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"Cruise From Hell" Finally Over; Olympic Hero Facing Charges; Close Encounter with an Asteroid; Hagel Confirmation Blocked; Obama Across America

Aired February 15, 2013 - 05:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The situation we were in was a terrible situation. And there were a lot of just frustrating and horrible things to deal with. But what we were in awe of the entire time is the crew that was completely unselfish.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Don't you love to hear stories like that, giving al these props to the crew? The nightmare cruise finally over. Passengers on board Carnival Triumph are back on land and they are heading home.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Murder in South Africa. An Olympic icon in court this morning accused of killing his girlfriend. The very latest in the case against Oscar Pistorius.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yeas are 58, the nays are 40. The motion is not agreed to.


SAMBOLIN: And a Republican block in the Senate. Is the President Obama's choice for Defense Secretary hit a major snag? Will the Senate see eye to eye on Chuck Hagel?

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday morning. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Let's get started.

SAMBOLIN: So, up first, the not so triumphant return of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph.

Thousands of passengers who spent five days stranded at sea and slogging through sewage are now sleeping on warm beds. Maybe they're or on buses or trains, or planes finally headed home. Carnival's crippled cruise liner docked late last night in Mobile, Alabama. Listen to that cheering crowd. That was, of course, on board that you're hearing. But also the family members that were waiting for them. Passengers began streaming off about an hour later. Some of them were angry and others just were taking it all in stride. All of them relieved just to be back on shore.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are happy to be on dry land. It's just been a horrible experience for us. It was a great cruise to start off with, but it just -- you know, the morning of the fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a fire alarm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we've been kept in the dark a lot. We haven't been told everything that we probably should have known. And it was just, you know, the -- the things just kept getting worse and worse and we could never, ever really get a straight answer. The bathroom facilities were horrible. We couldn't flush toilets.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our rooms were in total darkness. No air.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMLLE: Horrible, horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just been a really, really taxing experience for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Honestly, I don't think this ship ever should have sailed out. I think there are issues with it and it should probably have stayed in dock.


SAMBOLIN: Well, that's the investigation that's going to happen. Should that ship have sailed?

So, let's get right to David Mattingly. He is live in Mobile, Alabama, this morning.

So, 3,141 passengers on board, 1,086 crew members. Is everyone off?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not everyone. The passengers are off. We received a tweet from the Carnival cruise line just a couple of hours ago saying that they had completed the process to get all of the customers off that ship, but the crew has still remained behind. They have continued to work back there. About 20 buses have lined up at the facility here, and they are going to be taking the crew away from here very shortly. There are hotels arranged for them.

These crew members, 1,000 plus crew members, enduring the same kind of conditions that customers have. But they had to work through this. And we heard from a lot of the customers, people on board as they were getting off, very high praise for the crew here and care they were taking of them during this very difficult circumstances.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and they were the ones that were cleaning up that filthy mess or keeping it under control. We have been hearing about horrific conditions that passengers had to suffer. And now, you are going to share some images from inside that ship. Can you describe it for us?

MATTINGLY: That's right. All of the pictures we were able to get, once people got back into cell range. They started sending these pictures, posting into social media. This is what we were seeing, exactly what we were talking about earlier in the week.

We could see carpets that were soaked with urine. We could see the bags of human waste placed outside the rooms. We could se people lined up seemingly in an endless line down the hallways sleeping out there where they had dragged their mattresses so they're getting out of their rooms, getting away from that terrible smell that was inside.

We could see the lines for food. We could see people just languishing outside, just waiting for some kind of relief. The only thing that was different as people did arrive, was that they -- the alarm that was in there their voice earlier in the week, all the tension seemed to melt away as they stepped off that boat and finally onto dry land.

SAMBOLIN: All right. David Mattingly, live in Mobile, Alabama, for us. Thank you very much.

I understand that the ship will remain there and that's where the investigation will begin. It will stay docked there a while.

ROMANS: And future cruises on the Triumph have been canceled. So, there are a lot of people are wondering if they are rebooking on a later cruise or whether they're just going to -- bail out this year on the cruise.

All right. Some of the passengers from the crippled Carnival cruise ship waking up in New Orleans. They were put in hotels by the cruise line.

And Brian Todd is there live. How was their first night, Brian, on dry land?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, a lot of them are just relieved. A lot of them are telling kind of horror stories about what they've gone through. This is a very active scene now, because passengers have been rolling in here and bus after bus for at least three hours now and they are just so relieved and happy to be here.

I'm with one of the passengers now. Her name is Debbie Moyes.

Debbie, just describe if you can continues that you encountered when they were at their most challenging?

DEBBIE MOYES, PASSENGER: I think the worst was the bathroom situation by far. When the -- it first happened and they realized we wouldn't get the toilets working again, they announced over the P.A., if you need to go to the bathroom, it needed to be in the shower drain or in the sink or in red bags they would hand out. When you would use the red bags, when you're done, you would put them in the garbage can. And when you're filled up, put it in a can in the hallway for a crew member to pick up.

