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Israel-Hamas Conflict Escalates; Punkin Chunkin Annual Tradition; Bieber Sweeps AMAs; Preparing For Holiday Travel

Aired November 19, 2012 - 06:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Day six of the strike. Still no letup in the violence. Israel broadens its assault. Gaza refusing to give in.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: That time of year again, right? Holiday traffic jam. Will you be one of the 24 million Americans in the air this week? How the airlines are getting ready for the masses.

ROMANS: And Punkin Chunkin -- just how far will they go?

CHO: Good morning, everybody. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alina Cho.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's just about half past the hour right now.

The bombs keep dropping and the blood keeps spilling in Gaza. An Israeli missile destroying a two-story home in Gaza City, killing 11 people including four children. The conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifying overnight. Representatives of Israel and Hamas in Egypt right now for cease-fire talks. But they're not talking directly to each other.

Hamas offering up a demand in exchange for a truce, insisting Israel end its military blockade of Gaza if it wants the bombings to end.

Arwa Damon live from Gaza City this morning. What's the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, those who were killed in yesterday's airstrike that you mentioned just there were buried during midday prayers. And whilst that funeral was going on, we saw three rockets being fired. Our colleague Ben Wedeman who was at the funeral said that he saw them from that location, as well, as did the mourners, and when those rockets were being fired, right afterwards everyone began chanting, "revenge, revenge".

Shortly thereafter, we heard a number of explosions and we did hear from residents in the area where the explosions occurred that they were believed to have taken place in the areas where these various rocket launching units were firing at Israel but we have been hearing so far that no significant injuries have been brought into the main hospital. A lot of the locations targeted seem to be these fields that are in between these very densely packed residential areas. But you'll have small little pocket that is open leading off in narrow alleyways. It does seem, right now, that that is what the Israelis have been targeting so far.

But this most certainly an incredibly tense and difficult situation for those living here, as you can imagine. Most people staying well indoors. And when we drive around the streets, you really get the sense that you are in a war zone, with most people not being out and about. The vast majority of shops are shut except that the residents here have not been able to flee. They're all trying to stay safely indoors.

But as is always the case in this conflict zone and in so many others, it is those that are trying to somehow protect themselves, the innocent civilians, that always end up being the ones who are caught in the crossfire, Christine.

ROMANS: Right. And, Arwa, do you know, are the rockets still falling from Gaza into Israel?

DAMON: The ones that we saw being fired, that was about an hour, hour and a half ago, so yes they most certainly are still being fired. Hamas saying it will continue to do so until some sort of ceasefire agreement is, in fact, reached. That, of course, as you were mentioning earlier, incredibly difficult given how hardened each side of this conflict is in its position and in its demands.

But at this point in time, this most certainly is continuing from both sides, and residents here are incredibly anxious about the possibility of a ground invasion.

ROMANS: All right. Arwa Damon, glad to see you. Thank you, Arwa. CHO: President Obama praising Myanmar for its political reforms and saying if they continue on that Democratic path, America will be in its corner. He's the first sitting U.S. president ever to visit the country. He also met with activist Aung San Suu Kyi at the lakeside villa where for 15 years she was a political prisoner. The president just arrived in Cambodia, which is the final stop on his tour of Southeast Asia.

ROMANS: Here at home, more than 3,000 people rallying outside the White House in opposition to proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would help deliver oil from Canada's tar sands, rather, all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, the Obama administration delayed the decision on the controversial project until after the election.

CHO: A Texas father and his two adult children are in custody accused in a strange of bank robberies. Authorities say Ronald Scott Catt and his son Hayden robbed the banks while his daughter, 18-year-old Abby, drove the get away car. The family is believed to be responsible for two bank heists in Texas and five others in Oregon.

ROMANS: For the first time since hurricane Sandy, both tubes of New York's Hugh L. Carey Tunnel are open for the morning commute. You may know it from its former name, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. It got pounded by the storm surge caused by hurricane Sandy. Saltwater flooded out the tunnel, caused damage to its electrical and ventilation systems. On an average workday in New York, this tunnel carries about 50,000 cars. So, Alina, just considering how much water was in there a couple weeks ago, a lot of Brooklyn and Manhattan residents are very happy that it's open this morning for their commute.

