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Debby Still Doing Damage; Sinkholes In Debby's Aftermath; Debby Tests Tampa Ahead of RNC; Senator Orrin Hatch Survives; Nora Ephron 1941-2012; Stockton, California To File Bankruptcy; Queen Shakes Former IRA Leader's Hand; Homes Burn Overnight In Colorado Springs; Why Are Gas Prices Falling?; House GOP to Discuss Student Loan Deal; Historic Handshake

Aired June 27, 2012 - 05:59   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN HOST: Wow. We've got disasters from two extremes, flooding swamps part of Florida while ferocious wildfires threaten lives and homes in Colorado.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Flat broke at city hall. Bankruptcy for a really big city in California.

SAMBOLIN: Remembering Nora Ephron, the "Sleepless in Seattle" filmmaker dead at the age of 71.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Nice to have you with us, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. We got the news from "A" to "Z" for you. It is just 6:00 a.m. on the dot right there.

Up first, let's take you to this story. It's huge and it is annoying. It's Tropical Depression Debby and it is doing more damage, dumping more rain and some full blown hurricanes can do in their full force.

That deadly storm now downgraded to the tropical depression sloshing across Florida where a state of emergency is still in place. The storm is expected to bring some very dangerous conditions, particularly flooding and it just doesn't seem to end yet another day of the story that won't go away.

George Howell is live in Florida near where the storm made land fall. You know, I've been tracking your whereabouts and most of the time when we come to you live.

George, you're standing in either in ankle or knee or waist deep water. But now it seems to be behind you even though the disaster is not beyond everyone yet.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, and you said it right. You know, the storm that just won't seemed to go away. I mean, take a look at this, Ashleigh, at this. You see what used to be a front yard in front of this house. Now it's a small lake. That's really what you see in different places here in Wakulla County, one of the hardest counties hit here in the state of Florida in these low lying areas.

You see a lot of water piling up here over the last several days. Flooding is the big story, especially around these rivers that are cresting above flood stage.

We spent some time with families in one of those neighborhoods, spent time in a neighborhood -- went down a street that basically turned into a river with 15 feet of water.

We spent time with these families, one family in particular that saw their home for first time. Take a look.


CRYSTAL PESEK, SOPCHOPPY RESIDENT: Should be down -- just down here on the left somewhere. I don't recognize anything now.

LARRY PESEK, SOPCHOPPY RESIDENT: We can't believe we're looking at this, a massive amount of water.

CRYSTAL PESEK: We're almost finished with the house, almost finished remodelling everything in there.


HOWELL: They are optimistic looking forward, but what the Peseks are dealing with, many people are dealing with here in the state of Florida.

In fact, in Baker County, we saw rescues happening the other day and in Pasco County, we are also seeing mandatory evacuations, 2,000 people that had to be evacuated because of these fast rising rivers -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: It looks like they are going down a river in South America when we see these pictures. It's really remarkable, George, the landfall of Debby was in the panhandle, but what about the rest of the state?

What about Georgia? What about the rest of the east coast? What do we know about the effects of Debby for everybody else?

HOWELL: We know that many places will see more rainfall until this storm system finally pushes off into the Atlantic. But we also know the governor did declare a state of emergency.

FEMA officials, they are also on the ground here in the state of Florida to help many of these families that were affected by the storm.

BANFIELD: That's really unfortunate. The pictures are just incredible. To think, George, just a year ago, we were talking about the desperate fire situation in that region so one extreme to the other. George Howell, thank you.

SAMBOLIN: And along with all the flood dangers, some cars and homes are in danger of being swallowed by dozens of huge sinkholes that have opened up in Debby's aftermath.

The sinkholes have forced several hundred road closures as the evacuees try to go back home. In one area at Brooksville, they had 20 sinkholes just in that area alone.

BANFIELD: And it turns out Debby is somewhat of a Democrat it seems, well, just say so because in Tampa, right across the street from the site of the Republican National Convention said to be held at the end of August, we have a before and after picture for you.

Man, what a mess, flood winds really testing the Tampa Bay area. However, great news to report, there has been no major effect on the preparations so full steam ahead for the Republican Convention at the end of the summertime, but amazing before and after pictures.

SAMBOLIN: Let's head over to Rob Marciano. Are you tracking all of this for us, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, Tampa one of the most susceptible areas to tropical storms and hurricanes, but also very, very prepared. Hopefully, this will be the last of the season, but we're still in June, right?

