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Bombings and Bloodshed Escalate in Gaza; Historic Trip to Myanmar; Police Warn Sandy Victims About Scammers

Aired November 19, 2012 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Mayhem in the Mideast. Day six of the fighting. Dozens are dead and there's no sign either side is backing down.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: History making in Myanmar. President Obama's six-hour visit marks the beginning of a new era. But not everyone is celebrating.

ROMANS: And Vice President Biden tours the battered New Jersey shore with a promise of unwavering federal support.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

CHO: Good morning, Christine. Good morning, everybody.

I'm Alina Cho. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East. Thanks so much for being with us on this very, very early Monday morning.

ROMANS: It is early.

But up first, the bombings and the bloodshed on the rise in Gaza. The last day has been the deadliest. Eleven civilians, including four children, killed by an Israeli missile that leveled a two-story home in Gaza City. There's no letup in sight to the violence. The representatives of Israel and Hamas are in Egypt separately for peace talks.

Hamas issuing its demand for a cease-fire. They want Israel to end a long-running military blockade of Gaza immediately.

More on the carnage from the last 24 hours, Arwa Damon is in Gaza City.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The large slab of concrete and mangled metal finally gives way. Buried beneath it, another lifeless body. It's the second child we've seen. There was also a baby.

Others in the neighborhood say the blast killed all 10 people who lived here. Israel says it was targeting Yehiya Bia, who heads a Hamas rocket launch unit. People we spoke with said they never heard of him. This was a Al-Dalou family home. (on camera): People here are telling us that so far those who have been killed in this strike have been women and children. And they have not been able to find any survivors. Just moments ago, from that back corner, they did pull out the body of a tiny child. An over here, there's another frantic effort under way.

(voice-over): Tempers easily flare as frustration and anger mount.

"She's my uncle's wife," this young man shouts. Rage coupled with sorrow etched across his face.

This is where she lived. Her elderly body finally dug up and carried away.

There are no air raid sirens or bunkers in Gaza. This strike came with no warning.

The rescue efforts are not always so hopeless. Not far from here, just the day before, 11-month-old Ahmed and his 4-year-old sister Shehata (ph), both survived a multiple missile strike on their home.

"When the roof collapsed, it somehow formed a protective shelter over us," the children's mother Safa (ph) says. "For 45 minutes, I thought I would suffocate. My leg was stuck. People could hear us screaming but they couldn't do anything," she tells us. In between her cries, fears that her children were dead.

This is what the building looks like now. The rubble that was cleared to save the family of 10, piled back into the lot that was their home.

"I will never forget what happened," she says. "I will die imagining it."

"I can't believe it. I can't believe these are my children. I tell myself, they are not my children. I can't imagine how they survived. I feel like I'm not myself. I can't believe that I am alive, talking to you, breathing."

She tells us she wants revenge. But more than that, she wants peace. She says, there is no good that comes with war.


ROMANS: Arwa filed that up for us. She joins us live on the phone now from Gaza City.

Arwa, what's the latest on the conflict this morning?

DAMON (via telephone): Well, our Ben Wedeman went down to the funeral for the members of that family you just saw in that story, and while he was at the funeral, they heard two loud roars across the street, (INAUDIBLE) across the sky, a third outgoing rocket they saw going overhead, and mourners were chanting "revenge, revenge".

So far, the Israeli Defense Forces are saying that over 560 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the conflict began and the Israelis have struck approximately 1,350 targets in Gaza.

So certainly at this point in time seems to be an escalating conflict and finding any sort of cease-fire will have all sorts of diplomatic efforts under way. But so far, none of them successful.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is in the Middle East to cover the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas. And during a live report from Gaza city last night, Anderson got to experience firsthand what the Palestinians have been coping with for the last six days.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm like -- also two media centers.


COOPER: Whoa. That was a rather large explosion. That occurred -- just look out here. I can't actually see where the impact of that was. It's actually set off a number of car alarms.

