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Tornado Leaves Line of Destruction in Mississippi; Blizzard Moves Off, Cleanup Begins; 2013 Grammy Awards; Carnival Triumph Stranded; Is Your Credit Report Accurate?

Aired February 11, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Path of destruction. A powerful tornado strikes Mississippi. They are still assessing the damage right now.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And bracing for more. People still digging out from the Northeast blizzard. Now, they face another potential weather threat today.

BERMAN: And stranded at sea. Thousands of cruise ship passengers right now waiting for help after a fire leaves them adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.

SAMBOLIN: We're arguing whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. We're going to check in.

And nothing but Fun. The indie band grabs two trophies including Song of the Year at the Grammys. We've got a little wrap up for you.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Monday, February 11th, 5:00 a.m. in the East right now. Great to see you this morning.

However, down South, the painstaking cleanup is just getting underway this morning. A monster tornado ripped through southern Mississippi overnight, tearing apart homes, businesses and causing damage to a university campus. At least a dozen people were injured.

A storm chaser captured this really just unbelievable sight. A funnel cloud on the move, about 100 miles south of Jackson. Wow. Look at that.

According to the National Weather Service, this tornado was believed to have reached three quarters of a mile in diameter. Hattiesburg took the brunt of a series of twister that pounded the region on Sunday, causing Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to declare a state of emergency.

We want to go now to Victor Blackwell. He's there live in Hattiesburg. Victor, what's it like there this morning?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, let me show you some of the damage. I'm on the west end of Hattiesburg, on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. And look at this building. This is the Ogletree Building. You could see this tornado just demolish the front of it. This building is more than 100 years old.

You see up here on the corner? That's the desk of the Jerry DeFatta, the alumni director. This is the alumni association building now. Hundred years ago when it opened, it was the home the college president, this is some of the more dramatic damage here on the campus. There are about a half dozen (AUDIO GAP) campus.

Now, we know that when this came through, it caused injuries around the area. We've been told the latest numbers from the emergency management here, up to 60 injuries reported to local hospitals. Only 10 of those were severe enough to be transported to those hospitals. No major injuries, no deaths.

But we saw immediately after this storm, the videos start to pop up on YouTube. The storm described as being three quarters of a mile wide, ripping through the community. Homes damaged. Roofs off of buildings. Cars kind of mangled in the streets.

We also know the schools here, the public schools, grade schools are closed today because of some of the buses at the bus barn had been damaged. On this campus, students are not in class on Monday and Tuesday because of Mardi Gras. Fortunately, many of those students were not on campus.

But again, very dramatic damage here in Hattiesburg. Some of the damage we're going to see as the sun rises and they start to assess the damage.

BERMAN: Victor, amazing pictures down there. Victor Blackwell in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, standing in front of a building that's just been shredded. Thanks a lot, Victor.

SAMBOLIN: Stood for a hundred years and this is what took it down.

Three minutes past the hour. Just as the Northeast starts to dig out from the weekend's history-making blizzard, the hardest hit state, which is Connecticut, is bracing for more potentially dangerous weather. Freezing rain is expected in parts of the state today. Governor Dan Malloy warning about road conditions, saying snow piles may freeze and become the equivalent of a Jersey barrier, comparing the snow to actual concrete walls.

Getting around won't be only tough in Connecticut. Crews worked through the night to clear a stretch of New York's Long Island Expressway and have city-bound lanes open this morning for rush hour. The LIE is the main way into the city from Long Island.

So we are all over this big dig out. Indra Petersons is in Boston, Alison Kosik is in Long Island, and George Howell is in Hamden, Connecticut.

So, we begin in Boston where the big concern includes power outages, and how to get all of those folks out. So, let's start with Indra Petersons. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Zoraida. Yes, today, it's also about trying to get back to normal. You mentioned power outages. We still have 120,000 people this morning without power. Temperatures are cold this morning.

And so, tons of snow is on the ground. Huge heaps of snow. Today, we have a snow emergency and school is still closed as the city takes one more day to try and clean out the snow.

Now, what we did mention, or you mentioned earlier, is a weather charge today. A warm front is pushing through. Highs are expected to be in the mid-40s. A lot of the snow is expected to melt.

But before we get there, we're going to be talking about more snow, several inches are possible and then even some freezing rain.

So, yes, everyone is trying to get to work this morning. We're not seeing too much out here. It looks like people are listening to the warnings because it could be very dangerous with these icy conditions. Also keep in mind, when this does start to melt, there could still be some snow blocking the drains or even some ice blocking the drains. And we will be talking about flooding concerns.

One piece of good news I had, yes, Logan is finally operational. So they're going to continue to play catch up, but with the icing concerns this morning and heavy rains across the country today, I wouldn't be surprised to see backup there as well.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Indra Petersons live in Boston, thank you very much.