Tropical Depression Debby, obviously the strength of this thing has not been the issue. It's the slow movement and the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the main moisture source taking all that water and just dumping it over the same areas.

Thankfully today the center of it is just offshore of Saint Augustine, so most of the rainfall in the flooded areas is actually going to be drifting down south.

So the left over streamers will be down across South Florida today. I think the most impacted areas across the north will not see any more rains. So the water on the roadways, the rivers, they will be slow to recede.

But nonetheless, the rains that fall that we've seen 10 plus inches in some of these areas. That's going to go away. It's 22 inches in Crawford officially, St. Martin 20 inches so this is certainly a remarkable, remarkable stuff.

Here's the forecast track for Tropical Depression Debby heading off towards the north and east may be strengthening to a tropical storm, but by that time it's going to not be an issue at all.

Remember this was an area last year that was end rouse by droughts and wildfire. Obviously, that's not the case today. A hazy, hot and humid condition across the eastern third of the country, that's going to be the other big story.

But remember these rivers that are now cresting are going to stay in major or moderate flood stage here for a good couple of days.

So either the rivers or the ponding on the roadways and in some cases entire downtowns have been ponded and some interstates as well having some issues. That's going to be a slow go here.

So even though the rains have stopped today, the waters as usual will take their time to get out of the way -- guys.

BANFIELD: Just the remarkable statistic that even places that got two feet of rain are expecting even more. It's outstanding, just remarkable. Thank you, Rob.

And a reminder to our viewers too, Rob, that we're, you know, going to continue to collect not only Rob's awesome weather models, but some terrific video that continuous to come in from the field.

So we're tracking that. We're also tracking the wildfires as well out west continuing coverage throughout the show right here on EARLY START this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And this morning, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch's incumbency is showing. The six-term senator handily defeated the Tea Party candidate in a Republican primary. The 78-year-old Hatch outspent his opponent 10-1 in the race and received an endorsement from Sarah Palin.

BANFIELD: Congressman Charlie Rangel also surviving a career threatening primary challenge, winning his Democratic primary race in New York. He was facing voters for the first time since being censured for fellow House members for ethics violations. He's running for a 22nd term in Congress.

SAMBOLIN: And remembering Nora Ephron, the brilliant writer and filmmaker died yesterday after a battle with leukemia. She was just 71 years old. Ephron scored three Oscar nominations for screen writing, one for the dramatic film "Silkwood" and for two of her romantic comedies. You know them, "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally."


BILLY CRYSTAL, ACTOR (in When Harry Met Sally): I love it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich and you get a crinkle on your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that I spend the day with you I can still smell your perfume on your clothes and I love that you're the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night.


SAMBOLIN: Don't you love that she left us those moments. So Billy Crystal issued a statement saying, quote, "I am very sad to learn of Nora's passing. She was a brilliant writer and humorist. Being her Harry to Meg's Sally will always have a special place in my heart. I was very lucky to get to say her words." As I said Nora Ephron was 71 years old.

BANFIELD: And brand-new for you this morning, Stockton, California expected to file for bankruptcy at any moment. And that would mean it's the largest city in the United States history to file for Chapter 9.

It is $700 million in debt. They tried everything. Mediation with the creditors did not go well. In fact, last night completely failing.

City council has voted to adopt a brand-new budget for operating under bankruptcy protection and the mayor is real upset saying this, quote, "It is a sad day for Stockton. I see no other solution to this."

SAMBOLIN: An unexpected fireworks show stopping traffic. This is Chester, West Virginia, after police say an illegal fireworks stand caught fire in a bar parking lot.

Police say an extension cord running lights to the stand may have sparked this. Fireworks shot through the window of the bar. Luckily no one was hurt. The owner, however, is expected to be charged.

BANFIELD: We have breaking news for you. Take a look at your screen. Queen Elizabeth on the left has officially shaken the hand of the man on the right, the former IRA Commander, Martin McGinness.

This is an incredibly symbolic gesture. It is a personal gesture as well in a longstanding feud between Britain and the IRA, 30 years plus.

The queen actually lost her cousin in an Irish Republican Army attack and many say it was actually that man who was part of the spearheading. The IRA and Britain ended what was called the trouble. It was really a war in fact back in 1998.

This handshake is just happening a few moments ago. We're working on getting the video. But let me tell you this, this was so incredibly stressful in terms of security.

They weren't even prepared to let the media know if we could get cameras to get this handshake, secure or not, I'll tell you what, less secure than it has been in the past.