But that was probably the largest explosion that we've heard just in the past -- really in the past hour. There have been a number of explosions in the past hour or two. But that one -- that one was pretty loud.

We actually -- the rocket --


ROMANS: All right, CNN's Wolf Blitzer is also covering the conflict from Jerusalem. Stay with CNN throughout the day for the very latest breaking news from the region -- Alina.

CHO: Also this morning, President Obama in the midst of an historic three-nation tour of Southeast Asia. Overnight, he was in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. This is the first time that a sitting U.S. president has visited that country. Mr. Obama met democracy activist-turned-lawmaker Aung San Suu Kyi and says the country's made great strides toward democracy in an incredibly short amount of time.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to make a pledge to the people of this country, that I am confident we can keep. And that is if we see continued progress towards reform, our bilateral ties will grow stronger and we will do everything we can to help ensure success.


CHO: He was on the ground there for six hours. Suu Kyi struck a note of caution, warning of the risks of a mirage of success in Myanmar.

CNN's Dan Lothian is traveling with the president. He will have a live report just ahead. Vice President Joe Biden gets a good look at what superstorm Sandy left behind in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. He met with first responders who lost their homes. He also checked out the battered coastline by helicopter yesterday. Biden, like President Obama, vowed to help the area make a complete recovery.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the president's made it clear that we're going to do everything we can to make sure that the corps is fully funded, that we have -- FEMA has what it needs, and that all the programs that exist under the auspices of the federal government are not only continue to exist, but are funded, so that we can make sure that -- that this area of the country is fully, fully, fully restored.


ROMANS: The damage on the ground is just shocking when you look at it from the air, Alina. It is just staggering. You can see just how fierce the storm was.

About 600 customers still have no electricity in New Jersey over the weekend, three weeks now after the storm hit.

CHO: I am alive. That's the message one of at least 11 men injured in that oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico wanted to send his family. We're also getting a look at the explosion the very moment it happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED) look at that. Something just blew up.



CHO: A TV crew was filming a sport fishing show off the coast of Venice, Louisiana, on Friday when that explosion happened way in the distance there. Divers scouring the sea floor found the body of one man who worked on the platform. Another worker is still unaccounted for. Four men suffered major burns, two others are in critical condition, another in serious condition. The cause of that explosion is still under investigation.

ROMANS: Now to the latest and former CIA Director David Petraeus' sex scandal. Mistress Paula Broadwell returning to her North Carolina home. Cameras were waiting as she and her husband pulled in yesterday. Her husband Scott told reporters he had no comment right now.

Meanwhile, after Petraeus' testimony before Congress, a big battle is brewing over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's declassified talking points on the attack in Benghazi, specifically why the role of terrorism wasn't reflected in them. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says she'll investigate why the terrorist role wasn't included.

Still in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press", Feinstein said she was sure the White House didn't change the language in those talking points.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: With the allegation that the White House changed those talking points, that is false. There's only one thing that was changed. And I checked into this. I believe it to be absolute fact. And that was the word consulate was changed to mission.

That's the only change that anyone in the White House made. And I have checked this out.


ROMANS: Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of a cover- up and want ambassador rice to testify before Congress.

CHO: It's going to be one tough confirmation hearing.

All right. Coming up, President Obama on his way to Cambodia right now, after an historic stop in Myanmar earlier today. So, did the president accomplish what he set out to do there? Our Dan Lothian is traveling with the president. We will check in with him live, next.


CHO: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 13 minutes after the hour.

President Obama making history in his first post-election trip overseas. He's the first sitting president ever to visit Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma. Overnight, Mr. Obama met with pro- democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi at the same lakeside villa where she spent 15 years under house arrest.

The president also spoke at the University of Yangon, citing the country's remarkable journey toward democracy.

CNN's Dan Lothian is traveling with the president. He is live in Yangon, Myanmar, with more.

Dan, good morning.

It seemed in the president's speech that he said Myanmar is taking steps toward democracy -- but still a long way to go.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, what you saw from the president was really a careful balance here, a balancing act. This was not a time for the president to essentially celebrate all that's right, although he did talk about some big steps that have been taken over the last two years.