BERMAN: So, the eastern part of Long Island just took a thrashing in the storm. Crews are racing now to open part of the long island expressway for the morning rush. The westbound lanes heading into the Big Apple are now clear. But hundreds of cars were abandoned in the snow on the LIE -- for decades, nicknamed locally as the world's largest parking lot. It lived up to that name this weekend due to the really ridiculously heavy snowfall.

Alison Kosik joins us now live from Ronkonkoma in New York. Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Nothing like another headache to add on to your morning commute. It's Monday morning. People are trying to get to work and, guess what? Part of the Long Island Expressway, actually the eastbound side is closed.

The good news is, the westbound side, the part that heads to New York City, that is open. As you can see, the cars are going. But if you're lucky enough to get to the highway, yes, that's a great thing because the side streets are a different story. They barely have been plowed.

Look at how deep this snow still is days after this blizzard hit. In fact, I talked with one person this morning. He said it took him one hour -- one hour -- to go 10 miles, just to give you an idea about how tough it is to travel on these side streets.

Look at that big truck over here. It just got stuck here. We got a Suffolk police officer trying to help that trucker dig out.

Now, why about these highways close? We can go back to that video you showed, John. Over the weekend, you know, this storm really hit on Friday during rush hour. A lot of people were trying to head home, try to beat the storm but they clearly didn't because the snow fell so fast so hard. That's why those -- that's why those cars got stuck like that.

They had to close the highway so they could go ahead and literally get those cars out and plow that snow. That is why the highway was closed from Sunday morning, all up until the wee hours of this morning. Finally, John, as you can see, the westbound, meaning the lanes heading towards New York City, are open again -- John.

BERMAN: Well, that's good news, Alison. Alison Kosik in Long Island -- but those side streets still a mess, man. Thanks, Alison.

SAMBOLIN: And no place got dumped on worse than the town of Hamden, Connecticut. How about 40 inches of snow?

BERMAN: That's crazy.

SAMBOLIN: And the big dig so far barely able to make a dent for those folks.

So, George Howell is there for us live this morning. Good morning.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, good morning. Yes, 40 inches of snow, what do you do with that? Where do you start? OK?

What you find here in Hamden, there are plows everywhere. You scoop it up, you pile it up. And I want to show you over here, photojournalist Ken Towee (ph) would pan down.

You see these big piles? They're everywhere. There's snow all over town and it could take several days before crews are able to clear the roads.

Now, in the neighborhoods, what you find, a lot of the roads are still unplowed. So you got people who have been stuck in their homes literally for the last 72 hours. You can go stir crazy waiting in your home like that. But crews are doing their best to clear those roads.

Also on the highways, when I drove in on I-95, you can tell that the crews have done a great job of clearing those roads, but still, there's a problem because when you're on the highway, sometimes the shoulder lane can just go away. There's so much snow piled up on the side.

Now, we spoke to the mayor of Hamden, just about the conditions here in this city, what it takes to clean out all the snow. Take a listen while I try to ground a little safer. Take a listen.


MAYOR SCOTT D. JACKSON, HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT: We have about 240 miles worth of road, and, as of right now, about 50 percent of them are impassable. People open their doors, they look out their windows, they see 40 inches of snow and they realize this is not a snowstorm, this is a disaster. This is an emergency. This is dangerous.


HOWELL: So, today, there is a real probability of rain in the forecast. So, when you get rain on the roads it makes for conditions like this. You know, you don't have to be a professional to moon walk out here. It's slippery. It's black ice.

Also on these mounds, you get rain on the mounds, you get rocks like that. So, you know, it will be several days before crews are able to clear the roads, before people kind of get back to normal up here.

SAMBOLIN: You mentioned some people stuck at home for 72 hours. Did they have a lot of power outages or are they OK there?

HOWELL: Here in Hamden, no, they didn't have electrical problems. But, you know, in different area, there were problems. At this point, we understand a lot of people have gotten power back.

But, Zoraida, it will take several days before things get back to normal.

SAMBOLIN: I can't imagine 40 inches of snow. But you seem to be enjoying it. George Howell, live for us, thank you.

BERMAN: We're going to go back to George for more of that moonwalk later. It will be a big part of our show.

SAMBOLIN: Big, giant snow balls.

All right. So the South is really not out of the danger zone yet. And the Northeast is in for another wet morning, with a wet commute. We're going to have more now on the weather forecast with Alexander Steele tracking the new threats this morning.

Hey, Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi. Good morning. You know, they're moonwalking in the South because on the roads are hydroplaning. So, major rain falling in the South. So, we've got issues in the South, the Northeast, even the Midwest.

All right. Here's the Northeast. You know, we were talking about the rain and snow coming down. We're going to see that.