There was a time when the queen could not even sleep overnight in Northern Ireland in Belfast. So this is a remarkable day. We're working on that story for you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 9 minutes past the hour. A millionaire mysteriously vanishes in Florida. Not even a week later, his family is in a bitter fight over his fortune. We'll have much more coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: We have new video just into CNN. This is what an out of control fire looks like, entirely up in flames overnight in Colorado Springs, 32,000 people are now on the run and that fire now roaring unchecked through the mountains.

Eric Lupher of affiliate KMGH is live in Colorado Springs. We understand there's only 5 percent containment here. How are they planning to fight this?

ERIC LUPHER, KMGH REPORTER: Well, it's going to be tough because the forecast not looking good this morning, Zoraida. Once the sun comes up it's going to be another scorcher.

The winds are going pick up again. A red flag warning is in effect for most of the state of Colorado, especially the western slope and the Colorado Mountains.

So this fire, again, very likely could flare up. Some good news and we haven't seen much good news lately is this fire has laid down overnight.

From this vantage point yesterday, we could see clear flames. We could see the fire advancing very quickly just over the trees here. Right now, we're not seeing any flames. There's plenty of smoke.

It's just hovering over the whole city. Even though it's dark I can still see that, a heavy smell of smoke. But again, we're not seeing the flames like we saw yesterday. We're on north side of this fire near the Air Force Academy.

By the way, there are some evacuations in place for the far south portion of the Air Force Academy. Again, the good news, we're not seeing much wind. It's actually a little chilly this morning.

As we know with fires, they do lay down overnight especially if the winds calm down and the temperatures go down, which they have. But again, we're only waiting for the sun to come up and we're expecting this fire to flare up yet again.

SAMBOLIN: There's really a massive amount of force trying to address these fires and fight them. Talk to me about the tourist attractions that have been affected by this as well.

LUPHER: Good question, Garden of the Gods is a huge tourist attraction here in Colorado, nationwide. Garden of the Gods was an area that firefighters have been protecting since the beginning.

That is dangerously close to the fire zone.

We've also got the Broadmoor Area. Now, that's south of Highway 24. The good news this morning, fire officials are confident the fire is not going to cross Highway 24. So, right now, ten Broadmoor Area not really affected.

But the major story here is that the whole city, whole northwest side of Colorado Springs is evacuated. That's 32,000 people, 32,000. Instead of talking about these tourist attractions, we're talking about an entire city being affected and that's unheard of.

When you think of wildfires, you think in a forested area, high in the mountains. This fire is coming dangerously close to a whole community, a whole city.

SAMBOLIN,: Eric Lupher for us, our affiliate KMGH, in Colorado Springs -- I hope you the next time you bring good news from the area. Thank you.


BANFIELD: Fifteen minutes now past 6:00 on the East Coast.

The widow of former NFL player Pat Tillman is now talking about her husband's final gift he made to her. You might remember Pat Tillman as the young man who went to Afghanistan to serve his country, gave up a football career to do so, but then died in a very controversial friendly fire incident back in 2004.

His wife, Marie Tillman, wrote a book about a letter that Pat left for her, it was one of those "just in case" letters, that soldiers all know so well.

Listen to what she told CNN's Piers Morgan.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: He left a just in case letter for you. It included the lines, "Through the years I've asked a great deal for you, therefore it should surprise you little I have another favor to ask. I ask that you live."

When you read that, when went through your mind?

MARIE TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN'S WIDOW: When I originally read it, it was something that was very difficult because at that time I didn't want to live. You know, here he was gone. He was my best friend. He was, you know, someone I had been with for most of my life. And the thought of living without him was something I couldn't bear.


BANFIELD: Make sure you keep it here on CNN all morning because Marie is going to join Soledad O'Brien a little bit later this morning, 7:50 Eastern Time to be exact. Make sure you stay tuned for that.

SAMBOLIN: Sixteen minutes past the hour.

Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, again, ladies.

Debby will flood Florida over the next 24 hours even though she's been downgraded to a tropical depression. Many evacuees are coming back to homes a total loss.

Tough talk from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, addressing his new cabinet he says the country is in a state of war and his regime will do anything to win.

Just hours after the president's remarks, state media reporting opposition fighters planted explosive devices in the headquarters of a pro-government TV network. Fighting has been raging now for 15 months in Syria.

He's barely been gone a week and the wife and mom of missing millionaire Guma Aguiar are fighting over his fortune. Both have field court petition to take control of $100 million in assets. Aguiar vanished last Wednesday. He was seen sailing alone off the coast of Florida.

