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Report: 950 Hurt By Meteorite Blast; Obama to Talk Gun Violence, Economy; Meteor Shower, Historic Natural Event; Pistorius Charged wit Premeditated Murder; Senate Republicans Block Hagel;

Aired February 15, 2013 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now in the NEWSROOM.

Meteor shower. Breaking overnight, amazing pictures out of Russia. Hundreds are injured as fragments of the meteor slam into earth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was kind of crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tired but ready to get on a bus and go get a shower, be in a place where the toilet flushes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just really want a bed.

COSTELLO: Sweet home Alabama. Back on land, the cruise from hell finally over for thousands of weary vacationers.

Also, charged. Prosecutors arguing the so-called Blade Runner Olympian committed pre-meditated murder, reportedly shooting his girlfriend four times through a bathroom door.

Plus this.

AUDREY HEPBURN, ACTRESS: Don't you just love it?


HEPBURN: Tiffany's.

COSTELLO: It's Breakfast at Tiffany's not Breakfast at Costco. The discount warehouse known for gallons of mayo and bulk packs of underwear selling what they say are Tiffany rings. The people behind that little blue box calling Costco out this morning.

NEWSROOM starts now.


(MUSIC) COSTELLO (on camera): Good morning, thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello. We begin with the shock and awe of a meteor shower raining down on southern Russia. Nearly 1,000 people now reportedly injured. Millions mesmerized by the incredible images now streaming in.

Watch as that fireball grows bigger and bigger as it races across the daytime sky and then erupts into this blinding flash of light. But it would take several seconds for the sound to catch up.





COSTELLO: Unbelievable. Witnesses say there were three separate explosions that ripped across the region and jolted buildings with a sudden and frightening violence. Now keep in mind, no reports of anything actually hitting the ground. This damage is just from the shock wave from the meteor as it burned into the earth's atmosphere.

Now at this factory, which you're looking at now, a wall collapsed, the roof caved in. It's one of nearly 300 buildings damaged, including schools and hospitals across at least six towns. Thousands and thousands of windows shattered, and the number of injured could very well climb.

Here's what we now know about this meteor. It weighed about ten tons when it slammed into the earth's atmosphere. It was screaming at about 33,000 miles per hour, and for all that widespread damage, it was only about the size of a big kitchen table.

CNN's Phil Black is in Moscow. Wow. What's the government's response to this, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the government has been responding to this, Carol. They say they now have a team of tens of thousands of people there on the ground helping with the cleanup. They're urging people to stay calm, to say there is no threat. And some initial concern because there is a cluster of Russian nuclear (ph) facilities in that area, but none of them were damaged. There is no change to ambient Russian radiation - Russian sort of ambient radiation in that area.

What they've just been trying to do is help the people that have been hurt and a lot of different numbers have been coming to us from different Russian agencies over the course of the day about the number of people who are actually injured in this incident, but they all have one thing in common, they keep going up. As you say, the total number of injured is now close to 1,000. That's how many people they say have sought attention. We believe anywhere between 30 and 100 or so have been treated in hospitals, and a lot smaller number, less than ten we are told, are said to be in grave condition. Fortunately, for all the drama, for all the sheer terrifying elements to all of this, the damage although widespread is not significant. It is largely broken glass. These 1,000 or so people are the people who were showered in broken glass as they were struck by the sonic booms, that most of the injuries are not more serious than simple cuts and scratches. Carol.

COSTELLO: Unbelievable. Phil Black reporting live for us from Moscow.

Let's talk a little bit more about that, the piece of meteor itself, because Indra Petersons, please help us understand this. Because as you look at this thing, it clearly is on fire when it enters the earth's atmosphere. Am I right?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. I actually definitely wanted to start you with the distinguishing factor between an asteroid and a meteor. It's an asteroid before it enters the earth's atmosphere. Once it enters the earth's atmosphere, you're talking about friction with the atmospheric composition, so that makes it literally start to be a fireball. And as it moves closer towards earth, it continues to burn up, therefore it gets smaller. So that's what we're watching. If it hits the ground it's called a meteorite.

Let's take a look at the video. What we're thinking here is it entered at 33,000 miles per hour. So remember, we talked about this being ten tons, several meters wide. It's almost like a semitruck hurling at us at 10,000 miles per hour. Now, of course, it started to burn up, it started to slow down with friction, but then we had that huge boom everyone's talking about.

I want to explain that: 760 miles per hour is the speed of sound. Remember this thing started off at 33,000 miles per hour. Of course, at some point it slows down at terminal velocity, 200 to 400 miles per hour, but either way you could see that boom be anywhere from 1.5 to even 5 minutes thereafter, depending on the speed of that. That's the reason everyone's been able to get their cameras up in time and capture the video and then hear that large boom. And that's what we were dealing with.

