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Floridians Take Steps Against Oil; Survivors Share Insight into Oil Rig Explosion

Aired June 7, 2010 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We are live in New Orleans tonight.

We begin with breaking news -- moments ago CNN confirming the White House is now agreeing to go along with a plan to try to make BP pay whatever damages come from the oil spill, no cap on the liability. Right now, the limit is capped at $75 million by law.

Democrats are trying to get this changed through Congress. The legislation is being blocked by some oil state Republicans in the Senate, most notably from Alaska and Oklahoma. The breaking news also comes on a day when President Obama was talking to NBC in an interview to air tomorrow sounding like he's had enough of BP and his critics who say he hasn't been on top of this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was down there a month ago, before most of these talking heads were even paying attention to the Gulf. A month ago, I was meeting with fishermen down there, standing in the rain, talking about what a potential crisis this could be.

And I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.


COOPER: As for the leak, BP says it is now catching more than 11,000 barrels of oil a day.

Now, remember, for weeks, they were saying there were only 5,000 barrels actually leaking every day. But even if they are catching 11,000 barrels, there's still a lot of oil pouring out of the damaged well, as you can see by the live cam right there.

They have only been able to close one of the four vents that they had hoped to close. Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, says he's hopeful that, ultimately, this cap and another containment system added some time this week would capture -- and I quote -- the vast majority of leaking oil.

The problem, of course, is that no one knows how much oil is actually leaking. For weeks, the government said it was 5,000 barrels. Then they changed that to 12,000 to 19,000. Then, on Sunday, Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard said the upper range might be 25,000 barrels.


COOPER: Excuse me.

But other independent scientists say it could be a lot higher.

The truth is that BP hasn't made any real effort to figure out how much oil there is leaking. And without knowing that, it is hard to get too excited about any figure they throw out today.

Tonight we will hear from survivors of the rig explosion trying to piece together what really happened out there, chilling accounts of what it was like as explosions rocked the rig.


MATTHEW JACOBS, DEEPWATER HORIZON EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: out in the hallway, I mean, there's people screaming and hollering. I mean, it's -- it's like the movie "Titanic" right before the ship sinks.

Everybody's just -- 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 ain'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?

JACOBS: It -- it looked like you was looking at the face of death.


COOPER: Survivor stories later tonight.

Also, BP making some moves to pay what they owe on that berm project, and a new P.R. offensive by the oil giant. It's pretty clear that BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, is no longer the face of the company down here, at least not in the public face.

With me here in New Orleans tonight, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who went out into the marshes with BP managing director and spill point man Bob Dudley. And, in Austin Texas, Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley joins me.

You were out on the water today with Bob Dudley, who's basically kind of taken over as the public face of BP down here. For weeks now, you have been saying, come down, dip your hand in the oil, take a look. They actually did that today. That's a big move.

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Absolutely. We -- we got him down there. He saw the devastation. He saw how bad it is. And he reached down and touched the oil. And...

COOPER: Kind of amazing that it's taken this long to get to that point.

NUNGESSER: It really is. You know, had we had him down here a month ago, a lot of this devastation could have been prevented.

But we need to move forward. I think I saw in his face someone that -- it touched him. It hit home with him. And he stepped up to the plate and decided to write the check for the berm. And...

COOPER: Right. These are the -- the six berms which you got approval for, and the government said BP has to pay for. It took them quite a while, more than a week-and-a-half, at least for that first berm. They finally today said they're going to pay for all six.

NUNGESSER: Right. The government had already moved the dredge from a coastal plan and started building a berm.

He saw the thick oil that had collected on that mile of berm we have already built. And he saw that -- physically saw that it was working keeping the oil out of the marshes. So, when he saw that, he said, absolutely, this needs to be done.

COOPER: So, Doug, clearly, BP, at least kind of making some public relations moves and doing some of the things that they had been ordered to do.

And -- and though it took them a while, certainly a lot of local officials here are very happy about that. You heard President Obama tell Matt Lauer, you know, he wants to know, in his words, whose ass to kick.

We also understand now from the White House that they are willing to support this lifting of a liability cap on BP. That would be a big move for -- for -- in terms of the oil down here.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, absolutely. I mean, President Obama is hitting his stride. He had a very successful, I think, trip when he went down to Louisiana last week. He avoided Tony Hayward.

He was disgusted by the BP commercial at this time of crisis. BP pulled Hayward as their spokesperson. Now you're seeing Mr. Dudley actually touching the oil for the first time for BP.