You can see that. You can see the pink delineates the sleet. We are going to see temperatures here in the 20s, 30s, and 40s. So, we're going to see a variety of conditions. So, in Boston, you will see rain and snow this morning, with temperatures about 30 degrees. By the afternoon, we see the snow change over all to rain and wind really coming in in earnest for your commute home in Boston, if you can get home.

In New York, though, predominantly just rain. Right now, it's 35, 36 degrees. Cloudy skies. A few showers for the afternoon. But temperatures in the 40s.

Here's the deal, 15 reports of tornadoes from last night in the South. Today, you can see this inundation of rain. It's just a rain train. And the biggest issues in the South today will be flooding potentially. Not so much an isolated tornado, but a tornado threat nowhere near as strong as yesterday, but strong winds, heavy rain. We could see between three and five inches of rain between yesterday, Zoraida, and by the time this storm makes its way out on Wednesday.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexander Steele, thank you for tracking that.


SAMBOLIN: All right. A little folk, a little fun, not as much flesh at the Grammy Awards in L.A. last night. British folk rock band Mumford and Sons got top honors with their album "Babel", while Song of the Year went to "We Are Young" by New York indie trio Fun, who are also named Best New Artist. And almost everyone took CBS's, quote, "tone it down" wardrobe request seriously, or almost.


J.LO, SINGER/ACTRESS: As you can see, I read the memo.


BERMAN: Didn't Angelina Jolie wear a leg dress like that at the Oscars?

SAMBOLIN: Oh my, really, you recall that?

BERMAN: What if Angelina Jolie's leg and her leg would have a leg off?

SAMBOLIN: They are having one online as a matter of fact. So, you can go and vote and decide which leg off or which leg --

BERMAN: There's no losers in this battle, though.

SAMBOLIN: But it was performances by Kelly Clarkson, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z, and that tribute to Bob Marley by Sting, Rihanna and Bruno Mars that really turned heads. Not to mention Carrie Underwood's dancing dress, LL Cool J's all star rap finale.

And, of course, what everyone cannot stop talking about this morning. Take a look at your TV, Chris Brown and Rihanna cozying up to watch the show last night. Tongues are wagging over that one. Baffling. All right. Also taking home awards from last night, Record of the Year went to "Somebody that I Used to Know" by Gotye. Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" got Best Pop Vocal Album. Best Country Album went to Zac Brown Band for "Uncaged". And the Black Keys "El Camino" won Best Rock Album. And Frank Ocean's "Channel Orange" took home Best Urban Contemporary.

I love Frank. I'm sorry, but I love him. All right.

BERMAN: Twelve minutes after the hour right now. On one minute you are relaxing on board a cruise ship. The next you are waiting for help after a fire knocks out the ship's engines.

SAMBOLIN: All the generators are working.

BERMAN: Still, to me on, it sounds like an ordeal for thousands of passengers adrift at sea. We'll have a live report. You can decide for yourselves, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

You can call it the "cruise to nowhere." Right now, the Carnival cruise ship Triumph is stranded right in the Gulf of Mexico. A fire in the engine room on Sunday actually disabled the ship. More than 4,200 passengers and crew are on board no injuries have been reported. And another ship is expected to arrive today to tow that liner into a port in Mexico.

CNN's Sandra Endo is in Washington this morning with the very latest. What are the conditions, Sandra?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Zoraida. The thousands on board that Carnival Triumph see are still waiting for help and the Coast Guard said its cutter was expected to arrive there about 1:00 this morning, about four hours ago. But we're still waiting for confirmation on that.

But, as you mentioned, a fire broke out yesterday morning in the engine room of the Triumph. And a carnival spokesperson said the fire was contained and no injuries were reported, but it left the ship drifting 140 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula.

The triumph was on a four-day trip from Galveston, Texas, to Cozumel, but the fire left the engine dead as the ship was heading back to Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico. The more than 4,000 passengers and crew on board are now waiting for a tugboat to tow the vessel to Progreso, Mexico, which is the closest port.

The Carnival spokesperson said that the passengers were never without electricity, thanks to emergency generators and do have ample food and water on board. Now, even more food and beverages were being transferred yesterday on to the Triumph from one of its sister ships. But here's a comment posted from someone onboard the ship that was posted on The passenger says, "We have no power at all, which means we can't use the toilets, wash our hands or take a shower." So, certainly, not good conditions there if that's the case.

Two years ago, Carnival Splendor cruise ship lost power and was adrift for days off the coast of Mexico. Passengers onboard that ship went for long periods without hot water, actually and working toilets. It was eventually towed to San Diego.

Now, the Triumph is expected to make it to Progreso by Wednesday and those on board will be flown back to the United States, of course, at no cost to the, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, what is Carnival going to do to compensate these passengers for all this time that they're spending? I had no idea their toilets were not running and they didn't have working water. That is a problem.

