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tv   ABC World News With Diane Sawyer  ABC  May 9, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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tonight from the floods of the mighty mississippi, this is "world news," reporting live from memphis, tennessee. the river is rising and we are watching. as, right now, the river is about to crest and millions of people up and down the mississippi are watching. we see families huddling. four generations at this home. and the people of memphis surround us to tell us what they're worried about tonight. and even beneath the water, there is a swarm of water moccasins, fire ants, rats, leeches in the flood. we show you what it's like to enter these waters.
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good evening to you from memphis tonight. we're in the waters of the mississippi. which are, at this moment, about to peak at a height not seen in nearly a century. it is the mighty mississippi. 2,300 miles long, penetrating with its tributaries 38 states. as we look down today at what is happening here in memphis, we remember the words of an old river hand who said, the flooding mississippi will to what it can to defeat you. be prepared to fight 24 hours a day. and as we said this is a height not reached in nearly 75 years. normally, the river is a half mile across. now it's swollen to three miles. eight states directly in the flood zone. more than 4 million people vulnerable to the power of this river. and tonight we want to tell you everything being done at this hour. our team is out in force. we're going to start with our trip today into the parts of memphis where it was just too late to stop this river.
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morning on the mighty mississippi, and on an ordinary street downtown, you can see the water is rising. you can see it rising as we speak. look at the speed. look at the speed of which it's moving across the road right now. and you can already see what it's done behind me, to the restaurant, the bar there. heaven knows what those houses were over on the other side. think about it this way. a log floating on an ordinary day in the mississippi would be traveling about twice as fast as the average person walks. but the floodwaters raging, it accelerates now to 12 miles per hour, faster than anyone can run. so we board the brand-new vehicle rescuing the stranded. the tank that can transform into a bank in seconds. now we're above? >> now you're above it. >> reporter: we come up first to an intersection normally busy with cars. now, only water. lynn manor, a street sign, just
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looking at us over the water. look at these houses. and homes, the entire neighborhood swallowed whole. only the roofs visible now. and satellite antenna. did you find people wouldn't leave? even here, they wouldn't leave? >> on our first mission out here, there was some hesitancy. on our second mission, there was no hesitancy. >> reporter: all this being coordinated at a giant nerve center. >> the water's going to be with us. for quite some time. >> reporter: at the command post, a live video feed they're monitoring. it's the mississippi. they show it around the clock. >> they do call it the mighty mississippi. i think this is the time people are getting their arms around the fact how big that river is. it's also been called the wicked river. so it's been pretty wicked here for last several days. >> reporter: at a nearby school, the water is lapping right up to the door. the kids help their parents get sandbags and build a three-foot wall but they lost a little amphitheater. >> that was a little storage shed. >> reporter: they lost their
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shed. they lost their gardens. and they scrambled to move the classrooms up to the second floor. does it make you scared tonight when you go to sleep? >> yeah. >> reporter: what do you do when you get scared at night? >> i get in bed with my parents. >> reporter: i want to say i am proud of you for saying that on nationwide tv. and, now, within hours, the water at its peak. we kept thinking of those neighborhoods swallowed whole. and where are the families who once lived here? last night, we traveled to a shelter run by hope presbyterian. displaced families. nowhere to return. >> we've been here ten days. the last time we been in the house, water inside. the water about that deep inside. >> reporter: okay, this is a big one. only the children not knowing what was right off the shore. and i'm here now with steve osunsami.
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many of us covering this for abc news this weekend and today have seen family after family holding on and helping each other. you found a generation of -- four generations. >> we did, all in one home. families tell us they have a complicated relationship with the mississippi. they say the river defines them. it defines this community. it can also be so terribly devastating. in north haven, tennessee, the flood had forced four generations of charles hinkson's family to move into his home for shelter. it was supposed to be the safe place. >> we'll be on an island if it continues to rise. in fact, we're already on an island. >> reporter: tonight, the river has surrounded the home. the police have told them to go but they won't -- and they're hoping the water stops rising. >> at 7:00 they said it was going to crest, and i'm crossing my fingers and hoping they're right. >> reporter: his daughter heather, her husband and their 4-year-old daughter star moved in when the water at their home was just a trickle. >> it was just coming in. probably have about two foot of
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water here in the morning. >> reporter: today, the water there was up to rooftops. they left behind a television, their furniture, and the stove, because they wanted to make room for more important things -- the white tiger. the pink piano. the big brown bear. >> my bear. >> reporter: you got your bear? >> uh-huh. >> reporter: you took the bear? >> uh-huh. >> reporter: so you got it out in time, huh? >> yeah. right here's my pillow pet. >> reporter: star just had a birthday. she keeps asking why she can't go home. >> i just want her to be happy. i just don't want her to feel like i feel, like everything has been ripped out from under you. >> reporter: brenda webb is star's great grandmother and she's here too. >> i'm homeless for the first time in my life. >> reporter: her daughter angie told us she saw her mother's flooded home on the news and can't bring herself to tell her mom that it's all gone. >> yeah, i didn't tell her. >> reporter: you're not going to tell her? >> probably not. i don't know. it will just upset her. >> reporter: today we found several flooded out families living in campers along a highway. this is their home for the next several weeks.