One of the problems is, the wetlands are disappearing in Louisiana. There's a group called America's Wetland. And people are wondering, when will BP give money to the wetlands? We're looking for $1 billion, not six berms, from the fourth largest company in the world, $1 billion to refix the wetlands that are being destroyed by the oil.

And when you heard President Obama today, how could he not erupt like that? Because, the more you learn the facts about this company just cutting corners on environmental safety and allowing this to happen, your impatience can't be there anymore, but you are starting to see BP, even with this many days later, getting a little bit into stride and doing the -- some of the symbolic and important things, like you just heard, in the Gulf South.

COOPER: In terms of BP, if they lifted this liability cap, there's some who say, look, this is not a good idea because it's going to make it difficult for oil companies, give them an incentive to leave. But, in terms of this bill, getting BP to, under law, pay more than $75 million would be a huge thing.

NUNGESSER: Yes, absolutely. It should be done. The president's doing the right thing. This is going to cost a lot more than $75 million.

You know, today was a big move. But we have ordered skimmers. We have got vacuum trucks.

COOPER: Wait. And you actually went out -- you know, that's been a big thing, what to do with these marshes, how to get some of this. And you have been saying all along, well, look, just putting down absorbent pads, which is what BP has been doing, isn't enough.

You actually went out, what, this weekend with vacuums?

NUNGESSER: We took a truck that vacuums out portalets. The National Guard...

COOPER: Like port-a-potties?


COOPER: Uh-huh.

NUNGESSER: They put a truck on a barge, drove it out there to the island, and sucked up several miles of that black guck, because, when it pulls up to the island, and you get some off the sand, if you don't get it quickly, it goes back out, ends up on the marshes.

COOPER: So, you actually just took a truck that's used to vacuum out port-a-johns and just vacuumed up some of the oil off the water?

NUNGESSER: Went out there and showed it works.

So, hopefully, tomorrow we will get approval from BP to put more suction equipment out there. We have made a proposal for the Kevin Costner-type machines, as well as some other machines. We need to move them all.

You know, we went out there today and saw oil all over the -- he saw it firsthand. We didn't see one skimmer. Now, that's unacceptable. We have still got a lot of work to do.

COOPER: We're going to have more with Billy and Doug in just a moment. We have got to take a quick break.

The live chat is up and running as well at

Also tonight, my day with actor and activist Edward James Olmos out on the water. He's got plenty to say about what BP and the government should be doing, in his opinion.

We have also got new evidence to show you about those underwater plumes, the one that BP doubted for weeks.

And, later, our exclusive conversation with the survivors of the BP rig.


DANIEL BARRON III, DEEPWATER HORIZON EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: And we ran back 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.



COOPER: We're back talking about BP, accountability, the White House, and the breaking news tonight: the administration now fully supporting legislation removing that $75 million cap on liability payments for oil spills.

Joining me again, Billy Nungesser, here with me, and Douglas Brinkley in Austin.

Billy, so you met with Bob Dudley today, who is basically the new face of BP down here, trying to front this spill. And you said to him, like, that you needed more skimmers out there in the water. And you put in basically a lot of requests today.

NUNGESSER: We told him we put a lot of requests in for the suction equipment. We showed it works. The skimmers, there were -- we saw none out there today.

He saw the miles and miles of oil, the thick stuff. He saw the stuff that was in patches, tar balls, all over the water. And we looked around, and there were no skimmers. So, we ordered 100 skimmers, and we turned in the request to put those skimmers on shrimp boats and let them go out and start attacking this oil.

COOPER: You also say there's not enough resources being deployed to pick up these birds, pick up these animals which are just out there covered in oil.

NUNGESSER: It's -- yes. We have -- we have asked BP to make the contractor they hired train 20 of our boat captains tomorrow.

COOPER: So, they -- they have a contractor who they're paying, and only that contractor...

NUNGESSER: Absolutely.

COOPER: ... can go out with wildlife people to pick them up?


But we need to give them a little course. We have -- last night, one of the boat captains brought in two pelicans, held them in his arms, and rode while his wife drove him down there to turn these pelicans in.

He said, Billy, I couldn't leave them out there. They were dying.

The boats we saw coming back with pelicans in dog cages today, they put their hands and say, Billy, get us some help. We're leaving birds out there that we should be bringing in. We shouldn't let them wait until tomorrow. They won't live. So, we have got to have more people out there rescuing these animals.

COOPER: It's pretty basic training, too. I can't imagine that it's that -- I mean, I have seen them go out there with nets and stuff. They basically grab -- they're grabbing birds, basically.

NUNGESSER: Well, most of them can't fly, can't get away.

