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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Leaving the Carnival Triumph At Last; Olympian Accused of Murder; Russian Meteor Shower Injures Hundreds; Dorner Was Hiding in Plain Sight; Asteroid Fly By

Aired February 15, 2013 - 05:30   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH ALVAREZ, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH PASSENGER: We were on the first floor when it initially happened. It kind of smelled -- a funky smell through the air systems that they have in there. So I kind of lowered the thermostat, and this was about 3:40 in the morning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this is the first indication of the fire or that there was a problem.

ALVAREZ: The smell. And we were on the first floor like I said. So, next thing you know, I went, laid back down, next thing you know, you hear running, running through the hallways, and I opened the door to see what was going on. It was the firefighters, and then I looked and saw smoke, and I was like, oh, my God. So, they're just telling us, you know, everybody just get out.

You all need to get out. So, we started heading up the stairs, and once we got to like level 4, they said it's -- everything has been contained. You all go back to your cabins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Let's go right to David Mattingly live in Mobile, Alabama, this morning. David, everyone is off that ship now. What's the scene right now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's getting actually a little bit busier right now. Not everyone is off the boat. All the passengers are off, but the crew is still waiting to disembark. A thousand plus members of that crew who've had to endure the same conditions that the passengers have, except they've had to continue to work through it.

The passengers that came off last night, almost every single one of them had a good story to tell, good things to say about how hard this crew worked to make sure they were as comfortable as possible under some very difficult circumstances. So, right now, a couple of hours after the last passenger was off, we're waiting now to see the crew themselves go off to buses to be taken off finally to hotel rooms here in the Mobile area where they will finally also be able to get to some hot showers, some hot meals, and some dry beds.

ROMANS: And now, the people can use their cell phones. They've been uploading the pictures and the videos they were taking inside of the Triumph. Tell us what those pictures, the conditions inside what we know for sure now.

MATTINGLY: Well, those pictures started flying out as soon as people got cell service when they got close enough early yesterday afternoon to hit the towers here in this area, and we were looking at them. Everything they showed us, everything we were seeing on social media, and sent directly to us, was confirming everything that these customers were complaining about when they first called with those worried phone calls earlier in the week.

We were able to see the conditions inside where the sewage had sloshed out of the system when the ship was listing to one side, how it had poured out into the carpets. We saw carpets were stained with urine. We saw human waste in bags where people had to relieve themselves in bags and then put that outside in the hallway.

We saw people lined up on mattresses out in the walkway areas, just one after the other, seemed like hundreds of lines going endlessly down the side of the ship where people were sleeping outside, because they could no longer stay in their cabin with the stench of that sewage. So, all of the pictures coming off of that ship confirming everything that the customers had talked about.

The only thing different after the customers arrived, you could see how relieved they were. So, all of that tension, all of that worry, was gone once they were here, putting their feet on dry land.

ROMANS: All right. David Mattingly in Mobile, Alabama. Thank you, David. Thanks, David.

And you know, Zoraida, I thought it was so interesting that so many of the folks who were coming off the ship were almost giddy. He talked about the tension breaking, they must have been so happy to get out of that situation. All you can do is almost laugh.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, what was waiting for them? There were about 200 employees to take care of all of the passengers' needs there. They boarded buses from their location. They were headed to New Orleans. 1,500 rooms reserved for them. But, unfortunately, it was like a two-hour trip that they had to take in order to get there.

So, not so great. And you know, originally that boat was supposed to go to Mexico and dock there. And then, the wind kind of shifted and it was equal distance to Alabama and Mexico, and they're saying that the reason -- Carnival is saying that the reason they chose to go to Mobile, Alabama is because 900 of the passengers on board did not have passports, and they wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to get off of that boat as quickly as possible.

ROMANS: Another thing that I think is interesting about this, too, is the four or five lost days for these folks. I mean, people have jobs at home. They have kids at home. Maybe you have a babysitter with your kids. You've taken a cruise with your wife or husband.