Remember, this is a country that has been in the grip of military rule, but that has changed over the last two years. Some political prisoners have been released. There've been parliamentary elections.

And so, the president wanted to highlight some of what has changed. Some of that progress that's taken place. But after meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi at the home where she was held under house arrest for some 15 years, and then also after meeting with the newly elected prime minister, the president came here speaking to a large audience of students, and some government workers, and others from the community, and he laid out what more needs to be done.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The right of people to assemble together must now be fully respected. Instead of being stifled, the veil of media censorship must continue to be lifted. And as you take these steps, you can draw on your progress.


LOTHIAN: Now, as you know, there's been a lot of criticism about whether the presidential visit was too much too soon. Secretary Clinton came here late last year. U.S. ambassador was reinstated here, and some felt that that was enough, because there's still a lot of major issues that need to be addressed here.

But President Obama saying that if you wait for perfect democracy before you act, it will take an awful long time -- Alina.

CHO: The president, Dan, is headed to Cambodia, as we were saying. What's next for him in the next couple of days?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, this is sort of building on what the president has been talking about, this strategy over the last couple of years, and that's a rebalance, as they call it, focus more on Asia- Pacific region. The president sees a lot of opportunities here in business, trade, providing jobs back at home, also, military to military with these countries.

And so, it's an area of opportunity and growth not only for the United States, but also for this region, and we'll hear the president talk about that when he meets with other Asian leaders from the region in Cambodia tomorrow.

CHO: Dan, always great to see you. Dan Lothian traveling with the president -- Dan, thank you.

ROMANS: Senator John McCain says the U.S. must use its influence to try to bring an end to the violence along the border between Israel and Gaza, and he knows, John McCain says he knows just the man to do it. McCain says former President Bill Clinton should get involved. When he was president, Mr. Clinton held negotiations at Camp David between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Here's what McCain had to say about it on CBS' "Face the Nation."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Try to find someone, even as high- ranking, frankly, as former President Bill Clinton, to go and be the negotiator. I know he'd hate me for saying that but we need a person of enormous prestige and influence to have these parties sit down together as an honest broker.


CHO: All right. The latest recount in Florida shows Congressman Allen West trailing his Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy by nearly 2,000 votes. West, a Tea Party favorite, is trying to keep this seat representing Florida's 18th congressional district. Unofficial numbers posted on Sunday evening on the Florida secretary of state's Web site give Murphy an edge, 166,257 to 164,353 for West.

ROMANS: All right. 2016 is a long way away, but Florida Senator Marco Rubio sure looked like a presidential candidate during a visit to Iowa. Rubio appeared Saturday night at a big fund-raiser for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. In his speech, Rubio discussed the future of the Republican Party and issued a host -- and addressed a host of issues including tax reform, the national debt, energy and immigration policy.

CHO: Christine, you were in Iowa giving a speech, as well, weren't you? Did you run into each other?

ROMANS: No, but they were all buzzing about how he was going to be there and Democrats are saying look, here we go again. Republicans are saying Marco Rubio. So, already in Iowa they were talking about the precursor to 2016.

CHO: Would have been a good sighting for you.


CHO: Meanwhile, how about this for a sighting? Justin Bieber took top honors Sunday night at the American Music Awards, winning the artist of the year award, along with two other trophies, even brought his mom onstage to celebrate. I got to love someone who does that.

Nicki Minaj won for favorite rap hip-hop album and favorite rap hip hot artist. Check out the hair.

Taylor Swift kept up her streak, winning her fifth consecutive award for favorite country artist.

And you can definitely call Carly Rae Jepsen new artist of the year.

ROMANS: All right. It's about 19 minutes past the hour this morning. We're getting an early read on your local news making national headlines.