So, there was no ventilation in the rooms either, unless you had a balcony, we did not. And, so you can imagine how bad the smell was. It was hot, just like a hot port-a-potty. Sewage after few days started leaking. The carpet in our hall and the other places, when you walk, it was just squishing with liquid under your feet, dripping on people's beds.

TODD: Well, thank you for sharing that with us. I'm sorry it was such a bad experience. What do you want do now?

MOYES: I want to go home and I want to sleep and I want to go In-N- Out Burger.

TODD: Thanks very much, Debbie, for joining us. We appreciate it.

Stories like that are repeated over and over again. People are coming in here. What we're being told by many passengers is that the cruise line Carnival is offering them their money back for this cruise, a free cruise of equal value plus $500. Some of them are weighing whether to take that deal. They haven't gotten formal notification of that in the mail yet. They're going to be offered that is what we're told. We'll see if they take that deal or try for something else -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Brian Todd -- In-N-Out Burger certainly sounds good after an ordeal like that. Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is six minutes after the hour.

He was a hero of 2012 London Olympics, but today, South African blade runner Oscar Pistorius broke down in court when murder charges were read against him. Pistorius is accused of shooting this woman and killing her, his model girlfriend, 30-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, early Thursday morning at his home Pretoria.

Pistorius, a double amputee, made Olympic history when he competed in a Summer Games on his carbon fiber blade legs. He has been in court today for a bail hearing.

CNN's Errol Barnett has more.


ERROL BARNETT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oscar Pistorius covers himself with a coat as he makes his way to the Pretoria magistrate court in South Africa, where he faces a charge of murder. This comes after he spent Valentine's Day being questioned by police, subjected to standard blood tests and after a night spent in jail.

It's an incredible fall from grace for a man dubbed the blade runner, for his distinct prosthetic limbs. Born with a disability that left without legs below the knees, Oscar Pistorius would overcome incredible odds to become the first double leg amputee to complete in the Olympics.

He was a stand out star of the London Games last year. Nike signed him to endorse their products, as did Oakley and British Telecom. The world seeing this 26-year-old as a stellar example of perseverance, but now, all of that is in question.

In the early morning hours on Valentine's Day, police responded to calls from Pistorius' neighbors that multiple shots were fired in his mansion. His new girlfriend, cover model and aspiring realty TV star Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead at the scene, sustaining multiple gunshot wounds. South African media report she was shot four times through a bathroom door. Pistorius is the prime suspect.

The blade runner's billboards are being removed around Johannesburg, a murder charge is so severe the state is opposing bail, as investigators, as well as an entire nation wonder, who this man really is?


BARNETT: And at this moment, we are getting information directly from the courthouse in Pretoria, where Oscar Pistorius has just formally heard the charges against him. His reaction was an emotional crash. He fell into tears when he was called the accused person by the judge. The judge also saying that he is he accused with premeditated murder. His face buried in his hands and his body was shaking uncontrollably.

He does have relatives in the courtroom with him now. His brother we understand is sitting behind him. Other relatives and supporters there as well.

But we also understand the prosecution and defense may be in agreement to delay this hearing until next week Tuesday. We don't know why that is. We don't know that it will be agreed to, because all of this information is just coming into CNN at this moment.

But certainly, Oscar Pistorius, it seems, is feeling the emotive weight of the reality of the charges against him.

SAMBOLIN: We'll continue to check back in for the late breaking details. We appreciate it.

CNN's Errol Barnett, live in Johannesburg for us, thank you.

ROMANS: Meantime, we're just hours away from an extremely close encounter with an asteroid.

A 150-foot-wide space rock known as 2012 DA14 is expected to pass within 17,200 miles of Earth this afternoon. It is the closest near- miss by an asteroid ever. The space rock won't be visible to the naked eye. But the best chance to see will be with the aid of a telescope and it will come at 2:44 Eastern Time this afternoon when the asteroid passes over the Indian Ocean traveling at nearly 18,000 miles per hour.

And meteor shower shaking things up in Russia. I mean, look at this. Witnesses report hearing and feeling a powerful blast followed by bright burning objects falling from the sky earlier this morning. We're told building shook, car alarms went off, cell phone service was interrupted. Government officials report 250 injuries mostly caused by broken glass.

And, you know, when we're waiting for this DA14, the one we're wait fog this afternoon, it actually will pass close enough in the atmosphere, where we do have communication satellites orbiting the Earth. So, I guess there is a very outside, almost no chance, but an outside chance it could disrupt communications.

SAMBOLIN: No, I'm now concerned. Bill Nye the science guy will be joining us to explain all of this to us when we don't understand the nuances.

All right. So, major hold up in confirming President Obama's choice for Defense Secretary. And coming up, does Chuck Hagel stand a chance of a favorable vote in the Senate? We're going to have the latest right after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

His nomination isn't dead, but it could be a couple of weeks before Chuck Hagel finds out if he'll actually be running the Pentagon. That's because Senate Democrats failed to muster enough support to bring in unprecedented Republican filibuster and move Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary to the floor for a vote yesterday. The White House remains confident that Hagel will be confirmed but accuses Republicans of political posturing.

CNN's Dana Bash has more.


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.

