dangerous if there's more and more crude getting closer and closer.

MARCIANO: Well, as of now, the beaches remain open. And Escambia County officials are saying they're not going to close the beaches until it becomes a health risk, and that doesn't seem to be a problem.

Matter of fact, you have seen people, especially kids, swimming in the Gulf of Mexico throughout the day today. So, it doesn't appear that they're going to close the beaches anytime soon. I can tell you that, in parts of Alabama, officials are saying in some of those waters over there, they're advising people not to go swimming.

I heard one mother say to her son, if you are to go swimming, go in there and keep their mouth -- keep your mouth shut. Right now, it's fairly sporadic. They certainly hope that continues to be the case. But with the oil sheen, Wolf, really just about five miles offshore, it is an eerie presence to see these tar balls begin to wash up on these -- on these beautiful, pristine beaches.

Here's what one local had to say about what she saw.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: As goes the Gulf and this beach goes this town?

NORA CANTERBURY, RESIDENT OF FLORIDA: Yes, sir. That's my opinion, yes. And we're all so sad. You know, this is just our way of life, and it could be gone. It could be gone. Look how beautiful that is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: I mean, it is beautiful, Wolf. Check it out. I mean, these -- this is some of the whitest sand you will see anywhere in the world, quartz that came down the last ice age, as the glaciers melted, took some of this quartz down from the Adirondacks, waves pounding it over the years, over the millennium, and making this beautiful, powdery white sand beach.

And that is still the case today up and down the Gulf Island National shoreline, but this is their treasure. This is obviously what they're concerned about, and with all that oil lurking offshore, everyone here is very apprehensive, for sure, and anxious -- Wolf.

BLITZER: For good reason. All right, thanks, Rob. Thanks very much.

We are going to have more on this story later this hour, when I speak with the Pensacola mayor, Mike Wiggins. He will be joining us later this hour.

The president has just arrived on Grand Isle in Louisiana to meet with people there, real people, as we like to say, and get their sense of what's going on. Here, you see some videotape that we're just getting in.

Thad Allen, the incident commander from the Coast Guard, is with the president. We're told by one of the reporters filing a pool report that he's going to a live bait and boiled seafood place on Grand Isle. He's meeting with oyster fishermen, the owner of the Sand Dollar Marina and Hotel, a shrimper, a convenience store owner, Grand Isle's Mayor, David Camardelle, and the store -- and another store owner as well.

So, the president on Grand Isle right now getting ready to meet with some folks -- More video is coming in. If the president speaks, we're going to bring it to you. We're going to have a lot more coming up on this part of the story. The president is now on Grand Isle.

The Lafourche Parish president, Charlotte Randolph, is joining us now from New Orleans. She had a chance to meet with the president earlier in the day.

Mayor, how did it go?

CHARLOTTE RANDOLPH, LAFOURCHE PARISH, LOUISIANA, PRESIDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

This is -- this is not a great day. We were hoping for more encouraging news from the president, but he did indicate that he will issue a directive to hire more fishermen, tell BP to hire more fishermen, so that they can begin somehow recovering from this disaster.

And they want to protect the areas that they know best, which is most important to them. And they want to earn money while they're doing it, because they have lost so much money over this very short season.

BLITZER: What exactly did the president say to you about the immediate needs that you have in your parish?

RANDOLPH: Well, we talked about the claims process, and we also talked about the fishermen. We're -- we're most concerned about them and putting them to work.

But there's an overriding issue here that is unique to our area and very difficult for Americans to understand. But the president has suspended offshore drilling in the deep waters. And the economic impact of that is going to decimate our region.

And so we certainly had a -- this is the second time I have had the opportunity to speak to him about this. He indicated that he will tell the commission to do their work as quickly as possible, but he also wants it to be done thoroughly.

And the problem with that is, for the next six months, we will not have offshore drilling. Again, that's very difficult for Americans to understand while we're covered in oil. We want people to continue drilling, because it's their livelihood, and -- and the economic impact of this will be devastating to our region.

BLITZER: I'm sure the president said to you what a lot of people are saying, at least away from your region. They're saying, you know what, this has been a disaster affecting the whole Gulf Coast, and who knows what's going to happen in the weeks, maybe even months, to come.