You know, you just think about sort of the pause in your life for four days while you're trying to figure out. So, a lot of people -- the knock-on effect must be pretty amazing for some folks.

SAMBOLIN: No. And then, you think about the fact that they offer the $500, maybe in consideration of that, of some of -- you know, the problems that folks, perhaps, had to endure.

ROMANS: An attorney yesterday told me that's a starting point.

SAMBOLIN: oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: $500 as a starting point.

SAMBOLIN: They get a free flight home, full refund for their trip, and most expenses aboard, and then they get a credit for another cruise. So, that's what they have been offered. We'll see what folks accept. So, we've heard from lots of passengers on board the Triumph this morning, each with their own tale of squalid conditions and those really steamy, nasty rooms.

ROMANS: I know. Brandi Dorsett was one of those passengers. She joins us live from Mobile. How does it feel to be off the boat and back on American soil?

BRANDI DORSETT, TRIUMPH PASSENGER: I'm very excited. Actually, my adrenaline is going so high right now. I'm -- I'm just -- I can't believe it.

ROMANS: Brandi, where are you headed to?

DORSETT: Sweeney, Texas.

SAMBOLIN: So, quite a bit of time has passed now since you got off. What was the first thing that you did?

DORSETT: Well, we went to the hotel and I took me a hot shower.

(LAUGHTER)

DORSETT: And then I got me a good, hot meal.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, good. A lot of people were saying that they were looking forward to having that first hot meal. Did you have any family members waiting for you?

DORSETT: Yes. My husband actually drove all the way up here to pick me up. SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's nice.

DORSETT: But I had several family members on the boat.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, OK. Were you able to communicate with the folks that were not on the boat with you and let them know about the conditions and how you were doing? Because a lot of people, you know, back at home were worried about their loved ones, not sure what was going on. They were hearing all these crazy reports coming from other folks on that boat.

DORSETT: The only time I got contact out was on that Monday and Tuesday when the other two Carnival ships have stopped by to drop-off supplies. So they would keep circling around, and everybody was just scrambling to the windows, balconies, whatever they could do just try to get any type of Internet or cell phone reception out until today.

ROMANS: Brandi, what were people doing in those last few days? I mean, it was four days extra. We heard somebody call it a really horrible camping trip. A decent cruise and then a horrible camping trip for four days. What were people doing?

Were you guys doing -- playing cards or you're doing, you know, I don't know. Somebody said line dancing on the deck. What were you doing for those four days?

DORSETT: There was a lot of music going on. They cranked the band back up. Me personally, me and some of my group, we pretty much stayed out on our balcony rooms. The smell was too horrid to walk around the cabins too much or down on decks. Mainly, we will go down if we need to use the restroom if there was any that were working or to grab us a drink. And we pretty much just read books and laughed.

SAMBOLIN: How do you feel about the way that Carnival cruise has handled all of this and then the offer that they made of $500, a free flight home, full refund for your trip, and then, you know, an additional trip in the future? How do you feel about that?

DORSETT: I personally do not feel that the compensation is enough. Me personally, i have my own business, so I -- like others, lost a whole work's week of pay. $500 isn't going to do it. I personally could care less if I went on another cruise right now. So, I think they need to do a little bit more.

When it comes to them providing hotels and transportation to get home, that's very grateful, but what we went through, $500 is not worth it.

ROMANS: Well, it's their responsibility to get you home. I mean, they've taken you to a port that you weren't destined. I mean, it's their responsibility to get you home. But that last week of pay as a small business owner, I can see how that would be worrisome for you. So, what are you going to do? I mean, have they made an official offer yet to compensate you or are you still waiting?

DORSETT: As far as we know, they've just offered us a credited cruise and $500 and to reimburse this cruise and our expenses on the boat. SAMBOLIN: All right. Brandi Dorsett, we appreciate -- we really appreciate you taking time this morning. We know this has been a really difficult experience for you. So, thank you.

ROMANS: I'm so glad she got her hot shower and her hot meal.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: She'll be back to Sweeney, Texas, very, very soon.

