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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Killer Line of Storms Moves East; Alabama Hostage Standoff; Searching for A Gunman; Giffords: "Be Bold, Be Courageous"; Super Bowl XLVII: A Family Affair; Battle Lines Drawn for Hagel Confirmation; Bill Gates Talks Immigration

Aired January 31, 2013 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: It's widespread havoc. A 1,000-mile long storm system barrels east, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Desperate hours. Police in a tense standoff with a gunman who is believed to be holding a child.

SAMBOLIN: Battle lines drawn. Senators ready to grill Chuck Haguel with his confirmation hearing set to open in just a matter of hours now.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. Happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, January 31st. It's 6:00 a.m. in the East and we are talking about the weather this morning because it is crazy.

Next target, the East Coast. The 1,000-mile-long line of violence and deadly storms moves further east, hits us this morning, tornadoes, strong winds, flooding, all threatening the south all the way up to New England.

The front has already led to a staggering 400 reports of severe wind and 20 tornadoes over two days stretching from Texas to Pennsylvania. Among the hardest-hit spots, Adairsville, Georgia, which is about 60 miles north of Atlanta, one person died there, as did a man in Tennessee.

Miguel Marquez has more on the devastation and cleanup in Adairsville. Hi, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We are not far from where that man died yesterday. It was a tree that fell onto a mobile home, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse in this town, this storm packing a thousand-mile punch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REPORTER: You see circulation in the clouds.

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

REPORTER: Slashing toward 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.

And on this side was a normal day of work here at the 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?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Walls shaking, everything was shaking. There was like a pressure on my ears, real high-pitched whistling sound. It just hurt my ears really.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The thousand-mile-long storm set off tornados 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a bad sight. The 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, I can tell you what's happening here right now is a massive temperature change as well. It was in the 60s yesterday. It's down into the 30s right now. It is absolutely freezing out here, a problem for a lot of people across Georgia, at least.

Georgia power is saying about 10,000 people are without power across the entire state. In this area we believe there are 1,000, perhaps a little more than that, but crews are on it right now. They are getting the power back up and running in this area so hopefully before long things will start to get back to normal. Back to you guys.

BERMAN: Hopefully indeed, Miguel Marquez in Georgia right now, so much damage right behind you. Thanks, Miguel. SAMBOLIN: All right, so will it be more of the same today? Meteorologist Indra Peterson is here with some answers for us. We're hoping that it's headed out.

INDRA PETERSON, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's the good news. We can already tell, yes, the weather is still following that small cool pool of Arctic air that continues to dive down in the south. This is where it would be yesterday. We saw that from Indiana all the way to Louisiana and we're seeing it just kick out of the northeast.

That's the good news. We no longer have these severe watches and warnings as far as obviously tornadoes and strong winds. However, the strong winds we're seeing advisories as you see those gusts. We're seeing gusts as high as 45 miles per hour out towards New York City.

Upper New York, we're talking about gusts as high as 65. Cold pool of air still remains the story. We'll talk about these temperatures driving. Keep in mind with all the winds all of our major hubs will still be having a lot of delays so keep that in mind.

There's that cold pool of air. Look at these temperature changes. Yesterday, we're warming ahead of that line of storms and now that we're behind the line of storms look at this cold pool. Temperatures will be dropping as much as 30 degrees below from yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Indra Peterson, thank you.

BERMAN: It is now day three of a tense standoff in Alabama where a gunman is holding a 6-year-old boy hostage in an underground bunker. The boy was dragged off his school bus Tuesday afternoon in Midland City after the gunman shot and killed the bus driver. Authorities are communicating with the suspect through a PVC tube.

They also sent down prescription medicine, crayons and coloring books for the 6-year-old hostage. School officials are calling the bus driver a hero. They say his quick thinking saved the lives of 21 children on his bus.

George Howell is live in Midland City this morning. George, this really is a terrifying story.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, everybody out here, everybody is worried about this 6-year-old boy. This is the third day that he's been in that bunker, so any time the police. These investigators speak about it, they give us updates, everybody out here listens.

John, the latest update is that they don't believe that that young boy has been harmed in any way. That is the best news that we've heard so far as this continues to drag on. As you mentioned, they were able to give the boy a coloring book and crayons.

These are two things that he specifically asked for. But more importantly, John, they were able to get him the medications that he needs. He needs daily medications. I learned from a source that he suffers from Asperger syndrome and ADHD. So it's very important that he got those medications. That source also tells me he's been in touch with the family that every hour that passes, John, these are desperate times for them.

BERMAN: George, there are so many tales and stories flying around everywhere about the suspected gunman. What do we know?

HOWELL: Well, when you talk to people out here, John, they all describe him as a very reclusive person, as a paranoid person, as someone who believed in alien abductions and just a person that people avoid. Take a listen to what two people out here had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had two weapons that he always carried with him. He always would have a rifle sitting near him and a shovel. He almost decapitated one of my dogs with his shovel. He would -- I work late. I would come home at almost midnight and he would be patrolling his fence line with his rifle and a flashlight and he would shoot at anything that moved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: The other person in that shot, he sold Dikes the property and said that he would just avoid him, you know, wanted nothing to do with him, because again, John, he was -- according to people out here, just a very reclusive person and downright mean when people tell you about him.