Until we know for sure why this one rig exploded, isn't it better to be safe than sorry?

RANDOLPH: Certainly, it's something that we are cognizant of, but, at the same time, for 60 years now, we have been drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, at least 60 years. This is the worst accident that's happened, probably the most major accident that's happened.

This industry employs at least 60 percent of the people who live in our parish. This reduces our tax base to -- to almost nothing. And the president's answer was that the people in the industry could go on unemployment. But you're taking people who are on $80,000-a-year jobs and putting them into a situation where they will only collect $800 a month. The nation needs to understand that we need to continue drilling. Whether you live in California or -- or Ohio, you use the fuel that comes out of the Gulf of Mexico, and not just to put into your car, but to make many, many different things in everyday life, just about everything in everyday life.

And I don't think that many Americans are aware of the importance of the Gulf of Mexico to their everyday lives.

BLITZER: Mayor, good luck. We're -- we're certainly with you on all these points. We're going to be watching closely, and making sure we stay on top of it.

One final question before I let you go: BP, they have billions and billions of dollars that they make every quarter. Can't they come in and help you out in the short term, if, in fact, a lot of these folks lose their jobs?

RANDOLPH: The problem is, these rigs are now enforcing a clause in their contract -- contract called force majeure, which allows them to leave.

They can shop themselves in the world market and quite frankly end up in West Africa doing some exploration there. And they may never come back to the Gulf, which means that the jobs won't return. I know I'm painting a dismal picture, but, at the same time, we're being realistic about this.

And the fact that we also have the -- the nation's only offshore oil port off our coast is also a concern, because this will mean that we will have more foreign oil coming into our country now, something that we were all moving -- trying to move away from.

The fact that these tankers stand a 4 percent greater risk of spilling oil is also a concern of ours. So, if we're going to look at the picture that the president is painting, we need to look at the whole picture...

BLITZER: All right.

RANDOLPH: ... and protect us from any possible damage.

BLITZER: We hear you, Mayor. Thanks very much. Charlotte Randolph is the mayor of Lafourche Parish in Louisiana. She met with the president today and expressed those opinions directly to him.

Jack Cafferty's coming up with "The Cafferty File."

Then, are terrorists being inspired by what's unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico right now? Could the oil disaster prove to be a national security threat as well?

Also, survivors of the rig explosion, they're speaking out now for the first time to CNN's Anderson Cooper, emotions running high as they recount the fiery horror.

And famous white sand beaches now turning black with oil -- the mayor of Pensacola, Florida, standing by to join us. We will talk about the disaster that is at his city's doorstep.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're told by Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, the president has invited the families of those 11 men killed in that oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico to come to the White House next Thursday. He will express the nation's condolences to them next Thursday.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: If this doesn't scare you, it should. Our national debt is increasing at the rate of $5 billion a day and has now passed a record $13 trillion.

Since President Obama took office, the national debt has increased $2.4 trillion in less than 17 months, simply staggering. We are in a fiscal crisis every bit as serious as the environmental crisis in the Gulf, and the implications are even more dire.

It doesn't really matter at this point whose fault it is, and blaming someone doesn't make it all right. We, the taxpayers, are the ones who are on the hook. A piece on CNNMoney.com, "Why U.S. Debt Matters to You," describes how the burden won't only fall on future generations. It will affect all of us.

Several problems could happen sooner, rather than later, including slower economic growth and higher interest rates. Some say, if something isn't done soon, the United States could face a debt crisis in as few as five years. But nothing is being done, and nothing probably will be.

See, there's an election in November, and the gutless people we elect to run the country won't do anything about this until after the election, if they choose to do anything even then. And it's doubtful.

The president has appointed a commission to study the problem. That's what they do. They appoint commissions to study the problem. The commission is pretty much worthless. It has absolutely no power to change anything, only make recommendations, and those aren't even due until December. How many $5 billion days is that?

Meantime, our country's like one of those Toyotas with the accelerator stuck, going faster and faster straight for disaster, and nobody cares.

