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Oil Flow Estimate Increased; Should President Obama Get Tough With BP?

Aired June 11, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Researchers have now doubled their estimate on the oil flow. But I will speak with a member of that government-backed team who fears the leak may even be worse, a whole lot worse.

Is it time for the Obama administration to get tough with the oil giant BP? I will ask some tough questions to the government's point man in the Gulf, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

And an urgent airlift to defend the Louisiana coast. Helicopters dropping tons of sand to build up the barriers against the oil. We're on the scene.

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

The oil disaster coming up, but there's some breaking news we're following this hour, a search-and-rescue effort, a desperate one, under way right now in Arkansas, where flash floods roared through a popular wilderness area filled with as many as 300 people. Sixteen people are confirmed dead, but dozens right now are listed as missing.

It happened in the middle of the night, as more than seven inches of rain fell on the region, sending rivers and creeks surging. One river rose eight feet -- eight feet -- in just one hour. Campgrounds, cabins, lodgers and lodges were inundated, some destroyed.

This is all taking place about 75 miles west of Little Rock. President Obama has just issued a statement offering condolences and federal help. We will update you on the breaking news from Arkansas. It's a heartbreaking story.

The numbers are staggering, up to 40,000 barrels a day for week after week after week. The oil gushing from that ruptured well in the Gulf may have been flowing at twice the rate previously thought. With President Obama preparing to visit the Gulf region once again on Monday and Tuesday, officials are still trying to get a handle on just what they're up against.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the U.S. government's point man on the scene in this disaster in the Gulf, Thad Allen, the admiral from the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral, how could the government have gotten these flow rates so wrong? Originally, BP said 1,000 barrels a day. Then it was 5,000 barrels a day. Then, more recently, it was 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. Now they're saying it's actually double that, 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day. And then that was before this cut-and-cap procedure was put into place.

What's going on here?

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: Well, Wolf, thanks for asking the question, because I think we need to have a good discussion about this.

First of all, these are the government estimates. And these are being developed by our flow rate technical team under the director of Marcia McNutt, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey. And they have some of the best scientists around the country that are involved in this.

I have told them from the start when I set this group up, we need to continue to challenge our assumptions, refine our work, and to extent we can improve on our estimating, we need to do that. And they have been doing that. And I told them to come back periodically and let's see if we can get this to a much better place as far as accuracy.

The fact of the matter is we're never going to know to a virtual certainty what that flow is until we can actually measure it through a pipe with no oil leakage, but in the meantime we need to continually refine these estimates, and they are government estimates, and they will continue to change and hopefully they will continue to get more accurate.

BLITZER: And, presumably, it could be a whole lot worse after the cut procedure in early June took place, because it was going to open it up. We don't how much, by a factor of 20 percent or by multiple factors.

Do you right now, Admiral, have any idea how much oil is spill spewing out?

ALLEN: Wolf, what we have done is, we went back and we developed a new estimate, as you have been -- as you have discussed, and the next thing we want to do is add on what we think the incremental difference is as a result of the cut in the riser pipe. And we're doing that a couple of different ways.

The same team is now impaneled to take the increment that might have changed with the riser cut, and we're also going to use an ROV to deploy some pressure sensors down on the blowout preventer to actually get some empirical readings of the pressure down there.

Dr. Steven Chu and Secretary Salazar are working with BP on that. So, this re-baseline of the estimate is a first step in -- in refining our estimates moving forward post-riser cut and also to get some better readings with pressure. We have had some problems with so many ROVs operating down there, but we're going to put some actual sensors down there and get some pressure readings over the next couple of days.

I would expect this estimate could evolve over the next four or five days, as we know more what's going on in the -- with the pressure readings that we're going to be taking.

BLITZER: So, if BP is capturing about 15,000 barrels a day right now over a 24-hour period, we don't know if 10,000 barrels are still spewing in or 30,000 or 40,000. The answer is, we -- we really don't know how much oil is still going into the Gulf as we speak right now?