BERMAN: All right, thanks, George Howell in Midland City, Alabama, where this story continues to develop this morning.

Coming up next hour of "STARTING POINT", we're going to hear from Alabama State Representative Steve Clouse. He's been spending time with the family of the 6-year-old being held hostage in that underground bunker.

SAMBOLIN: Police in Arizona are now searching for a 70-year-old man that they say is responsible for a deadly shooting in Phoenix. The suspect, Arthur Douglas Harmon was attending a meeting at a law office when he allegedly opened fire. A 48-year-old man was killed. Two others were wounded in that attack. Harmon took off in a 2013 Kia Optima and police say he then opened fire on a witness who tried to follow him.

BERMAN: A Senate hearing on guns opened with some pretty powerful words from former Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords. It has been two years since Giffords was shot in the head at a political event near Tucson. She was there yesterday to urge Congress to do something about gun violence. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ), FORMER ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN: You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Her words so powerful. Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, actually broke the news of the Phoenix shooting we just told you about during the hearing on gun violence in Washington, which also did include the NRA's Wayne Lapierre.

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

And tune in tonight as Anderson Cooper hosts a town hall from George Washington University on the topic of gun control with today's leading voices on the debate. "Anderson Cooper 360 Town Hall Guns Under Fire" will air at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

SAMBOLIN: Let's switch gears. There may be only two people hoping the Super Bowl ends in a tie, right? Jack and Jackie Harbaugh are the proud parents of two Super Bowl head coaches, the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh and San Francisco 49ers Jim Harbaugh. Yesterday mom and dad took their turn in the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: They have been married a million years, two kids, just in love. Mr. And Mrs. Harbaugh won't be wearing either team's colors on Sunday. They said it's going to be neutral and both sons have told them to just enjoy the experience, really.

BERMAN: You know, he was a former college football coach, and you can tell. He's got that sort of enthusiasm right there.

SAMBOLIN: It's fantastic.

BERMAN: I wonder who they like best.

SAMBOLIN: I want a camera on them during the game. You know they have their favorites, but they're not going to say.

BERMAN: We'll get to the bottom of that story. We're just hours away from a Capitol Hill showdown over the man who could be our next Secretary of Defense. We'll go live to the Pentagon coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It's 13 minutes past the hour. In just a few hours, President Obama's choice to run the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, will face tough questions when his confirmation hearing begins.

Critics have called Hagel soft on Iran and not supportive enough of Israel. The opposition to Hagel's opposition includes his former close friend and Senate colleague John McCain.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is live at the Pentagon. So what can Mr. Hagel expect? What kind of a fight?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be some tough questions, Zoraida. I mean, this thing has been run almost like a political campaign with those who oppose Hagel, taking out ads against him, his supporters raising money to defend him.

But he's got an office here in the Pentagon that has been buzzing for weeks. This office is dedicated to just prepping him for this hearing. So he's got a pretty good idea of what's coming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: I 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 directly 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: One thing that hasn't been talked about all that much is that Hagel supported the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. But the word we're getting from sources now is that he will support extending some of the health and other benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian service members -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: That's been a big issue. We know that he's had a lot of closed door meetings trying to get some support. We know that President Obama wants him in this position. Who else is rallying to his defense?

LAWRENCE: Right now, Zoraida, only one Republican has publicly come out and said, hey, I'm going to support him. It's a Republican senator from Mississippi, Thad Cochran.

But Hagel has met with 60 senators. So he's sort of laid the groundwork and I think from what we're hearing, ultimately he's going to get the votes to move this through.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Chris Lawrence live at the Pentagon for us, thank you very much.

LAWRENCE: Yes.

BERMAN: About 16 minutes after the hour right now. I want to bring you up to speed on all the morning's top stories.

Here's Christine Romans with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, again, you two.

A massive 1,000-mile-long line of violent and deadly storms targeting now the East Coast. Tornados, strong winds and flooding all threatening the south all the way up into New England. The damage is extensive.

This is video from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky. The storm killed two men, one in Georgia, another in Tennessee.

Look at this epic firefight. It's an eight-alarm fire. You don't say that very often. An eight-alarm fire at a food processing plant in Burlington, Wisconsin. Firefighters from four counties are on the scene. They stayed there overnight, 80 people had to be evacuated from the area.

All plant workers got out safely, thankfully. The mayor says there are concerns about ammonia leaks. We don't know yet what caused that huge blaze.

Just days before Super Bowl XLVII, 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver is making headlines not for his athletic ability but for his anti-gay comments. Culliver telling an interviewer gay players aren't welcome on his team or in the NFL.

The team issued this response, "The San Francisco 49ers reject the comments that were made yesterday and have addressed the matter with Chris. There is no place for discrimination within our organization at any level. We have and always will proudly support the LGBT community."