From the "Odessa American" in Texas where federal investigators say there's no sign of any mechanical malfunction in last week's deadly train wreck that killed four veterans on a float. The National Transportation Safety Board says the alarm system, the gates were working properly when a train pulling a trailer full of -- a truck, rather, pulling a trailer full of veterans and their waves entered the crossing eight seconds after the lights and bells activated, the 84- car train rammed into the trailer at 62 miles an hour. Investigators will be on the scene tomorrow crying to recreate the deadly collision.

CHO: How about this? From "The San Francisco Examiner", reporting on a movement to ban public nudity in the city by the bay. It seems like a lot of men there are going bare these days and the city's Castro District and that has some locals very upset.

The city's board of supervisors will meet tomorrow. If it passes the ban would find a first offender up to $100. Second violation comes with a $200 fine. For a third offense, it would be $500 and up to a year in jail. The measure being debated includes exceptions for women to take off their tops.

ROMANS: Think of the chilly temps, you know? I'm just saying.

CHO: I can only imagine.

All right. So, for an expanded look at all of our top stories, head to our blog

ROMANS: All right, you ready for it everybody? Are you ready for it? Black Friday is almost here, the biggest shopping day of the year. Bah, humbug.

CHO: I know what you're saying. You say this every year.

ROMANS: I say this every year. This is when I start to get real grumpy.

But if some Walmart workers have their way, it's going to be one of the messiest, too. We're going to tell you why, next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Twenty-four minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START this morning.

Minding your business, U.S. stock futures are higher right now. Congressional leaders came out of their fiscal cliff meeting with President Obama Friday, sounding pretty encouraged the deal could be reached. That optimism is helping push markets up today. But the Dow and NASDAQ, S&P 500, in case you're watching, are down about 5 percent since Election Day because of concerns about that fiscal cliff and just how and when it will get fixed.

Added pressure on energy prices also this morning because of unrest in the Middle East. Oil prices are higher because concerns the fighting between Israel and Gaza may expand and disrupt oil supplies in the region. Light sweet crude oil prices up about 1 percent.

And Walmart -- Walmart on the offensive against a workers walkout planned for Black Friday. Walmart filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that says the union-backed OUR Walmart group didn't file the right paperwork to picket during past demonstrations.

OUR Walmart says it has 1,000 protests planned across the country later this week. Walmart plans to open stores for Black Friday at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.

And, Alina, I'm telling you, all these retailers are calling it Black Friday creep. Black Friday is now Black Thursday and they're hoping that -- I mean, maybe you have two cups of coffee after you have your turkey and you run out and spend money.

CHO: Two cups -- and forget -- there are people in line already in Florida. They're having Thanksgiving dinner online outside in tents.

ROMANS: You know, I think it's crazy. I think it's crazy.

CHO: I know you do. I actually think it's a little crazy, too. But, you know, some of those deals are pretty alluring.

ROMANS: They want you to buy other stuff that they're going to make money on, you know. If you have to be a super, super human shopper to be able to not get taken advantage of on Black Friday.

CHO: All right. Coming up, Israel's calling it a game changer in warfare. The new Iron Dome that's literally shooting down incoming rockets midair, with 90 percent accuracy. The amazing technology behind it, coming up next.


CHO: Day six of the strikes, and still no letup in the violence. Israel broadens its assault. Gaza refusing to give in.

ROMANS: Plus, a game-changer. Israel's new missile defense system being put to the test. We'll show it to you coming up.

CHO: And Sandy scams. Just wait till you hear how some tow truck drivers are doing to victims of the superstorm.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans -- bright and early this morning for you.

CHO: That's right. Good morning, everybody, I'm Alina Cho. It's 5:30 in the East.

And we begin with this. The bombs keep flying and the blood of civilians keep spilling in the Middle East. The conflict in Gaza City escalating overnight. An Israeli missile taking out a two-story home, 11 people were killed, including four children. The attacks continuing this morning. Representatives of Israel and Hamas in Egypt separately for ceasefire negotiations.

Hamas offering up its demand for a truce insisting Israel end its military blockade of Gaza if it wants the bombing to stop.

Arwa Damon joining us by phone from Gaza City this morning. Meanwhile, Arwa, Israel saying that Gaza needs to let up its violence first so neither side appears to be giving in. What is the latest from the region?

