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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Horror at Brazilian Nightclub; Protests Spark "State of Emergency" in Egypt; "Argo" Honored at the SAG Awards; Baseball Hero Jose Contreras Goes Home; NFC Tops Pro Bowl

Aired January 28, 2013 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Cell phones are now ringing in the burned out nightclub in Brazil. Families hoping to get in touch with their loved ones. We go live to the region coming up.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That is just awful. Plus, new reports this morning that Chris Brown was in another fight, this time, with Frank Ocean, the R&B artist who announced that he was gay last year.

ROMANS: And coming up, the highlights from last night's Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans in today for Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN (on-camera): And I'm John Berman. It is now 30 minutes after the hour. And our top story this morning is this horrible, deadly inferno at a Brazilian nightclub and the new details coming out. They're heartbreaking and disturbing. A staggering 233 people killed, many of them college students, celebrating their last weekend of summer break at a popular nightclub called Kiss.

This is in Santa Maria, which is in the southern most state of Brazil. Recovery workers now say they're hearing the eerie sounds of cell phones ringing as families desperately hoping their loved ones will answer. Our Shasta Darlington is in Santa Maria right now, and Shasta, any definitive word on what caused this?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, John. And in fact, right behind me over my left shoulder is the nightclub, Kiss, and inside right now, investigators are combing through the rubble looking for clues. They're fairly sure it's related to this pyrotechnic show, apparently. Someone had fireworks in their hands and that's what they're very likely focusing on, but the investigation continues.

And I have to say, what's just scary about this whole thing is once you get over here and you look at this nightclub, it only has a single entrance and exit. It's squeezed between two buildings. No lateral exits. No exit out of the back. So, it's really just one very narrow door. So, when you have 1,000, 2,000 people packed into this space at night, the lights are on and off, on and off. I mean, in some ways, this was a tragedy announced. You wonder how anyone could have gotten people out of here in an orderly fashion. Obviously, emergency procedures weren't in place, unless, another thing will be investigating -- John.

BERMAN: The seas of chaos must have been just unimaginable. Shasta, one of the most disturbing things we're hearing is that security guards may have been blocking people, keeping them from getting out of the building. Why might this be?

DARLINGTON: Well, what we've seen a lot of, especially on social media, Facebook, people commenting that at the very beginning, when the fire started, the security guards didn't know what was going on. They were outside. Again, it's just this one door. They thought maybe there's just been a fight over the drinks or somebody didn't want to pay their bill and they were trying to squeeze out. So, this is what we've heard.

It hasn't been confirmed. We haven't heard to talk to any investigators who will confirm this, but you'll see it a lot on social media, and we'll obviously be talking to more survivors today about what they saw and what they heard -- John.

BERMAN: Obviously, it is still so early here, but are officials talking about the possibility of criminal charges?

DARLINGTON: There definitely has talk of that, John, and in part, because all of the licensing that this nightclub had had actually expired in the summer or in August, the northern hemisphere summer. So, all of the paperwork was not in order. So, they're going to have to take a look at that. Did they even have a license to be operating? Did they have emergency procedures in place? All of these could lead to some kind of charges in the future, John.

BERMAN: And we're hearing there were, you know, some 20,000 people in this nightclub at the time of the fire. Who were most of these people? Are we talking about college students here?

DARLINGTON: Yes, John. This is the real tragedy. This is a college town. There are four universities here. There's the very big federal university, and apparently, a good half of the people who died went to that federal university. They were having a party there the other night. The agronomy students, the agriculture students were having a big party.

So, these are people in the late teens, in their 20s. I talked to one boy last night, a 19-year-old who lost his 24-year-old brother. They were studying agronomy together. So, this is just a tragedy for the whole town and from many people who've come from around the state, John.

BERMAN: Shasta Darlington in Brazil for us this morning. Thanks for being there. What an awful, awful state. Thanks, Shasta.

ROMANS: A lot more to get you caught up this morning. A sloppy, slippery winter storm now heading east. The storm creating an icy mess from Minnesota to Indy down through Kentucky, cancelling more than 200 flights at O'Hare in Chicago. Parts of the northeast including New York and D.C. could see sleet and freezing rain to kick off the week.

BERMAN: Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, has declared a limited state of emergency in the wake of violence and is suggesting more action is possible. He imposed a 30-day curfew in three cities along the Suez Canal where violence is broken out since Friday.

