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Killer Line of Storms Move East; Alabama Hostage Standoff; Hagel on Hot Seat

Aired January 31, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Widespread havoc. A thousand-mile long storm system barrels East, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Desperate hours in Alabama. Police in a tense standoff with a gunman who was believed to be holding a child.

BERMAN: BlackBerry's Hail Mary pass. The new smartphone that could put the company back on the comeback trail.

SAMBOLIN: Have you tried it?

BERMAN: I have serious phone envy.

SAMBOLIN: Really? I want one. I want to try it. I want to compare it to my iPhone. To see which one --

BERMAN: We'll hook you up.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, that would be lovely.

BERMAN: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's nice to have you with us. It is January, 31st. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

So, let's get started here.

The next target is the East Coast. The 1,000-mile long of violent and deadly storms moves further East now. Tornadoes, strong winds and flooding, they're all threatening the South, all the way up into New England now. The front has already led to a staggering 400 reports of severe wind, and also 20 tornadoes over two days, stretching from Texas to Pennsylvania. And among the hardest-hit spots: Adairsville, Georgia. That's about 60 miles north of Atlanta.

A news crew for our affiliate WSB witnessed a dramatic tornado touchdown.


REPORTER: We could see circulation in the clouds right here. It looks like a tornado right near downtown Cartersville at this moment, slashing towards I-75. Again, a tornado -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Some more on what that twister actually left behind in a moment. So one person died in Adairsville, as did a man in Tennessee, who we now know is 47-year-old Vernon Hartsell. There is a picture of him right there. He was killed when a tree fell on to a shed that he was inside.

Miguel Marquez has more on the devastation and all of the cleanup in Adairsville. What can you tell us, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning. We're not very far from where that man died. Apparently, a tree fell on a mobile home that he was in. That's where he was killed.

But this is a storm that packed a 1,000 mile punch.


REPORTER: We can see circulation in the clouds.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A reporter from Atlanta affiliate WSB caught one twister as it touched down.

REPORTER: Slashing towards I-75. Again, a tornado --

MARQUEZ: In its path, utter destruction.

(on camera): This is main street in Adairsville, Georgia. This is exactly where that tornado hit. You can see devastation on that side of the street. The trucks completely destroyed here.

On this side, it was a normal day of work here at this Daiki plant. They come here to make parts for tractors. Complete devastation, 50 to 100 people working here today. All of them fine.

Across this entire area, trucks, everything, shredded.

(voice-over): At the plant, Justin Carnes and his fellow employees took refuge in the bathroom.

(on camera): What did it sound like? What did it feel like?

JUSTIN CARNES, SURVIVED TORNADO: Walls shaking. Everything shaking.


CARNES: Yes, like a pressure on my ears, real high-pitched whistling sound. Just hurt my ears really.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The 1,000 mile long storm set off tornadoes in six states, from Missouri to Georgia, leaving massive damage and creating drastic temperature changes.

In Nashville, one man died when a tree fell on his home.

DARRYL LOCKRIDGE, KNEW TORNADO VICTIM: It was a bad sight. Tree fell, like, right on him.

MARQUEZ: In Memphis, torrential rain and massive flooding. Bridges, underpasses inundated.

In Monticello, Arkansas, a horse barn collapsed. All 11 horses A-OK.

In Indiana, downed trees and fire, lightning is suspected. Kentucky saw strong winds, flipping tractor trailers like toys.

And winds so fierce in Scott County, Missouri, 48 train cars knocked right over.

And across Alabama, wind, rain and more misery.


MARQUEZ: Now, for as bad as it was across much of the country yesterday, it could have been so much worse. The Daiki plant, which is right across the street from here, just leveled people, 100 people in there. Everybody escaped without a scratch.

At the moment, they are just starting to get the lights on for most of the people. A lot of the electricity poles pulled down in all of this. About 1,000 people in total, we believe, are without electricity. But they're moving quickly, Georgia Power is here on the scene, and they seem to be moving quite quickly to get everything back up and running -- Zoraida. Back to you, guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We really appreciate that. Miguel Marquez, live for us. Thank you.

So will be more of the same today?

BERMAN: Yes, fierce -- fierce winds as we were driving in today. I mean, it just really appears to be hitting us hard now.

We want to go to meteorologist Indra Petersons right now with some answers about who is going to get this next.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I thought it was gusty out towards Atlanta this morning, gusts about 35 miles per hour, then I saw your gusts, gusting about 57 miles per hour. So, definitely, some strong winds in your area.

Here's a piece of good news: our last tornado watch just expired on the outer banks of the Carolinas. But notice, you're obviously still seeing some of those showers, in the New York area. But that doesn't mean our wacky weather is ending by any means. In fact, we have a huge change today. That's going to be something maybe we're not looking forward to.