Here's the question: How much do you worry about a $13 trillion federal debt?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog. Five billion dollars a day, that's more than you make, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a lot of money. And I'm deeply worried about this trillion -- 13. It's a long-term and even short-term crisis that we're facing, Jack.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: It's -- it's criminal, what they have done.

BLITZER: Yes. We have got to do something about it, and soon. Jack will be back with your e-mail. That's coming up.

If a threat to the environment, the economy, possibly to human health, but could the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster also be a threat to U.S. national security -- national security?

Let's talk about it with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush, currently serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Committee for the federal government.

The concern I have heard from some officials is that terrorists out there, enemies of the United States, are looking at the economic disaster this explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has caused, and they might be getting ideas.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Wolf, when you look back -- I remember, in my time in government, we worried that they would look at things like the economic impact of wildfires, of the strike in the Port of Long Beach, when that had gone on for so long.

And they -- they watch our news. They watch our news sources and open-source information, and they go to school on those sorts of things to understand how they might, in fact, take advantage of that sort of a situation, how they might cause it or how they might take advantage of it.

BLITZER: Because we know al Qaeda has always wanted to go after the economic heart of America.

TOWNSEND: That's right. Bin Laden has issued statements specifically referencing the aftermath of 9/11 and that part of his victory there on 9/11 was, of course, bleeding the U.S. economy, and the impact that that attack had.

And so we know that they look at these sorts of things. I mean, you also worry not only about the possibility that they would try to do something similar that would cause this sort of impact. You worry about them taking advantage. Look at all the resources that we have had to flood, rightly, to the Gulf Coast region.

Look at all the resources of the Department of Homeland Security. Thad Allen and the Coast Guard are a part of that. And so you -- you worry that, with all of the attention on the Gulf Coast, will terrorists look for an opportunity to take advantage of that distraction, frankly, to the national security apparatus, and try to launch something somewhere else in the country?

BLITZER: Well, there are a lot of oil rigs off the coast of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico. Should the military, whether the Coast Guard, whether the Air Force, the Navy, be beefing up security around these facilities?

TOWNSEND: Well, in the first instance, Wolf, that's a cost of doing business for the oil companies. The oil companies ought to be looking at their own security footprint and increasing their security posture around these rigs, absolutely.

But, first and foremost, that's part of the cost. Security's part of the cost of doing business, and so the burden is, at least initially, without a specific and credible threat, on the oil companies to secure their own property.

BLITZER: Well, I hope they are.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I know you hope as well.

TOWNSEND: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Fran, thank you.

BLITZER: Survivors on the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon are now giving their personal accounts of the moments leading up to the disaster. We are going to show you some of Anderson Cooper's exclusive interview with those survivors.

Also, the leading waves of the oil slick are now washing up on beaches along Florida's Panhandle. The mayor of Pensacola is standing by to join us.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are critical hours right now, oil continuing to spew from that well. But, within the next few hours, they're going to start closing some of those vents and see what that does. It could be successful, then again, maybe not. This is a delicate, delicate moment. We're watching it very, very carefully.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: An emotional conversation with survivors of that oil rig explosion. They spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper about the blast that triggered the Gulf disaster. Stand by for that.

Also, Florida's worst fears are now coming true, as tar balls and puddles of crude blacken its world-famous beaches. The mayor of Pensacola is standing by to talk to us. And why is President Obama irked by BP's multimillion-dollar P.R. campaign?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tar balls and clumps of oil are now washing up on the beaches along the Florida Panhandle.

Let's talk about that and more with the mayor of Pensacola, Mayor Mike Wiggins, who is joining us.

Mayor, give us your -- your sense of how bad this potentially not only is right now, but what you expect if the oil continues to gush forward over the next days?

MIKE WIGGINS, MAYOR OF PENSACOLA, FLORIDA: Well, Wolf, let's talk about right now for just a second.

Right now, if you look behind me, our waters are crystal-clear. The beach is beautiful. There are hundreds of people swimming in our waters and enjoying the beach. So, Pensacola, at this point in time, is open for business, and we hope folks will realize that.