Coffee is the new red wine. If you drink two cups of coffee a day, you have an 11 percent lower risk of developing heart failure. The new research published in the American Heart Association's "Journal of Circulation" showed coffee lowered the risk for diabetes, which in turn lower the risk for heart failure. But don't overdo it. Five or more cups a day could potentially be bad for you.

It is Big Ben in London. There it is, Big Ben does not exist anymore, sort of. The iconic clock tower is still there but parliament is renaming the tower Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne.

Prime Minister David Cameron says it's a, quote, "fitting tribute to the queen and service she's given her country."

Now, I don't know about you, ladies. I always thought Big Ben actually was the clock inside the tower. So technically Big Ben is still there.

BANFIELD: Yes, but the weird thing is it doesn't have the same ring. Big Ben -- how about big Betty? Something --

ROMANS: Big Betty, I don't think that's flattering.

BANFIELD: You don't think she'd like that?


SAMBOLIN: People will still call it Big Ben.


SAMBOLIN: Yes, it's hard to catch on to a new name. Thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Gas prices keep on falling. Another 1.4 cents. That happened overnight. The question is why and for how long women the trend continue? Christine Romans is coming back with much more on this.


BANFIELD: We are minding your bees wax this morning. I don't know why I said that. It's minding your business but, you know, my kids say minding your bees wax.

The U.S. futures are down this morning. Concerns about Europe, gosh, concerns about Europe, creeping in, what do you know?

SAMBOLIN: I say they never crept out.

The markets closed higher across the board yesterday with the Dow gaining a quarter of a percent. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 both about half a percent.

Christine Romans is here to talk about gas prices, why they are falling. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing?

ROMANS: Well, look, I mean, if you're filling up at the pump, it's a good thing. I was talking to some economists yesterday who are saying that, you know, they are concerned about consumer spending in this country, but if oil prices and gas prices keep falling, that will be more money in your pocket and maybe that will actually be a little bit of juice to consumer spending. So that's the upside. Plus, you have more disposal income.

Gas prices are falling and many economists and analysts are telling me that they think the gas prices will keep falling into the autumn. You've seen them fall below $3 a gallon in a couple of different places around the county, and by Halloween, one analyst said, you could see it below $3.

We're so concerned about $5 gas for the summer but the economy is slowing, the growth of the economy worldwide is slowing. Demand from Europe and with the financial crisis in Europe, that's one reason why you're going to see lower demand overall.

So, you got lower oil prices, oil, $78 a barrel -- $78 a barrel.

BANFIELD: Seventy-eight?

ROMANS: Seventy-eight dollars a barrel for oil now. And this one is kind of static demand for summer driving. There wasn't this big jump in demand in this country.

So today's national average is $3.38 down about 1.4 cents. That's according to AAA. If we don't have any big hurricanes, that's one of the things that can be out there as a possibility that can spike oil prices.

And Iran, just a few months ago, the president was talking about having to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in case there was shortages from Iran because of sanctions there. Iran --

BANFIELD: It went into effect three weeks ago.

ROMANS: Right, we have low oil prices despite what's happening in Iran.

BANFIELD: Hey, do you remember a couple of years ago, drill, baby, drill?


BANFIELD: Drill, baby, drill. Now what's happening with that?

ROMANS: Well, Obama is going to allow more Arctic drilling and this is the big story from the White House yesterday, no new leases until 2016 and they allow a lot of time for research and environmental impact and all of that stuff. But the White House is moving forward with more Arctic drilling. These are the seas north of Alaska, I wish I had a map but I'm told I don't.

BANFIELD: Way, way up there.

ROMANS: You can see Russia.

BANFIELD: Russia from there, so we're told.

ROMANS: The oil industry wants a faster time line for drilling, no question, of course, that's where we are on that. We'll watch that as well.

SAMBOLIN: Do you have one more thing we need to know that's positive about our money.


While Congress is playing chicken with student loan interest rates, the one thing you need to know about your money today, this debt could be a good investment if you manage it properly. I'm going to tweet out a link to CNN Money student loan calculator so you can know what you owe when you pay it back and you could integrate that into your financial life.

It is a good investment if you manage it wisely. Don't let it bring you down. I'm going to get tweeted by a bunch of people told me they can't start their life because of student loan debt.

BANFIELD: Yes, well, they haven't been able to start in a worse if they didn't have --

ROMANS: Exactly right.