The ones we're talking about, if you don't get them in right away, they're going to die. So, we would rather have someone untrained take that bird and give it a chance of living than say we can't do it because we have professionals doing it. That's absurd.

COOPER: You know, Doug, it's this bizarre situation. This entire disaster, I have never been in one in which a private company is essentially -- I mean, though the U.S. government says they're the ones calling the shots, a private company is sort of the -- the -- I don't know, the sieve through which all this has to go.

So, if you want to get more people out on the water rescuing birds, you can't just do it because there's a contractor who's being paid by BP.

BRINKLEY: Well, that's what's been so frustrating, and I think the president's starting to change that paradigm. He's making it very clear that the United States is in charge of this, that BP's going to do what we tell them to do, that they're going to pay.

And I think it's been to -- the reason is that the president keeps getting information, and everywhere he works, whether it's from Congressman Markey, information coming in, or whether it's reports in "The Wall Street Journal" or "New York Times," this company seems to have lied numerous times to the American people. Their safety record was a disaster coming into this.

And the Obama administration, rightfully, did a couple of quick things that they probably haven't got enough credit for: the moratorium. You cannot start doing more well-digging while this is going to be gushing for the next three or four months. And, number two, be cleaning house at MMS. Now, once he sent Eric Holder down to New Orleans, and the president made his third visit, you're starting to feel now that the administration is -- is -- is ready to really go after BP here. They're getting enough information to realize what this company has done to that region.

And, again, it's not about getting a little bit of things, people begging to BP for something. This company should be paying $1 billion to refurbish Louisiana's wetlands in the coming years. And we don't need to sue them. It doesn't have to wait for courts.

The Exxon Valdez took about a decade, or 15 years. That -- Louisiana wetlands can't wait for that. If this company wants to spend money on commercials, it doesn't -- it's -- nobody's going to pay attention. A billion dollars, people will feel that the company is -- is being -- feeling sorry for what they have done to this region.

COOPER: Obviously, the moratorium on offshore drilling is very controversial down here, a lot of people very concerned. The governor wrote a letter to the president, concerned about the impact it's going to have on jobs.

What are you hearing, though, Billy, from fishermen in terms of the payments they are getting from BP? BP said, well, look, we have sent out a second round of these $5,000 checks. But, I mean, there seems to be a disconnect between what we're hearing or what I have been hearing from fishermen who, say, look, I could make $5,000 in a day or two, a good shrimping day, and it's now been two months, and, we're, you know...

NUNGESSER: BP has said they will get that second check this week or next week. And then they will have claims people on the ground to make everybody whole before the next monthly check is due.

And we have got to hold their feet to the fire. And, as -- as he was saying a minute ago, the president did say in the last visit that he doesn't care who the contractor is. If we have got equipment that can go to working, he wants it in the water working.

And, so, I think that's why we're turning in all this -- we're finding equipment all over that we didn't know was available. We're putting reqs in. We want BP to pay for it. We don't care who it works for. We want it out there getting the oil out the marsh.

COOPER: Billy Nungesser.

Billy didn't have time to even change his boots. He has got oil- covered boots. You have been out on the water all day, haven't you?

NUNGESSER: Yes, sir.

COOPER: All right. Well, I appreciate it, Billy. Thanks...


NUNGESSER: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Appreciate it.

Doug Brinkley as well -- thank you, Doug. Appreciate it. Talk to you again tomorrow night.

Less plain to see than the oil coming ashore, the oil droplets suspended in water, traveling these vast undersea plumes. Now, until recently, BP wanted to see evidence that they even existed. They denied that they existed. Tonight, the evidence is coming in.

And Tom Foreman has it -- Tom


A University of South Florida researcher now says he has smoking gun proof, a chemical match between these plumes and the BP spill. After extensive testing all around the Gulf, taking about 130 water samples with these robots, all the way from the top down to two miles below, those researchers say this middle part of the water here, in some places, is filled with microscopic drops of oil. Can't see them, but they can be chemically detected.

And, as those robots passed through, they picked up this signature. These droplets are believed to be the remnants of the oil that BP pounded with dispersants. So, yes, many, many barrels of oil were dispersed, but they did not go away. And BP now says it's looking into this information, Anderson.

COOPER: So, where are these plumes, and how big are they?

FOREMAN: Well, its's a good question, Anderson. The simple truth is, when they first found them here -- let me move this one aside -- they found two of them. The first one was last month. They found it up generally in this area. Now they have found another one over in this area.

It's kind of hard for them to put a handle on exactly how big they are, because these things, as I say, can only be detected chemically. One of the concerns is this, the loop current. You see it running right through here?