But, as you mentioned, looking forward, of course, we're watching it very, very closely with aircraft reconnaissance. We have strategies in place to deal with oil if it should come our way. But, for now, we're in pretty good shape.

BLITZER: Because we did see -- Rob Marciano, our reporter on the scene, he did show us those tar balls and he did show us some really slick crude, not very far from the beaches.

I remember a week ago seeing some of that in Louisiana. We know how bad it's gotten there over the past week. So, are you dealing with this right now offshore? Is that what -- what I'm hearing?

WIGGINS: Yes.

There's skimmer boats offshore, Wolf. What we're dealing with, with the tar balls, of course, is, we have over 100 people out monitoring the tar balls, cleaning up the beach. And there's absolutely no question that our beaches are open.

Some people have mentioned to me, well, should your beaches be closed?

Absolutely not. They're as safe as they can be. We're picking up the tar balls. But, of course, we're watching the situation very carefully.

BLITZER: Because some have said it could be -- if there's a lot more oil going closer toward you, it could be dangerous to go swimming in that water.

How much more would -- would it take for that to come forward and for you to order the beaches closed? WIGGINS: Well, and that's a very good question, Wolf. What we've done is, of course, ensure our visitors and our residents that nobody is going to feel unsafe in our waters. We'll make that determination if the oil should come in. But we're monitoring it every day. We're monitoring it every hour to be sure that everybody is safe. But for now, the beaches are open.

BLITZER: Yes, well, that's good -- good to know.

Are you getting all the help you need from local, state, federal officials and from BP, for that matter?

WIGGINS: Wolf, of course, I'm sure you realize we've had some issues with BP on -- on different levels, on a...

BLITZER: What...

WIGGINS: -- communication level...

BLITZER: What are the is...

WIGGINS: -- on an equipment level...

BLITZER: What are the issues you have...

WIGGINS: -- on a reaction level.

BLITZER: What are the issues?

WIGGINS: Well, as we -- as we prepare for this oil or the potential for this oil, we have tried to institute some local action plans. We, in our area, know our area best. And some of those plans approving have been slow coming.

We could use some mechanical cleanup on our beach. Some of the equipment we've requested we have not -- not received. So we have some issues moving forward.

But we in Pensacola are joining together. We're going to join all the command elements in order to combat this oil if it should arise.

BLITZER: If you could talk to the CEO of BP right now, what would you say to him?

WIGGINS: I would tell him to be very sensitive to our area, be very sensitive to our -- to our environment and be very sensitive to our economy, because of the threat of oil. We have some businesses, quite frankly, Wolf, that are hurting. We have some hoteliers, for example, that have people that say, well, maybe the oil will be coming, we may cut back on our reservations.

And that's the message we want to send out -- please don't do that. Check with us. Be sure we're, just like we are now, in good shape. But I would tell him to be sensitive to us, help us financially and help us with troops on the ground. That would help us combat any potential problem we've got.

BLITZER: I've been to your beaches in Pensacola, mayor, and they are beautiful. And let's hope they stay that way. We're all counting -- we're all hoping and praying that they will.

Mayor Mike Wiggins, good luck to you and all the folks in Pensacola -- in Pensacola, all along the Panhandle over there.

WIGGINS: Thank you very much, Wolf.

Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right. One day after saying he's, quote, "furious" about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama is paying a visit right now to one of the hardest hit areas. We'll talk about that with John King.

He's standing by.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following President Obama right now. He's in Louisiana. This is the third time since the Gulf oil disaster began. This hour, he's meeting with some residents whose lives have been impacted in a very, very serious way.

Earlier, he spoke out about BP's multimillion dollar public relations campaign and he questioned the company's priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My understanding is, is that BP has contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image during the course of this disaster.

In addition, there were reports that BP will be paying $10.5 billion -- that's billion with a B -- in dividend payments this quarter.

Now, I don't have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations, all right. But I want BP to be very clear, they've got moral and legal obligations here in the Gulf for the damage that has been done. And what I don't want to hear is when they're spending that kind of money on their shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, that they're nickel and diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's John King is here.

He's the host of "JOHN KING USA."

That begins right at the top of the hour.

