May 19th, 2009
03:23 PM ET

Video: 'Top Gun' astronaut

Program Note: Tune in tonight to see more about the astronauts from John Zarrella on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

CNN's John Zarrella talks to a space shuttle commander that had a big screen role in the hit movie "Top Gun."

Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • John Zarrella • Space
April 21st, 2009
09:22 PM ET

I wrestled with pythons

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/03/30/python.patrol/art.bigsnake.cnn.jpg caption="Members of the Python Patrol show off a giant snake that stretched more than 20 feet."]
John Zarrella
CNN Correspondent

You may find this hard to believe but it’s true. I’ve got a friend who actually goes out to the Everglades and catches pythons for fun. Turns out, it’s not that difficult, particularly in the winter months when they come out to bask in the sun.

As strange as it may sound, pythons, those big old snakes that lay in wait and then bite and wrap themselves around and squeeze their prey to kill it, have become a real concern in South Florida. They’ve been found under houses, in backyards, in chicken coops. I’m not talking here about a little garden type snake either. These snakes are eight to 12 feet long. Sometimes even larger.

And they’re not just getting fat on rodents. They’ve eaten pets. Wildlife biologists say that in the stomach of one python they found a five-foot alligator. In the stomach of another they found a full grown deer.

Pythons have very quickly moved to the top of the animal food chain here. The Florida Alligator is the only threat. And even gators may not be a match for the larger snakes. One famous picture taken inside Everglades National Park shows the aftermath of a battle between a python and an alligator. Both are dead. The gator’s legs and tail are sticking out from the belly of the python.

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a single python spotted in the Everglades. Now, biologists estimate there are at least 30,000. That’s right, that’s not a misprint. Last year, more than three hundred were caught and destroyed.

This mess got started, experts say, when pet owners woke up one morning, looked at their pythons and went ‘Oh My Gosh,’ realizing the creatures had grown too big to handle safely. Thinking they were doing the humane thing, they dumped the pythons in the Everglades rather than kill them.


Filed under: John Zarrella
April 20th, 2009
05:48 PM ET

Video: Polo Club President on horse deaths

John Wash, Polo Club Palm Beach President, tells CNN's John Zarrella what happened when more than 20 horses dropped dead.

March 27th, 2009
11:09 PM ET

Kidnapped in Mexico

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/01/07/security.expert.kidnap/art.felixb.jpg caption="Felix Batista, 55, disappeared December 10, after a meeting at a restaurant in Saltillo, Mexico."]

John Zarrella
CNN Correspondent

In a quiet neighborhood in Miami on a street that could be in any city, in a home that could be yours, lives a family whose shoes you would not want to be in. Every day they wait for the phone call that never comes. Every day they pray that Felix will come home. Every day is filled with anguish. "Every hour on the hour I think of Felix and his well being. Where is he?," asks his wife Lourdes Batista as she holds back the tears.

Felix Batista was sitting in a restaurant in the city of Saltillo, Mexico when he got a call on his cell phone. He left the table, went outside and got in a car. That was December 10th. He has not been heard from since. Vanished. Gone. Batista is perhaps one person you would never expect could be kidnapped. You see, he is an internationally respected anti-kidnapping consultant. When he disappeared, Batista was in Mexico participating in a seminar on how not to get kidnapped. Mexican authorities say surveillance video from the restaurant shows he got in the car willingly.

For the first month, the Batista family kept quiet. They were advised not to go public. There was a belief, even a hope that a ransom would be demanded and the ordeal would be over quickly. That never happened. Even since they first went public in January with their pleas to whoever took Felix, the phone has been silent. But, the family will not give up hope. Lourdes and her five children work constantly keeping Felix in the public eye.

When I met them,  two of his daughters Amari and Diana were writing messages on t-shirts that say, "I don't want money, I want my dad." They wear the t-shirts when they are passing out fliers on street corners or a schools or at the county fair. The fliers ask people to sign a petition calling for Felix's story to be part of every conversation a U.S. official has in Mexico. The petition will be delivered to the White House next month.

In another room of the house Felix's sister Jackie and his daughter Adrielle are pouring over pictures of Felix that will be used on a new web site. There's one of Felix playing a guitar. Adrielle says she always made her dad play the guitar and sing her to sleep at night. Doing all this is the only way the family knows to make people aware of what happened to Felix Batista. It is also, says Jackie, cathartic. Jackie lives in New York. She flew down a couple days ago to support Lourdes when she appeared on the Larry King Show. Staying active, Jackie says, is the only way she can get out of bed every morning.

They are a strong family. But as you sit there and talk with them and watch them you can sense the pain. There is great pain in not knowing. The comfort is in knowing they have each other.

Filed under: 360° Radar • John Zarrella • Mexico
November 4th, 2008
01:54 PM ET

Why did you vote?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/04/art.miamivoting.jpg caption="Miami voters line up at the polls on election day."]
John Zarrella
CNN Miami Correspondent

Why did you vote? Many of those I asked answered simply, saying it's a right we have and it shouldn't be wasted.

For others it is far more personal. I ran into a young man named Rick Garcia coming out of Fire Station 33 after he voted. Rick had tears in his eyes. He had voted before but it never meant as much as this time, he said. Or for that matter, to his friends.

"I got a lot of friends who would never normally register to vote and they were just calling me, 'Where do I go? What do I do?'" Here you go, I'll bring you the paperwork, he told them.

The reason for the enthusiasm, Rick's brother Jair DeJesus Garcia. A private in the U.S. Army, Garcia was killed in Afghanistan. Rick's eyes welled up as he told me the story.

"August 1st of this year he passed away, roadside bomb. It's the main reason why I came to vote."

"In his honor?"

"In his honor, yes. He would want everybody as American citizens to do it."

