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Flu Outbreak an "Epidemic"; Turbulence Ahead for Boeing's Dreamliners; Drive-Thru Prank Goes Viral

Aired January 11, 2013 - 05:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hospitals swamped with a serious flu outbreak in full swing. We've got the early word on what doctors and the CDC plan to say about it later today.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Vacation tragedy, Americans among the dead after a resort hotel in the pacific goes up in flames.

SAMBOLIN: A daring demonstration. Two men strolling down the street with assault rifles in broad daylight. They were trying to prove a point.


SAMBOLIN: Yes. It's pretty daring nowadays. Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for being with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is about 30 minutes after the hour on this Friday morning. Can't come soon enough for a lot of people. It is overflowing some emergency rounds. I'm talking about the flu, and now leading health officials say the flu is spiking across the country. It's now an epidemic.

There's widespread flu activity in more than 40 states. Minnesota reports 27 flu-related deaths. Hospitals are being swamped with flu patients and vaccine supplies are now said to be running low in some places.

Senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is live in Ft. Worth, Texas. And Elizabeth, you have what maybe a silver lining here. You have a very early look at some of the new flu numbers coming out just this morning.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. New flu numbers come out every Friday. I got an early look last night, and there is a bit of good news here. When you look at levels of flu activity two weeks ago, 29 states had high levels of flu activity. Now, we're talking about 24 states having high levels.

So, that's five fewer states showing high levels of flu activity. Now, people are continuing to get sick and die. For example, for kids, instead of 18 pediatric flu deaths, we now have 20. So, that number did go up a little bit. Now, I want to talk about these numbers in a slightly different way, it's a little bit confusing, epidemiology 101, but I think bear with me. I think we can explain it.

While the levels of flu activity, the amount of flu has gone down, it is more spread out across the country. There are more regions of the country, more regions within each state that are seeing flu. So, you mentioned that 41 number, 41 states were seeing widespread activity, meaning activity spread throughout various regions of the state. Now, that's 47.

So, the numbers there went from 41 states to 47 states. That doesn't say there's more flu out there. That just says that it has reached more regions within these states. So, in other words, good news here is that there does seem to be lower levels of flu in this country. Not much, but a little bit lower.

BERMAN: And in those -- because those states have reached some kind of tipping point, Elizabeth?

COHEN: Yes, it is believed, for example, in parts of the south and the southeast, the epidemic, the flu started earlier. It started earliest there back in November. So, flu kind of does a curve like this. So, if you start early, that also means that your numbers will start to come down earlier.

Now, we're going to wait for the weeks to come to see if those numbers keep going down. But this is a very expected development. Flu numbers get higher and higher and higher, and then, they start to come down.

BERMAN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen in Ft. Worth, Texas for us live this morning, thanks very much. And next hour, at 6:30 eastern, we're going to talk about the flu epidemic with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's the direction of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

SAMBOLIN: This is totally unscientific, but I think we're reaching our peak in the newsroom here.


BERMAN: That's right. We have no stuff today because everyone here is sick. We're running the show by ourselves --


SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour. Some Americans are believed to be among the dead in a hotel fire in the Northern Philippines.

Take a look at this. It's the Dryden Hotel in Olongapo City. The hotel owner says six people died of smoke inhalation including at least two Americans. That fire reportedly destroyed seven rooms, some offices, a communication center, and a computer room.

Investigators are trying to nail down a cause, but initial signs suggest it may have been an electrical fire. BERMAN: A judge in Chicago could decide today if a lottery winner's body should be exhumed. Forty-six-year-old Urooj Khan (ph) died suddenly last summer about a month after he won a million dollar jackpot.

At first, it was thought he died of natural causes, but it became a murder mystery after test showed a deadly amount of cyanide in his system. Investigators say more test can tell them how that poison might have gone into his system.

SAMBOLIN: A dire warning from defense secretary, Leon Panetta, about the Pentagon's budget. He said the military is being forced to prepare for the worse due to the threat of severe budget cuts that are set to kick in on March 1st.

This is a result of the fiscal cliff negotiations which failed to end the process known as sequestration or deep across the board spending cuts. He said it's threatening the Pentagon's ability to defend the nation.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: All told, this uncertainty, if left unresolved by the Congress, will seriously harm our military readiness.


SAMBOLIN: Panetta also said he's being forced to curtail facility maintenance for non-critical activities, to freeze the hiring of civilians and take additional cost-cutting measures.

