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Storms Hit U.S. South; Boy Kidnapped and Held Hostage in Alabama; BlackBerry 10 Released

Aired January 31, 2013 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Time's up for us. That's all for "EARLY START." I'm John Berman.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, extreme weather. A thousand-mile-long line of severe storms including tornadoes and severe flooding is leaving a path of destruction from the south to the northeast. Here comes the cold.

Also this morning, some tense negotiations happening in Alabama right now. A six-year-old boy has been held hostage since Tuesday. We're expecting a news conference to update us on this situation any moment. We're going to take you there live when it happens.

BERMAN: Get ready, confirmation hearings begin as Chuck Hagel fights to be the next defense secretary. But it could be an uphill battle with an old friend, John McCain, leading the resistance.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And here it is. This is the new BlackBerry 10, Soledad. So what makes it so different from this one and with him it make BlackBerry relevant again? I'll break down all the changes and fun little things for you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you. It's Thursday, January 31st. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Let's get right to that press conference that we told you we were expecting out of Alabama. I want to throw that up on the screen right now. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As much as the land that we're standing on right now, people have been good enough to work with us through all this. The law enforcement agencies, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and all the private businesses that's brought in food for the volunteers and the workers and law enforcement, you know, it's just a multiple agencies here and people helping out and stuff like that. You know, just a multitude of people. Again, you know, we really don't have a whole lot to add. I mean, I hate to tell you that, I mean, but that's the way it is. But I do appreciate your continued support and effort and I know it's getting cold out here, so I really can't take a lot of questions because we've got a lot going on, but thank you, OK.

QUESTION: Have you had any contact with him at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, like I said, I can't take a lot of questions.

QUESTION: Do you know if he has enough food or blankets?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like I said, right now I can't -- I can't go into any of that, OK?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't hear you.

QUESTION: How are your men holding up after 30 hours of dealing with this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we're doing good. Everybody is doing good.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now I can't.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't -- right now I'm not at liberty to say.

QUESTION: What about the timeline? Will this go for a while longer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no idea, no way of knowing that right now.

OK, I'm going to have to cut it off here because we've got a lot going on and I've got a couple more folks that want to talk. Again, I want to thank everybody for their help and continued support. Thank you.


O'BRIEN: You just heard the very little that was said in that news conference that only lasted a couple of minutes. You can see a representative from the sheriff's department being unable to actually answer a lot of the questions. That is because this investigation and a hostage situation that is unfolding right now.

The question was, how are the men holding up? He said they're doing OK. Also a question on how long do they think this hostage situation will last, and you could hear him say, in fact, he has no idea. We're going to get to George Howell who has more for us as he is in Midland City, Alabama, this morning. George, good morning. GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, good morning. You know, this update no different than the update we got the other night saying that the young child is not harmed. That's the most important thing, you know, that the child is OK, still in this bunker, now going on day three.

Soledad, we've also gotten some new information about the child's age, five years old, not six years old. This is according to a state representative, Steve Clouse, who has been in very close contact with the family.

But again, as each hour passes, this is a desperate situation, Clouse says that the family is hanging on by a thread at this point, just watching and waiting as these investigators do their best to resolve this issue, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my goodness, I can imagine. We'll be talking, George, in just a little bit to Steve Clouse, the legislator who has been spending a lot of time with the family. We'll talk to him and get more of an update if we can on not just the story but also how that family is doing this morning.

We also want to talk about that our other big story, the massive 1,000-mile-long storm system that's now moved through the eastern U.S. tornadoes, strong winds, flooding, all pummeling the eastern half of the country. One of the hardest-hit spots was Adairsville, Georgia, just about 60 miles north of Atlanta. One person there died as did a man in Tennessee. Let's get right to Miguel Marquez to pick up more on the devastation and also what lies ahead in the cleanup. Miguel, good morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Soledad. The person who died here in Adairsville died fairly close to where we were standing right now. He was in a manufactured home and a tree killed him. This storm packed 1,000-mile punch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could see circulation in the clouds.

MARQUEZ: A reporter from Atlanta affiliate WSB caught one twister as it touched down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Slashing toward I-75. Again, a tornado --

MARQUEZ: In its path, utter destruction.

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 where they make parts for tractors. Complete devastation, 50 to 100 people working here today, all of them fine. Across this entire area, trucks, everything, shredded.