ENDO: Yes, a big problem. So, obviously, the Carnival cruise line is trying to compensate passengers. They'll get a full refund and credit that can be used towards a future trip and reimbursement for all expenses, except, of course, money spent at the casino or gift shops on their current ship.

Yes, and according to the company, Zoraida, the vessel's next two scheduled for Monday and Saturday have been canceled. Those passengers will get refunded as well. But we saw on Facebook that a lot of disappointed passengers were, you know, upset that those trips are going to be canceled.

SAMBOLIN: I wonder why they canceled them, as a safety precaution, just in case. Do you know?

ENDO: Yes, I'm sure they want to check out the ship, make sure everything is working OK.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Sandra Endo, live in Washington, thank you.

BERMAN: I don't think I'd like being adrift in the Gulf of Mexico.

SAMBOLIN: I wouldn't mind being adrift if everything was working. If those backup generators were able to power everything.

BERMAN: Who cares?

SAMBOLIN: I mean, you're in the cruise anyway, in the middle of nowhere.

BERMAN: Even if the bar is still open, I'm not sure without the toilets and showers --

SAMBOLIN: That is a problem. Yes, indeed.

BERMAN: All right. Nineteen minutes after the hour right now. And what you don't know about your credit report could cost you big money. A troubling report about mistakes that could impact you and your family is coming right up.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We are minding your business this morning. Stock futures are pointing up. That's good news. Investigators are hoping to continue the momentum we have been seeing lately.

SAMBOLIN: You mean investors, right? Not investigators?

BERMAN: Investors and investigators. Investigators are people, too. They probably have stock portfolio. You shouldn't discriminate against investigators. We care about your stocks, investigators.

All the major average gain between 6 percent and 7 percent so far this year.

SAMBOLIN: I'm going to be in big trouble.

Also this morning, big questions about your credit report. Is it accurate? Christine Romans is here to explain.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All sparked by a piece last night on "60 Minutes" with the FTC chairman who said, look, they have some troubling responses, results from an 8-year FTC investigation that found far too many credit reports, according to the FTC chairman on "60 Minutes," far too many of these credit repots had mistakes, 40 million Americans have a mistake, 20 million have a significant mistake and some of these mistakes can be difficult to remove.

Jon Leibowitz said that one out of five Americans has an error on their credit report. He is, of course, the FTC chairman. And one out of 10 those errors on a credit report might lower your credit score.

This is so important, because your credit score, if you're going to go buy a car and you're going to use a loan to do that, buy a house and use a loan to do that, you're going to apply for a job, and they're going to run a background check when you apply for a job. They'll run a credit history, too. So your credit score is less important than your credit history and making sure there are not mistakes on that credit history.

So the "60 Minutes" piece highlighted a couple of horror stories. And, of course, everyone this morning is saying, wait a minute, "60 Minutes" said they traffic your financial information, the three credit rating agencies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They keep files on 200 million of us and traffic in our financial reputations. That's how "60 Minutes" put it.

The CDIA -- let me tell you who this group is. This is the trade association that represents these three credit unions. This is what they say, "Credit reports are materially accurate 98 percent of the time. And when they do contain mistakes, our members work to resolve them quickly and to the consumer's satisfaction 95 percent of the time."

The industry is highlighting its own studies that are much more rosy than this FTC study that was unveiled last night on "60 Minutes". We're going to get that FTC study ourselves today and be able to pore over it.

But what everybody should know, you can go to and check for mistakes. And you need to be checking for those mistakes six months, nine months, 12 months before you think you will need to borrow money because sometimes it can be difficult to wipe these things off your credit report, your credit history.

Credit scores are less important in making sure the history is cleaned up. And my own reporting has found that a lot of people don't know until it's too late and it can be difficult to expunge them from the record. This whole issue last night on "60 Minutes" really brought that to the fore.

The industry, though, is saying it might have been a little bit of cherry picking.

BERMAN: It's a good thing to know. You should know what your credit record is.

ROMANS: It is and you don't need to know the credit score. You need to know the credit history. You need to go and check and make sure somebody else is not working under my Social Security in Idaho. You need to make somebody else didn't open a mortgage in my name. That's what you need to know.

SAMBOLIN: I guess the advice saying, though, a year in advance is a good thing because it's a daunting task to get amazing change on the report.

ROMANS: By law, you can do it for free once a year., let me very clear, there's going to be a lot of places where you can click on to buy extra stuff. Don't buy the extra stuff.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans --

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

BERMAN: Excellent advice this morning.

Twenty-six minutes after the hour.

An extreme weather effecting millions of Americans right now. A tornado that caused widespread damage in Mississippi and a brand new weather worry for people still digging out from the Northeast blizzard. We will have live reports on all of this, just ahead.