It's that cold arctic air. It is back. Look at this cold air diving down, down to the South again. It's very easy to see the difference. Ahead of this, notice all the moisture here. This is our water vapor. Look behind it, cold and dry air.

So, what does that mean for all of us as we go through the afternoon today?

Well, I'm going to way back. I'm going to take you back 24 hours. Yesterday morning, very easy to see where we were warming up. We were 19 degrees warmer in Atlanta at this time. Cold air was already starting to dive down to the South. In between these two, you can see where the severe weather erupted, thanks to the clash of these two air masses.

Now, as I take you forward, you can see the cold arctic air pushing in, really starting to affect a big bulk of the country here, 31 degrees in Atlanta this morning. That is how much we cooled. And yes, we're going to be seeing these temperatures continue to dive down to the South. Looks like New York City, you'll see 30s by about 5:00 p.m.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks. Indra Petersons in Atlanta.

SAMBOLIN: It is six minutes past the hour.

It is day three now of a tense standoff in Alabama where a gunman is holding a 6-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker. Police say the boy was dragged off the school bus Tuesday afternoon -- this is Midland City -- after the gunman shot and killed the school bus driver.

Authorities are communicating with the suspect through a PVC tube. They also sent down prescription medicines, crayons, and coloring books to that little 6-year-old boy. School officials are calling the driver a hero. They say Charles Poland Jr.'s quick thinking saved the lives of 21 children on that bus.

George Howell is live in Midland City. And, George, everybody is worried about that little 6-year-old boy.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Zoraida. And the police out here, the investigators, they're tight-lipped about their operation. But when they do speak, everybody listens. And this is what they're saying.

First of all, they don't believe the young boy has been harmed in any way at this point. And that is great news. As you mentioned, they were able to get the young boy a coloring book and crayons. These are two things that he specifically asked for. But also, and more importantly, they were able to get him the medication that he needs, these daily medications.

We learned from a source that the 6-year-old boy suffers from Asperger's syndrome and ADHD. So very important, very key, that they got him the medication, Zoraida, as this standoff now moves into day three as people are waiting and this continues to drag out.

SAMBOLIN: George, what can you tell us about the suspect? There are some really bizarre stories online about his behavior.

HOWELL: Well, when you talk to people here, neighbors, they describe him as a very reclusive person, a person who, as one person said that I spoke with, believes in aliens, a paranoid person. In fact, Jimmy Davis, that's a neighbor who had a confrontation with Jimmy Dykes. He says that back in December, Dykes fired a pistol at him with his family in his pickup truck.

So, it's the sort of situation where everybody is just kind of waiting to see what happens as this continues, now in day three, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. George Howell, live for us, thank you very much for those details.

BERMAN: Scary situation.

SAMBOLIN: Praying for that little boy.

BERMAN: Eight minutes after the hour right now.

And police in Arizona are searching for the man they say is responsible for Wednesday's deadly shooting at a Phoenix law office. The suspect, 70-year-old Arthur Douglas Harmon, was attending a meeting to discuss some kind of litigation when he allegedly opened fire. A 40-year-old man was killed and two others wounded in this attack. Harmon took off in a 2013 Kia Optima. Police say he then opened fire on a witness who tried to follow him.

SAMBOLIN: Wednesday's Senate hearing on guns opened with some powerful words from former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords. It's been two years since Giffords was shot in the head in a political event in Tucson. She was there to urge Congress to do something to stop gun violence. Listen to her.


GABBY GIFFORDS (R-AZ), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.


SAMBOLIN: She was pretty bold and courageous there.

Giffords husband, Mark Kelly, actually broke the news of the Phoenix shooting we told you about during the hearing on gun violence in Washington, which also included the NRA's Wayne LaPierre.

So, later on EARLY START, chief James Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department tells us why he joined the fight for tighter gun laws. That's at 6:30 Eastern, right here.

And recent mass killings have put guns and gun control in the spotlight. This is all across the nation. The controversial issue pits two passionately believed arguments against each other, constitutionality and commonsense safety.

But can there be a solution to America's gun problems? Anderson Cooper looks at both sides of the debate in "Guns Under Fire", an "A.C. 360" town hall special. That is tonight at 8:00 Eastern. It is right here on CNN. BERMAN: So, we are a few hours away over a Capitol Hill showdown over the man who could be our next secretary of defense. We're going to go live to the Pentagon, coming up.

Plus, the invasion of gnomes, and how they have people in one community taking sides. The great gnome showdown.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

There could be serious tension on Capitol Hill today. The Chuck Hagel showdown, if you will. Confirmation hearings begin in just a few hours for Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. And this is one of the most contentious picks that I can remember. Groups are actually running negative campaign ads against Hagel.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is live at the Pentagon this morning where Chuck Hagel hopes to be going to work soon. The question is: will he? Hey, Chris.