A report by the justice department sheds some more light on the secret service prostitution scandal in Columbia last spring. Such an embarrassment for the agency. It says an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Cartagena hired a prostitute for secret service agent days before President Obama was due to visit.

Overall, nine secret service agents implicated in dealing with prostitutes resigned or retired from the service.

SAMBOLIN: And we could learn today if officials in Washington, D.C. will bring charges against NBC. "Meet the Press" host, David Gregory, used a high capacity gun magazine as a prop last month during an interview the head of the NRA. Those types of magazines are illegal in D.C. NBC claimed that it asked for permission to use it.

BERMAN: Two men took to the streets of Portland, Oregon. Why? To educate people about gun ownership. Instead, what they really do was set up (ph) a wave of panic.

SAMBOLIN: Of course.

BERMAN: It is not every day you see this, people walking down the street with assault rifles strapped to their backs, but Warren Drouin and Steven Boyce said they have a right to carry their weapons. They were hoping people would engage them in conversation.


WARREN DROUIN, DEMONSTRATOR: We're not threatening anyone. We don't have that kind of criminal behavior.

STEVEN BOYCE, DEMONSTRATOR: This happens to open that line of communication to let people know that you can defend yourself at a time of crisis or any time that you want to.


BERMAN: A Portland police say the men didn't break the law. They hold valid gun licenses, even so, they scared a lot of people.

SAMBOLIN: Of course.

BERMAN: You know, a lot of people called 911. And a lot of other gun owners thought they went too far.


AARON TUCKER, GUN OWNER: Just to prove a point to open carry and freak a bunch of people out, I don't think it's not necessary.


BERMAN: As one local business owner said if you're scaring people, you're probably not advancing your cause.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness. Not to mention that that could have had a really bad outcome as well. If somebody else would have brought their gun out because they were scared.

Some turbulence expected today for Boeing. Coming up, why it's much hype Dreamliner jet has drawn some attention from the FAA.

BERMAN: Plus, what is the deal with this red dust cloud? It's an amazing picture. We'll tell you the story behind it coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Top of the morning to you, Atlanta. How beautiful you look at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Oh, my goodness! Berman, it is 63 degrees there right now. A little later, 72.

BERMAN: I'm going.

SAMBOLIN: Let's hop on the plane and head over. Very nice. Good morning to you, Atlanta. Welcome back to EARLY START. It's been a week the people at Boeing would rather forget. Two more incidents overnight on separate flights of a Dreamliner 787 in Japan involving a cracked cockpit windshield and an oil leak. It comes on the heels of the Dreamliner's trouble this week, a fuel spill, an electrical fire, and brake problems. Now, there are reports the FAA will review the Dreamliner's power system. CNN's Rene Marsh is following all of the developments for us. She is live in Washington. Good morning to you, Rene. This is a very alarming pattern of incidents that have occurred overnight and this week. Can you walk us through exactly what happened?

RENE MARSH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Zoraida, you mentioned it. It's just troubling for Boeing there. You know, you have -- this is not the day or the week that you want to have. We're talking about three incidents over a period of three days. You mentioned Monday, there was a fire that broke out in the belly of one of the 787s on the tarmac there at Logan Airport in Boston, the result of a battery, a lithium ion battery that blew up.

Then, on Tuesday, we got word of a gas oil, an oil leak happening -- that also happening at Logan airport in which one of the valves was open and that was causing the leak of fuel. And then, on Wednesday, we heard about brake problems with one of the 787 Dreamliners. So, that's not what you want to hear.

And then, this morning, we are learning of two more incidents involving two more Dreamliner jets here. A crack in a cockpit window, which is not uncommon in passenger jets. That was discovered on an Al Nippon Airways jet from Tokyo to Japan. Also, this morning, an oil leak was discovered from a generator that was placed in the left engine of another Al Nippon Airways flight.

Both of those flights, we should say though, Zoraida, landed safely in Japan. But now, the total five incidents in just as many days. Not a good week for the folks there at Boeing.

SAMBOLIN: I would say it's not. But I just want to be clear, there were no injuries in any of those incidents?

MARSH: The incident this morning, no injuries. No injuries in any of the incidents this week.


MARSH: That fire that broke out which is being deemed one of the more serious incidents.


MARSH: No one was on the plane at the time, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And Rene, we're hearing reports from other media outlets that the FAA will announce a special review of the Dreamliner today. What can we expect from that announcement?