DAMON (via telephone): Well, opposition is certainly being maintained by both. Neither at this point saying that they do want to back down. You're speaking about the stalemate that was killed there during the funeral for that family.

We thought three rockets being fired from Gaza City, and our Ben Wedeman who is at the funeral itself said that after they heard the third outgoing rocket, mourners were chanting for revenge and all the Israeli defense forces are saying that 550 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel and that the Israelis have struck approximately 1,350 targets in this area, one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

We also saw a strike just a short while ago that seems to have been targeting one of the locations where the rockets were fired from. Residents in the area telling CNN that the Israeli strikes hit an open field. And to just give you an idea of the lay of the land here, while it is very densely populated, there are small, open areas in between some of these narrow alleyways.

And that is where many of these rocket launching units will fire from. And then, of course, there's the retaliatory strikes from the Israeli side. But again, as is always the case, not just in this conflict but in all conflicts of this nature, it is constantly the civilians that are paying the price.

CHO: And if those negotiations continue, obviously, so do the rockets and the missiles, Arwa, as you point out. I know you have covered this region for quite some time. You've made many tricks there. I'm just curious to know, from your standpoint, how does this differ right now in terms of mood and atmosphere from your earlier trips?

DAMON: Well, it differs, first and foremost, on the one level, but the dynamics of the Middle East have changed so drastically in the last two years since the Arab spring began. The last time that the Israeli defense forces launched a war in Gaza (ph) was back in 2008-2009. And back then, for example, they could staunchly rely on Mubarak's Egypt as an ally.

Right now, of course, Egypt is being led by a Muslim Brotherhood government, very, very close to Hamas, itself. That has changed the dynamics here. But what always stays the same is the sense amongst the people in Gaza that this is somehow their fate. This is the cycle of violence that they have constantly have to deal with for decades right now.

And many of them, although, they are incredibly enraged at the ongoing strikes by Israelis, they're enraged by the way that they feel that they're constantly being treated, being humiliated, being forced to live in these conditions. There's still this overwhelming desire to just somehow see an end to it all.

So many people we were talking to saying that, in the long-term, all that they really want to see is peace, but that of course, is what remains to be ever elusive when it comes to ongoing conflicts between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

CHO: Let's hope that they can reach a ceasefire in the coming days. U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, as you know, Arwa, among those headed to the region right now. Arwa Damon live by phone from Gaza City. Arwa, thank you -- Christine.

ROMANS: Alina, as the fighting intensifies, Israel has a new line of defense, the Iron Dome system. One of the men in charge of it says the missile defense technology has picked off hundreds of rockets coming from Gaza, but he also says it has its flaws. Here's Fred Pleitgen.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A kill (ph) that possibly saves lives on the ground. This video shows an iron dome missile intercepting a rocket fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv on Sunday. The defense system had just been installed at Israel's largest city a few hours earlier.

Several days into the conflict, it's already clear the iron dome is having a big impact picking off hundreds of rockets. I got a tour of the Israel aircraft industry's plant that assembled the air defense system. Dr. Israel Oznovich (ph) is one of those in charge. One key element is an advanced radar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The radar such as locates tracks and intercepts and guides the intercepting missiles within several seconds, few seconds within the launching time.

PLEITGEN: It's extremely hard to shoot down short-distance rockets like the ones coming out of Gaza in part because they're not in the air long enough for older radar systems to lock onto them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The target is moving extremely fast. When you want to intercept it, you have to work -- you have to move faster with more agility, with more maneuvering power relative to your target.

PLEITGEN: The iron dome was only put into service in 2011. With breakthroughs in technology, it can detect and shoot down multiple targets in midair. But it isn't a perfect solution. This is the aftermath of a rocket strike in the town of Ashkelon.

(on-camera) One of the rockets that hit Ashkelon came here and hit this car port, and as you can see, did substantial damage to the car, as well. The iron dome system has been billed as a game changer in this conflict. But as hits like this one show, it cannot intercept all the rockets that are coming at Israel from Gaza.

