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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Deadly Winter Storm Batters Northeast; Tributes to Fallen Firefighters; Top Five Sports Moments of 2012

Aired December 27, 2012 - 06:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 30 minutes after the hour on a Thursday morning. So glad you're with us. I'm Alina Cho.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Drew Griffin. John and Zoraida are off. It's 29, almost 30 minutes after the hour.

A dangerous winter storm pummeling the Northeast right now and torturing holiday travelers. Just take a look at that live radar. That's the culprit, covering just about all of New England. Six states right now under winter storm warnings -- Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Central Maine could see up to two feet of snow today. Everyone else is facing a foot or more. And heavy winds could do a lot of damage, 1,700 flights had to be canceled yesterday, hundreds more already off the boards this morning. The number most certainly will rise.

Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider tracking the extreme weather from the CNN Center in Atlanta. But, first, let's go live to Ines Ferre in snowy Syracuse, New York, with a frosted CNN hat to top it all off -- Ines.

INES FERRE, CNN CORREPONDENT: Drew, good morning.

Yes, it's still snowing steadily here and Governor Cuomo has asked people to avoid non-essential travel. And here's why -- poor visibility and the possibility of ice.

I want to show you the conditions on some of the roads here in downtown Syracuse. Plows have been coming by here throughout the whole morning. We saw one just a few minutes ago but the snow is still accumulating. What you see here on the side is actually snow from this snowfall, which is expected to leave, about a foot of snow when all is said and done. And also some other snowstorms in the past couple of days, some 13 inches that has accumulated from other snowstorms.

Now, officials here say that Syracuse is used to getting snow. One official saying to us that Syracuse is a resilient place. But, of course, the challenge is when the snow comes in such a short amount of time. It's been almost two years since Syracuse has seen a foot of snow all in one shot -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: And it looks like people are staying off the streets. I don't see a lot of car traffic at least.

FERRE: There is not a lot of car traffic and also school is out this week and a lot of people are on vacation.

GRIFFIN: Good. Well, thanks, Ines, for braving the elements all morning long out there.

CHO: Two important tips if you're planning to travel today: be careful and be informed. That's right. Conditions so bad in parts of the Midwest, the NBA's Indiana Pacers actually had to postpone last night's home game against the Chicago Bulls and that hardly ever happens, if you know anything about sports.

Getting around the country today and the rest of the week could be a challenge -- a big one.

So we want to get straight to the CNN weather center in Atlanta. Meteorologist Bonnie Schneider tracking the storm.

So, Bonnie, last night in New York City, it was the howling wind that really kept a lot of people up in addition to the snow and the rain. What's it like out there this morning?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're still going to look at the wind. If you're in a high-rise building, don't forget, Alina, the winds are stronger the higher you go up so if you are really up high I'm sure you heard the winds blowing.

Speaking of wind, we also have wind-driven snow and there was a huge problem where the blizzard was blowing across the Midwest. I want to show these totals almost two feet in Illinois. And then take us back to New York and you'll see we had 12 inches of snow in Swain, New York. We also have some new pictures to show out of Hamburg, New York. This is near Buffalo, where the snow plows are always out and about.

But you can see that even the SUVs are having trouble with traction on these snow-covered roads. Looking at radar now, the snow is moving away from Buffalo and is pulling to the east. So it's hitting areas hard across areas to Buffalo, further to the north towards Syracuse and then you see temperatures getting much colder. So, 39 degrees right now in New York City. Those numbers will go down today as the colder air comes in.

Look at the airport delays, a big travel week. We're expecting them across major metropolitan areas in the east and in the west. Heavy rain through Connecticut into Boston, Providence right now. New York City, you're getting a break but there's a batch of rain headed your way and it will be wind-swept rain.

So the rain will be blowing sideways today. Good day to hold on to your umbrella or maybe staying inside if you can -- Alina, Drew.

CHO: All right. A lot of people trying to get home or get back from vacation, doing all that traveling today.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

CHO: So hopefully they'll be keeping it here on CNN.

GRIFFIN: I want you both to check this out. The winter storm slamming the Northeast caused a lot of destruction in the South and Midwest.

Tornadoes tore up parts of Mississippi. This is Pearl River County, an EF-3 force twister destroyed or damaged two dozen homes. Tornadoes also flattened parts of downtown Mobile, Alabama. That was an EF-2 twister, 5.7 miles long and 200 yards wide, with peak winds reaching 135 miles an hour.

There's the local high school that really got trashed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICIA HUNTER, VICE PRINCIPAL, MURPHY HIGH SCHOOL: It's a wonderful school. I just don't know what we're going to do with the kids when it's time to come back. This is a dangerous situation with all the roofs off and the windows blown out. This is just devastating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Across the country, six deaths so far being blamed on this storm, including two small children killed in a car accident in Arkansas, where some towns were hit by nearly a foot of snow.