Culliver apologized last night in a statement released by that team.

SAMBOLIN: Eighteen minutes past the hour. As business travel picks up and flights get more crowded, there will be fewer places for you to cram your carry-on -- although I do a fantastic job at it.

BERMAN: Christine Romans has some tips to help you jump the line and find overhead bin space. I think this is one of the most important things ever. There's nothing more important than overhead bin space. Give us these tips for "Road Warriors."

ROMANS: Have you got a little money? You got a little money? Because you can buy your way to the front of the line.

OK. A survey out this month from frequentbusinesstraveler.com says business travelers don't list security checkpoint delays as a top complaint. No, it's the insufficient space for carry-on bags. That took the top spot.

BERMAN: Totally.

ROMANS: Yes. You know what I hate? I hate when people take the space above my seat and then go sit someplace else. That drives me nuts.

BERMAN: I hate it.

ROMANS: If this is a problem for you, here's how you get you and your bag to the front of the line and you're going to pay for it. Southwest Airlines has a new boarding option to help you get your bag on first, $40. You can purchase one of its early boarding positions at the gate. That's right.

United Airlines offers premiere access check-in which lets you go right to the front of the security line, and the line at the gate. That starts at $9 each way.

Delta has priority boarding that helps you avoid the crowds. It also costs $9.

JetBlue offers a program, even more space is what it's called which gets you early boarding and a roomier seat. The cost varies, depending on where you're flying.

So now you've got some options for getting some space if that is your number one priority. Like everything in the airlines, the a la carte menu is here to stay. You will pay for those things that are important to you.

SAMBOLIN: That's something you should get, right?

ROMANS: Here we go.

BERMAN: I like to strategize for like an hour when traveling to make sure I get the overhead bin space.

SAMBOLIN: You strategize, seriously?

BERMAN: No, with my wife, especially, traveling with the kids.

SAMBOLIN: You get boarded early.

BERMAN: You use the kids. That's what kids are good for. The number one reason to have kids: get on the plane first, I'm just saying. There are other reasons too but that's a really good one.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: All right. When you're the second richest man in the world and the richest man in America, your opinion counts. So coming up I go one on one with Bill Gates.

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: And he had some interesting things to tell me about immigration reform and what's happening in Washington right now, about skilled workers in this country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Twenty-three minutes past the hour. We are minding your business this morning.

U.S. stock futures are mixed after the Commerce Department said yesterday that the economy shrank at the end of last year and also yesterday the Fed said that economic growth has stalled.

BERMAN: Really surprising news but stocks largely shrugged it all off, closing down just a tiny bit. The Dow and S&P are nearing all- time highs actually.

So, Christine, the question is why?

ROMANS: And futures are mixed this morning and here are these cross currents. You've got the Fed and Commerce Department saying the economy actually stalled, actually shrank the end of last year. I can show you what that looks like.

It's the first time the economy has gotten smaller since back in 2009. That's not good. What I'm showing you there is not good. But you have stocks so close to record highs. How can that be? Well, this is a bull market that's now five years old in stocks. I want to show you the stages of a bull market. This is from (INAUDIBLE), a long-time watcher of markets.

The first stage there is reluctance, consolidation, and acceptance and exuberance. Much like I guess a new boyfriend or girlfriend, maybe. But that's what this bull market is.

BERMAN: Your poor husband.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: I'm telling you, at the end of it how much more will it go? Investors are coming in with a lot of optimism this will be a good year. Housing is coming up. The job market is improving, so you've got people coming into the bull market even though it is five years old here.

I want to talk a little bit about Bill Gates, America's richest man. You saw that video before the break. I sat down with him yesterday. We talked about a lot of things.

His charity, his foundation has given away $26 billion over 18 years. We talked a little about education, about what they have done around the world. But I asked him about the debate in Washington about immigration reform.

He is more confident now than he has been in years that you will fix immigration reform and he specifically is interested in high-skilled tech workers being allowed to stay in this country.

Here's a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL GATES, CHAIRMAN OF MICROSOFT: I'd love to see us solve illegal immigration, a tougher problem. The high talent immigration has kind of been held hostage to that broader problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Interesting, held hostage to that broader problem. You've heard so much talk about illegal immigration in that part of the story. He's saying that companies and the economy desperately needs a pathway for people who come here and study to be able to stay here and start businesses. He says it's critical to the economy.

BERMAN: So, what's the one thing we need to know about our money? Besides the fact that it's your birthday.

ROMANS: A job. A job is still the key to your personal recovery and we'll find out whether that's continuing to improve. We're expecting 180,000 jobs created in January, and unemployment falling slightly to 7.7 percent. We'll know for sure tomorrow.

But all of this that I've just told you, the most important thing is still a job, whether you have one, and that's going to be the key to a recovery in this year.

SAMBOLIN: I think everybody would say amen to that. Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now.

So we know the game will be live. But what about the halftime show? More on what --

SAMBOLIN: Stop it.

BERMAN: -- Beyonce could be talking about later today, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)