This little current right here, one of the concerns is that it will pick this up and carry it all the way up here into the East Coast, both the surface spill and the subsurface spill. But there's also some deepwater currents here. And there's a concern about that, because that could carry it this way, particularly those deep clouds of oil over here, into this.

Remember, they're invisible clouds. You can't see them. But all these micro-fine droplets, you take them over here, these are all undersea, very deep-sea, coral colonies they have found, Anderson, so a lot of concern about that.

COOPER: Well, let me inject -- inject a note of skepticism. I mean, if we're talking about oil drops that are so fine, you can't even see them, how much danger do they actually pose?

FOREMAN: Yes. You know, researchers, Anderson, say this really is a case of uncharted water. They have never dealt with anything quite like this.

In the worst case, what you're talking about is something where they kill off -- these clouds kill off microscopic organisms that feed crabs, and they feed shrimp, and then that filters up into things like grouper and amberjack and then all the way up into seabirds up above. So, the whole food chain gets affected in the worst-case scenario.

In the best case, bacteria keeps eating these fine droplets until they are gone, maybe not so much damage. But with no real handle on how much oil is in this cloud-like state, because, Anderson, we have never had a street read from BP on exactly how much oil is coming out, the danger level is anyone's guess.

COOPER: All right. Tom, appreciate it.

As always, we should point out we invited BP executives to come on the program again tonight. They, of course, said no. I say "of course" because, since nearly the start of this whole catastrophe, we have asked BP to come on this program. Really, we have. Take a look.


COOPER: 360 has repeatedly tried to get this guy, BP's chief, CEO, Tony Hayward, onto the program. He's passed repeatedly. At this point I want to invite anyone from BP on this program.



COOPER: Well, every night for weeks, we have invited BP to come on the program. Every night, they have declined.



COOPER: After weeks of telling us, no thanks, tonight BP agreed to answer our questions.



COOPER: We have been asking for a long time for somebody. We finally got somebody last night. And I guess -- I don't know -- we didn't get him again tonight.



COOPER: We should point out that we invited BP to be on this program today, but they declined.



COOPER: The invitation stands. We interviewed a top official a couple of days ago. We haven't heard from them since.



COOPER: For weeks now, literally weeks, we invited BP's CEO, Tony Hayward to come on 360. Again today, the answer was no. He does the morning shows. Maybe he doesn't want to stay up late.



COOPER: Now, BP doesn't come on this program for some reason, though we invite them to every single night.



COOPER: And, as always, we invited BP executives to come on the program tonight. We invite them every single night. Other than the one time they have shown up, they -- they basically don't return our phone calls anymore.



COOPER: We invited executives from BP to come on the program tonight. They once again declined. As always, the invitation stands. Again, I will wake up early. Tony Hayward loves to appear apparently on morning shows. I will happily wake up very early in the morning just to talk to him.



COOPER: I invite anybody from BP or the government to -- to, you know, inform the American public and the world, frankly, who's watching right now what is occurring, and I can't understand a reason why they wouldn't.



COOPER: As always, we invite him on this program. We invite any BP official on this program. They have yet to take up our invitation for the last several weeks.


COOPER: Well, as you saw there, BP did give us that one interview with Mr. Dudley. That was on May 19. We appreciate that. We will keep asking, though. We hope they change their mind.

Coming up: the survivors of day one and what it was like the moment the rig blew.


DOUG BROWN, DEEPWATER HORIZON EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: It actually started sounding like a living thing, because it was hissing so loudly. It was almost sounding like the beginnings of a roar of a creature.


COOPER: And you run into a lot of interesting people on a situation like this. We ran into actor and activist Edward James Olmos on the Gulf. We will talk to him a little bit later on -- coming up.


COOPER: Welcome back to our live coverage from New Orleans.

You know, a lot on this program, we have been talking about transparency and how, early on, BP promised they would be as transparent as possible. And, clearly, week after week, we have seen that that is not the case.

And now tonight new details on BP's efforts to actually try to spin the information in this oil spill -- they're actually spending money to influence what you see on Google and Yahoo! If you type in oil search -- "oil spill" right now, and the first entry that comes up actually directs you to BP's site talking about what a great job they're doing. It's that link at the top.

If you see the line underneath, "More About How BP is Helping." Well, maybe you didn't know that about search engines, but you can pay for placement, big money. That's what they're doing right now. So, a number of search engines now, type in a number of different kind of words, and it will direct you automatically first to the BP site.