ALLEN: Wolf, we're not going to know until we can actually seal the pipe, produce the oil that's coming out there, and actually get an empirically measured production based on the pressures.

We will be able to do that as we move the new oil containment system in that's going to be replacing the one we have right now over the next two to three weeks. So, we hope to be able to actually cap the well and produce what we can bring up through the diameter of the wellbore and at that point we will have an accurate measurement.

BLITZER: When are we going to see more of the high-resolution video, the scientists, the outside experts you have brought into this flow rate technical group? When are we going to see it? So far, we have seen about 30 seconds of that high-resolution video and that was done before the early June cap procedure took place.

ALLEN: Well, we have both pre-cut and post-cut video that we're going to be using, Wolf. One of the problems is the video you see streaming that we're all used to seeing right now actually gets relayed by satellite.

And the density of those pictures is not as well -- is not as good as a high-resolution video. We actually have to physically take the disks from the ships that are over the top of the ROVs and bring that back.

And the other thing is, not all the video is usable for what we want. We need to have the right light, the right sequence of events to be able to assess the percentage of oil, natural gas and water that's in that stream at any particular time. So, while all of it is interesting, only parts of it are really useful to the scientists for getting the best measurements they can.

BLITZER: Well, how difficult is it to take a disk from the ship out there and bring it to shore and let us see it, let the American people see what you're seeing?

ALLEN: Oh, it's not difficult at all. The real issue is going through the hours and hours of video, the high-resolution video and finding the ones that has the attributes that will give us the best measurement or the best means of estimation.

What we're trying to find is basically those areas that best represent the flow and it's -- and the flow fluctuates. There are areas where there would be -- maybe more gas than oil or more oil than gas. What we're trying to figure out is, can we come up with the right profile of the percentages of those elements that make up that flow, Wolf?

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Billy Nungesser -- he's the president of the Plaquemines Parish -- said before Congress this week. Listen to this.


BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: I still don't know whose in charge. Is it BP? Is it the Coast Guard? When I get mad enough in a meeting, the Coast Guard in our office stands up and says, I can make that happen.

When I throw a BP official out of my office, he comes back the next day and approves something. I have spent more time fighting the officials of BP and the Coast Guard than fighting the oil.


BLITZER: He's clearly frustrated. What do you want to say to Billy Nungesser?

ALLEN: Well, I have talked with the parish president on several occasions. I met with him with the president. Specifically to address the issues of the parish presidents, we have sub-aggregated our response in this spill to tailor to -- specifically to the requests of the parish presidents.

And they all have a different set of issues that they're dealing with. They all have a different set of priorities. To make sure we do that correctly and are responsive, we placed a Coast Guard officer with each parish president. And that's been working fine for the last couple of weeks.

I would just ask Mr. Nungesser, if he has got a problem with our particular office -- officer, I would be glad to sit down and take the list of complaints that he has and act on them. But those officers have been there supporting him at my direction for several weeks now.

BLITZER: So, who is in charge? Is it the Coast Guard? Is it you? Or is it BP?

ALLEN: The federal on-scene coordinator by law is the coordinating official for this and has the final authority in the spill response.

BLITZER: So, when you make a decision and you tell BP to do it, they have no choice; they have to do it; is that right?

ALLEN: If we issue an administrator order to BP and they fail to comply, there are civil and criminal penalties associated with that.

Most of the things we do to BP are informal direction that is provided to them. If it has to get to the point where we issue a written order, we can do that. And again there are civil and criminal penalties for failure to adhere to it.

BLITZER: I know you have told BP to open up the areas and be transparent, not hide anything from the American public, but our reporters who are on the scene still have -- are having difficulty, BP saying -- employees of BP on the coast saying, you know what, we were instructed, we can't speak to the press.

Listen quickly to Tom Foreman, one of our reporters, who had this experience this week.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When we first showed up, security forces said, no, you cannot take their pictures. That's forbidden. And we said, why not? It is a free beach. It's a free country. After a while, they relented on that.