CHO: This morning, we're hearing new recordings from the scene of a fire set as a trap by a gunman who ambushed firefighters as they responded to the scene. It happened on Christmas evening morning in Webster, a town in Upstate New York. Sixty-two-year-old William Spangler started a massive fire, used it to lure firefighters there, and then he shot and killed two of them, injuring two others.

The awful scene playing out on the scanner.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple firemen down. Multiple firemen shot. I am shot. I think it was an assault rifle. We have multiple firemen down. With a working fire.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CHO: And a new statement from the two injured firefighters who are still recovering in the hospital thanking the nation for its support. They say, "We are humbled and a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of well wishes for us and our families. Like so many others, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka and with those who lost their homes."

Meanwhile, the town mourning for those two firemen who lost their lives, as investigators try to figure out how and why this happened.

Robert Boutillier is the fire marshal of Webster, New York. He joins us this morning.

Mr. Boutillier, thank you so much for being here with us at such a difficult time. I know you were at a candlelight vigil last night for all of the four firefighters. Tell me what that was like.

ROBERT BOUTILLIER, FIRE MARSHAL, WEBSTER, NEW YORK: Good morning. It was, you know, a very quiet, somber event. We met at the four corners in the village of Webster, which is -- which is within the town. I had a priest available, said a couple of prayers, spoke a little bit about the two firefighters that have died and just gave us a chance to get together as a community.

CHO: And let's talk a little bit more about that. Michael Chiapperini, you just saw him there, and the other victim, 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka, just 19 years old.

I know you were friends with Michael Chiapperini, really a hero firefighter, really just beloved in that area. Tell me what he was like and how his family is holding up.

BOUTILLIER: Chip -- we call him Chip -- Chip was a great guy. We've been firefighters together for over 20 years, although in separate fire departments, but we're co-workers at the town of Webster, as chip was a lieutenant currently down in the police department, which is in the same building that my office is located in.

CHO: And I understand -- this just awful. I understand that his son, Nick, was actually in the 911 dispatch center, heard all of those awful, just terrible calls coming in. Have you had an opportunity to speak to him at all?

BOUTILLIER: I have. I spoke -- Nick works as a dispatcher for a commercial ambulance company, and he was working nights that night. He heard the dispatch and the call. I spoke to him that Christmas Eve afternoon. I spoke to him in the afternoon.

He insisted on riding in the fire truck to escort his father's body to the medical examiner's office and was doing as well as he could.

CHO: Of course.

Meanwhile, the other victim in this, Tomasz Kaczowka, just 19 years old, hometown kid. I know you graduated from the same high school.

Have you had an opportunity to speak to his family, his parents? And if so, what have they told you?

BOUTILLIER: No, I haven't spoke to his parents. I know that he was a relatively new firefighter and came through the same recruit class that Mike Chiapperini's son, Nick, came through.

CHO: Right. I understand they were very, very close friends, right?

BOUTILLIER: Very, very close friends. It's very difficult for everybody and for our community. CHO: I think a lot of people were shocked, I know I was when I first heard about this on Christmas Eve morning. I just couldn't believe my ears when I had heard that these firefighters were shot. I thought -- as tragic as it would have been -- I thought that they had perished in the fire while fighting the fire, which typically is what happened.

But as you know, we're hearing new details. I want to read a part of a note that the shooter left, saying in part, Spangler, "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and do what I like doing best, killing people." This from the gunman, William Spangler.

When you saw that, what went through your mind? Had you ever heard about anything like this happening?

BOUTILLIER: No. I really can't say exactly -- put into words what I'm feeling. I mean we've trained to go to fires. We go to fires and know that there's that possibility that you may become injured or whatnot, but nobody -- we've trained -- after 9/11, we trained to, you know, be alert for secondary devices that were aimed at the first responders.

But never -- never would anybody have thought that somebody would have been waiting for the firemen as they came around the corner, barely even out of the rig yet. The rig continued moving and crashed into an embankment in front of the scene.

It's just something that's been very difficult to come to terms with, both personally and for the rest of us.

CHO: Sure. I've seen a lot of tears from a lot of grown men in that area and understandably so. I wish you the best as your town recovers.

Robert Boutillier, you're the fire marshal in Webster, New York -- thank you so much for joining us this morning.

BOUTILLIER: You're welcome. Thank you.

GRIFFIN: Well, following shootings like that and the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, Los Angeles decided to do a little something proactively about it. They decided to move up the date of their annual gun buyback event and a lot of people did just that. They came out to turn in their guns for grocery cards -- you get $200 worth of grocery store card gifts for weapons. The mayor moved that event from Mother's Day to yesterday specifically because of the Connecticut school shooting.