CHO: I have to say, you've got to give them credit. They cleaned out the subways pretty quickly. They were 90 percent back in a couple of days.


CHO: Those commuters must be frustrated but properly very happy that it's back open this morning.

All right. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins us now with a look at the big storms lining up for the West Coast. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, several of them, going to be several days, your old stomping grounds there, Alina.

Portland to Seattle, look at the string of moisture coming in from the satellite imagery and it's dropping down into northern California, as well. So the garden hose is out and it's coming down pretty good. Portland, there you go, up I-5 across the river, Vancouver up to Seattle, this is heavy at time.

A little bit of snow in the mountains, but the snow levels generally will be rising here over the next couple days. So, it's mostly going to be a flood event here and flood watches have been posted for much of western Oregon, including parts of northern and eastern parts of Washington. Snow levels again rising. Rainier, some higher peaks will get some serious snow.

But the winds also blowing. Look at these recorded wind gusts. Yaquina Head, 98-mile-an-hour gust. Garibaldi, Oregon, 70-mile-an- hour gust. That is hurricane strength, you betcha.

And this is the time of year where they get their windstorms and they're getting it pretty good. A three-day event expected there. Mostly northern California up through say Vancouver, B.C., So Cal looks good. Much of the Intermountain West looks good as well.

A weak front through central parts of the U.S. right now, getting into say Kansas City through St. Louis, pretty weak, but it will have some showers there, and also some fog this morning across the Great Lakes if you're travelling there. Breezy across parts of the Carolinas and a little bit of shower and thunderstorm complex just offshore of South Carolina, 56 degrees high temperature. Chicago, 68 degrees and Memphis, 49 degrees. Not a bad-looking fall day in the Big Apple.

CHO: Hmm.

MARCIANO: Christine, back up to you.

CHO: That's great to hear. Have you ever carved a pumpkin?

MARCIANO: Who hasn't carved a pumpkin?

CHO: Have you ever chunked a pumpkin?

MARCIANO: I've never chunked a pumpkin though but I do enjoy the video. You're going to roll it?

ROMANS: We're going to roll it.

CHO: That's right. Check it out. That's right.

These guys have chunked pumpkins and they are gathering from all over the world to see who can hurl those pumpkins the farthest. We have "Mythbuster" co-host Kari Byron live after this quick break to tell us what this is all about.


CHO: Welcome back. It's Thanksgiving and that can only mean one thing, right? It's not turkey. We're talking about Punkin Chunkin. That's right. Punkin Chunkin. It's the annual competition where more than 100 engineering teams from around the world descend on a corn field in Delaware to see whose contraption can propel a pumpkin the farthest. They juggle, too.

For the fifth year, Science Channel will be broadcasting the competition on Thanksgiving night. And Kari Byron, she's the host of the special this Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Pacific. Kari is the co-host of Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" as well. Good morning, Kari. Great to see you.


ROMANS: All right. So for those who are not familiar with Punkin Chunkin, tell us what are the rules of the game?

BYRON: Rules of the game. Well, you need to throw a pumpkin as far as you can, with purely mechanical means. But when you give a challenge like this to backyard engineers, and crazy guerrilla scientists, they're going to come up with some wild means of throwing a pumpkin.

So we're talking about a battlefield that has air cannons, torsion machines, catapults, trebuchets, human powered machines, and they're chunking pumpkins, you know, over 4,000 feet. Almost -- you know, I think the record is over a mile and a half.

CHO: Wow. That's pretty incredible. I mean, we're looking at some of those contraptions right now. I mean, not only they do look elaborate, they look pretty expensive, and they look like they took some time to build, right?

BYRON: Oh, this is not child's play. This is not just a hobby. This is a lifestyle.

Punkin Chunkin people are so into it. They spend an entire year preparing, put a serious investment in. They really, really go for broke.

CHO: How many people are involved in this competition on an annual basis?

BYRON: You know, there's definitely over 100 teams, and those --

CHO: Wow. Oh, teams?