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>> look, when you live on the river, you pull up to higher ground. that's about all i can tell you because you would never know. bless your heart. and i hope you don't. i hope you never understand that. >> reporter: she told us the river can be so brutal but it's so beautiful, she told us, most of the year so -- >> we have felt all those things here in the great city of memphis, haven't we, steve? thank you. and as we said, at this moment, at this moment, the mississippi is pushing its hardest against those levees. and the big question, as everyone thinks back to katrina and new orleans, will they hold? today, i talked to the colonel, head of the army corps of engineers, in charge of all of this. he told us these levees will hold but the power of the mississippi is awesome. what is the immensity of the force coming at them? >> as we're sitting here looking at the mississippi, in one second, we're seeing approximately 2 million cubic feet per second go through the
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mississippi right now. if i took just one second of flow, that would fill a football field 40 feet high. >> and now let's go straight down the river to jim avila. he is there where the water is at this moment pounding those levees tonight. jim. >> reporter: diane, this 15-foot high floodwall, mighty mississippi right behind it, was built just after the double whammy of floods in 1927 and 1937. and despite the ominous leak here, the army corps of engineers says the levee system is holding. this is the biggest threat to the massive levee system protecting memphis. ground zero for the army corps of engineers. >> this is a sand boil. >> reporter: a sand boil, a fountain of bubbling water on the dry side of the levee. a danger sign that the mississippi is finding its way beneath the levee system. >> we think that this is probably one of the most significant threats to the levee. >> this is just basically
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nothing. i mean, it's not even a puddle down at the bottom. >> reporter: they're looking for four distinct threats to a levee and floodwall system like the one keeping the mississippi out of the streets of memphis. first, overtopping. that's lapping over the top. the army corps says that threat has passed and, in fact, the river could rise another six feet before going over the floodwall. second, erosion of the levees. tonight, those dirt berms remain strong. then the floodwalls protecting downtown. they too appear to be holding. the fourth and final threat are those sand boils. even now eroding the levees from underground. >> we're going to wait till the water goes down a whole lot more, and then we'll celebrate success. >> reporter: the mississippi surged past karol, illinois, where the army corps blew up a levee to relieve pressure, flooding farmland. now the river is cresting in memphis today. then it's expected to be at full height in vicksburg, mississippi, by wednesday morning, and crest in baton rouge by thursday.
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new orleans opened its floodgates today, saturating farmland but saving the city from high water expected friday. >> if we didn't have the elements that were put in place in '27 there today, this would be a massive disaster that would dwarf hurricane katrina. it would be easily the most enormous disaster in american history. >> reporter: so those are the stakes and that's why these floodwalls are here. the army corps of engineers saying the risk they'll break in any way is low but agree if some breach does happen it will be catastrophic because there's no way to get the water back through a breach and repair things. diane. >> 24 hours watching, as we said. and those who have watched the floods themselves through the years, through the decades here on the mississippi, say you know they're coming. when you see the snows way up north, long before these parts of the river begin to rise. and our weather editor sam champion is joining us now. he is right down in the water at the moment. sam, tell us more where this began, how it began.
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>> reporter: diane, it's an incredible sequence of events that led to all this flooding. let me show you our first amazing fact. 31 of our 50 states drain into the mississippi river or its tributaries. it's an amazing land mass. that's more than 1 million square miles of land draining its water to where i'm standing right now in the mississippi. then add to snow. a record winter. chicago, a record snowfall. remember that blizzard? that was 20 inches of snow on its own. minneapolis, more than 86 inches. a record for the season. at one point, 49 of our 50 states had snow on the ground in the winter. then add the spring rains. in a three-week period, 15 to 20 inches of rain through the mississippi and ohio river valleys. missouri, almost 19 inches of rain since january, diane. >> well, in addition to the water already here, i was told today when i was out on the waters the big fear is a cell, a storm cell, a freak cell pouring down still more rain. what does it look like right now? what's the forecast? >> reporter: well, this is incredible heat. they're going to be near 90
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degrees for the next few days. by thursday, that chance of storm really pops up. it's about 20% to 40% chance of storm over about three days. but in those storms, you can quickly get four inches of rain in any powerful thunderstorm. and that's just not good news, diane. >> i'll say. even though the levees may hold up to a point. thank you, sam. and sam, of course, will be back tomorrow with the latest on the floods on "good morning america." and if you want to help the flood victims in memphis, and we know so many of you do, and along the mississippi as well, go to and we'll be back with more from here in a moment. but we turn, now, to the other major story in the news today -- the battle after bin laden. eight days after navy s.e.a.l.s took him down. there is a growing rift between the u.s. and pakistan. pakistan facing withering criticism. and now lashing out. and our jim sciutto in islamabad has more on those rising tensions. >> reporter: the raid has netted a treasure trove of intelligence. the latest powerful images reducing the feared al qaeda