Meantime, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen today admitted it will take years to clean up the Gulf. With tens of millions of gallons of oil already mucking up the waters, one man just had to see it for himself. He's actor Edward James Olmos, probably best known for his roles in "Battlestar Galactica" and "Stand and Deliver." He's also a longtime activist.

It's an odd thing. In situations like this, you just kind of run into people. We happened to run into Olmos after a day out on the water. We asked him for a brief interview. We go "Up Close" tonight for his account of what it's like being here and seeing this devastation firsthand.


COOPER: Do you feel like people know what's really going on...


COOPER: ... and see what's going on?

OLMOS: You know and I know, both of us. We have been talking off-camera. No one knows why things are happening the way they are here.

I have friends and relatives who want to volunteer their boats to come down here and help save their backyard, their land, because this -- look it, this is not the worst oil slick, I mean oil catastrophe, that's happened on the planet. It's not.

But it is, for the United States of America, the worst one yet.

COOPER: When you see it on TV and you hear, well, there's 20,000 people working here, you expect to come down -- is it different than -- the way you found it, is it different than what you expected?

OLMOS: Here we are -- OK, Anderson, we're -- we're going to get an oil slick, eight-mile-long, eight miles wide, that's going to hit at this section right here.

I have this boat that was ready to go. I have boats of families all over this that would jump -- thousands of people would jump into this water. And they -- they -- they are together here, hundreds and hundreds of them.

They fish out of these waters together. And they know how to maneuver amongst each other. They could clean this place up much better than anybody else can do. And they would do it for nothing. And they won't let them do it because -- I don't know. I ask you the question. Why won't they let them volunteer?

COOPER: Well, I mean -- yes, I don't know that -- there is no answer to that. I mean, you know, there's plenty of people who have taken courses who say they have called up BP, and they're sitting around waiting, and they have been waiting for weeks.

OLMOS: All of my relatives have taken the tests, you know. And they have taken the schooling that they had to do. And they're ready. They have been waiting for 42 days since they did that.

They have not gotten one call. And they have boats. They're ready to go.

COOPER: But do you trust BP?

OLMOS: You know, yes. I trust that they will do the best that they can for BP.



COOPER: Not necessarily what's best for people?

OLMOS: You know, humanity was left out the window when politics thought it needed to be on top of humanity, when, you know, corporations thought that they had to dominate.

Nothing is above humanity. And, right now, humanity is needed here.

COOPER: ... I still do not understand to this day is why the U.S. government went along for weeks with this 5,000-barrel estimate, when independent scientists had come forward and said, look, it's way more than that, and why the U.S. government, NOAA, was saying, it doesn't -- was agreeing with BP, saying it doesn't really matter how big the spill is, it doesn't really matter how much oil is leaking out, which just doesn't make any sense to me.

OLMOS: I'm going to say this once. I voted for our president, and I'm proud of that, and I think he's a great man. And he has a great family.

But, somewhere along the line, he's lost it. He should be here right now. They should move the White House here. They should take over hotels and bring income and people and bring forces here and start the slow process of building a community and family that's going to clean this up.


COOPER: Edward James Olmos.

Next on the program: local officials in Florida taking matters into their own hands as the oil edges closer to shore. They're on the front lines waging a battle to save the region's rare dune lakes.

Also tonight, eyewitness to horror. You're going to hear first- hand how survivors cheated death when the oil rig exploded.


CHRIS CHOY, BP EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: We were sitting there, and everybody's screaming, "The derrick's going to fall. The derrick's going to fall."



COOPER: Tonight, a lot of oil is just off the coast of the Florida Panhandle. In one town, local officials are not willing to wait for BP to take action. They're going on the offensive to try to defend their shores.

Randi Kaye is there.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here near Destin, Florida, the oil sheen is lurking about nine miles offshore. But everyone here is anxious because tar balls are already washing up on beaches. So where is BP?

Dawn Moliterno, who heads up the county's tourism council, doesn't know, but she can't afford to wait for them.

DAWN MOLITERNO, COUNTY TOURISM COUNCIL: We're not sitting, waiting for BP to come in and resolve our problems.

KAYE: At stake here, 15 coastal dune lakes. These are rare. They are freshwater lakes, which trade water back and forth with the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal dune lakes only exist here and in three other parts of the world.

Nearly three weeks ago Moliterno asked BP for help protecting them. She's waiting, but no calls back. So her team trucked in 244 loads of sand to build this berm.

MOLITERNO: Are we going to blame them? At this point I think there's enough people blaming them. We're going to focus on fixing this.

KAYE (on camera): I gotcha.

MOLITERNO: You know, sure we wish it wasn't this way, and sure, I wish BP was down here and doing all this.