But then they said, you cannot talk to the workers on the beach. We said, BP specifically issued a statement that workers were free to talk. And the security guards guarding these workers said, we have been told to not let the media speak to anybody who is working on this beach, nor let the workers talk to them.


BLITZER: What about that? What about all these restrictions that BP has placed on their employees and effectively barred reporters and camera crews who are representing the people of the United States, because we want to see what's going on? What about that concern?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, I made it very, very clear that unless there's a safety or security issue -- and there -- and we do have valid safety and security issues in some places -- other than that, there should be free, unfettered access by the media to wherever they want to go.

If I -- if I can get the exact information on those people that you just referred to, I would be happy to follow up on it. That's contrary to the guidance I provided, and I'm happy to go to BP with that.

BLITZER: Because they wouldn't even allow us to show video, to take pictures of some of the animals who were being cleaned, some of the birds. They're saying that you're not allowed to do that, which sounded very strange to me.

ALLEN: As I said, Wolf, if you pass on the particulars when we get off-camera, I will follow up personally.

BLITZER: And you will order BP to go ahead, barring -- except for security, except for some other major consideration, you will tell them -- and you're the incident commander, you're the man in charge -- go ahead and open up these areas?

ALLEN: Again, Wolf, there are some considerations for safety and security. Other than that, there's no good reason why. But we cannot force a personal -- a person, an individual, to talk if they don't want to talk, but we can make the policy clear, and if there's a violation of the policy, I'm happy to deal with it.

BLITZER: One bottom line, you're going to be on this operation until it's over with? I know you have retired as the commandant of the Coast Guard. What's your timeline? What's your game plan?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, I was relieved of duties as the commandant on the 25th of May, and Admiral Papp is currently the commandant.

I'm currently on active duty, but, legally, I'm required to retire on 1 July and discussion on my exact status and how that might move forward are actually going on right now.

BLITZER: So, you might stay longer than July 1?

ALLEN: I'm a work in progress, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's up to the president of the United States. If he says, Admiral Allen, we need you longer, you will salute and say, yes, sir?

ALLEN: We're having those discussions.

BLITZER: All right.

Well, good luck, Admiral. Thanks for your service. Thanks for helping us better appreciate what's going on. We really need your help.

ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is next with "The Cafferty File."

Then much more on the oil disaster. Survivors of that fiery rig explosion recall the horror with CNN's Anderson Cooper. He will join us live.

And the desperate effort to save fragile wetlands from massive piles of -- with massive piles of sand. We go up close with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal.

And the stunning new estimate: The rate of crude flowing into the Gulf is twice as bad as thought. I will talk to one expert who says, guess what, it could be even a whole lot worse.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It is no wonder, I suppose, that the American public's disgusted with Washington and with politicians of all stripes. Our lawmakers sound more like kids on a playground sometimes than the people who are meant to represent us and solve this nation's many problems.

And it begins right at the top. This week, President Obama decided it was appropriate to go on "The Today Show" on NBC and talk about whose ass to kick when it comes to the Gulf Coast oil spill. "The Today Show"'s a program that is watched by millions of families every morning. Classy.

Then a top Republican jumped right in the same game. House Minority Leader, John Boehner, who wants Democrats to focus more on reducing the federal deficits, suggested President Obama find someone's ass to kick on the budget deficit. Very nice.

Meanwhile, out on the left coast, the races for California governor and Senate have devolved into nasty insults, and there's still five months to go before the election. Democrat Jerry Brown, who's running for governor, is comparing his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, to Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels.

When pressed on the comment, Brown's people called it jogging talk that was taken out of context. Really? Brown made these stupid remarks to a reporter on a jogging path.

Then there's the Republican Carly Fiorina, who was caught insulting Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer's hair. Fiorina's spokeswoman dismissed this as early morning small talk.

California is broke and swimming in problems, and the newest crop of political wannabes, and, in Brown's case, has-beens, engage in personal insults under the labels of jogging talk and early morning small talk.

What's small are the people making these remarks.

Here's the question: Why does American politics seem to have lost any semblance of dignity? Go to Do a little exercise on a Friday night -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. We will get back to you shortly.