City officials say this year's haul was bigger than last but we don't have the exact numbers yet.

GRIFFIN: D.C. prosecutors won't say whether they'll charge NBC's David Gregory for showing a high-capacity ammunition magazine on "Meet the Press." Gregory used it as a prop during an interview with the head of the NRA. But, you know, those things are illegal in Washington, even if they're not attached to a weapon. D.C. police say NBC asked if they could use the magazine on the show and the answer was no.

Coming up at 10:00 a.m. Eastern on "CNN NEWSROOM", Carol Costello is going to talk with the NRA president David Keene about gun rights in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

CHO: Sheer panic at a Sacramento mall, just look at this. Can you imagine that?

Police say a 20-person brawl broke out in the food court. During the fight there were reports of loud pops that sounded like gunfire. Given what's been going on lately, you can imagine the terror there. The mall security director actually says there was no gunfire, no guns were recovered.

Three teens were arrested. The stores went into lockdown just in case. The mall reopened about an hour later, still trying to figure out the source of those popping sounds, but we'll keep you posted. But just look at that video -- incredible.

GRIFFIN: Hey, coming up, new revelations about Occupy Wall Street and what the FBI was doing to keep tabs on the movement.

CHO: Plus, swamped in the street. How this bus ended up stuck in just a matter of seconds. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: Ali Velshi in for Soledad this morning --

CHO: Talking about his post-Christmas workout routine.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I need few more those to go, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

VELSHI: Coming up on "STARTING POINT" this morning: with an eleventh hour deal to prevent the U.S. going off the fiscal cliff, is that actually going to happen? Or are we headed for a higher taxes?

We have both sides of the aisle and both sides of Congress here with us. Republican Representative Steve LaTourette of the incoming Congress and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. I'm sorry. LaTourette is in the outgoing Congress.

"Sex and the City", D.C. style. We'll talk to the authors of the juicy new novel dishing about life working for a demanding Senator on Capitol Hill, and he's a mean one.

The Grinch from the musical joins us live, and it turns out he may not be that mean after all. That and much more "STARTING POINT" kicks off in 14 minutes or so. The Grinch is going to be here.

CHO: In costume, I hope.

VELSHI: Of course in costume. It's going to be the real Grinch. We don't even have a name for like -- it's not an actor. It's the Grinch --

CHO: Got it.

VELSHI: -- for those kids watching this morning.

CHO: Of course, it is. Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: Good to see you both.

CHO: We'll be watching.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Ali.

CHO: Forty-seven minutes after the hour. Let's get you up to date with this morning's top stories.

Six states from Pennsylvania to Maine facing a winter storm, a big one. Twelve to 24 inches of snow could fall in parts of New England. Holiday travel just a nightmare on the roads and in the air. More than 1,700 flights canceled just yesterday and much more of the same expected today.

GRIFFIN: People in Oceanside, California, waking up to this. A water main breaking creating a giant sinkhole. It swallowed a bus, left 400 customers without water. Witnesses say the bus creeped down the flooded street and then just nosedived into the hole. You couldn't tell where it was. The driver escaped through the window. He was the only person on board.

CHO: Former President George H.W. Bush still in intensive care in a Houston hospital this morning. He was transferred there on Sunday because of an elevated fever. The nation's 41st president is on a liquid diet right now. His condition is listed as guarded.

Remember Occupy Wall Street? Well, newly released documents show the FBI viewed the movement as a potential threat, even had counterterrorism agents from Alaska to Florida keeping watch. Agents were in touch with police businesses and universities nationwide, even before demonstrators set up in New York's Zuccotti Park last year.

GRIFFIN: Triumph, defeat, and plenty of controversy. Coming up, the top sports stories of 2012. Linsanity is on the list right there for sure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: New York City today, rainy, windy, crazy, 36 degrees right now. Later, it's going to warm up to a high of 46. What does that do for you, Maggie?

MAGGIE GRAY, ANCHOR, SI.COM: Not a whole lot.

GRIFFIN: Hey, 2012 was an exciting year for sports fans all over the world. Usain Bolt made Olympic history in London, Johnny Manziel became the youngest college football player ever to win the Heisman, and LeBron James finally did something he got a championship ring. I'm joking.

"Sports Illustrated" has ranked the best moments of the year and that's the cover of the latest issue. And Maggie Gray, anchor with SI.com, is here to count down the top five moments from the year.

We were just talking about this. You guys actually do a serious vote. You start out with 112 great moments and you whittle it down.

GRAY: Yes. A 112 greatest moments of 2012, and everyone in the office gets to put their input, no matter what sport you cover, all the editors, all the writers, and then senior higher-ups decide what's going to be the top five moments of the year.

GRIFFIN: So, let's do the countdown. Number five is Johnny Football, huh?