At the plant Justin Carnes and his fellow employees took refuge in the bathroom. What did it sound like, what did it feel like?

JUSTIN CARNES, SURVIVED TORNADO: Walls shaking, everything was shaking. And there was like a pressure on my ears, real high-pitched whistling sound. It was just -- hurt my ears really.

MARQUEZ: The thousand-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.

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.


MARQUEZ: What you're looking at there is a building that's almost cliche to say but that building was perfectly fine. The one next to where we're standing was a rental, apparently nobody was in there so nobody injured or killed here, but it is always amazing to see these things, how it skips from one and misses another.

O'BRIEN: Miguel Marquez for us this morning. It is always amazing how a swath is just shredded and then homes stand right nearby. Thanks, Miguel. Appreciate the update.

Let's get right to our meteorologist, Indra Petersons. Let's look at the forecast, is it moving fast still?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: For the most part it's just left in the northeast. The story today really isn't about that severe line of storms but rather all that cold air behind it that was the troublemaker in the first place. I want to give you an idea how strange this weather was in the first place. Monday, 48 degrees, look at Chicago, 48 degrees. By Tuesday it got up to 63. Yesterday severe weather, 44 degrees. Currently now down to 17 with a chance of snow showers in the forecast. So, yes, very wacky weather, all of that of course thanks to the cold air replacing all of that warm air.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk a little bit about what they're expecting as they do this cleanup. Obviously I have covered a lot of these stories where the weather is terrible for people as they try to clean up. What's the weather going to be for those folks where we saw Miguel, for example, standing? Are they going to have clearing or rain and messiness the next couple of days?

PETERSONS: The good news is we're not going to be talking about rain but unfortunately it's going to be very cold. All of that cold air is spreading from Canada down into the southeast so temperatures are 30 degrees cooler from where they were yesterday.

O'BRIEN: All right, appreciate the update.

I want to turn back to that hostage situation in Midland City, Alabama. It is still under way. A little boy, originally reported adds six years old, we're now being told that he is five years old, he is a kindergartner, now being held in a bunker. We want to get to Alabama state representative Steve Clouse who has been helping the family and is with us this morning. Thanks for your time. I know you have been reaching out to the family. Tell me how they're holding up. I mean this is just -- this is just horrible.

STEVE CLOUSE, (R) ALABAMA STATE LEGISLATURE: Well, Soledad, they're just holding on by a thread right now, just hoping for a peaceful resolution to get their little boy back, get him back to his family. Of course while we're trying for that resolution, we also have the situation of the slain bus driver. His family is devastated. We had five prayer vigils around the county last night. Everybody is coming together to support this family, to support getting this little boy back. The bus driver, we owe him all a debt of gratitude.

O'BRIEN: He's being considered a hero. How is his family holding off?

CLOUSE: Not very good. Everybody is in shock. He started the day off as a school bus driver and he ended as a hero.

O'BRIEN: So yesterday I guess there was some good news in that there were reports that this little boy was being fed, that he had asked for coloring books and he was getting them and some medicine that he needed. I believe he has Asperger's and he needed some medication and he was getting that. Has that been consistent, that they're delivering things to him and they know at least he's OK, he's alive?

CLOUSE: Yes. You know, we don't know -- they're not releasing what his condition is, but he is getting his medicine. The next day, yesterday, he asked for his coloring books and they were able to get him his coloring books. So hopefully he's calm.

O'BRIEN: I want to ask you the last final question, some neighbors have been talking about the man who is a suspect in this case, Jimmy lee dikes and the neighbors talked about how he beat a dog. Others said that he was a ticking time bomb. When you hear stories like this, you know, what do you -- what do you know about this suspect?

CLOUSE: I don't know anything about him. I don't know him. I think he's relatively new to the -- this particular neighborhood. But it's obviously a mental health issue here. So it's -- that's what the situation is.

O'BRIEN: Steve Clouse is with the Alabama state legislature joining us this morning. Thank you for your time. I know you're super busy this morning so we truly appreciate it.

CLOUSE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We'll continue to watch the story for you as it unfolds, as this hostage situation continues.