It looks like a military campaign: heavy-lift helicopters taking tons of sand to the front lines of the battle against the oil. It's an all-out effort right now to defend the coastline.

Brian Todd is on the scene for us in Louisiana with more -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Governor Bobby Jindal's been continually frustrated by his efforts to construct manmade barriers in addition to the barrier islands that are just off his coastline. He has wanted federal approval and BP's money for berms to set up. That all has been delayed. It's finally getting here.

But this is one tactic that the governor has not waited for. We got a firsthand look at it today. Behind me is a field full of massive sandbags, each weighing between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds. We were here earlier when Chinook helicopters, Black Hawk helicopters and others came to pick these things up to take them out to the barrier islands and drop them.

It was an operation that was continuous, several choppers an hour. Then we got on a boat with Governor Jindal to head to those barrier islands. We went to Pelican Island and Scofield Island, two islands that are right in the path of the oil spill as it comes toward the Louisiana coastline.

And what they're trying to do here is drop these sandbags into gaps that exist just within the islands themselves. Not between the islands, but within the islands, there are still huge gaps of water seeping through, and oil can seep through, too.

So we got a chance to go and see those operations firsthand, see the massive airdrop of these bags, and I got to talk to Governor Jindal about how it all was going.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: What you can see that we are doing right here on Scofield Island, you have got these helicopters coming in. You've got Chinooks, Black Hawks coming in, dropping sandbags to fill in these passes.

We have filled in eight passes on Pelican Island already. We're working the three largest passes here in Scofield Island, filling these gaps. The idea is, let's fight this oil outside these barrier islands. Don't let the oil get inside. We passed all those oyster leases on the way out here.

We don't want that oil getting inside those wetlands, killing off those oysters.

TODD: For lack of a better term, though, isn't this kind of a drop in the bucket compared to just everything that needs to be done with berms and everything else?

JINDAL: This is one of several tactics. This is going to complement the Hesco baskets. We have done over seven miles of tiger dams in Plaquemines Parish, another seven miles of tiger dams in Jefferson Parish.

What the National Guard, what we have instructed them to do, we have said, we're going to use everything and anything we have got. This is a war. We have got to be adaptable with our tactics. And so what we're doing is, we can fill in -- we have identified 40 gaps along our coast.

This won't replace sand dredging. This will complement sand dredging. And what's going to happen is, when the oil pools here, we have now gotten permission. We're deploying these barges, these suction barges, these vacuum barges, where we're literally putting pumps on top of the barges, something -- we just came up with this idea to put these pumps on top of barges, to go out there, vacuum up the oil.

So, we want to collect the oil out here. We don't want oil on any mile, any inch of our coastline. But I would much rather fight the oil out here against these bags, against this sand, than have it get past here, get into those fragile wetlands, where you have got the oysters, the shrimp, the fish, the crabs, and the birds. It's so much better for us to fight it outside our coast than inside our coast.

TODD: Is this too late for this area? Has any oil seeped through this -- these gaps already?

JINDAL: No, actually, you know, we have seen some oil pool around here on these islands, but a couple things.

One, we know that this incident is a marathon for Louisiana. With the new leak rates, we know we're going to be dealing with this for months, maybe even years for Louisiana. We have said from the very beginning this is not going to be done in a week or month for us. We know there are going to be waves and waves of oil.

That's why it's important for us to fill in these passes, build these barriers, use every one of these tactics. There's no one silver bullet. These bags alone save our coast, but these bags, along with the Hesco baskets, the tiger dams, the sand dredging, the pilings, the barges, the rocks, we're doing all of that to protect miles of our coast.

We have got 7,000 miles of shoreline, and the reality is, we know that there will never be enough booms or skimmers. And we got tired of waiting. We kept being told more boom was coming and more skimmers were coming. We have said, we have got to -- we're not going to wait for others. We have got to go out there and protect our coast.


TODD: Now, after I spoke to the governor, I got a chance myself to go out on one of these gaps that's being filled, just go on top of these sandbags and get a sense of just how well they work.