BASH: Mostly because a handful of GOP senators who had said they would not block Hagel, including John McCain, reversed themselves, deciding to go along with the majority of Republicans demanding next week's Senate recess to study the nomination and ask more questions.

MCCAIN: I think that during the break, it's sufficient time to get any additional questions answered, and I will vote in favor of cloture on the day we get back, and I believe my colleagues would also -- enough of my colleagues would do the same.

BASH (on camera): Another vote to try to stop the Hagel filibuster is already on the schedule a little less than two week from now when the Senate returns from a break. A number of Republican senators who voted no now say they'll vote yes then. If they stick to that, Hagel should be confirmed as the next Defense Secretary after a very tough time from former colleagues in the Senate.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


SAMBOLIN: Thanks to Dana.

And home at last. The 4,200 people stranded at sea onboard that crippled cruise ship are finally on land. Carnival's Triumph" docked in Mobile, Alabama, last night, around 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time and for several hours after that, passengers came streaming off, one by one, many of them praising the crew for making things bearable.

ROMANS: The disgraced former mayor of San Diego has cut a deal with federal prosecutors to repay $2 million she allegedly stole from her late husband's charity. Prosecutors say Maureen O'Conner gambled away over a billion in winnings and racked up some $13 million in debt when she raided the charity. O'Conner also agreed to treatment for her gambling addiction which she blames on a brain tumor that impaired reason.


President Obama has been giving his second-term agenda a work out with campaign-style events promoting economic and education proposals. Today, he goes home to Chicago, where he will speak to high school students about guns and the need for tougher laws to curb the deadly violence that has devastated that city.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, the passengers are all off the crippled cruise ship, but the ordeal may just be beginning for Carnival executives. The public relations fallout from the vacation from hell, ahead.


SAMBOLIN: Minding your business this morning.

The nightmare cruise, but now, the fallout. Wall Street doesn't seem to be phased by the disaster -- at least not yet. Carnival shares haven't been moved much since Wednesday when they fell 4 percent. But now, all eyes are on Carnival management and what they do next.

The leadership and how they handle this very important, isn't it?

ROMANS: It's a P.R. challenge. It's also a management challenge. It's a crucial moment for the team here running this company. You know, there are those who have looked back and said this looks like Carnival's Deepwater Horizon, right? Thankfully, no one perished here, but it is a P.R. nightmare. The name of your company over and over in a negative way, and people -- your customers are very upset and speaking badly about your company.

We remember what happened to this guy. He's the BP CEO Tony Hayward. He was forced out after the 2010 BP oil spills. Remember, he famously said he wanted his life back during the drama in the Gulf? Well, no doubt, Carnival management team is feeling pressure here.

Last night, Carnival cruise CEO Gerry Cahill apologized.


GERRY CAHILL, CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE: I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know it was very difficult. And I want to apologize again for subjected our guests to that. We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience and, clearly, we failed in this particular case.


ROMANS: Carnival is offering refunds, cash, a flight home. But it doesn't help that CEO of Carnival Corporation, the parent company, Micky Arison, was seen this week kicking back at a Miami Heat game. This as drama was unfolding, this as people on his ship are walking through sewage. He's part owner of that team. His net worth, $5 billion, and he's court side. Gerry Cahill of Carnival Cruises, got a $3.7 million pay package from Carnival back in 2011.

But, look, some analysts say they're not worried. They say long-term cruise loyalists will still book trips. For a lot of families, this is the only kind of really affordable vacation you can take at this magnitude.

Now, also remember that after the Costa Concordia went aground last year, bookings did not suffer. Thirty-two people died, bookings did not suffer.

But for Carnival management, no question, Zoraida, this is a very crucial moment. And the Tony Hayward example has got to be foremost in mind for crisis managers when they look at something like this. He famously said, "I want my life back."


ROMANS: You have to be very careful about the public perception of your executives when you got people who are your customers who are suffering.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. That's great advice, right?

All right. Twenty-four minutes past the hour. We'll continue our coverage of that cruise ship. We'll hear from one of the passengers about their personal experience. That's coming up.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Land, like it just feels awesome. I just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once we hit the ground, we were like, oh, my gosh, yes.


SAMBOLIN: That's happiness.

The nightmare cruise is over as passengers arrive back on land overnight. We are live in Mobile for the very latest.

ROMANS: And new details this morning as police identify the body in that burned out cabin in California. They identify that body as renegade former L.A. cop Christopher Dorner. But some are questioning whether police handled the search properly.

SAMBOLIN: And all you Chicken Littles out there, the sky is falling, sort of. A large asteroid will make a close pass by the Earth today. How close will it come? You're going to have to stay tuned for that. Should you be worried? Probably not.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Glad to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 29 minutes after the hour.

Home at last. More than 3,000 passengers onboard that doomed Carnival cruise ship Triumph will be waking up on dry land this morning. The crippled ship limped into an Alabama port late Thursday night, last night, with the help of four tug boats and a steady stream of relieved passengers that began to disembark an hour later.

It was the dream vacation that turned out to be their worst nightmare. More than 4,000 people on board a lifeless cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico facing ghastly conditions. It all started Sunday when a fire damaged that engine.