BANFIELD: All right, Christine. And you're always there to remind us of that, the silver lining on a lousy cloud.

Christine Romans, thank you.

OK. So, we've been monitoring this remarkable moment going on in northern Island. Queen Elizabeth and a commander, a former commander, one of the real heads of the IRA shaking hands. You did not hear wrong, folks. The queen of the U.K. shaking hands with a top demander in the IRA -- a guy who many say was responsible for the murder of her cousin back in the 70s.

We're going to tell you about this and why it's so earth shattering, coming up.

SAMBOLIN: And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone. Take us with you. Go to We'll be right back.


SAMBOLIN: President Obama leading Mitt Romney in a new poll, but the news isn't all good, as we dig deeper into the numbers.

The father of the late Amy Winehouse speaking out about the troubled relationship this singing phenom was in. He says that the boyfriend, the boyfriend is responsible for introducing her to class-A drugs that ultimately led to her death.

SAMBOLIN: Senate leaders say they struck a deal on student loan rates. That means savings for some 7 million new American college students.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Good to have you with us, at 6:30 in the morning on the East Coast.

Let's begin this half hour with this story, and I'm sorry it is not a good one. It is a storm that won't go away and it is causing so much trouble. Officially named Debby, she's now been downgraded to a tropical depression. But make no mistake, she is dumping a dangerous amount of rain all over Florida.

So, now, it's up to 25 inches that has come barreling down across the coast of that state. The deluge isn't over. Two feet plus and it's still not over. People are starting to come back to their homes but they have to do so by boat only to find out what you're seeing on the screen means total loss.


JO GRADDY, MADEIRA BEACH RESIDENT: Water was up this high on the doors. Everything inside the garage was floating, there was a walkway in the center and everything was stacked on the sides and the water came up high enough it started to flood everything, so it started to block down in itself.


BANFIELD: Forecasters are predicting another four to eight inches could hit northern Florida as Debby heads slowly towards the Atlantic.

SAMBOLIN: The battle for the battle grounds is heating up. The Obama camp sending Vice President Joe Biden to Iowa, while Mitt Romney campaigns in Virginia.

And there are several new polls out this morning. The president is still on top, leading Mitt Romney 47 percent to 43 percent.

Political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us live this morning.

It's all about the numbers and the president is on top overall. But does he fare as well when you break down some of those key voting groups?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Let's do that. With this NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll that came out 12 hours ago.

Take a look at this -- the gender gap is still there. We've seen it for last couple of months. And it hasn't gone away. Among women, the president with an advantage by about 13 points. You can see a slighter advantage there for Mitt Romney among male voters, 48- 43 over the president.

And what about independents, we always talk about those, Zoraida, the people in the middle who could determine who wins in November, a slight advantage for the president in this NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll.

You know, we've been in a general election contest basically since early April when Mitt Romney pretty much wrapped up the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. We've seen a lot of fireworks but it's been pretty consistent, the overall horse race numbers nationally have stayed pretty close.

Take a look at the states, because this is a battle for the states and electoral votes. Brand-new numbers out just from the last half hour from Quinnipiac University. And there you go -- in Florida, for the president, a very light advantage, 45 percent to 41 percent. Ohio, another one of those big important battle ground states, you can see the president according to this poll with an 8 point advantage.

And Pennsylvania, another state that could be in play hasn't gone Republican since 1988. But right here the president with a 6- point advantage.

In another battle ground state this morning, New Hampshire -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yesterday, we were talking immigration. Tomorrow, we're going to be talking health care as really important issues, but no key issues, right? The key issue is the economy.

So, you have some polls that tell us what Americans think about the president's performance when it comes to the economy.

STEINHAUSER: Exactly, the economy is still by far the number one issue. Health care is going to be important, immigration as well. But in the end of the day, the economy is what's going to win or lose this election unless something dramatic happens between now and November.

And take a look at this from the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. What do Americans think about the president's policies on the economy? Have they made a difference? Americans are divided on this one.

You could see 32 percent say what the president has been doing the last three and a half years has helped. Pretty much in equal amount says it hurt and about the same amount of people say it has made no difference.

One other number and this is interesting. People said over the last couple of weeks that I have seen indicators and 49 percent say all of these economic indicators make them more pessimistic about the economy, 43 percent say it makes them more optimistic about the economy. Neither numbers are great for the president right now -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know, here's the good news, we're going to have plenty more polls until the November elections. So --

STEINHAUSER: Yes, I think we'll have a few, yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul Steinhauser, thank you very much.