COSTELLO: So the boom, the sound itself, shook the earth and broke the windows and scattered debris? Is that how that happened?

PETERSONS: Absolutely. We're talking about something that moves through a medium much faster -- and I say medium, that's a little bit of a scientific term -- but whatever it is around it, this case being the air, so much faster than the surrounding area, that's just a blast. I mean, typical blast like any other explosion, like any bullet or anything else, same thing there on a much larger scale.

COSTELLO: Yes, on a much larger scale. Pretty scary stuff. Indra Petersons, thank you so much.

Wow, let's turn to another reason for eyes on the sky today, this giant rock nearly half the size of a football field, dwarfs today's meteor shower over Russia. But fear not, even though this thing will brush by the earth, it will be 17,000 miles away. Scientists say there is absolutely no chance of impact.

CNN's Jason Carroll is in New York at the American Museum of Natural History. But Jason, in light of what happened in Russia, it just makes you a little nervous.

CARROLL: You know, Carol, it's definitely a wake-up call. I mean, you look at what happened in Russia, you look at what's going to happen later on this afternoon. Actually, the name of that asteroid is 2012 DA14, not a very inspiring name for such an incredible object. And, you know, as the animation shows, at its closest point -- that's going to be at about 2:00 this afternoon, 2:24 I think to be exact -- it will pass just about 17,200 miles from earth.

That may sound like it's far away, Carol, but that's actually very, very close. Some of our communications and weather satellites are actually in that same area. But we're told from scientists that this particular asteroid is not going to have any effect on any of our communication satellites, but still this is something to keep a very close eye on.

Somebody who's been watching very closely, I'm going to bring him in right now, it's Dr. Denton Ebel, he's the -- he's 6'5, let me just sort of back up just a little bit. He's curator here at the Hall of the Universe and you've been studying meteors, asteroids, for quite a long time. When you look at what's happening with 2012 DA14, again, the asteroid that's going to be passing by this afternoon, what are some of your thoughts?

DR. DENTON EBEL, CURATOR-METEORITES, AMER. MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: Well, my thoughts are what is it made out of and why is it coming so close? We know it probably comes from the asteroid belt. I study meteorites, I study this stuff; my colleagues, the astronomers, look at things far away. And so this is sort of in between that space.

CARROLL: You know what fascinates and frightens me about this, Carol, if you think about this particular asteroid, you think this was discovered by amateur astronomers in Spain --

EBEL: Sure.

CARROLL: -- just about a year ago. But if we were to discover another one that was actually going to impact us, we wouldn't have the capability to stop it if it was discovered in, you know, a year out of impact, maybe in a year and a half?

EBEL: Well, that's too short a time span. The political will doesn't really exist to mount a global protection effort. But the amateurs in Spain, in this case who discovered this, there's plenty of will in the amateur scientific community and the professional scientific community to find these things. In fact, we do know 95 percent of the big ones, the ones that are greater than a kilometer in diameter.

But here we have a tiny object over Russia, an air burst, in an area where they have nuclear weapons plants, who knows what's there, in Chelyabinsk, but they woke up and smelled the asteroid today.

CARROLL: They certainly did.

EBEL: And this afternoon we'll see another small body, 45 meters -- not a big deal.

CARROLL: And we're going to be checking back in with you this afternoon as we continue to watch this particular asteroid, again 2012 DA14. It is not going to impact the earth, we just want to make that very, very clear, but, Carol, definitely a close call.

COSTELLO: Yes, I don't want to wake up and smell the asteroid today, at least not in the United States. I feel sorry for our friends in Russia. Thank you very much, both of you.

Take a look at these new pictures, we just got these in. They show Oscar Pistorius breaking down in tears after a judge formally charges him with murder this morning. The Olympic track star accused of shooting and killing his model girlfriend on Valentine's Day. Now prosecutors say they will argue Pistorius committed premeditated murder, which means he planned it, according to police.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is following this from South Africa. Robyn, so many confusing things are coming out about this. Is it true that police are alleging that he shot her through a bathroom door?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lots of things to talk about. You've just been running that story about a meteorite hitting. I mean, I think for many people here in Pretoria, across South Africa, it feels like a bombshell has hit. People are still very much reeling from this information, from the story, this Valentine's tragedy. It's everywhere in this country. And like you say, there is still a lot of confusion, still a lot rumors, a lot of speculation, about what happened in Oscar Pistorius' house on Valentine's morning.