Yes. You know, what our sources are telling us is that in just a couple hours, when Chuck Hagel opens to that hearing, he's going to testify that the militant group Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and that military options should be on the table when it comes to Iran. Not very controversial, unless you consider what he said in the past.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Chuck Hagel's past is about to come roaring back at him.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Good morning, guys. How are you?

LAWRENCE: How he's voted. What he's said.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He has insisted that the Israelis negotiate with Hamas, a terrorist organization.

LAWRENCE: So, one of the first questions could be: will you support Israel?

Recently, Hagel promised he would, unequivocally, saying his record has been distorted. But he'll have to explain what he said before his nomination.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Reference to a, quote, "Jewish lobby" which I don't believe exists.

LAWRENCE: Senators will demand to know what Hagel meant and why he refused to sign a letter designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization. SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I cannot support a nominee for defense secretary who thinks we should be tougher on Israel and more lenient on Iran.

LAWRENCE: Which brings up another question: can you be tough on Iran?

Senators are being barraged by advertising, questioning how effective Hagel can be.

AD NARRATOR: And while President Obama says all options are on the table for preventing a nuclear Iran, Hagel says military action is not a viable, feasible, responsible option.

LAWRENCE: It's true, but the quote's from seven years ago.

Recently, Hagel got in line with President Obama's policy, saying military options are on the table.

GRAHAM: He was one of two senators who voted against Iranian sanctions, saying we should negotiate with Iran, not sanction them.

LAWRENCE: Hagel did support negotiations with Iran with no preconditions. He said it's useless for any one nation, including the U.S., to impose sanctions alone. But he supported the multinational sanctions in place now.


LAWRENCE: Before the hearing, Hagel had to fill out a questionnaire, basically outlining what he thinks about certain topics. He indicated he would work to try to extend benefits to gay and lesbian service members, to their spouses. Right now, they don't have those benefits, and that he would continue to try to implement the women in combat policy, because ultimately, he will make the ultimate call on whether some of those jobs can be actually open to women.

BERMAN: Chris, in your piece, you know, we saw Lindsey Graham, we saw John McCain, a whole bunch of people willing so say bad things about Chuck Hagel.

Who is jumping to his defense?

LAWRENCE: Well, only one Republican so far has publicly him, the office of Senator Thad Cochran from Mississippi has said he will support Chuck Hagel. But that's right now -- from everything we're hearing ultimately, he probably is going to have the votes to carry this.

BERMAN: And what is the reason the White House gives, the primary reasons for supporting Chuck Hagel?

LAWRENCE: Well, I think it's because: (a), his positions align with the president's, you know? I mean, when you go line by line, if you want to know what Chuck Hagel thinks, just look at what President Obama thinks and has said publicly, because those positions almost line up word for word. BERMAN: And it also does seem the man has some kind of personal chemistry from working together in the Senate and traveling together a great deal.

Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, great to see you this morning.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: It's 17 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-date. Here's Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

BERMAN: Happy birthday, by the way.


SAMBOLIN: I didn't know. Happy birthday.

ROMANS: I brought you some terrible weather.

BERMAN: Twenty-nine.

ROMANS: Again. I love being 29.

Let me talk to you about the weather this morning. That massive 1,000-mile line of violent, deadly storms targeting the East Coast now. Tornadoes, strong winds and flooding all threatening the South, all the way up into New England.

One man was killed in Georgia, the storm heavily damaging a hotel and a manufacturing plant in Adairsville, north of Atlanta. It was so violent, workers at the plant were forced to take cover in a kitchen and bathroom. The storm killed a second man in Tennessee.

Tensions rising in the Middle East after a strike by Israeli warplanes inside Syria. The U.S. officials say the attack near Damascus took out a truck convoy believed to be transporting missile parts for Hezbollah and neighboring Lebanon. Syria claims two workers were killed in an Israeli air strike at a research facility. It's not certain if U.S. and Syria, in accounts of the Israeli refer to the same or separate incidents.

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat come Super Bowl Sunday, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will be feeling both at the same time. That's the guarantee, because they're the proud parents of the two opposing Super Bowl coaches.

The Baltimore Raves coach John Harbaugh, and the San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Yesterday, mom and dad held court in New Orleans.


JACK HARBAUGH, FATHER OF SUPER BOWL COACHES: This is our -- my hero right here, Jackie Harbaugh. And one other thing we would like to say, you're going to ask you how we feel on this historic event. Jackie, who has it better than us? Nobody!


ROMANS: Nobody! The Harbaughs say they won't be wearing either team's colors, they say both sons have told them just enjoy the experience.

BERMAN: You know, later today on "THE SITUATION ROOM," I have a piece exploring what brotherhood really means. And I discuss --

SAMBOLIN: In this case?