SAMBOLIN: It is 34 minutes past the hour. Whether your student loan rates go up or not could all hinge on this morning's meeting of House Republicans. House GOP leaders expected to discuss whether to extend the current rate cut. Conservatives could reject a deal over concerns how to offset the $6 billion price tag, how are we going to pay for that?

Meantime, the Senate says it has already come to agreement. Congress has until Sunday to act.

BANFIELD: It won Amy Winehouse five Grammys and it made her an international star. Listen up.


BANFIELD: Just incredible music, no matter what your genre, people knew her and liked her. On her 2006 album "Back in Black," she also sang about refusing to go to rehab and she sang about her tortured love with her once boyfriend then husband, then ex-husband.

Amy died last July at the age of 27 from alcohol poisoning. And now, a new book has Amy's father opening up about coping with the devastating loss of his daughter.

Mitch Winehouse spoke with CNN's Piers Morgan last night.


MITCH WINEHOUSE, AMY WINEHOUSE'S FATHER: He has to be responsible for the fact he introduced her to class A drugs, whether she would you have found her way to class A drugs without him, who knows. But he stood up and said it was him. So, that's who we point the finger at, not for her death though.


BANFIELD: That's interesting revelation and, of course, Mitch Winehouse was talking about the boyfriend, then husband and then ex- husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

Amy's father is going to be on "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien a little later on this morning at 8:40 Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: The Summer Olympics now only a month away. Can you believe it?

The Olympic rings were lowered from the Tower Bridge in London just in the last hour, to commemorate the 30-day countdown until the games begin. The huge rings are 82 feet wide and 36 feet tall. Each ring the size of a double decker bus. They look tiny there, don't they?

BANFIELD: Well, Tower Bridge is towering. It's huge. I cannot wait.

I wonder if there will be set ablaze in the opening ceremony. In Sydney they did that, fire and sparks blazing from the rings.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sure they have something really incredible planned.

BANFIELD: Can't wait, 30 days.

Hey, sports fans, ready? College football has a final four. And they are all cheering. The committee of university presidents approved the plan for a four-team playoff that will involve all of the major bowls that you know and you like, like Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, Sugar, everything.

The rotating national championship game part of it as well. Some critics, though, are saying it still doesn't go far enough. So the debate continues.

SAMBOLIN: It's a mysterious ad campaign if it's meant to be provocative it's got our attention. Find out whose quote meant to die.


SAMBOLIN: Come over to your TV. Good morning, Atlanta.

That is a beautiful shot as the sun rises there, 64 degrees right now. A little later, it's going to be lovely, 89 degrees and sunny.

But not everywhere -- two weather extremes thousands of miles away, putting people in harm's way right now.

Rob Marciano with the weather update for us.


As always -- or as is often the case with these kinds of things, you get one extreme in one part of the country and one in the other. If you could just kind of swap them a little bit to help each other, it would be perfect. Not the case though.

Here's Florida, northern Florida, these are leftovers from Debby with the torrential rain that came through the last four to five days. Suwannee River, one of many rivers that is in major, if not record flood stage. And so dozens of subdivisions have been flooded out, in some cases downtown areas ponding on the roadways from the rainfall itself. These rivers and the ponded areas are going to be slow to recede today.

The good news is we won't see rainfall today. Tropical depression now Debby is moving offshore, just offshore of Saint Augustine. But has been the case for this is not really the strength of it, as it is the slow movement and the rainfall. The leftover rains today will be really south of main flood zone, south of Daytona, south of Tampa and the streams will get into southern Florida.

The other big weather story is the heat and the wildfires that are burning in Colorado. These pictures now, the Waldo Canyon Fire just west of Colorado Springs has pretty much exploded. It doesn't seem to be that big when you compare it to the High Park Fire, but 6,200 acres.

The problem is it's getting closer to Colorado Springs proper. A matter of fact, nearly 10,000 people have been evacuated inside the city limits, a total of 32,000 people have been evacuated in the fire zone just to the west of Colorado Springs, 5 percent containment with this and winds have been erratic and the heat has been extreme. That's the main thing with this, is that the temperatures in Denver had set all time record highs there with 105 degrees in the past several days. The heat is going to continue in the Colorado front range and eventually the heat is going to push off to the east and engulf a lot of the central U.S. and eventually eastern U.S. as well.

BANFIELD: Hey, Rob, there's no fire almanac, is there? Is anybody predicting like -- it's June. Any thoughts about how the summer is going to be?