KAYE (voice-over): Many wish BP was here but have moved ahead without them. Destin City manager Greg Kisela has white sand beaches and millions in tourism dollars to protect. Kisela has met with BP representatives and says he just doesn't think they get it.

GREG KISELA, DESTIN CITY MANAGER: Their plan is basically let it hit our beaches, and they'll clean it off our beaches. And that really scares us.

KAYE (on camera): Does that make any sense at all to you, to let it get here first?

KISELA: From a logistics standpoint, it's -- I can see their thought process. It's easier to clean it off the beaches. But...

KAYE: But why not stop it from getting to the beach?

KISELA: If you can stop it with skimmers, if you can stop it with booms, other technology, we think that would be a more appropriate action than letting our beaches take the brunt of it.

KAYE (voice-over): Right. We tried asking BP about their plans for this community but got no response. So this city manager went to the state of Florida and presented what he calls his own soup-to-nuts action plan. But he says they told him to stand down.

KISELA: They told us in no uncertain terms that was not our responsibility. That would be BP's responsibility.

KAYE (on camera): And what did you think when you were told that?

KISELA: That gave us concern, gave us heartburn about that because, in fact, "in BP we trust is great" if they, in fact, respond.

KAYE: Turns out something called the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 mandates that, after an oil spill, the oil company takes the lead on the cleanup efforts, ahead of the federal, state and local governments. Well, that's exactly what has the local officials here concerned.

(voice-over) In the end, with no time to waste, Kisela was allowed to lay down seven miles of boom.

(on camera) If the oil does come ashore here, it's going to come right through that big, wide opening out there. That is the east pass. And that's exactly why the local officials have set up the boom here. They're hoping that, if the oil does come, they can trap it close to the shore and then bring in the skimmers to skim it out of the water.

(voice-over) With the oil slick ominously floating out there and no reason to think it would just go away by itself, many here in Destin can only wonder, has BP not learned its lesson?


COOPER: So Randi, what if -- if the oil comes and BP's slow to respond there. I MEAN, do the people you spoke with have a plan?

KAYE: They do, Anderson. The Destin city manager, Greg Kisela, told me that he has contractors lined up and trained; he has volunteers ready to go.

This is such a critical time for them. In fact, businesses here earn 40 percent of what they make all year, Anderson, just during the month of July. So they've seen what's happened in Louisiana. They've seen the frustration there and in Alabama. And they are not going to let it happen here, they say.

COOPER: We've got a couple of "Text 360" questions for you. Lilibeth (ph) in Edmonton, Washington, wanted to know, "How is the tourism industry in Florida going to be affected by the oil spill?" You talked about it, obviously, a little bit already.

KAYE: We did. And it's really a good question. Unfortunately, we don't really have the complete answer yet, because the oil isn't here yet.

I can tell you, though, that we saw plenty of people in the water today, plenty of people on the beaches. The hotels are pretty full. In fact, our hotel where we're staying, Anderson, is 98 percent occupied. So as far as we can tell so far, there haven't been any mass cancellations. And business is still -- is still booming, I guess you could say.

But, again, the oil is expected within the next 72 hours. So you might have to ask me again then.

COOPER: Well, in all the Gulf states, you know, the governors are trying to encourage people, particularly in Mississippi and Alabama. You know, most beaches are unaffected at this point; shouldn't be canceling vacations.

Randi, appreciate the report. Thanks very much.

In case you've been hearing, by the way, this railroad -- we have a railroad crossing nearby where we're broadcasting from, and it's somehow broken. So it's constantly sounding off. So if you hear that noise in the background, I apologize.

More from the Gulf shore later, including what happened the day this all started, when all hell broke loose on that rig. Survivors in their own words.

But first Tom Foreman has a quick update and a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson, we begin with striking images out of Texas. A natural gas pipeline exploded in Johnson County today. One person is dead, the flames visible eight miles away. A crew is blamed for rupturing the underground line that set off the deadly blaze.

A deadly day in Afghanistan for coalition troops. Officials say ten NATO troops were killed. At least seven of them Americans. Half of the NATO deaths are linked to an improvised explosive device in eastern Afghanistan.

Helen Thomas, a fixture of the White House press corps for 50 years, is stepping down following contentious comments about the Middle East conflict. The 89-year-old newspaper columnist said recently that Israel should, in her words, "get the hell out of Palestine."

Surveillance video released today shows the suspect in the Natalee Holloway case entering his hotel room last week with a Peruvian college student whose badly-beaten body was later discovered inside.

Joran Van Der Sloot is now in police custody in Lima. He was twice arrested but never charged in the Holloway disappearance.