There he is; his girlfriend shot dead. We understand from media reports she had full bullet wounds. Where she was found, where her body was found, one newspaper saying it was found in a body and that there were bullets going through the door of the bathroom. Another newspaper, though, contradicting that, saying her body was found downstairs. So I think, you know, we've got to be very careful about coming to any sort of understanding of what transpired.

This is the court where Oscar Pistorius appeared this morning. His bail application was denied until Tuesday, but, crucially, as you mentioned, the state feeling like they have a very strong case against the Olympian. They want to charge him with premeditated murder, but Pistorius has just put out a statement via his agent and he says he strongly disagrees with these murder charges. So I think it's going to be a long, drawn out court case.

COSTELLO: Robyn Curnow reporting live from South Africa this morning.

Big companies have already made their decision, though. They're distancing themselves from Pistorius. Nike pulled this ad already, which included the phrase, "I am the bullet in the chamber." But Nike says it's not withdrawing support for Pistorius, even though this could cause a public relations nightmare, frankly. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM MAGGERTY, CRISIS MANAGEMENT EXPERT: At the beginning of any crisis, you have to say something. Very often we call dressing up no comment as a comment. I think in the past Nike has been very slow to respond to a Tiger Woods situation or other situations, and that makes the public question what their true motives are.


COSTELLO: Nike, as well as Oakley and other Pistorius sponsors, express condolences but would not make any further comment.

In an unprecedented move, a history-making move, Senate Republicans have blocked Chuck Hagel from becoming the newest Defense Secretary for at least two more weeks.

CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has more for you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yeas are 58, the nays are 40.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a moment for the history books.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

BASH: Chuck Hagel fell short of the 50 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster of his nomination to be Defense Secretary. Only four Republicans supported their former Senate GOP colleague.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The filibuster of Senator Hagel's confirmation is unprecedented. I repeat, not a single nominee for Secretary of Defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered, never, ever.

BASH: Republicans argued they need more time, saying Hagel is too controversial to be confirmed only days after getting through committee on a party-line vote.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has a right to appoint people in whom he has confidence, but we have a constitutional responsibility to consider the nominee. A number of the Republican senators have questions.

BASH: But Democrats see it another way, that Republicans are dragging their feet on Hagel in order to look for more information to bring him down.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Let's not hide behind a filibuster. Let's have the courage. Vote yes or vote no. Don't hide behind parliamentary tricks. BASH: The White House knew from day one Hagel's confirmation would not be easy. Controversial statements on Israel, Jews and gays as well as his positions on Iran and Iraq put him in the crosshairs of senators on both sides of the aisle, but mostly fellow Republicans.

And a widely panned performance at his confirmation hearing, even by Democrats, didn't help.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: I misspoke and said I supported the president's position on containment.

BASH: But only in the last 48 hours did it become clear that Hagel did not have the votes to overcome a filibuster this week.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Senators have the right to have those questions answered.


COSTELLO: Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us now from Capitol Hill. So Dana, is it just about Chuck Hagel's being a controversial guy or does Benghazi play into this, too?

BASH: All of the above, but I think, at its core, it is Chuck Hagel being a controversial guy. Look, we and most people, including the White House, thought that this was going to be OK, that the filibuster would not continue, but it changed because primarily senators like McCain and others who had said they wouldn't support a filibuster switched because they were pressured by fellow Republicans who said they wanted more time. And so they said OK, fine, we'll give you that.

The issue for Hagel supporters is that there are people out there who, groups out there, who are determined to use the next ten days to try to dig up something else to torpedo his nomination once and for all.

So although, Carol, I talked to a number of Republican senators who voted no yesterday and they told me they would absolutely vote yes the next time this comes up, which is going to be in about ten days, you never know what's going to happen. And that is a lifetime when you're talking about a controversial nominee kind of hanging out there.

COSTELLO: And you're going to be back in 15 minutes and we're going to discuss this further, and we appreciate that. Dana Bash reporting live from Capitol Hill this morning.

Costco, the big box retailer where you can find anything: flat screen TVs, giant tubs of mayo, and Tiffany engagement rings? Hmm. Turns out Tiffany has something to say about that.


COSTELLO: Eighteen minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories.

More than 900 people reportedly hurt after a meteor explodes over southern Russia. Most injuries are minor. They're from flying glass. Witnesses say they saw a bright, white flash and felt a big old boom. Glass in hundreds of buildings shattered and there are reports that shockwaves also set of car alarms and cut cell phone service.

Better safe than sorry. European plane-maker Airbus is ditching plans to use lithium ion batteries in its new passenger jets. Investigators haven't confirmed those same batteries caused serious problems in Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. But with scores of those planes grounded, Airbus is not taking chances.

Two months after the Sandy Hook massacre more than 5,000 gun control advocates rallied at the Connecticut statehouse. Governor Dannel Malloy headlined the march for the event. He said no one should be able to buy a gun without a background check.