GRAY: Yes. Johnny Football, Johnny Manziel. We've never had a freshman win the Heisman before. And his story is so unique because he goes from obscurity relatively as the quarterback of Texas A&M and after beating number one ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which is incredibly hard to do. We start looking at all the records that he starts to break, SEC records. He's the only freshman to ever throw for 3,000 yards and rush for over a thousand yards. I mean, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton couldn't even do that. So, Johnny Manziel kind of comes out of nowhere and wins the Heisman.

GRIFFIN: Yes. It will be interesting to follow him now, see how long is he going to stay in college? How is he going to handle the pressure, right?

GRAY: Yes.

GRIFFIN: Number four --

GRAY: Yes.

GRIFFIN: -- a guy who's been in the news a lot, knows how to handle pressure, Usain Bolt.

GRAY: Yes. Usain Bolt. Can you imagine being called the fastest man on the planet? How cool is that? But he's the only person to ever attain really the double-double, which is winning the 100 meters and the 200 meters in the Olympics in back-to-back Olympic Games. He actually got a triple-double. We don't really talk about the fact that he's a two-time gold medalist in the 4 x 100-meter relay as well.

But Usain Bolt easily one of the most electric moments of the Olympics, which we had many. We saw the Michael Phelps cover which was, obviously, one of the great moments for the Americans in the Olympics, but Usain Bolt really has captured the imagination of the world.

GRIFFIN: LeBron James finally did it.

GRAY: He finally did it. I mean, you think back to the decision in summer of 2010, he goes on national television and tells everyone he's leaving Cleveland for South Beach, then he gets to Miami and starts promising not four, not five, not six, not seven rings, and the expectations grew infinitely, and finally, LeBron James in his second year with the Miami Heat gets his ring.

And the moment that stands out for me is him on the podium hugging the trophy and the MVP, final's MVP trophy. He goes, well, it's about damn time.

(LAUGHTER)

GRIFFIN: And I think everybody felt it wasn't that big of a deal, it was like, finally, you did it.

GRAY: Yes. And he had a great 2012. Not only did he really win back the public's favor, kind of went from a villain back to a hero, which is a better role for him, he also won a second gold medal.

GRIFFIN: Linsanity, it swept through this city like crazy.

GRAY: Can you imagine having a crazier two weeks than Jeremy Lin? And it's not just two weeks. It ended up being about two months from start to finish, but you're the end of the bench literally, the last resort for a team that's struggling with injury. You go from playing on average about six minutes a game to starting.

And then the peak, 38 points against the Lakers and so many people were so inspired by Jeremy Lin, the first Taiwanese-American to make it to the pros. His story coming from Harvard, sleeping on his brother's couch, went from an unknown to the world's biggest superstar.

GRIFFIN: Maggie, what happened to him? Where is he now?

GRAY: He's in Houston.

GRIFFIN: OK.

GRAY: He signed a three-year, $25 million deal that the Knicks did not want to match.

GRIFFIN: Right.

GRAY: And so far, against the Knicks, he's 2-0.

GRIFFIN: Okay, very good. All right. Number one.

GRAY: Yes, number one. The buildup to this. Let me just give a little back story. The replacement referees had been getting so maligned throughout the preseason --

GRIFFIN: Oh, I know it.

GRAY: -- and beginning of the season and everyone was just waiting for that one moment that would really get the referees and the league back to the table and get the negotiations going. Monday Night Football, Packers/Seahawks. GRIFFIN: Yes.

GRAY: Seahawks are driving. Russell Wilson throws the Hail Mary to the end zone (INAUDIBLE). It's now called the fail Mary, but you see the rest. One calls a touchdown, the other calls a touchback, which would indicate a turnover. It goes into the call heard round the world, and two days later, the referees and the league got it settled.

GRIFFIN: Maggie Gray, thanks for coming in. Great moments.

GRAY: Thanks, Drew.

GRIFFIN: Alina.

CHO: All right. Thank you, Drew. Today's "Best Advice" from a scientist turned TV star. That's coming up.

And coming up on "STARTING POINT," the story behind this incredible video, a tornado tossing cars and trucks around like toys in a parking lot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GRIFFIN: We wrap it up, as always, with the "Best Advice."

CHO: That's right. Today, we hear from Travis Taylor. He's one of the stars of the cable TV's "Rocket City Rednecks."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS TAYLOR, ACTOR: My two favorite pieces of advice. One was my grandmother always told me don't poke that or put your finger in it. And the other is I heard from Yoda is, there is no try, there's only do or do not, and I firmly believe that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: That's EARLY START.

CHO: That's some accent.

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: I'm Alina Cho along with Drew Griffin. We'll be back again tomorrow morning early at 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time. "STARTING POINT" with our Ali Velshi starts right now.