BERMAN: -- all the famous brothers in history to see if there is a lesson there for Jim and John Harbaugh.

SAMBOLIN: Really? I was reading that the last time there was a match-up between the boys, the parents did not attend the game. They want it somewhere else because it was too nerve-wracking.

BERMAN: Pretty competitive guys.

SAMBOLIN: Can you imagine? Oh my gosh.

Thank you, Christine.

BERMAN: All right. It is 19 minutes after the hour, time for your "Early Reads", that's your local news making national headlines.

And this is an amazing story. Hackers invading "The New York Times." Hackers out of China have been attacking "The Times" over the past four months, infiltrating their computer systems, stealing passwords.

According to the article, the timing of the attack, related or not, happens to coincide with "The Times" investigative report that revealed that relatives of Wen Jiabao, China's prime minister, have accumulated billions of dollars from business deals. "The Times" has finally succeeded in blocking them for now.

But again, this story is crazy. It makes it sound like it's possible that the establishment in China is trying to break into "The Times". Crazy stuff.

SAMBOLIN: All right. "The Oakland Tribune" has a story about the gnomes said to have been turning up on utility poles everywhere. The 2,000 hand-painted gnomes have become a local popular attraction.

But PG&E is not happy about this. Take a look at them. They're kind of cute. It is mounting a campaign to remove the portraits from its poles with the help of the mysterious artist who painted them.

So, they struck a deal now. The artist will provide a map of all the locations to PG&E and the utility will carefully remove the portraits and they will; make arrangements to give them away to whoever wants one.

BERMAN: Because I'm sure the gnomes are doing great damage to the poles. What harm? Protect the gnomes.

All right. So an old friend wants a new place in your life. We are talking about BlackBerry. But not the one you had five years ago.

SAMBOLIN: So cool.

BERMAN: The brand spanking new one. You're looking at it right now in the hands of Christine Romans.

SAMBOLIN: The picture is amazing.


BERMAN: So I'd like to say we're minding your business, but what we're really doing is playing with the new Blackberry 10.

However, before we get to the Blackberry 10, we're going to talk about stocks. U.S. stock futures are slightly down after the Commerce Department said yesterday the economy shrank at the end of last year. Also, yesterday, the Fed said that economic growth has stalled.

But stocks largely shrugged off that news closing down -- you back with us here? I'll keep going.

The Dow and S&P 500 are nearing all-time highs.

So, the question, Christine Romans, is why? Why are we at near all- time highs?

ROMANS: Almost the better answer is why not. Europe has not fallen apart. The Fed is still pumping this money into the system. Jobs are slowly growing in the country.

So you got stocks here at these near record highs, not there yet, but near record highs. Everyone is saying, why are they doing so well?

The biggest, biggest single reason is the Fed. The Fed keeps pumping money into the system. Yesterday, the Federal Reserve chief said they would continue to do that, basically for the foreseeable future. That's why the markets have been doing well.

Plus, people are coming into the market now. It's a 5-year-old bull market, so it's a bull long in the tooth, but bull markets can still run, right? People are coming in, that new money is moving things higher.

One thing that didn't go higher is the new company called BlackBerry. It used to be called Research in Motion, now BlackBerry. She said she wanted to play with one. I got her one.

SAMBOLIN: I appreciate that. I finally figure out how to turn the camera, it has some really interesting features once you figure out how to navigate.

ROMANS: Right, that's what everybody everyone is doing now. The keyboard is interesting. There's an interesting keyboard. I like how the keyboard works. I like how the camera works.

I asked Adrian Covert from CNN Money, hey, is this a great phone? This is what he said.


ADRIAN COVERT, CNN MONEY: They need a bigger product. This is a product that would have been great -- it would have been fine a year ago. It would have been amazing two years ago. But now, you know, the hardware and the features this phone is packing will probably be passed up by the competition in less than six months.



ROMANS: Yes, so he's a little bit pessimistic about whether this is the turnaround that RIM, now BlackBerry needs, with new creative director Alicia Keys, by the way.

But people who are BlackBerry fanatics --

SAMBOLIN: But this is not your traditional BlackBerry.

ROMANS: Fanatically going and looking and trying to figure out if this is what they want.


BERMAN: A lot of the papers do have some very, very positive reviews of this device.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. It's a fun to use thing. There are some features on it that are consumer friendly, almost iPhonesque customer-friendly kind of things that, you know, BlackBerry didn't have before.

BERMAN: I'd love to use it, but Zoraida won't let me.


SAMBOLIN: It's really cool for folks who really love taking pictures. It's kind of like Instagram built in.

BERMAN: BlackBerry hog.

SAMBOLIN: Here you go.

BERMAN: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I'll share.

Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: In pro football, playing hurt makes you a hero to the fans but it could cost you a lot later in life. A closer look, coming up.