Protesters now angry at the new leadership two years after Hosni Mubarak's departure. Most -- Morsi has invited representatives from 11 political parties to meet today to address problems in Egypt as opposed to expressing their anger this way.

ROMANS: An Iranian judge has sentenced an American Christian pastor to eight years in prison after he was tried for his, quote, "religious beliefs." That's what the American Center for Law and Justice has said, a U.S. base religious group. The group argues Said Abadeeni (ph) who was born in Iran and now lives in Idaho has been unjustly jailed in Iran since September.

Iranian authorities have arrested several journalists, including the editor-in-chief of a leading reformist newspaper in that country. They're accused of collaborating with government opponents and working for foreign news organizations. Several of the journalists were detained at their offices on Sunday.

BERMAN: A pretrial hearing today for five men accused of master minding the 9/11 terror attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators face the death penalty if convicted. The proceedings will take place before a military commission at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

ROMANS: It was a night for actors to honor actors. The 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards celebrated the best in television and film. The biggest prize went to the cast of "Argo," which has now emerged as the frontrunner for Oscar gold.

BERMAN: Intrigue.

ROMANS: CNN's Nischelle Turner up early for us for the wrap of the big night in Hollywood. Hey, what are the highlights?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Well, first of all, I love the little nuggets that John Berman throws in.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Oh, intrigue.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: You know, to be honest, Christine, one of my highlights last night was dancing with "Silver Linings Playbook" star Chris Tucker on the red carpet. That was fun. That was a lot of fun. But there were plenty of other highlights at last night's award show. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (voice-over): Actors, actors everywhere. The 19th Screen Actors Guild Awards was about union in every way. Host, lead actress winner, Jennifer Lawrence, of "Silver Linings Playbook" and Anne Hathaway who won supporting actress honors relating "Miserables," talked about getting their SAG cards at age 14.

ANNE HATHAWAY, OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY FEMALE ACTOR/SUPPORTING ROLE: It felt like the beginning of the world. I have loved every single minute of my life as an actor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tina Fey.

TURNER: There was lots of love for "30 Rock" whose season finale is this week. Tina Fey won her fifth actor trophy and Alec Baldwin, his eighth for the sitcom. And even when "Modern Family" topped it for the Comedy Ensemble Award, they praised the "Rock."

JESSE TYLER FERGUSON, "MODERN FAMILY": You all have set the comedy bar so high.

TURNER: Camaraderie also topped competition as the cast of British import, "Downton Abbey", paid tribute to the shows it beat for Drama Series Ensemble, including "Homeland" and "Boardwalk Empire."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just absolutely overwhelmed by all.

TURNER: Everyone cheered for Dick Van Dyke honored with the Life Achievement Award for more than a half century of acting, singing, dancing, and (INAUDIBLE) his way into our hearts.

DICK VAN DYKE, RECEIVED SAG LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: This very heavy object here means that I can refer to you as my peers.

TURNER: Best Actor winner, Daniel Day-Lewis, was quick to share credit with the entire cast of "Lincoln".

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, ACTOR: I have no doubt that this in an ensemble award.

TURNER: The actual ensemble award went to "Argo," adding that price to its Golden Globe and Producer's Guild Awards. Director and star Ben Affleck praised not only his cast but everyone.

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR/DIRECTOR, "ARGO": It wanted to kill it to make the movie better because that's what actors do all over the world every day. God bless you. Thank you so much for making the movies that you make and the television you make.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (on-camera): It was a good show and only two hours. So, a very quick show as well. Now, the night's other big winners included Bryan Cranston, who won an individual award for "Breaking Bad." He looked really shocked, I think. He wasn't expecting to win. Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence also became Oscar front-runners in their categories with their wins.

And Daniel Day-Lewis just may have a lock on the Best Actor Oscar now, because Christine, the last eight SAG winners for Best Actor have gone on to take the Academy Award. So, there's a little precedence there.

ROMANS: You know, I mean, the big winner at our household. I was watching it with my two-year-old.

TURNER: Yes.

ROMANS: I was watching, you know, the red carpet stuff. Every time you came on, he was riveted. As soon as it wasn't you, Nischelle, he kind of played with his playing key. He was looking at his book. I'm just telling you, I have a real Nischelle fan.

TURNER: I have a boyfriend. I have a boyfriend.

ROMANS: It's true. It's true. We'll talk later your intentions later, but first of all another win for Ben Affleck and "Argo." Is it out front in the Best Picture race?