Rick wears a button with his brother's picture on it and a dogtag around his next. His brother was with Easy Company out of Fort Hood, Texas. He volunteered at age 29 and had only been in Afganistan two months when he died.

Rick says many in his family had never voted before. They too are voting today.

Rick says he will never be able to erase the pain of loss. But voting made him feel at ease, at least for awhile.

Filed under: 2008 Election • John Zarrella • Raw Politics • Voting
October 14th, 2008
09:47 AM ET

"Schlep" out the vote

CNN's John Zarrella reports young Jews head to Florida in search of grandparents' votes for Obama.
CNN's John Zarrella reports young Jews head to Florida in search of grandparents' votes for Obama.

John Zarrella | BIO
CNN Miami Correspondent

Mike Bender is young, single. He writes for television and movies out in California. I met him last Thursday night when he flew into Miami from Los Angeles. He had made the trip, at his own expense, to talk politics face to face with his Jewish grandparents Selma and Kenny Furst. More precisely, he came to talk Selma and Kenny into voting for Barack Obama. He had to try he said to bridge the “generation gap” between them. Bender had come to Miami in response to a You-Tube challenge called “The Great Schlep”. I’ll get back to Bender and his schlep in a moment.

When I first heard about this schlep thing I thought it must be a spoof. The comic, Sarah Silverman on You-Tube was rallying young Jews to go down to Florida and convince their Grandparents they had to vote for Barack Obama. The bit was called “The Great Schlep.”

Schlep is a Yiddish word that can have a variety of meanings. In this case schlep means to drag yourself. In other words, it may be difficult but, you’ve got to do it.


Filed under: Barack Obama • John McCain • John Zarrella • Raw Politics
October 14th, 2008
09:46 AM ET

Snapshots from the 'Schlep'

John Zarrella | BIO
CNN Miami Correspondent

Here are some 'snapshots from the Schlep' story I worked on, where young Jews are heading to Florida in search of grandparents' votes for Obama:

"Schlepper” Mike Bender.

Bender makes the case for Obama to a Jewish voter with doubts about the Senator outside the hair salon where Bender’s grandmother works.

Bender talks Obama to his grandmother Selma Furst.

Filed under: Barack Obama • John McCain • John Zarrella • Raw Politics
September 9th, 2008
03:34 PM ET

Grand Turk pummeled by Ike

John Zarrella
CNN Miami Correspondent

Lea and jean Astwood did laundry in a tub that before Ike, they used to feed their horses.

Now, on Grand Turk Island it is the only way to clean clothes. There's no power. Nearly every power line on this one mile wide by seven mile long island is down.

British warships off the coast are supplying some water and basic needs. Shelter is a priority. We flew into Grand Turk with the premier Michael Misick.


Filed under: Hurricane Ike • John Zarrella
August 29th, 2008
08:32 AM ET

Euphoria ripped out of the Crescent City, and I should have seen it coming

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/29/art.katrina.frenchquarter.jpg width=292 height=320]

Editor's Note
: Anderson Cooper 360° is in New Orleans tonight, as Tropical Storm Gustav barrels toward the Gulf of Mexico, expected to reach Category 3. We'll look at whether New Orleans is ready, after being devastated by Hurricane Katrina exactly three years ago today. Watch our special report tonight at 10p ET.

John Zarrella
CNN Miami Correspondent

There was just a hint of light in the sky. The sun had not faded out completely. A thin layer of water was rolled out like a carpet on Canal Street. It was the evening of August 29th, less than twelve hours after Hurricane Katrina sideswiped New Orleans. Many of the locals who had not evacuated but could afford it, had taken up shelter in the hotels. With the storm now gone, they came out and gathered on Canal. They all had smiles. Some raised glasses. There was a collective sigh of relief. Katrina had missed.

We stood on the trolley tracks, a light breeze in the air, waiting to go live for the evening programs. I had no way of knowing how important those tracks would become a couple days later. Now, on the evening of the 29th, we were surrounded by people who believed their beloved city had been spared. New Orleans had again escaped catastrophe.

That night on Canal Street is one of those moments that is crystallized in my consciousness. With-in a few hours all this euphoria would be ripped out of the Crescent City. But it wasn't until months later that I realized, I should have seen it coming. I stood right in it. I waded through it. I had done so many stories over the years on what would happen if the levees broke yet, I had no idea what it was when it happened.


Filed under: Hurricane Katrina • John Zarrella
February 15th, 2008
10:55 AM ET

Race, Gender & Politics: Immigration reform

The Reverend Samuel Rodriguez is young, energetic.  As President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference with ties to some 18 thousand Latino Evangelical Churches,  he is also very influential.  That may be bad news for Republican Senator John McCain. 


Hispanic Christians are, says Rodriguez, concerned with immigration reform. It is, he told us, their top-tier issue. And the Republican Party dropped the ball, says the California Pastor: "I would never have imagined that in my lifetime certain states in certain communities because of my last name and the color of my skin I would have to prove my citizenship in order to get healthcare, in order to get an apartment, in order to lease anything.  Even if I have some sort of driving incident I would have to prove my citizenship.  That's America's post-immigration debacle.  Who's responsible? The Republican Party.  Who will pay in the 2008 elections? The Republican Party."

It is not what I expected to hear from a conservative, from an Evangelical Christian. But Rodriguez says he never expected to hear what he's heard: "rhetoric and demagoguery" from the Republican Party on immigration reform. The demagoguery, he says, hurt all Republican candidates, even one like McCain who tried to find common ground on immigration. McCain supported a bipartisan immigration reform bill that failed to pass. Rodriguez said that may not be enough to sway Hispanics: "Will Latinos be able to look at John McCain and say we're gonna support the party because of you and in spite of your party! That's the question that will be answered Nov. 4th."


newer posts »