They're working fairly well. It's not failsafe. It doesn't prevent everything from going through, but it does -- it is fairly effective in stemming most of the tide. And speaking of the tide, that in and of itself is another key factor. The tides often shift around these barrier islands, so these gaps are not going to be failsafe.

But you really got a sense of just how ambitious and massive this job is. They have got 40 of these gaps to fill just within these barrier islands, Wolf.


All right, Brian Todd, he's doing excellent reporting for us from the scene.

Thank you. How much oil is really spewing into the Gulf of Mexico? The official estimate has now doubled. One expert says it could be even worse than that. He's standing by to join us live.

And the battle to save sea turtles from all that oil in the Gulf, CNN's John King takes us up close.



BLITZER: The flow of oil into the Gulf is now believed to be double the previous estimates. I will speak to a researcher who fears, guess what, it may be a whole lot worse.

And they survived the rig explosion, but lost friends in that disaster. Now they recall those terrible moments to CNN's Anderson Cooper.

And taking care of turtles caught up in an environmental catastrophe -- John King shows us the urgent effort to save wildlife.


BLITZER: The oil spill is taking a growing toll on birds and marine life.

CNN's John King is joining us now. He's in New Orleans.

John, you had an opportunity to spend the day seeing what's going on to save some of this wildlife.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Wolf, we haven't had many reasons to smile in our time here, but today we did.

We had an exclusive look behind the scenes at an Audubon facility near New Orleans where they are trying to rescue -- and having some success rescuing -- the endangered sea turtles that live out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Take a look at this. It's remarkable. They are finding them. More than 150 people, most of them volunteers, they're going out in the waters. They have rescued 35 turtles so far. Three, unfortunately, of those they have brought in have died, but they are finding giant loggerhead sea turtles, smaller Kemp's ridley sea turtles. They bring them into this facility. They clean off the oil. They do a number of tests, blood tests and other tests.

Most of all, they're worried that gets down in the lungs and the esophagus. And they tried to take it out and then they are cleaning them up, giving them medical testing, and keeping them in this facility to see if they recover.

Now, we had an exclusive look at all this remarkable effort these scientists and the other volunteers are making. Eventually, Wolf, those turtles will be taken. The plan now is take them once they're ready to the Gulf waters off of Florida.

But even as we had this reason to smile today, and that's the giant big momma you saw there in that tank a minute ago, a giant loggerhead sea turtle -- even as they have optimism these turtles they're rescuing will recover, they don't know how many are still out there in the waters. They don't know how many they won't get to.

And, Wolf, they also don't know the long-term impact, not only of that oil in the water, they're worried about the chemical dispersants being used, those dispersants designed to keep the oil from hitting shore. The scientists worry, though, it will be in the food chain in the Gulf, not only for the sea turtles but for all the fish and the birds as well for years and years and years to come.

BLITZER: That is so depressing. I know, John, you're going to have a lot more on this story at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA." We'll be watching, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

BP this weekend will begin testing its second system to capture the leaking oil. But even the added capacity now seems like it will fall far short of what's really needed. That's because researchers have doubled their estimate of the amount of oil that's been gushing out of that ruptured well for weeks.

Joining us is Professor Ira Leifer of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He's part of the government team of experts charge with estimating the oil flow rate.

We've been hearing that before that cap -- that cut and containment cap was done in early June, it was now estimated to be 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day. What is your best guess right now as to what -- how much oil is actually spewing out of that well in the aftermath of that containment procedure?

IRA LEIFER, UNIV. OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA: The team is gathering this weekend to try to come up with some really good numbers and analyze the data, but can't say precisely. But I still stand by my statement before that based on what I have seen of the bubble flow coming out of the well -- that it has increased significantly above the earlier numbers, such as the one that Director McNutt released a few days ago.

BLITZER: So, if their capturing, BP, 15,000 barrels a day, let's say, when you say "significantly," is there still -- how many thousands, potentially, of barrels that are just going into the Gulf?