I want to turn now to the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, sparking a national debate on gun control. It seems to be raging on from Congress to town halls to people discussing it every day. Yesterday that mass shooting in Phoenix was unfolding even as the Senate tried to find a solution to end the violence. CNN's Brianna Keilar is live for us at the White House. So how did that go? Was there any sense of agreement? Was there a tenor of, you know, we might be able to work together to do something in this meeting?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Soledad, there was not a ton of agreement when we saw that hearing yesterday. Democrats are emphasizing gun control solutions. Republicans were saying there are existing laws that are flawed and not well enforced and they say the mental health system is a wreck. And it's all a sign of just how difficult it will be to get something through Congress.


KEILAR: A plea from former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot in the head in 2011 during a shooting in Arizona.

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, (D) FORMER ARIZONA REPRESENTATIVE: Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something.

KEILAR: President Obama, who met with Giffords Tuesday, has promised action on the issue.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

KEILAR: Putting forth proposals that include an assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines and the measure that is seen as most likely to go somewhere, background checks on all gun purchases, including private sales by owners.

But there is resistance from gun rights advocates. Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, says the federal government is not enforcing its existing gun laws effectively and the answer is not more gun laws.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, PRESIDENT, NRA: None of it makes any sense in the real world.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Mr. LaPierre, that's the point. The criminals won't go to purchase the guns because there will be a back grounding check. We'll stop them from the original purchase. You missed that point completely. I think it's basic.

KEILAR: But can the president push a far-reaching law to tackle gun violence through Congress?

Is he biting off more than he can chew? AMY WALTER, POLITICAL ANALYST, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: This is a president with a 60 percent approval rating right now. He is in his last term as president. This is the time to strike while the iron is hot. He's as popular as he may ever be. If he's going to go try to sell his agenda, now is the time to do it.


KEILAR: President Obama said in a Univision interview yesterday that Congress will pass bills on both gun violence and immigration in the coming months, but even some Democrats like Chuck Schumer who support a wide-reaching bill are more optimistic that just something narrow like on background checks, closing that so-called gun shield loophole is really the thing that will have the most success.

O'BRIEN: Some Democrats sounding very skeptical on that. Brianna Keilar for us this morning at the White House, thanks, appreciate it.

At the bottom of the hour we'll talk with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal who was at that hearing. We'll get his assessment on how it went. Also tonight Anderson will host a town hall from George Washington University. The topic is gun control with today's leading voices in the debate. "Anderson Cooper 360" town hall, "Guns Under Fire" 8:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN.

Also ahead this morning, golfer Vijay Singh, the latest athlete involved in a doping scandal. He admitted to using deer antler spray. He said he didn't realize that was doping. How is that possible? We'll talk about that next.

An incredible live picture of flooding that's happening right now. A car stuck in floodwaters. We'll tell you what's happening. More ahead.

Plus there's business news to talk about.

ROMANS: BlackBerry 10. We've been talking about the new BlackBerry 10. It will be released in 10. We have this one and Soledad will play with it. We'll tell you what makes it different.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. You're looking at live pictures this morning, massive flooding. This is Brookville, Maryland. A car clearly stuck in the floodwaters there. Our affiliate station shooting this from their chopper, they say they do not believe that there's anybody whose stuck in that car.

Apparently there's a third car -- this is the third car that's been trapped in the water today. Much of the flooding in the area surrounding Washington, D.C., today so we are monitoring this as we update you on all the bad weather. This thousand-mile-long stretch of bad weather along the east coast we continue to follow. Also the aftermath of that storm as well.

We're talking about pro golfer Vijay Singh. He's now admitted to using deer antler spray. I guess it's a substance that's supposed to enhance athletic performance. It's advertised as containing a hormone called IGF1 which is banned by the world anti-doping agency and apparently banned by the PGA tour. The Ravens Ray Lewis was accused of using it in a report this week as well.

In a statement, Vijay Singh says this. While I have used deer antler spray, at no time was I aware that it may contain a substance that's banned under the PGA tour anti-doping policy. In fact when I first received the product, I reviewed the list of ingredients and did not see any prohibited substances. The product also coming up in the Alex Rodriguez scandal we were talking about a little earlier this week.

I want to get right to Elizabeth Cohen, our senior medical correspondent. What exactly is deer antler spray? Why would that be beneficial to someone and why is that doping?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. The people who make this stuff say that it comes from what they call the velvet of deer antlers. They scrape this so-called velvet off and they say that the velvet contains IGF1. And IGF1 is the real deal. They give it to children who have medical conditions and are very short to help them grow. And the makers of these sprays, and there's a lot of them out there. The makers of these sprays say that it enhances muscle growth. They say that it can make you stronger. However, the experts that we talked to said the potential dangers are that it can also increase the chances of having muscle pain and even getting diabetes and heart disease.