TURNER: Yes. You know, it definitely has the momentum going into the Oscars, because remember, it also won a Golden Globes this month for Best Picture drama. And like you heard as say there in the package, it won Saturday night for the Producers Guilds as well. And Ben Affleck like we've heard this whole award season was snubbed in the Best Director category for the Oscars.

He jokes about it a lot, but you know, he's still going to take home an Oscar as a producer of "Argo" if it wins Best Picture, along with Mr. George Clooney, who's the producer on the picture as well.

ROMANS: All right. Fun night. This is your Super Bowl, getting ready for all of this.

TURNER: Yes, indeed.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Nischelle.

BERMAN: It's amazing. "Argo" is such a good film that somehow managed to direct itself, you know?

ROMANS: Yes. Yes. I love to know what's going on in Affleck household on that subject around the kitchen table.

BERMAN: Forty minutes after the hour right now. And still ahead, a baseball legend in Cuba who defected more than a decade ago, he finally goes home and CNN makes the historic trip with him. All we're going to say all about is a really interesting story. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. So, he was once a national hero in Cuba, then pitcher Jose Contreras defected to the United States to fulfill his dream of playing in the major leagues, but now, 11 years later, Contreras has returned to his homeland. The Cuban defector is the very first athlete allowed to return under new immigration rules.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann traveled with Contreras in this exclusive report tells us you can go home again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This rough baseball diamond outside Havana isn't much to look at, but for one Cuban legend, it is truly a field of dreams. Jose Contreras was once a star pitcher in Cuba. Fidel Castro dubbed Contreras "el titan de bronze", the bronze titan.

But when Contreras defected in 2002, he like all sports stars who abandoned Cuba, was banned from ever returning. That is until now.

"I'm really happy to be back here with my people, my fans," he said. "It is a dream come true." An impossible dream. Then in January, Cuban officials lifted the restrictions for most Cubans to travel abroad and gave many living in exile the right to return. Contreras is the first major sports defector under the changed law to come back to visit Cuba.

(on-camera): With a change in immigration laws, more and more Cuban sports stars who defected are expected to begin returning. And no doubt the Cuban government won't mind they'll bring back with them some of those multimillion-dollar salaries they earn playing overseas.

(voice-over): Playing in the American major leagues with the Yankees, White Sox, and Phillies, Contreras earned tens of millions of dollars. More than the salaries of all the players on Cuba's national team combined. But he said those big paydays didn't ease the longing he felt to see his family back home.

"At first, we were missing the past. It was tough ten years, not seeing my brother," he said, "but everyone is good now and just enjoying the moment." A decade outside of the island convinced Contreras he would be forgotten by his countrymen. But he can't go anywhere here without people asking for a photo or being embraced by former teammates.

This pickup game draws other legends of Cuban baseball. Nursing an injury, Contreras plays first base instead of pitching. Once he recovers, he hopes to return to playing professionally soon. This is hardly the major leagues. After a home run, the play is interrupted to look for the ball, the only one they have.

And at the end, no one can even tell you what the score was. For a long lost son of Cuba, it doesn't matter. This was more than a game.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: A long way from the big leagues, but a major, major deal for a lot of these Cuban players who come to the United States.

ROMANS: All right. One heck of a commute coming up for you this morning, everyone. Just want to let you know. Weather is just not cooperating for millions of Americans right now. We're tracking the storms for you straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. A lot to catch up on this morning, funerals begin today for the victims of the Brazil nightclub inferno.

Investigators say they've identified all but three of 233 club-goers killed. Recovery workers now report hearing the eerie sound of cell phones ringing as anguished family members are trying to call loved ones who were in that nightclub, hoping, hoping to get a hold of them. Many of the victims were college students celebrating their last weekend of summer break.

BERMAN: The Senate is scheduled to vote later today on more than $50 billion in aid for a states battered by Superstorm Sandy. This is the final hurdle for the much delayed Sandy relief measure. President Obama has on this to sign it.

ROMANS: A huge win and the massive loss for the Boston Celtics. Boston beat Lebron and the Heat in double overtime yesterday. The second half, the team learned that its all-star point guard, Rajon Rondo, will not play again this season. An MRI revealing he has a torn ACL and he needs surgery. As for the Heat, the defending champs will visit the White House today.

BERMAN: This is a tragic loss for the Celtics. I'm not sure how many get through it, but we'll find some way.