LEIFER: Well, when one looks at the video of the image of the bubbles coming up, it does not look any different now versus before they started capturing, which to me says that the total amount of oil makes 15,000 look small.

BLITZER: So, it's way -- way -- it's way above that, another 30,000, 40,000, 50,000? Are we talking a lot more than that?

LEIFER: Yes. I mean, I think if it was 30,000 barrels, then we would see, it would look about half the size, a lot weaker, and it does not.

BLITZER: So -- what you're saying is that when we get these new numbers in the next few days, we shouldn't be shocked if, let's say, 100,000 barrels a day are coming out?

LEIFER: I think -- no one should be shocked at whatever the number is. It's reality, and we have to address that safely.

BLITZER: But -- but you and I have spoken on the phone, Professor, and I know --


BLITZER: -- you're concerned about the whole structural quality of this rig that is out there right now. Tell me what your worst-case fears are?

LEIFER: Well, let me explain for your listeners that a well is actually sort of a very fragile system in which the pipe goes through the rock and quite complex. And my concern, my fear, is that the integrity of that well has, in fact, been compromised by the blowout and by other activities.

My worst fear is that the oil will find its way through the rock, to the seabed, rather than through the well. And we'll go from an engineering problem to a natural problem.

We here living in Santa Barbara have an example. There are natural seeps, 100 barrels of oil a day. They've been doing it for half a million years. This could go from something we can resolve to a permanent feature in which the reservoir just keeps releasing oil and so on, and very, very difficult to stop, if not impossible.

BLITZER: And when you say "permanent," you mean that even if they manage to cap this specific rig, the oil would just seep out in huge quantities forever?

LEIFER: It would come out through the rocks and so on. Now, with time the main pressure would decrease and it would come to some steady state like we have in Santa Barbara or elsewhere, hundreds or whatever barrels per day. But initially, we'd have sort of a very large flow coming up, and this is -- this is why it's really important that this is done properly, most -- when I say safety, I mean not just for the workers and for the people, but also for the environment.

And so, this is why knowing the number is really important so that it can be done. It's really important to do it right.

BLITZER: You've heard some scientists suggest the so-called nuclear option. Nuke this well right now. That will -- that will resolve the matter. What do you think of that?

LEIFER: I say that would almost certainly move us right into a natural seep system, where nature would take over and what we humans could do would be minimal. I think it's a -- it's a terrible idea. BLITZER: Are you getting all the cooperation, the resources, the high-resolution video, the pressure information from BP that you need in order to make an educated estimate of how much oil is flowing out?

LEIFER: We certainly -- BP has been for more forthcoming, but we're still -- there's -- what we're doing is using images to try to understand what's happening inside. And yesterday, Congressman Markey wrote a letter to BP insisting that we actually make some measurements.

I've been working overnight, calling people all over the world, experts in the areas of oil and gas in the ocean, having a team ready to go, assembled on standby. I still have not heard from BP.

So, there's -- one of it is the video, but we really need other kinds of data so we can be certain we have it right. And that is not yet forthcoming.

BLITZER: Well, that is shocking to me to hear that, given the enormity of this crisis, the worst environmental disaster in American history. It's shocking that they're still not giving you, one of their own experts, that the government has brought together, the information you need.

LEIFER: Well, our team has made requests, and I and other people, for more data than just simply the videos that they've been giving. And while they have come through with the video, there are other supporting data that I'm hoping they'll come through with and also let us, the scientists, go and make some measurements, so we can actually have the best science and technology to make sure this is done safely.

BLITZER: Because the stakes are so enormous.

Professor Ira Leifer of the University of California, Santa Barbara -- we'll stay in close touch with you throughout next week. We really appreciate what you're doing for all of us. Thank you.

LEIFER: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the other breaking news we're following, the flash floods that kill at least 16 people in a very popular camping area in Arkansas. Dozens, though, remain missing. We'll have the latest.


BLITZER: While the world watches the Gulf oil disaster unfold, some of those who were there at the beginning are haunted by what they saw. Survivors of that massive and deadly rig explosion have been sharing their stories with CNN's Anderson Cooper.