MARSH: Well, we know that Bloomberg is reporting that the FAA will announce plans to review the jumbo jets overall design and manufacturing. Now, other reports are also suggesting that the jet's power system will also be scrutinized. Of course, this would come again just days after that fire. Now, we did reach out to Boeing, and we did get a statement from a spokesperson. They did say in part, quote, "We actively work with the FAA daily across all of our product lines." They went on to say "We are absolutely confident in the reliability and performance of the 787." So, they are standing by their product despite these issues there. Boeing, all along, saying these are just simply growing pains.

These are the kinds of issues that people see when they launch a new jet program. So, they are very confident about the performance of the Dreamliner, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, we are looking forward to hearing from them. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

You know, I want to point out, though. Air travel in 2012 was the safest since 1945. That's the aviation safety network. They put out those numbers, but it was interesting, they also have the world's safest airlines. And the top 20, we didn't make the cut. Twenty-one was Southwest Airlines at number 21.

BERMAN: Interesting.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. It is interesting.

BERMAN: The 787 story is really a business story about this big investment that Boeing's made in this new aircraft and it's taking a while to get it up to speed in the way that they promised that it would be flying.


BERMAN: So, we'll watch that carefully in the coming days.

Forty-four minutes after the hour right now. And you have to look at these pictures. These look like something The mars rover would send back, but look at this. It's not mars, it's Australia. A huge red wall of dust towered off the coast of Western Australia. Meteorologists say that a storm had picked up tremendous amounts of sand and dust and passed it over land.

A cyclone several hundred miles away has been strung up severe weather in that area. They've had heck of a time --

SAMBOLIN: I wonder if that would be considered a haboob.


BERMAN: Whatever it is, a lot of dust out there.


SAMBOLIN: All right. In closer to home, we have weather of our own, from flooding rain to a foot of snow. Meteorologist, Alexandra Steele, is here with all of the details. Do you know if they have haboobs in Australia?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. I mean, you know, I had to actually look at those pictures for authenticity yesterday. We were just trying to verify the snapshots we had seen of them as well. So, I mean, from Australia to here, certainly seeing a lot of weather guys.

Now, we've got of 12 inches of rain and 12 inches of snow, so certainly, myriad (ph) weather happening around the country. But look, this is the last three days. You know, every day I've been showing you this inundation of water into Louisiana. Well, six to 12 inches, even more than 12 in some, and also, three reported tornadoes in Louisiana.

So, this is the estimated rain that we've seen. And look at the damage we've seen. First tornado, 5:30 yesterday morning, one in St. Martin's Parish in Breaux Bridge, about 50 homes damaged. The second one near New Iberia, and then, the third in Plaquemines Parish yesterday.

So, the good news today. You can see all the damage. Now, things finally kind of winding down, although, still, some rain coming into New Orleans, but not that monster swath. That monster swath has moved north. Chicago, Cinci, Cinci should be a 40, heading to 60 degrees today. So, it's certainly wet not white, but not the amount of rain we saw in Louisiana.

But certainly, we will see a wet day there. In terms of the temperatures, while we're not seeing the snow, temperatures 20 degrees above average. Atlanta in the 70 is for the next few days. We should be at 52. D.C. heading to 66. So, you get the picture, but where there's the ying, there's the yang. We've got the warm stuff on the east coast, very cold stuff on the west coast.

Blizzard warnings, ice storm warnings today for much of Minnesota. So, a lot of snow and also a lot of wind and cold, guys, and dangerously cold wind chills. And once again, in Montana and the Dakotas, the potential for blizzard conditions. So, keeping an eye on that through Saturday and Sunday.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra Steele live in Atlanta, thank you.


BERMAN: And coming up, look at this, a wild brawl at a school bus stop. It's not just students involved.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, high anxiety, some hikers involved in a hair-raising rescue.


BERMAN: Forty-nine minutes after the hour right now. Let's take a look at some of the news happening around the world. Christine Romans --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And the top story is the flu still, you guys. A national sick-out, I guess. Flu has now reached epidemic proportions according to a leading health official. Widespread activity now in 47 states. The flu outbreak has swamped hospitals and clinics in New York City. Emergency room visits are up 150 percent over last year this time. Boston's mayor declared a public health emergency because of the flu there.

Vice President Joe Biden's gun control task force will deliver its recommendations to President Obama by Tuesday. Today, he meets with representatives of the videogame industry. He's already met with people on various sides of the issue. The former head of the movie industry group argued movies don't cause violence, while the NRA called it an agenda to attack the Second Amendment.