And in just a few hours, President Obama will head to Chicago to speak at a South Side high school. He's expected to focus on improving the middle class, but also he'll likely talk about gun violence. That's because 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed a mile from Obama's Chicago home, days after performing at the inaugural luncheon in Washington, D.C., during inaugural week, that sparked a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures demanding the president visit Chicago and outline a specific plan to prevent gun violence.

Joining us now from Chicago is the woman who helped start that petition, Cathy Cohen, founder of the Black Youth Project. Also with us, Mike Shields, the president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.

Welcome to you both.



COSTELLO: Good morning.

Cathy, I want to start with you and your petition. The president made a plea for Congress to vote on his gun control proposals during the State of the Union. That didn't satisfy you?

COHEN: No. I mean, we're really looking for the president to offer a comprehensive analysis of kind of the factors that underlie gun violence. We support the president in looking for legislation to deal with gun control, but we also want the president to talk about the unemployment that young people face, the levels of poverty that they face, the kind of failed experiment with excessive incarceration.

And we know that unless we deal with these underlying factors, actually we'll never really deal with the crisis of gun violence.

COSTELLO: You know, it seems to be difficult in this country to deal with shades of gray. It seems everything is in black and white. Is that our problem?

COHEN: Yes, I think it's hard for people to understand that we have a long-term issue here that deserves kind of sustained investment. I think we're looking for I dare say and I hate this term the silver bullet. We think if we can just figure out a way to kind of take illegal guns off the street which is critically important that that will deal with the issue, and I think most of us know that, in fact, these are long-term issues of disinvestment in certain communities that leave young people with very little options and very few opportunities and makes it more likely that they're going to make bad decisions with a gun in their hand.

COSTELLO: And, Mike, we always hear, oh Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and yet you have this terrible problem with gun violence.

First of all, is it true that Chicago has strict gun laws?

SHIELDS: I believe Chicago has the second strictest gun laws in the United States, but, unfortunately, we're not able to enforce them. Chicago policemen lock a guy up and he's getting out of jail in two days because some of the judges are, you know, weak on the bond ruling and we need to be able to enforce the laws that we already have on the books. We have plenty of laws, plenty of enforcements. We need to be able to you know have a true penalty instead of six months later this guy's out.

COSTELLO: And is it because -- I mean, I know we have problems enforcing laws for many different reasons but as far as police on the streets are concerned, is it because the police seem outgunned? Are there too few police? What is it?

SHIELDS: The problem in Chicago is that we're down about 1,500 Chicago police officers. And, unfortunately, Mayor Emanuel balanced two budgets at the expense of public safety, and truly Chicago needs to hire more police officers. They need to stop with the press conferences every five minutes, about look what we're doing, we're going to change this, we're going to change that.

You know, the truth of the matter is that Chicago is the victim of their own success. About 2004-2005, people were truly getting locked up for great drug cases and different gang cases. Now, these same people, they're getting out right now. They're getting out on the outskirts of Chicago and they're on the streets again and look what happened the other day with the 15-year-old girl getting killed. That's just one small example of what happens all the time in Chicago unfortunately.

COSTELLO: Mike Shields, Cathy Cohen -- thank you so much for joining us.

And as I said, President Obama will be in Chicago later today to talk about the economy and also talk about gun control measures.

"Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius, like Lance, Tiger, A-Rod, another fallen star. Are there any hero athletes left? It's our talk back question.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the stories of the day. The question for you this morning: are there any hero athletes left?

Oscar Pistorius, once a hero, a double amputee who ran into Olympic history.


OSCAR PISTORIUS, PARLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Being an international sportsman is a lot of responsibility that comes with that, so having to toggle that and remembering you know that there are kids out there especially that look up to you is definitely something that you need to keep at the back of your mind.


COSTELLO: Now, Mr. Role Model is now accused of murder. Pistorius breaking down in court, accused of shooting his girlfriend four times reportedly through a bathroom door. Now, we don't know what happened yet although his agent denies the murder charge. Still, there are hints Pistorius may not be the man we thought he was. Police say there were allegations of a domestic nature at his home before this incident.

Sadly, Pistorius is the latest fallen athlete hero. It's frankly exhausting, Lance, Tiger, A-Rod, brought down by everything from cheating in sports to cheating on their wives.

Maybe Charles Barkley was on to something.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA STAR: I am not a role model. I'm not paid to be a role model.


COSTELLO: But like it or not, Sir Charles, we look up to people like you. But maybe it's time for us to look elsewhere.

Talk back question, are there any hero athletes left?,, or tweet me @carolCNN. I'll be right back.