(voice-over) Still, Israel's military says it's very happy with the performance of the interceptor system.

MAJ. ARYE SHALICAR, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: -- down, usually down. Usually, these rockets are exactly the ones who are launched from the Gaza Strip from terrorist factions towards the biggest cities where you have more people living. We usually down them, but it's not a 100 percent solution unfortunately. PLEITGEN: And so the engineers at the assembly plant are working extra hours to assemble more iron dome batteries for immediate deployment.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Ashkelon, Israel.


ROMANS: So, what does this cost? Let me dig into the costs of the system for you. It costs $62,000 every time a missile is fired from the iron dome. In 2011, the Israeli military said the system had a 70 percent success rate. And the United States has allocated about $275 million for Israel's iron dome system.

CHO: President Obama addressing the people of Myanmar during his historic visit there.


CHO (voice-over): In a speech at the University of Yangon, he praised the country for its remarkable journey toward democracy and said further reforms are needed. He's the first sitting U.S. president to ever visit the country. He also met with activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, at the home where for 15 years she was a political prisoner.

ROMANS (voice-over): Here in the U.S., more than 3,000 people rallying outside the White House in opposition to proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. That pipeline would help deliver oil from Canada's tar sands all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, the Obama administration delayed a decision on the controversial project, delayed it until after the election.

CHO: Listen to this story, a family affair in Texas, where a father and his two adult children are accused in a string of bank robberies. Authorities say Ronald Scott (ph) and his 20-year-old son Hayden robbed the banks while they're daughter, 18-year-old Abby, drove the getaway car. The family is believed to be responsible for two bank heists in Texas and five others in Oregon.

ROMANS: Believe it or not, tow trucks are in huge demand after hurricane Sandy.


ROMANS (on-camera): But police, Alina, police are warning folks to watch out because they could be ripped off by some of them. We're going to explain coming up.


ROMANS: A look at the president, Air Force One, he's arriving in Cambodia, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He's on this Asia trip. So interesting, you know, the White House saying that the United States is going to engage -- re-engage in the region. Fascinating, too, because you know, China is a raising economy, a rising power with huge influence in North Korea and all of the important -- the important, you know, situations in the region that the U.S. also has interests in.

So, this is the United States and a president that has been re-elected choosing as its first big foreign trip to take Asia as the place where it's going to be. And you can see the dignitaries arriving there to greet the president as Air Force One lands in Cambodia. So, this is the next stop, of course, after Myanmar for the president and his team this morning.

Again, these are live pictures of Air Force One. Air Force One on the tarmac there in Cambodia.

All right in other news. New York's Hugh L. Carey Tunnel will be open for business this morning three weeks after getting flooded out by the storm surge caused by hurricane Sandy. Both tubes of what used to be called the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel will open at 6:00 a.m., just in time for the Monday morning commuters. It's almost impossible to believe, but you look at those pictures and you see how flooded this tunnel was, and that it can be open now.

They've been pumping it dry now for days. On an average work day, this tunnel carries about 50,000 cars, and certainly, a lot of people going between Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn are going to be happy to be able to use it again today, Alina.

CHO (on-camera): That's right. That's 50,000 happy commuters. All right, Christine. It's been hard enough for many New York and New Jersey residence to deal with the damage caused by hurricane Sandy. The storm destroyed homes, took out power, and forced people to wait on line for hours just to get some gas.

Now, detectives are warning those same hurricane victims to be on the lookout for scammers driving tow trucks. Our Susan Candiotti has more.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tow trucks are in huge demand after Sandy. And police are keeping an eye on them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are still cars sitting out here. They got to go.

CANDIOTTI: Since the storm, they've been clearing the way for emergency vehicles, getting rid of destroyed cars, hauling away boats swept into the middle of the street. But as police learned in Katrina, disasters are prime territory for shady operators to steal cars, targeting older models that can be sold at junk yards without paperwork, 500 bucks a pop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, there's no writing on the truck. So, I'm even more curious about this guy.