MATTHEW JACOBS, BP OIL RIG SURVIVOR: I just remember looking back at the rig and, you know, just knowing that there's 11 of our guys -- at that time I didn't know there was 11. But I knew there was -- there was going to be some that didn't -- didn't make it.

And the four hours that we had to sit there while the rig was burning -- I mean, I looked at it a little bit, you know, I watched, and there was times I had to, you know, just go sit somewhere, and I couldn't watch it knowing that we had left those 11 guys on that -- on that rig. I mean, they had to know something was wrong. I think that they would actually had a chance, you know?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": If they'd been warned?


DOUGLAS BROWN, BP OIL RIG SURVIVOR: Something I just want to forget. You know, I'll never forget my fellow crew members that died. I knew five of them quite well for years. They were very good men. And this should not have happened to them.

COOPER: Who did you know who died?

BROWN: I knew Dewey the driller, Jason Anderson, the toolpusher, Don Clark, the assistant A.D. I knew Dale Burkeen, the crane operator. This should not have happened.

COOPER: What do you want people to know about those men?

DANIEL BARRON III, BP OIL RIG SURVIVOR: That these were guys that just, you know, they were doing their job. They were out there to feed their families, to make a living, to make a name for themselves, you know? You know, working hard, making an honest living. And it just doesn't seem like anybody's focused on it. I mean, these were great guys, and a lot of people don't understand when you're on that rig for 21 days, I mean, you're like brothers.


BLITZER: Anderson's joining us on the phone right now.

Anderson, that's a powerful, powerful material that you're getting there. I spoke to some of the widows of those men who died on that rig, and I was shocked to hear -- I don't know if you've heard the same thing -- that they really have been -- they're getting no assistance, virtually none. They got little potted plants from BP officials. They've sort of been MIA.

That's pretty shocking to me. Some of those men had been working for that company for years.

COOPER (via telephone): Yes. Well, I mean, some of the widows I talked to last night hadn't even received a card from BP or any kind of communication. You know, I think there's -- you know, there's been so much focus in terms of the media, at least, on the spill and, obviously, the ongoing disaster that, you know, the story of what happened that day is still being, you know, we're still learning details and we're still learning about the men who died. And I think that's why the men who spoke to us, the five survivors to spoke to us, really wanted to, you know, to get their stories out and to get the story out of what happened. Not just so it doesn't happen again, but also so that we remember the 11 lives that were lost.

BLITZER: Well, we will remember those lives. Anderson is going to have a lot more at 10:00 eastern tonight, on "A.C. 360." Anderson, thanks very much for the work you're doing.

Screams in the middle of the night as raging floodwaters sweep through an Arkansas campground. We'll have the latest information.

Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get some more on the breaking news we've been following: the other disaster involving some flash floods that kill at least 16 people in a popular wilderness area, a campground, in Arkansas. Dozens of people are still missing.

Let's bring in our meteorologist and severe weather expert, Chad Meyers, for more.

What exactly happened here, Chad?

CHAD MEYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: A lot of rain, literally nine inches of rain, fell in a bowl. This bowl, if you just think about it, if it rained on the top of the bowl and the other side of the top of the bowl, all that water drained into the bottom, because gravity works. In the bottom of that bowl was this campground -- in fact, was a very long stretch of campers, cabins, and, of course, the RVs that we know who were washed away in this.

Let me show you what we're talking about and how this bowl all kind of shaped up and how this rain really just took its toll last night with now pushing two dozen killed here. Let me take you to the Albert Pike Campground. It's on the western side of Arkansas, in the Ouachita Mountain Range.

Now these mountains are quite sharp. They go up and down. They actually run from the east to the west. Not very many mountains in America do that, most of them go north and south.

And right here at this Albert Pike Campground, at the confluence of the Little Mississippi -- Little Missouri River and also the Caddo River is where the water came in and the water came up so quickly, Wolf. The water went to -- from this creek from three feet deep to 23 feet deep in less than six hours. If you can imagine how that rushing water must have rushed into all of those people.