O'BRIEN: Is there some indication that deer antlers grow so fast or there's some quick regeneration? Why would you use deer antlers versus something else?

COHEN: Right, that's a great question. That's the reasoning that these products give. If you look them up online, they'll say, wow, antlers grow really fast. Therefore, there's a substance that will make your muscles grow fast as well. I've got to tell you, this is really tricky reporting because there's no NIH funded studies on deer antlers. I know that probably comes as a shock.

O'BRIEN: What?

COHEN: I know. The FDA is not looking at these products. No one is evaluating them. I mean, this industry is largely unregulated. They can kind of put in a bottle whatever they want and call it whatever they want and their chances of getting caught are very, very small. We don't really know what this stuff does. As a matter of fact, some of the experts we talked to said they think it's over -- the claims are over the top. They say that it doesn't really work nearly as well as the makers say it does.

O'BRIEN: But people apparently using it. Thanks, Elizabeth.

BERMAN: It's astounding what grown men will do and use.

O'BRIEN: Do deer antlers grow particularly fast? BERMAN: They are one of the fastest growing things in nature. But these are grown men, professional athletes. Why would force them to take deer antler spray?

O'BRIEN: Everybody wants an edge.

ROMANS: Everybody wants to know what's the edge that they're going to have against a competitor.

O'BRIEN: That's so true. But not only in sports, but in business. Let's talk about the edge that you have since you now own a BlackBerry 10.

ROMANS: I'm borrowing it. A company used to be known as RIM but now it's called BlackBerry. I'm going to show you how it works and what's cool about it. You can play with it next.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. I love you for that.

Our STARTING POINT team is headed in. We'll talk about that and much more in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning, Richard Socarides is with us, former senior adviser to President Clinton, Abby Huntsman is back, host of "Huff Post Live," and Katherine Rosman joins us, a reporter for the "Wall Street Journal". It's nice to have all of you with us this morning. We want to begin with a little business news.

ROMANS: Yes, let's mind your business with a market check. Stocks on the verge of record highs right now. They're trading mixed this morning, futures are, but the S&P has more than doubled since early 2009. Why? Why are stocks near records if the economy is slowing a little bit? Corporate profits are coming in. The Fed has been stimulating this economy for years. And investors are now coming back. The big thing to watch is tomorrow's monthly jobs report. It's expected to say the economy added 180,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell slightly to 7.7 percent.

O'BRIEN: And what's the number of jobs they need to --

ROMANS: It's 150. So if you're coming in at 180,000, getting closer to 200,000 every month, that would show an economy that's healing, and that's something clearly everyone wants to see.

The new BlackBerry 10 is finally here. You can see Dean over my shoulder. It has a cool new feature, a thing called time shift. That's my favorite thing. It captures shots in the moments just before and after you take a picture and gives you all these images to choose from. Soledad will love that. There's a larger screen, as you can see. There's something called BlackBerry balance that allows you to have two profiles, your work profile and personal profile.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, that's good. O'BRIEN: What are you hiding, Richard?

SOCARIDES: No, I just like a little privacy, a little personal privacy.

O'BRIEN: The keyboard is nice, the phone is nice. You know, I'm going to let you play with it a little bit because I want to see what you think about it. But I like an actual keyboard like the old one, so I'm old school on the BlackBerry. I've talked to a lot of people. Our own tech people, Adrian Covert was saying this is a great phone for a year ago.

O'BRIEN: Aren't they a few years behind?

SOCARIDES: You're a diehard BlackBerry person.

O'BRIEN: I love my BlackBerry, but I do like them for the keyboard. And you're right, it's easier to type on this one.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We all have iPhones, everything is integrated on your phone. Unless like we said it's a few years behind. Unless it's that different, who's going to up and change?

O'BRIEN: Take the knife out of my back, Abby, thank you.

ROMANS: A lot of executives use both an iPhone and BlackBerry who go through their emails on iPhone but when they have to respond they use a BlackBerry.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's about time BlackBerry, the new company. I'll try it out.

Also ahead this morning, Chuck Hagel will face some tough questions on Capitol Hill. His confirmation hearing as defense secretary begin. It could be a seriously uphill battle. We'll tell you why. That's ahead.