CANDIOTTI: We shadowed the New York police auto crime unit, spot- checking towers, making sure they're towing the line.

DET. JOSEPH WEDGE, NYPD AUTO CRIMES: A truck that isn't marked. They might not have the proper equipment on the truck, not proper documents, unlicensed drivers, not paperwork.

CANDIOTTI: At night, it's often easier to get away with illegal tows.

WEDGE: It's pitch black out here. You can't see anything. It's very dark. They can sneak in and out of neighborhoods, grab cars and leave.

CANDIOTTI (on-camera): Along the way, we stop at this lot where a lot of tow trucks have dropped off their vehicles. You see the markings here? It has to do with insurance company, and you can see the condensation that's still inside this car. Over here, this SUV, is filled with muck from the ocean. What a mess inside that engine. And this car still has water in the headlights. Let's give eight a shake so you can see it.

(voice-over) Most are totaled. Some will be auctioned for parts, but others will be sold often without the buyer knowing it was in a flood and that can be a safety hazard.

DET. CHRISTOPHER CONNOLLY, NYPD AUTO CRIMES UNIT: Anything from electrical problems to not running correctly, all your lights. Just everything. Not performing. There's a reason why the insurance company totaled it out and didn't fix it. It's not worth fixing.

CANDIOTTI: For now, police are monitoring the lot to make sure cars don't disappear without permission. In Seaside Heights, New Jersey, authorities seized records of one towing company. Prosecutors are investigating whether the business improperly hauled away storm damaged boats and cars and overcharged owners to get them back. After several attempts, we were unable to reach the company for comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, there's a (INAUDIBLE) I believe van or an SUV. You want to see --

CANDIOTTI: No trouble on this patrol. New York police hope their efforts keep illegal tow trucks off the road.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, New York.


CHO: And to find out thank you help the victims of superstorm Sandy, head to our website,

ROMANS: And I think you'll see used car prices rising.


ROMANS: A lot of used cars sitting on the lot have, you know, just outward-ding damage, you know, and people want a nice, you know, clean, so I think you'll see used car prices are going to rise a little bit.

All right. The mile high city has got a sky high visitor. Up next, some serious objects (ph) buzzing above Denver. It's got folks scratching their heads. Is there an earthly explanation?

CHO: Or not.


ROMANS: It's about 50 minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to date on the morning's top stories.


ROMANS (voice-over): Eleven civilians are dead in Gaza City, killed by an Israeli air strike. Four of the dead are children. Right now, representatives of Israel and Hamas are in Egypt for ceasefire talks. Hamas demanding an end to Israel's military blockade in Gaza in order to end the violence.

Israelis insisting they'll finish the job with a ground offensive if air strikes don't end the conflicts.

CHO (voice-over): President Obama praising Myanmar's rapid political reforms during his historic visit there. The first sitting U.S. president to travel to that country. Mr. Obama also met with fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest in Myanmar. She expressed concern about a, quote, "mirage of success" in Myanmar's reforms.

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

ROMANS: That's cool. 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 on stage.

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: That is cool.

CHO: I like it.


ROMANS (on-camera): I do, too. I like it, too.

CHO (on-camera): I like it. You know, I was at the Madonna concert earlier last week, actually, and he flew in from Frankfurt to perform with Madonna. Madonna is a huge fan of Psy.

ROMANS: Excellent, all right.

CHO: Worldwide sensation.

And how about this? Mysterious objects seen buzzing around the skies above Denver have some people talking UFO. That's right. Local TV station says a man gave him that home video that he claims shows unidentified flying objects zigzagging over the mile-high city. It is unidentified and it is a flying object, so that's accurate.

Cameraman who wishes to remain anonymous says the UFOs have been appearing several times a week, usually between noon and 1:00 p.m. So, the station set up their own camera at that time. And guess what? They got a similar result.


CHO: It's a mystery.