I guess this -- someone can have a conter -- someone can react controversially to those comments by the president.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": The company would react controversially. The people in Louisiana, that is one place where they say amen, Mr. President. They appreciate any criticism of the company.

Now, BP just put out a statement in the last couple of hours saying it has given the second installment of payments to people in the community. And it says it's given $84 million now for the loss of income or loss of profit to the seafood industry, to the hotels, to others who have put in what the company says are legitimate claims.

But there is no doubt down there, Wolf, that the feeling in the community is, why are they spending all this money on they've ads and newspaper ads worrying about their image when the people down there say they're slow to pay?

The people, including the governor of Louisiana, who still says he's not getting the money from BP to build those sand berms people have been talking about. There's a lot of anger and frustration about BP and the president is hearing it on this trip.

BLITZER: And he's sensing -- he's getting increasingly sensitive to what's going on. This is his third visit to the Gulf since all of this exploded. He's now invited some of the relatives, the family members of those who were killed in the explosion to the White House next Thursday. He'll be paying condolence calls with all of them. And he's now canceled a trip for the second time to Australia and Indonesia. He's trying to show he's on top of this.

KING: Number one, it's the right thing to do. And he's the leader of the country. He needs to show leadership here. A graceful thing for the president to invite the families of the 11 victims to the White House. A smart thing for the president to do, just as the leader of the country, to spend more time down there.

I was talking to people involved earlier today who say they want him to come, even though there's some friction. There's friction over the moratorium. You were just talking about that with our guest a few minutes ago. There's some friction about the federal response.

But just about everybody down there says when the president comes, things move a little bit more quickly. So his visibility is helpful, as a leader. And to be honest. I mean it's also helpful politically in the sense that as we watch these pictures and it's taking a while to see these vents closed and we still don't know if this capping is going to be a success, it is clear, Wolf, that this is a problem. Even if this capping works, the relief wells won't be drilled until the middle of August. The cleanup operation is going to go on way after that. There's big consequential decisions about the future of offshore drilling.

This is a policy and a political issue on this president's plate for a long time to come.

BLITZER: And John is going to have a lot more on this at the top of the hour on "JOHN

KING USA."

KING: You bet we are.

BLITZER: We'll be watching.

John, thank you.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: An emotional conversation with survivors of that oil rig explosion. They spoke for the first time to our own Anderson Cooper about the blast that triggered the Gulf disaster.

That's coming up right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: For the first time, several survivors of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon have sat down together to share their stories publicly. They spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper just a short while ago, providing perhaps the most detailed account to date about what happened the night of the tragedy.

Here's part of that CNN exclusive conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And where were you for the first explosion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The explosion took me from behind and threw me up against that consul.

COOPER: So you were actually knocked against the consul that day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, very violently.

COOPER: And -- and what was the explosion like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was like being hit by a freight train from behind. It hurt. It just totally lifted me up a few inches and carried me forward into the consul. And the wind was knocked out of me. And I was dazed. And this floor completely collapsed. And I fell down into this hole.

And now, at this point, I'm scared, scared to death. I figured this is my time, I'm going to die. And the mud and seawater and gas was just coming down on us like it was raining.

COOPER: It actually felt like rain?

There was actually mud raining down on you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. Yes. And we ran back to the -- to the phone and he picked up the phone. And he just looked at me and he goes, man, I smell gas.

And I said, what do we do?

And he goes, run, you know?

COOPER: He said run?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he said, run. And luckily, we were right by the door. And when we came down the door, less than maybe 30 seconds later, the whole derrick was on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was people screaming and hollering. I mean it's -- it's like the movie "Titanic," right before the ship sinks. Everybody is just hysterical. I mean, I could feel the heat from the flames as soon as I come out onto the smoke deck. But when I got up on the lifeboat deck, I just stopped and I looked up. And I was like, this isn't -- I said, this can't be happening. I said, there is no way we can put that fire out.

COOPER: What did it look like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It -- it looked like you was looking at the face of death. I mean you could hear it, see it, smell it.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: All right. You can hear and see much more of that dramatic interview later tonight on "A.C. 360," 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Anderson speaks with survivors of this disaster.