And then not only that, at that campground, but all along this river, there are little cabins all along, from north to south, as far as you can see, in this beautiful Ouachita mountain area in this wilderness area. But this part right here, where all the campgrounds that you see here, the little campers, the little cabins, that's where all the people lost their lives as the water rose so quickly.

BLITZER: Was there a flash flood warning before this happened?

MEYERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Were people alerted there was a danger there?

MEYERS: Wolf, if you're in an RV, do you have a weather radio with you? The answer should be yes. The answer should be yes.

And there was a warning. In fact, there was three hours worth of warnings before the crest actually occurred. Flash flood warnings for this county for this particular stream and river, because they knew, the weather service knew, the water was going up.

And as the water was going up and up and up, then when we started hearing the cries from these people and they were starting to alert people -- the police and the sheriff's department were actually in there trying to get to them, but the water was going so quickly, even that bridge right there.

That bridge was covered by eight feet of water. No way to get across that bridge.

BLITZER: What a tragic story. All right. Chad, thanks very much for that update. We'll stay on top of that story for our viewers.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, as we've rarely seen her, she gets very emotional. The remarks that almost moved her to tears -- that's coming up.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: The question this hour is: why is American politics lost any semblance of dignity?

Rick says, "Actually, they haven't had any dignity for some time. It's just more obvious now that the politicians don't limit their inappropriate comments to behind closed doors."

Curtis in Kennesaw, Georgia, "To get votes, Jack, they need our attention, and what it takes to get our attention any more is just sad. If it doesn't have shock value, it isn't worth it. Look at reality television and you can see the same thing happening. Why watch TV involving two well-behaved kids and two loving parents when you can watch eight kids and two train-wrecked parents."

David writes, "It's because we've rewarded their ill behavior with headlines and pundit jobs and practically dare them to say something controversial."

Rick says, "I think the classlessness always existed. We just get to see and hear more of it thanks to technology, things like hidden cameras, rogue microphones, more bloggers ad sites like YouTube."

Rodney writes, "Is anyone surprised? Have you seen the mess that is our country? Make someone a millionaire and they think they need to run for office. Not all millionaires are smart."

R. writes, "It's the people that we have to pick from that have lost all semblance of dignity. So sad."

James in New York writes, "Dignity won't get you air time on the nightly news."

George in New York says, "You can't lose what you never had."

And Tracy writes, "Who cares? Plug the damn leak."

You want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have a great weekend, Jack. See you on Monday.

CAFFERTY: Thanks. You too.

BLITZER: All right.

An emotional speech that almost made the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, cry.

And at the top of the hour, a special edition of "JOHN KING, USA" live from the Gulf Coast with the latest on the oil disaster.


BLITZER: A rare glimpse at first lady, Michelle Obama, choking back tears as she recalled her upbringing and the sacrifices her parents made. Listen to her speech to graduates of the Academies in Anacostia hear in Washington.


MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: Growing up, there were plenty of times that I doubted my capabilities. And those doubts were fuelled by a lot of people around me -- kids teasing me when I studied hard, teachers telling me not reach too high because my test scores weren't good enough, folks making it clear with what they said and didn't say that success wasn't meant for a little girl like me from the south side of Chicago.

But let me tell you something, something else I remember. I remember my mom pushing me and my brother to do things she never had done herself. Things she'd been afraid to do herself. What I remember is my father getting up every day and going to work at a water filtration plant, even after he was diagnosed with M.S., even after it got hard for him to button his shirt and to get up and walk. See, I remember my parents sacrificing for us, pouring everything they had in us, being there for us, encouraging us to reach for a life they never knew. And it is because of them and because of this support I got from teachers and mentors that I am standing here today.



BLITZER: The first lady also told the graduates she and the president both believe in them. By the way more than 90 percent of the grads have been accepted to college. Good for them.

This programming note: tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're covering all angles of the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. We'll have a one hour special -- 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow right here on CNN.

In the mean time, you can always follow what's going on behind- the-scenes in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.