Meanwhile, you're looking at the Pro Bowl. You're the first person to actually see video of this game as it happened because no one cares.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: I think the AFC won right there. You're seeing a pass right there. What was the final score, 62 -- the NFC won, 62-35. Vikings Titan Kyle Rudolph was the game's MVP. The future of this all-star game is in doubt now because the commissioner Roger Goodell said that he would consider doing away with the pro-ball following --

ROMANS: Why?

BERMAN: Why because it doesn't exist as far as anyone knows. Nobody cares. A lot of the players don't show up because the season is over. They don't want to get hurt. He sees scores like 60-35. It just doesn't matter. Make it stop.

ROMANS: Was that the last one we'll ever see?

BERMAN: I hope so. I think it probably is. I mean, really, this is not like baseball's all-star game or the NBA all-star game where people actually cared.

ROMANS: I wish you're going to tell me how you really feel about that --

BERMAN: Sorry.

ROMANS: The way you hold back.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: You tell me Rajon Rondo was out for the season. You expect me to be happy about the pro-ball?

ROMANS: (INAUDIBLE) push you on sports. It's like what do you think, John, about sports?

All right. Arriving at big easy, looking at all business to San Francisco 49ers arrived last night. New Orleans for the big game on Sunday. The Baltimore Ravens will arrive today and then the Super Bowl hype will really kick into high gear, although, I would argue the Super Bowl -- the companies have already been putting teasers of their ads out.

BERMAN: We're in full hype right now.

All right. You better be careful on the road and check your flights. There is a sloppy winter storm now heading east. Heavy snow shut down runways again in Salt Lake City and slippery conditions grounded more than 200 flights in O'Hare at Chicago yesterday. Parts of the northeast, including New York and Washington D.C., could see sleet and freezing rain to kick off the week.

What a way to start your Monday. Jennifer Delgado with a look ahead at the storm this morning. Hey, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, John. You're right. A gloomy, wet and chilly Monday as we look at some of those temperatures out there. They're certainly better than they what they were last week if we're looking in parts of the Midwest.

Notice for areas like Alpena as well as Detroit, if you're heading out the door this morning, you certainly need to be looking out for some icy spots out there, because, of course, of the temperature hovering near the freezing mark.

Now, we move into the mid-Atlantic, and we look for areas from Pittsburgh all the way down to Norfolk, notice you can see where that band is of freezing rain. So, if you're going to be on the roadways today, make sure you're paying extra time out there and taking it slow because we're going to be looking at some icy conditions and the same for Interstate 95 including Washington, D.C. We've already had some reports of light snow there and then more of that snow works into areas like New England and Boston as we go later into the day. This is going to have an effect on travel. If you're flying into Boston, some snow there. Washington, D.C., freezing rain and rain and as well for New York. We're really going to see that threat coming to an end late morning, roughly certainly by noon.

And the big change on the way. We've talked so much about the cold air. We got a big warm-up and the temperatures are down at Dallas today 76, tomorrow, 72. And then notice some cold air comes in from the north dropping temperatures back to normal by Wednesday into Thursday.

But guys, guess what, we're going to set up for what looks to be like spring-like severe weather threat especially Tuesday as well as into Wednesday. This is something to watch. We're talking about up and down weather pattern right now. Let's send it back over to you.

BERMAN: You know, that spring-like weather, Jennifer, feels like a diabolical tease.

(LAUGHTER)

DELGADO: It's a short tease with that, too. Back to colder, end of the week.

BERMAN: Jennifer Delgado, thanks very much.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight in Los Angeles, reports that Chris Brown got into another all-out brawl with another singer and his people. Details, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Fifty-seven minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman along with Christine Romans. We are taking a looking at the top CNN Trends on the interwebs this morning.

ROMANS: And this just started to come out overnight. Reports that Chris Brown was involved in another brawl with singer and current Grammy nominee, Frank Ocean. TMZ saying police were called to the scene at Westlake Studio in L.A. where Brown had a run-in with Ocean's people. But TMZ said there were no arrests.

BERMAN: Sounds like trouble.

So, confusing play at the NFL Pro Bowl yesterday. Take a look at this. This is center, Jeff Saturday. He lined up on the wrong team for one play. But this was for sentimental reasons. You see, Jeff Saturday was allowed to break the rules to share one final moment with longtime quarterback Peyton Manning.

See, manning got to stare at Saturday's behind for 13 seasons. Jeff Saturday was the center. Last year, Manning went from the Colts to the Broncos and Saturday went to the NFC with the Packers, and now, he's retiring. So, they got to share one more quiet moment together. ROMANS: And the rest of world.

EARLY START continues right now.