Planned Parenthood goes to court in Texas today to fight for funding. The state kicked it out of its women's health program, and a new law says Texas doesn't have to spend tax dollars on women's health clinics that are linked to abortion providers. Planned Parenthood is hoping a federal judge will intervene, so it can keep providing state funded health services for women.

This disturbing video was shot at a school bus stop near Pittsburgh. Police say dozens of people, students as well as parents, were part of this brawl. There was another fight earlier in the week near the very same spot, a school bus stop. Several adults and minors were arrested. Not clear why they are fighting. Police have beefed up their patrols in that area.

And firefighters rescued two injured hikers stranded in a Canyon outside Denver. Apparently, they left the trail during their descent down a mountain. They got trapped, breaking bones in the process. One hiker took pictures of the area with the cell phone and that helped rescuers find them.

Reason number 6,000 why I shouldn't go hiking.


ROMANS: It is so much safer to watch TV.


SAMBOLIN: It looks beautiful.


ROMANS: I'm glad they're safe. I'm glad they're safe.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, am I? Thank you, Christine.

Fifty-one minutes past the hour. Packed hour ahead on EARLY START, including one of the government's top health officials now saying this year's flu outbreak has reached epidemic levels. According to the CDC, as many as 50,000 people may die from the flu, and it is still getting worse. We will talk to one of the top disease fighters in the country. That's ahead. BERMAN: Twisted metal, broken glass, and a bruised shoulder. A thief tries to literally knock over an ATM machine. That is really smart. He learns a painful lesson.

SAMBOLIN: Goes to the stupid criminals (INAUDIBLE).

But first, would you like fries with that ghost driver?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello? What the heck is going on? Oh my God!


SAMBOLIN: Oh! Punked at the drive-thru. Watch people freak out when an invisible man pulls up. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Fifty-five minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman. This Is Zoraida Sambolin, and we're taking a look at the top CNN Trends this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And the nominees aren't. The Twitter reacting with total outrage that Oscar snubbed like Kathryn Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty" and Ben Affleck for Best Director with "Argo." Top country (ph) commentator, Louis Virtel, tweeting, "You know Ben Affleck invited Kathryn Bigelow to cry and make out on the yacht from "The Jenny From The Block" video."

And this from movie writer, Jeff Morris (ph), "(INAUDIBLE) to Ben Affleck. Want to talk about it? Then, there's a suggestion for a Friday from Veronica De Susa (ph), "drink every time you read the word snubbed today."

BERMAN: Ben was robbed.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, no, I think everybody agrees.

BERMAN: All right. You have to look at this. The invisible man gets a Big Mac attack. This may be the best drive-thru prank ever, and it has just exploded on YouTube. What happened? An aspiring magician named Rahad Suhein (ph) created a driver seat costume that makes it appear as if no one is in the car.

So, he puts it on and then goes through a bunch of fast food drive- thrus, and he recorded the whole thing. And you can check out the stunned, freaked out employees. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. What the heck is going on? Oh, my God!



BERMAN (voice-over): It's awesome.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello? Are you serious?



SAMBOLIN: That is great.

BERMAN: The magician's name is Rahad Husein (ph) --

SAMBOLIN: Watch out for him. That's really creative. It's like genius.

BERMAN: Hilarious. All right. You check out this and all the other top CNN trends, head to

SAMBOLIN: That was a good laugh, Berman.

BERMAN: Worth checking out on our site.

So, Treasury nominee, Jack Lew's, loopy handwriting good for some late night laughs. Check this out.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": President Obama today nominated current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to be the next Secretary of the Treasury. The Secretary of the Treasury is the person whose signature goes on the right side of the bill, and this is Jack Lew's signature.


KIMMEL: It's either his signature or the migratory pattern of a house fly.


KIMMEL: It's like he used the spirograph to sign --


KIMMEL: Before he was Chief of Staff at the White House, Mr. Lew worked at Hostess as a cupcake icer

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) KIMMEL: If he is confirmed by the Senate, his signature will be on all newly printed U.S. bills. It's about time our bills look like they're signed by a roomba.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": That's your signature? Or are you just testing to se if the pen works?


STEWART: Hey, Lew, here's a tip, stop signing all your checks on the teacup ride at Disney World.


STEWART: The only way that you're allowed to have that as your signature is if your name is boing-boing-boing.



BERMAN: Our future Treasury Secretary, ladies and gentlemen.

SAMBOLIN: I hope he has a good sense of humor.

BERMAN: He better. EARLY START continues right now.