MARCIANO: You know, if you look at the fire season as a whole, it's not that -- really above average yet. But Colorado certainly has seen above average fire behavior so far this year mostly because of the lack of snow that we've had this past winter. That's certainly not going to help going forward.

BANFIELD: All right. Rob, thanks.

It is 43 minutes now past 6:00. Let's get you up to date top stories with Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Good morning, ladies.

A California couple in the process of adopting four children from Ghana, they have been given the all clear to leave the country. After they were thrown in jail, they were accused of child trafficking. The couple, their two biological children and four adopted siblings were stopped at the airport.

The government says it received a phone call from an anonymous tipster. The family is now allowed to leave once their visas for their newly adopted children are approved.

It's safe to say this is not how the would-be burglar drew up his plans. Police in Brookston, Massachusetts, say when the suspect tried to break into a rent a center store, his head got wedged under the store's metal door. Fifty-four-year-old Manuel Fernandez was stuck there for nine hours. He'll be charged with breaking an entering and destruction of property.

Wyndham Hotels is accused of being too hospital to hackers. The FTC slapping the chain with a lawsuit, saying lax security allowed hackers to steal credit card information from hotel guests. The breach affected 600,000 customers, racked up over $10 million in fraudulent charges.

Wyndham says these allegations are without permit, though.

Mysterious posters popping up in major U.S. cities, including Chicago and New York and Seattle, declaring who deserves to die, naming hipsters, cat lovers and crazy old aunt.

They aren't meant to offend. That's part of a campaign to fight a deadly disease. That disease isn't named, but posters are all stamped with the logo for the lung cancer alliance.

A mother in Michigan says a family dog is something amazing. He saved her 14-month-old son from drowning. She says was walking with her son, Stanley, in the yard and then he disappeared. She looked around and spotted him in the pool. At first, she thought the toddler was floating but then she noticed he was on their dog's back.

The dog kept very still and made sure Stanley didn't go under. They are both fine.

ROMANS: Oh, my gosh, pools are so scary. Dog stories of dogs saving kids, so exciting and beautiful.

BANFIELD: And there's a good reason why we don't often have video of it, because the fear and panic that ensues when someone does actually become aware. Wow!

SAMBOLIN: oh, I'm glad that has a happy ending. Thank you. Thank you. All right. Soledad O'Brien joins us with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point." SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Lots going on this morning and talk about some new developments in the race for the White House. It's now a dead heat between President Obama and Republican rival, Mitt Romney. How are they planning to get the voters interested in voting for them? We're going to talk about that.

We've got an Obama supporter, Maryland Democratic congressman, Chris Van Hollen, will be my guest. Then, from team Romney, Republican senator, Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin.

Also this morning, some new photos and a new lease on life for Aimee Copeland (ph). You guys were talking about that this morning. The 24-year-old woman battling that flesh eating disease. We're going to talk to her dad this morning and see how she's doing.

Also, we'll talk to the father of late singer, Amy Winehouse. He's talking about her notorious drug use and alcohol abuse and placing the blame on her tragic downward spiral. We'll tell you what he's saying about that.

Plus, you know, when you talk about Earvin Magic Johnson, you think basketball superstar, legend. Hall of famer, though, is becoming a legend in the music world as well. He's going to stop by and talk to us about his new network.

I go one on one with New Orleans Saints quarterback, Drew Brees. We're going to talk about the bounty scandal, NFL concussions and more. All that and much more right at the top of the hour.

SAMBOLIN: Busy, girl.

O'BRIEN: I know. That was a lot. I'm worn out.


BANFIELD: All right. I'm not sure if any of us at this table ever thought we'd see the day where we would get video into CNN that shows what you're about to see. Look very closely, might look like a receiving line to you with the queen? Yes, some very important people.

One Martin McGuinness, the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland for one who used to be a commander with the IRA. Yes. That is history in the making folks, the first pictures now of this historic visit to northern island and why this is making such news and does it really bring to an end, the troubles, the famous troubles. Live report coming at you next.


BANFIELD: Brand-new for you this morning, and let me just say this, historic. Fourteen years after the Irish Republican army and the British ended their battle, their war, something they called the troubles affectionately, the queen has come face to face with a former top commander in the IRA. Now, the first -- the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, that's him. That's second from the left, whom she just shook hand with. That may just look like a handshake to you, but this is the concrete in a peace deal, and it happened just an hour ago. Again, firsthand shake with one of the officials and the receiving line.