BYRON: -- teams can consist of -- yes, yes, 100 teams. Those teams can consist of, you know, just pits full of tons of people. But, you know, thousands of people actually come out to the event.

It is, I think, the entire state of Delaware is out in corn fields when Punkin Chunkin is going on. People come from all over the United States. I mean, there's a team from Colorado spent a week just trying to get their machine out there.

CHO: And it's a several-day event, right? It took place earlier this month?

BYRON: It's -- usually, they have three days, and three rounds, and each round there's a pumpkin thrown. But because hurricane Sandy came through, and tore up the Northeast, they only had two days for the entire event. So it was quite a fever pitch to get your pumpkins out and build.

CHO: I'm glad they finally did it. One final question, I know you can't tell us who won, but tell, tell us, I know, do -- do they win a cash prize? I know that a lot of this goes to a good cause, as well, right?

BYRON: Oh, there are so many charities that are supported by Punpkin Chunkin. It's a huge event. Most people are out there for the charity. It's quite amazing collaboration.

CHO: All right. Well, Kari Byron, you're the host of this special, 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific this Thursday on the Discovery Channel. Kari, thank you.

BYRON: Punkin Chunkin!

CHO: All right. Thanks for joining us.


ROMANS: Thanks, Alina.

Back now to our top story the Middle East. It's been a bloody 24 hours in Gaza City. Eleven civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike. Four of the dead are children.

Right now, representatives of Israel and Hamas are in Egypt for ceasefire talks. But they're not speaking to each other. Hamas demanding an end to Israel's military blockade in Gaza in order to stop the violence. President Obama praising Myanmar's rapid political reforms during his historic visit there. The president met with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi who spent 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar. He's the first sitting U.S. president to travel there and to Cambodia, as well. The president just arrived there this morning, the final stop on his three-nation tour of Southeast Asia.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the American Music Award goes to -- Justin Bieber!

ROMANS (voice-over): You know, the paper card is so 20th century, isn't it? Don't stop believing. Justin Bieber sweeps the American Music Awards, winning all three categories in which he was nominated, including the biggest award of the night, Artist of the Year. And his mom was there as his date. Sweet.

Other big winners: Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Nicki Minaj. But probably one of the oddest performances ever, I give you M.C. Hammer, Gangnam Style.


ROMANS: M.C. Hammer showing you that, indeed, parachute pants are timeless.

(LAUGHTER) ROMANS: Now, one for -- one of M.C. Hammer's biggest fan, John Berman.

CHO (voice-over): I love that.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): They're actually -- they're hammer pants.


BERMAN: That's me.

ROMANS: That really is you.

BERMAN: That's me with my friend, Hammer, at the Democratic National Convention this past year.

CHO: Oh my gosh.


BERMAN: Yes. That's Hammer right there. He wears Hammer pants, not parachute pants. There's a slight difference to what he's wearing. He is very talented. That was two logistics (ph) on the airplane.

CHO: That's right.

BERMAN: Famous hammer hit, he was very good.


BERMAN (on-camera): We got a big show coming up on "STARTING POINT." A lot going on. We are live to Gaza right now. You've seen the pictures. Anderson Cooper startled as explosions going off all around him. We will talk live to Anderson as the violence amps up this morning.

Plus, as the clock ticks towards that fiscal cliff, mayors across the country are pleading for a deal. They need it. They say the impact will be huge on their cities if Congress can't get their act together and compromise. We're going to talk to Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Republican Mayor Scott Smith from Mesa, Arizona.

And, new numbers showing nearly 50 million people in the U.S. are living below the poverty line. You didn't hear much about it on the campaign trail. Now, a new plan to cut that number in half over the next decade. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, he will join us for the details. We have that and much more on M.C. Hammer coming up on "STARTING POINT."

ROMANS (on-camera): I love it. All right. Thanks, John.

Are you going to be flying this holiday weekend? We're all going to be working this holiday week. But if you are flying, step in line with a 24 million other Americans will be in the air with you. How are airlines preparing for the masses? We've got an exclusive behind- the- scenes look for you coming up next.