While most of the country focuses in on the efforts to stop the oil leak and clean up the Gulf Coast, a panel appointed by President Obama is preparing to take a larger look at what went wrong and how the disaster will affect the future of the entire industry.

Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, spoke to one of the co-chairmen of that commission today, former Senator Bob Graham of Florida -- and he -- he described to you, I take it, Dana, a pretty broad investigation that they're about to do.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He insisted that the investigation will be very broad, that it will look at what went wrong at BP and the government agencies that are supposed to regulate deepwater drilling and even how the Congress he used to serve in may have shirked its oversight responsibility. And in the interview earlier today, Senator Graham insisted to me that he wouldn't put his name on anything that's not a candid review of what went wrong and how to avoid this kind of horrific disaster in the future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB GRAHAM, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The American people are outraged about what's happening in the Gulf. They want to know what happened, who's responsible. And they -- I think they're looking for some independent assessment of what we should be doing in the future. That's what I think our commission can bring.

BASH: Now when the president announced this commission -- and you were there with him in the Rose Garden -- he said your investigation should follow the facts wherever they may lead, without fear or favor.

Does that include following the facts, perhaps, all the way to the Oval Office, talking to the president?

GRAHAM: I think the president understands that when he appointed us, that we had the direction to be as hard-nosed, candid, fully engaged as possible. And that's exactly what we intend to do.

BASH: And that means perhaps interviewing the president and interviewing his top aides about the way they're handling it as we speak?

GRAHAM: I think all of that's on the table.

BASH: Senator, I want to play this ad that's now running on television by BP.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM BP COMMERCIAL)

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: To those affected and your families, I'm deeply sorry. We will get this done. We will make this right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: When you see that running from BP, what do you think of it?

GRAHAM: I wish they'd spent the money that they spent on that ad a year ago being certain that their equipment that they had out there in the Gulf was safe and that they had a plan in place and were ready to implement in case there was the kind of emergency that we are now dealing with.

BASH: Too little, too late?

GRAHAM: The wrong place, wrong priorities. The right place is safety and response. The wrong place is trying to engage in a public relations campaign 45 days after the accident.

BASH: It sounds like it makes you kind of angry.

GRAHAM: I am angry. And I think the American people have a right to be angry. This is our water. It's our land that they are drilling on.

BASH: These are some pictures that we have of what's going on in the ground.

GRAHAM: This is going to further incite Americans, particularly among younger people, seeing these beautiful animals, you know, covered with oil. This is something that didn't have to happen.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Bob Graham is not only the former senator, but also the former governor of Florida, where tall -- tar balls are now washing up on the beaches there. He said that they are used to dealing with Mother Nature's disasters, but this was man failing to take the right kind of precautionary steps. He insists that the commission will get to bottom of how this was allowed to happen.

Interestingly, this commission is just now the two co-chairs. There still need to be five other people appointed and the whole staff. That has not happened yet. And he also says he understands, Wolf, that commissions are appointed all the time to deal with disasters like this. They don't always find success in having the recommendations achieved. And he hopes that this will be different. He says it will depend on how well they are and how good they are doing their job of investigating it.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, and we wish him success. He's a good man, the former senator from Florida.

Thanks very much, Dana.

BASH: Be cool.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mail.

And gut-wrenching images of oil-covered birds -- we're going inside the intensive care unit where wildlife experts are now battling to save these birds' lives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is how much do you worry about a $13 trillion federal deficit, national debt?

It's growing at rate of $5 billion a day. Lance in California: "I worry a lot. I look around the world and I see country after country on the verge of collapse -- Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary. They're falling like dominos and every one of them is the result of excessive spending and uncontrolled deficits. Many of our cities and states are on the verge of bankruptcy. And I if they go down, the country will follow. Frightened is an understatement because I don't see the government doing anything to stop the excesses."

Gary in Michigan writes: "I worry less about the debt than the revolution and rioting it will bring if something's finally done about it. You said it in the piece -- nothing is being done, nothing will be done during an election year. It is because of the backlash that we, the American people, will create when we don't get our goodies. So is the government dysfunctional or is it the people who are dysfunctional and spoiled or is it both?"