And call it an "i" faux pas. Apple's CEO ran into technical difficulties while unveiling the latest iPhone today. Steve Jobs got tripped up getting the gadget to behave without a wi-fi connection. He blamed the glitch on too much traffic at the tech conference -- Anderson. COOPER: It looks like a cool machine, though. Tom, thanks.

Up next, my exclusive interview with survivors of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. What they told me about the horrible night, including the frightening moments they spent in the dark on lifeboats suspended about 50 feet above the ocean.


DANIEL BARRON III, BP EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: People were screaming and yelling. And you know, we just got on the lifeboat. And, I mean, it was even worse. That was probably the worst part of it, being in the lifeboat.


BARRON: Because it was just -- it's like you're almost waiting to die.



COOPER: Eleven men died when the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up and burned in the Gulf. Now their crewmates are speaking out. It's the first time a group of survivors has spoken publicly about the nightmare that they all share.

Tonight 360 and CNN's special investigative unit join forces to bring you their stories, a detailed timeline of what really happened on that rig on April 20.

We begin just moments before the explosion with an ominous hissing, the first sign that all hell was about to break loose.


DOUG BROWN, BP EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: We began hearing the loud hissing and venting sound.

COOPER: And that was -- that was methane escaping?


COOPER: Had you ever heard anything like it before?

BROWN: Not like this, no. It was extremely loud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it just kept getting louder and louder. I said, "Something's not right."

COOPER: And what did you see?

BROWN: Lee ran back the phone. And he picked up the phone. He just looked at me and he goes, "Man, I smell gas."

I said, "What do we do?"

He goes, "Run," you know?

COOPER: He said, "Run"?

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

COOPER: And where were you for the first explosion?

BROWN: I was -- by this time, I had stood up from my computer, and I was standing in front of the engine room console. And the explosion took me from behind And threw me up against that console.

COOPER: So you were actually knocked against the console?

BROWN: Yes, very violently.

COOPER: And what was that explosion like?

BROWN: 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 console. And the wind was knocked out of me. I was dazed. And this floor completely collapsed. And I fell down into this hole.

MATTHEW JACOBS, BP EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: And out in the hallway, I mean, there's people screaming, hollering. I mean, it's -- it's like the movie "Titanic" right before the ship sinks. Everybody's just hysterical.

And when I get there, 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 ain'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?

JACOBS: It -- it looked like you were looking at the face of death. I mean, you could hear it, see it, smell it. I mean, it was like -- it was the worst thing I had ever seen.

COOPER: How high were the flames?

CHOY: They were way up the derrick. They were probably, I want to say, probably 150 foot. They were probably three-quarters of the way up the derrick. And I was, like, you know, there's no way we're going to put that out. We're leaving here.

COOPER: That's when you knew that you had to leave?

CHOY: Yes. Even if the firefighting equipment would have worked, we couldn't reach the -- we couldn't reach the top of the flames or anything. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then all the lights went out. You know, the mud's still coming down. And the seawater and everything is just flooding us like a thunderstorm. And then we're in the complete dark. It's dark outside. And the only light we had was the light from the fire. And that's when the second explosion happened.

BROWN: I looked up at the fire on the rig floor. And it was getting larger. And that was scaring me. It was starting to spread down onto the main deck. And it was actually so bright, you couldn't even look at it any more. It actually started sounding like a living thing, because it was hissing so loudly. It was almost sounding like the beginnings of a roar of a creature.

COOPER: The fire actually sounded almost alive?

BROWN: Yes. And it just continued to grow. And finally, the order was given for us to board the lifeboats.


COOPER: Still ahead, what happened then, the survivors scrambling for the rig's lifeboats. The orange vessel seen in this video dangling about 50 feet above the water. But on the night of the 20th, only two of the four boats remained. The others apparently had been blown away in the explosion. And even when they reached the last two, the nightmare was far from over. The agonizing moments and desperate prayers as they wait to be lowered to safety. Their ordeal coming up next.


COOPER: More now from the survivors of the Deepwater Horizon. The oil rig blast on April 20 killed 11 men, left more than 100 others scrambling for lifeboats suspended from the rig 50 feet above the sea. I want to show you some exclusive video we just got. This is the drop down to the water. Those orange vessels are actually the lifeboats. That's what -- that's how high they were off the water.

Remember, the rig is now an inferno, and it's only a matter of time before the boat bursts into flames or blown off in another explosion like two boats already have. The death facing them almost everywhere they turned. Their only hope was to reach safety aboard a supply ship known as the Damon Bankston.


COOPER: What was the scene like in the lifeboat when you got there?