ROMANS: A mystery or someone shooting traps in the backyard. Who knows? Meteorologist, Rob Marciano, joins us now. Rob, what's your guess?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, I don't know. Can a camera actually smoke marijuana? I know it's legal out there now.


MARCIANO: I mean, that may cause some funky things to happen. Anyway, further scientific investigation required. Good morning, girls.

ROMANS: Good morning.

MARCIANO: Looking at some showers across parts of the midsection of the country and also some dense fog from Detroit back through much of the lower end, Chicago up through Milwaukee. Temperatures run out of few phrasing mark (ph), and it's kind of thick and soupy. So, some slow travel there. But these showers will be fairly light right now.

But the big storms are lining out west. Portland to Seattle, it's just a mess this morning. Flood watches are out. (INAUDIBLE) will be rising. Some wind with this also. We have winds nearly 100 miles an hour along the Oregon coastline there, Yaquina Head 98-mile-an-hour wind gusts and Garibaldi 79 mile-an-hour wind gusts, and it's breezy this morning.

Snow levels will be rising. Rainier is going to get a ton of it here, but it's mostly above the mountain passes. So, that's not going to be much of an issue. So, mostly in the form of rain and we've got flood watches that are out, three, four, five, six, seven or eight inches across parts of the coast range possible here.

It's going to be a three-day event coming at you. So, intense situation there. So Cal looking good. Much of the midsection of the country fairly dry. The northeast dry, as well. Forty-nine degrees expected in New York City for a high temperature, 54 degrees in D.C., and 66 degrees, not a bad looking day, in Atlanta.

I think maybe more disturbing we're seeing M.C. Hammer do that Gangnam style.


MARCIANO: But the parachute pants are back.

ROMANS: I was going to say, I just love to see a picture of you in your parachute pants.

CHO: Oh, you know you wore them, Rob.

MARCIANO: Absolutely.


CHO: Oh, yes. Hey, did I see you in a Formula One car recently?

MARCIANO: Yes, yes. Austin had the first Formula One race in like five years, and I got to take a test ride around that track a couple of weeks ago.

CHO: Yes. You look right at home. All right, Rob. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: The wind and the pair (ph) and then his parachute pants.

But first, President Obama may not be impressed, but she is (INAUDIBLE). Up next, the story behind this White House photo, and that face.


ROMANS: Welcome back. It's 58 minutes after the hour here with Alina Cho. Take a look at this top CNN trends on the web this morning.

A White House photo of President Obama, and teen USA gymnast, McKayla Maroney have gone viral. And clearly, they are both not impressed. Maroney became an internet mean (ph) when she flashed her not impressed face on the victory podium at the London Olympics after winning a silver.

That photo became a worldwide sensation, one that reached all the way to the White House. Maroney says the new photo was the president's idea.


CHO: All right. We'll take that at face value. New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, providing some comic relief from superstorm Sandy on "Saturday Night Live." Have a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, is there anything while you're here you'd like to say to the people of New Jersey?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: WELL, SURE. If I could, I'd like to thank some people. I'd like to thank the Red Cross and first responders. I'd also like to give a special thanks to my lovely wife, Mary Pat Christie, who's here tonight who put up with a husband who has smelled like a wet fleece for the past three weeks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have been wearing that fleece a lot.

CHRISTIE: Oh, yes. It's basically fused to my skin at this point.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I have seen you wearing suits.

CHRISTIE: Oh yes, but I wear them over the fleece. I'm going to die in this fleece.


CHRISTIE: But that's OK. It's a good fleece.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a good fleece.

CHRISTIE: Stop saying things I've already said.



CHRISTIE: I also would like to not thank the following. I do not thank any of the stupid mayors who ignored my evacuation orders. You're idiots! And when you ignore me, it makes you look like a real Seth Meyers.


CHRISTIE: I'm speaking here.


CHRISTIE: I also do not want to thank the reporters that put themselves in danger, you know, by walking into the middle of the hurricane with their cameras. We don't need you to tell us there's a hurricane. We have windows!



ROMANS: He's funny.

CHO: He is.

ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.