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leader to an ageing man, watching himself on television. but the operation has also ignited a growing feud between pakistan and the u.s.. seeing it as a gross violation, now they're firing back, refusing a long list of american demands. access to bin laden's compound for another search, request denied. immediate access to bin laden's three wives and eight children, now in pakistani custody, request denied. the identities of pakistani intelligence agents suspected of sheltering bin laden, again request denied. there are divisions inside the pakistani government over what concessions, if any, to make to the u.s. some officials here expressing worry the relationship could be irreparably damaged. that damage was evident when president obama publicly questioned whether elements inside the pakistani government helped protect bin laden. >> we think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin laden inside of pakistan. >> reporter: today, the
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pakistanis appeared to out the cia station chief here for the second time in six months. these tensions are ominous. especially for now, add the u.s. has given more than $20 billion in aid since 9/11. pakistan is home to dangerous extremist groups, provides key help to the war in afghanistan, and has a large nuclear arsenal. >> if untethered, i think it very easily could fall into the position of being the most dangerous nation in the entire world. >> reporter: bin laden may be gone, but in his wake, a growing divide with an essential u.s. ally. jim scuitto, abc news, islamabad. and still ahead on "world news" from memphis -- the waters are rising, but underneath, water moccasins, swarming. we saw them from our boat today. and later, one man against the mississippi. a hero who once stood watch over this river city.
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lining. that's where the word "cottonmouth" comes from. >> they can cause a fairly serious bite but there's an enormous amount of tissue damage. >> reporter: riding along with director bob nations of shelby county preparedness, i ask him about all the treacherous and fleeing animals. have you seen alligators? >> there was a report of two over on the mississippi banks yesterday. water moccasins. we're getting a lot of reports on the snakes. >> reporter: that's the biggest -- that's the big problem in a way, isn't it? because they're going to be in people's homes even when they go back. and it's not only the snakes. >> you're going to have spiders. >> reporter: rats. >> the snakes. rats. >> reporter: fire ants. they float. they float in big pods on top of this water. >> exactly right. >> reporter: and spend enough time and you're bound to see some of the herds of deer looking for high and dry ground. on our way out of the water, we talk to the policemen who seem
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to be mysteriously motoring back and forth all around me when i was in. >> we did the circle over there while you were talking. we were pushing the snakes that way. >> reporter: you pushed the snakes away from me? >> yeah. >> reporter: this is one hell of a police force. wildlife groups around tennessee have been fielding dozens of calls from residents reporting those snakes and deer. issuing a special alert, warning residents to be especially wary. that snakes may be seeking shelter in your home. for the residents, something more to worry about. not just the water they can see but what lies beneath. and we want you to know they are also rescuing so many animals. 147 dogs, 33 cats, 2 birds and 2 ducks -- ducks -- so far. coming up, new findings shaking up the autism world. shaking up the autism world. it's simple physics...[ m] a body at rest tends to stay at rest... while a body in motion tends to stay in motion.
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finally tonight, sometimes there are men to match a river. one of them is celebrated right here in memphis. making us think of the song "proud mary," where people on the river are determined to give. it has been a proud monument in memphis. the statue of tom lee, the african-american levee worker. 82 years ago, he saw passengers fleeing a sinking steam boat and even though he couldn't swim, that instinct take over, pulling them out of the water. in the end, he saved 32 people. in a kind of irony, tonight, the statue of tom lee sits, like so much of memphis, engulfed in water. his outstretched arms above reminding us of determination, resilience and how sometimes the odds seem stacked against you. but you just reach out and hang on. ♪ rolling yeah
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rolling on a river rolling on a river ♪ >> and we have been standing here looking at what people are doing for each other. all those sandbags people filled to protect the neighborhood. i want you to know they are 50 pounds and that's what it took to weigh in and help each other. and we thank you, all, for watching tonight. of course, we're always on at "nightline" later on tonight. "good morning america" in the morning. we hope you have a wonderful night, and we wish the best for the people of memphis. as these minutes tick down. we'll see you tomorrow. >> a bay area man faces federal charges for disrupting a cross country flight. his family denies he's a terrorist. >> steep decline for a bay area real estate. the number of local homeowners that are underwater. >> pg&e's testing the
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underground pipe line. >> and yosemite, it is sold on the black market. seven on your side michael finney is coming up. >> passengers all around were crying and flight attendant trying to soothe different passengers and we were looking before our eyes. >> here is the person that caused all of the trouble. subsubdued after causing a ruckus. the pilot remain calm as he requested priority landing at sfo. >> we'll need priority landing. >> it is as soon as possible. >> flight 1661. main


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