BARRON: It was insane. I mean, people were just jumping in the lifeboats. There was other people -- there's two lifeboats side by side. And you're assigned to each one.

COOPER: And each lifeboat can hold about 75 people.

BARRON: Yes. But people were just running and jumping in them. And you know, it's dark. You know, people were screaming and yelling. And you know, we just got on the lifeboat. And, I mean, it was even worse. I mean, that was probably the worst part of it, is being in the lifeboat.


BARRON: Because it was just -- it's like you're almost waiting to die. There's people screaming, you know, "Put it in the water. Let's go." And it's filling up with smoke. And you can feel the heat from the fire. In fact, one of the guys that was on the lifeboat, he actually -- he panicked so much that he got up out of the lifeboat and then jumped overboard.

COOPER: When you're sitting on that boat, what did you think? What was going through your mind?

CHOY: I was fixing to get back off because we were sitting there, and everybody's screaming, you know, "The derrick's going to fall. The derrick's going to fall." I was, like, I'm not going to burn up in a lifeboat. If they can't get the motor to crank, I'm fixing to jump.

COOPER: You were going to jump off the rig?

CHOY: Yes, I was going to climb back out and jump off, if they can't get the motor to crank. I'm fixing to jump.

COOPER: You were going to jump off the rig?

CHOY: Yes, I was going to climb back out and jump off.

COOPER: Could you see what you were jumping into? Could you actually see the water?

CHOY: I don't know. I mean, it's -- with all the smoke and stuff, I don't know if I would have been able to see the water or not.

COOPER: What is the danger -- I mean, obviously the danger is jumping over, you don't know what you're jumping into.

BROWN: The dangers for that would be they could have landed on some debris that was already in the water. If there was oil in the water and the fire happened to light that off, they could have burned while they were in the water.

COOPER: Was the water on fire at all? Did anybody actually see the water?

CHOY: When we got up to the Bankston, you could see it underneath the rig, the water was on fire.

COOPER: The water was on fire. And what was it like, sitting there waiting for the others to come and waiting for it to get lowered?

JACOBS: We were just screaming to everybody, you know, get on the boat. Get on the boat. And I remember another explosion. And when it exploded, the lifeboat free fell for about 3 foot and then just stopped all of a sudden.

I was scared to death, sitting there in that lifeboat. I said, "I've done made it out of my room, out of the living quarters. And here I am on a lifeboat that's supposed to help get me off this rig, and I'm going to end up dying on this lifeboat." And, you know, the only thing going through my mind is, you know, family back home, you know. And I just -- I started praying. I didn't know what else to do.

COOPER: What did you pray for?

JACOBS: I prayed for my family to let God know that I love my wife and that I love my kids. And that he would help me and everybody else get off this boat safely. Get off the rig safely.

CHOY: They finally got the motor started. They put us down in the water. He took us -- he started going towards the Bankston. And that was a horribly long ride.

COOPER: Did you look at the rig?

CHOY: Oh, yes, we were right there. I mean, we were, I don't know, not even a mile away from it. And we sat there for, like, seven hours watching the rig burn. You know, you look at it one way, you could sit there and watch it burn.

And finally, I was, like, I can't watch that. So I turned around and sat down to turn away from it. I looked up, and there's giant windows on the wheelhouse of the boat. And you could see the reflection in it there. So it was like there was no getting away from it but to try to close your eyes. And every time you'd close your eyes, you'd see all -- everything just replaying. That's one image I'll never forget the rest of my life is from what I was on the boat watching it burn.


COOPER: After reaching the Bankston, the only thing the survivors wanted was to get to dry land and to talk to their families. As we've just heard, one man had to wait 7, others a full 24, all because BP and the Coast Guard were determined to find out what went wrong.

But there were warnings long before the explosion. Tomorrow on 360 and the special investigative unit, team up with more from the BP explosion survivors. What they knew and what they say they feared.


BARRON: There was always, like, an ominous feeling when we were on that well, you know. And a lot of people were telling everybody else, you know, on the rig, there was chatter that, you know, we're messing with Mother Nature right now.

COOPER: People on the rig would say that?

BARRON: Yes. Because, you know, this well did not want to be drilled.


COOPER: That's tomorrow on 360.

More from the Gulf at the top of the hour.


COOPER: We are live in New Orleans tonight. We begin with breaking news. Moments ago CNN confirming the White House is now agreeing to go along with the plan to try to make BP pay whatever damages come from the oil spill. No cap on the liability. Right now the limit is capped at $75 million by law. Democrats are trying to get this changed through Congress.