Second handshake, the historic handshake. Let's just say this, the man she's shaking hands with is a top commander in the IRA for some people say the better part of 30 years is thought to have been one of the people who is quite involved in the assassination of her cousin, Lord Mountbatten, back in 1979. So, that was huge.

That was personal and that was historic. Nic Robertson is live for us in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. Nic, I can't even stress how significant this moment is given the fact that it's a handshake in a place where the queen heretofore had not been able to spend the night without extraordinary security concerns.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And even today, there are still security concerns. There were clashes because the people who were sort of anti-the queen's visit have put a big banner on the hills of Belfast. And then, after that, the loyalists who support the queen went up and there were fights with them last night.

Nine policemen were killed. That's the atmosphere even today. But I mean, think of this, Martin McGuinness, for 30 years, huff (ph) the queen's reign was either trying to kill her, kill her family members, kill members of government, kill her security forces in northern island to drive the British out of Northern Ireland. That's the position that he's come from.

There've been allegations coming from Martin McGuinness that the troops, the British troops, you know, the queen is commander of the British forces, were illegally killing IRA members. You have all of this extreme, extreme history.

And now, this handshake, McGuinness is trying to show that he has reconstructed, that he's a politician, and that he's reaching out across all communities here. This is an image that's going to last in Northern Ireland and British history and the royal family's history for decades, generations, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And also, a notch in the legitimacy of (INAUDIBLE) as well the political arm of the IRA. And you did say this is not without its critics and that security is high. But let me ask you this. You know, he was said to be quoted right before this visit, when you say Martin McGuinness. He was said to have been quoted, "I am still an Irish Republican. And after I meet Queen Elizabeth, I will still be an Irish Republican."

This, in no way, should be taken as a thought that, well, I guess Northern Ireland will always be part of the U.K. There is still this desire to see from that political data (ph), isn't there? ROBERTSON: There is. But what he's saying is now that he's going to do it by political means. But of course, there are people here in this group that followed on behind the IRA, the real IRA, that still making 400-pound bombs that are found -- perhaps, a couple of them found every month here in Northern Ireland.

So, there are people still that are committed to this violent Republican cause, which is what McGuinness says and has given up. But I think -- what the queen is doing here is also showing that she is willing to forgive.

And that sends a message to all the sort of unionists here in Northern Ireland, the people who support the queen, that they also need to bring McGuinness to deny all these opponents, this real IRA people any kind of foothold to regain strength in Northern Island.

BANFIELD: Nic Robertson live in Belfast. And before we take that picture down, I don't know if you could see it, Nic. Let's pop that picture up again, because the underlying story to this remarkable history is the look on their faces. They are both smiling as is the rest of the entourage.

This could have been a formal official event, done just sort of as a perfunctory thing, but it's. It truly looks like it is a welcome event in both of their political lives. So, Nic, thank you for that. Excellent reporting, nice to know.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-five minutes past the hour. Today's "Best Advice" comes from President Obama's half sister about not being afraid to be yourself. That's coming up right after this quick break.


BANFIELD: "STARTING POINT" is just about a minute away.

SAMBOLIN: And we're going to wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." Here's Christine.

ROMANS: President Obama's half sister gave us this advice, the best advice she's ever received. Here's Auma Obama. Listen.


AUMA OBAMA, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S HALF SISTER: The best advice I've been given is to, first of all, know who you are, at least find out who you are, and know that person, love that person and then don't be afraid to be yourself.


BANFIELD: I love that.

ROMANS: Don't be afraid to be yourself. We've heard various iterations (ph) of don't be afraid to be yourself. You know, be confident in who you are.

SAMBOLIN: To figure out who you are.

ROMANS: Right. It's interesting coming from the president's half sister, because his whole -- I mean, when he's written about finding out who he is and his family.

BANFIELD: Do you know what I love about that? This is done in like the iReport style. It's caught literally in a hallway. They are completely unaware this is coming.

ROMANS: We don't to give them any notice really, because we don't want anything --

BANFIELD: Exactly.

ROMANS: You know, planned talking points.

SAMBOLIN: But you totally catch people off guard. And they were like, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what is the best advice? You know, they want to be thoughtful about it.

ROMANS: Yes. And sometimes, we don't use them if it's not --


ROMANS: If you knew the people who we decided because we thought it was just, you know --


BANFIELD: We won't air that one, just kidding. Hey, that's EARLY START, the news from "A" to "Z." Nice to have you with us. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN" starts right now.