CHO: Ten minutes before the top of the hour and NASCAR has crown a new Sprint Cup champion. His name is Brad Keselowski. Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson was Keselowski's only competition for the title going into Sunday's Ford Eco-Boost 400 at Homestead, Miami speedway when Johnson experienced some sort of mechanical failure.

The race for the chase was over. Keselowski came in 15th, but that was enough to take home the championship for the blue deuce, the number two Penske racing dodge.

ROMANS: All right. Thanksgiving coming up on Thursday making this one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. Excuse me. But what are the airlines doing to make sure the planes are ready to fly and help travelers on those jam packed flights reach their destinations on time? Sandra Endo has more from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.


SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot is riding on people like Michael Baumgarten as more than 24 million travelers are expected to fly this Thanksgiving week. He's a technician for United Airlines.

MICHAEL BAUMGARTEN, UNITED TECHNICIAN: The airplanes just pulled into the gate. (INAUDIBLE) ENDO: We went behind the scenes at Houston Intercontinental Airport to see what mechanics do before passengers board.

BAUMGARTEN: You walk down and it's just that. It's -- you walk down, look at all the credible --

ENDO: So, what are you checking for here?

BAUMGARTEN: Anything at all broken, leaking, if there's something wrong, in this case, you'll know about it.

ENDO (on-camera): Technicians get at least half an hour to check every plane that lands. They inspect the entire plane to make sure everything is OK before the next flight.

(voice-over) United is anticipating a peak load of more than 600 flights through Houston the day before Thanksgiving. And passengers want them running safely and on time. A lot of times as a passenger we hear, oh, your flight's not ready because of a maintenance issue. What does that mean for us?

BAUMGARTEN: If the airplane is not all safe and legal, it can't go.

ENDO: The safety checks are inside and out. On United's new 787 Dreamliner, technicians examine the electronics.

LARRY THOMPSON, UNITED MAINTENANCE SUPERVISOR: We're just going to oversee problems we've had in the past, talking about things had happened again (ph) in the future.

ENDO: And every four years or so, every plane goes through a major safety overhaul. What are they working on here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a 757 that will completely open the airplane up, inspect everything, replace a lot of components, lubricate everything, put it back together.

ENDO: Most mechanical problems are logged in flight so base crews know what's wrong before the plane even lands, but it's not always a quick fix.

BAUMGARTEN: We do the best we can. They didn't build it in a day. We can't always fix it, you know, in just five minutes. But we always get it fixed.


ENDO (on-camera): And take a look at this line here at the nation's seventh busiest airport. We've seen a line like this since four o'clock this morning. And if you look over here, the ticket agents are hard at work. Airlines have brought in extra staff to take care of the increased passenger load.

And, unfortunately, travelers will have to go through this hassle all over again, because actually, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, is the busiest travel day of the year -- Christine. ROMANS: Oh, wow. Pack your patience, everyone. No matter what they do on the airline end, Sandra, bring your patience with you to the airport. That's my best advice.

CHO: So glad we're working. We don't have to deal with that.

ROMANS: No kidding. No kidding.

CHO: All right. Today's "Best Advice" after this quick break.


CHO: Welcome back. As always, we end the show with today's "Best Advice."

ROMANS: You know, we always ask our guests here to tell us the best advice they've ever received. And today we hear from singer, actress, and "American Idol" winner, Jordin Sparks. Listen.


JORDIN SPARKS, SINGER, ACTRESS, AND "AMERICAN IDOL": The best advice I've ever received is always -- always be aware of other people's time. Being on time is kind of a rarity in my industry, but at the same time, when people are, people take notice. And it's really important that you know that other people have things that they need to get done, and places they need to be, and things, too.

And then, if you're on time, then you don't have to worry about (INAUDIBLE) and figure other stuff either. So, always be on time and always respect those that came before you in your -- you know, whatever field you're going into.


ROMANS: Always be on time. It is 58 minutes and 40 seconds on the East which means we're on time.

CHO: We are on time.


ROMANS: That's EARLY START for us. I'm Christine Romans in for John Berman this morning.

CHO: Good morning -- have a great morning. I'm Alina Cho. We throw it over to "STARTING POINT" now where John Berman and Brooke Baldwin are standing by.