Ron writes: "Sadly, one answer to your question is that many are not at all worried about the massive federal debt, as they can only see what the government has and will do for them."

Robert writes: "I worry a lot. I'm a recently retired baby boomer with a finite nest egg. I worry every day if our escalating national debt will result in rampant inflation, which will wipe out that nest egg. My financial advisers are useless. They don't know what to do. It is really scary."

Brandon writes: "I worry about the national debt every day. Money is power. The world is headed for some dark times. And as the debt rises, the U.S. is going to lose its power to foster, support and enforce Western values that have served civilization for the last 200 years."

Tom in New York writes: "The $13 trillion debt scares me every time I turn on a TV or open a newspaper. But every time I hold my grandchildren and wonder what it will do that their lives, it horrifies me. It's got to stop somewhere."

And Eugene in Richmond, Virginia: "Jack, welcome to the club. We enjoy drinking tea during THE SITUATION ROOM."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

See you Monday, Wolf.

BLITZER: See you Monday, Jack.

Thank you.

Congressman Ed Markey heads a House committee on energy independence. He'll be appearing on "JOHN

KING USA" right at the top of the hour to talk about some interesting documents his committee has received from BP. Stand by for that.

Also, you've seen the heartbreaking pictures. Now we're taking you inside an intensive care unit for oil drenched wildlife.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They're some of the most disturbing images from the Gulf oil disaster -- birds drenched in crude oil, immobile and gasping for breath.

Our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman, takes us inside the intensive care unit where experts are battling right now to save their lives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This animal is basically unrecognizable, but it's a small gull -- the latest bird that has come in contact with the BP oil. We're at a makeshift intensive care unit for birds.

This fearful-looking Brown Pelican is being cleaned in a warehouse by trained workers in the town of Burris, Louisiana. All oiled birds in the state are now being brought here.

JAY HOLCOMB, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL BIRD RESCUE RESEARCH CENTER: And what happens is, these birds tend to plunge feed for fish. The fish swim underneath the oil. You know, the fish swim in all of the plants or whatever. The birds don't know what is it and they plunge in to get it and then they get covered.

TUCHMAN (on camera): It's quite stunning when you take your first look at a bird that has just been brought in. Inside this compartment here is a Brown Pelican that was just found a short time ago and taken on a boat to the facility. It was found in the Gulf of Mexico near Grand Isle, Louisiana southwest of New Orleans. And you can see he's completely covered.

(voice-over): In the first month after this disaster, a total of only about 60 birds were brought here. But the pace is suddenly accelerating.

HOLCOMB: We're probably going to end up to over 30 birds by the end of the day.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So this is the turning point for you?

HOLCOMB: This is the turning point, yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The oil prevents the birds from flying. It means they can't eat. Their body temperatures drop.

HOLCOMB: Some of the worst looking birds that you're looking at right now are some of the ones that have the best chance. And the reason for that only is that they were captured really fast. They were picked up -- this little gull was picked up out of the water today, as was this pelican. So they didn't have a chance to sit there and get really, really cold.

If we can keep them stable and have the nutrition going in and we can get them washed really soon, within 24 hours, there's a good chance for them. But if we can't do it, there's not.

TUCHMAN (on camera): And this is Pelican Island -- the final stop after the birds are cleaned off. We'll take you inside.

You will see the Brown Pelicans are remarkably passive. It's almost like a spa. They have a swimming pool. There's about four, five, six, seven, two more here. They have a nice supply of fish to dine on.

And these Brown Pelicans are all ready to go back into the wild. They'll be here until the weekend, then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service picks them up and they'll be flown on a plane to the Tampa Bay area. That's where they'll become free.

(voice-over): Just before we leave, another Brown Pelican is brought in -- drenched in oil as bad as any bird these experts have seen. It's going to be a busy night in the life-and-death struggle for so many birds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: This just -- just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The White House appealing to an Irish ship heading toward Gaza with humanitarian supplies. Don't go to Gaza, they say. Go to the Israeli port of Ashdod, unload the humanitarian supplies, let the Israelis deliver it to Gaza.

We'll get more to you throughout our coverage.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "JOHN

KING USA."