All right. South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius breaking down in tears this morning as murder charges against him were announced in a Pretoria courtroom. This new video shows Pistorius leaving jail. His bail hearing has been postponed until next Tuesday now and prosecutors say they're seeing a premeditated murder charge.

Pistorius, a double amputee, won a silver medal as part of a South African relay team with the London Olympics. He is charged in the fatal shooting of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

SAMBOLIN: And just ahead, new questions about how police handled the search for renegade ex-cop Christopher Dorner. How did officers miss a suspect who was apparently hiding in plain sight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Another developing story overnight. A meteor shower shaking up residence in Russia where this report hearing and feeling a powerful blast followed by bright, burning objects falling from the sky. Russian officials say 247 people have been injured.

Let's get right to Phil Black on the phone with us in Moscow. That was quite a show, and it -- certainly the flying glass actually injured some people, sending them to the hospital.

VOICE OF PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suddenly, very (INAUDIBLE) they're beginning to describe this. Imagine, it's 9:20 in the morning. There might be at homes, school, driving and suddenly a bright flash in the sky, followed seconds later by an enormous boom and you look up and there are white streaks across the sky.

This is what people are describing and what the video is showing now at the (INAUDIBLE) this morning. The Russian government believe that it was largest meteor hitting the -- breaking up that point, showering fragments across and that's why the area -- that boom, that shockwave from the initial impact has caused much of the damage.

Much of the damage that has been reported is broken and shattered glass and most of the injuries reported are a result of that broken and shattered glass. We're talking about scratches. There many as 500 people have sought some sort of medical attention. Around 100 of them have been admitted to hospitals.

So, no major structural damage, no vast number of serious injuries, we're told. A lot of people affected by a few very terrifying moments in this region in Southern Central Russia this morning. ROMANS: All right. Phil Black on the phone for us from Moscow. Hundred people hospitalized, 500 now injured in that exploding meteor -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: That's incredible. I wonder if they had any warning that it was headed their way and that it could potentially cause some problems.

Forty-four minutes past the hours. Dental records confirmed it. Charred human remains found Tuesday in a burned mountain cabin in Big Bear, California, identified as Christopher Dorner. He is the rogue ex-cop who killed four people during a nine-day reign of terror. Now that Dorner is dead, questions about the manhunt remain.

CNN's Miguel Marquez reports from Big Bear Lake, California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jim and Karen Reynolds did what investigators couldn't. They found Christopher Dorner.

KAREN REYNOLDS, BIG BEAR PROPERTY OWNER: He talked about how he could see Jim working on the snow every day.

JIM REYNOLDS, BIG BEAR PROPERTY OWNER: They've been watching us. He saw me shoveling the snow and that was Friday.

MARQUEZ: That very afternoon, last Friday, a full-blown news conference, so close to the condo Dorner was in, he could watch, armed with assault weapons, he could have killed on national television.

CHACE RICHWINE, BIG BEAR RESIDENT: A lot of us all pretty much had the feeling that he was still in the area. There were so many vacant houses up here that he could really be anywhere.

MARQUEZ: San Bernardino sheriff's office said it searched hundreds of empty cabins, but never confirmed they were actually empty. Several law enforcement agencies told CNN they offered resources to San Bernardino but were told thanks, but no thanks. Law enforcement officials say in the hours after Dorner abandoned and burned his truck, the area should have been flooded with officers, 500 to 1,000 necessary to search so many homes in an area so wide.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASST. DIR.: I was a little bit surprised last Thursday that -- when the sheriff's office indicated that they had maybe 125, 150 officers, given that they had such a large mountainous area.

MARQUEZ: Sergio Diaz is chief of Riverside police. Detectives from his department didn't arrive in Big Bear until Monday, the day before Dorner was discovered.

Did you offer anything on Thursday?

CHIEF SERGIO DIAZ, RIVERSIDE, CALIF. POLICE: I don't know. I really don't recall whether what every conversation that might have occurred between our people and San Bernardino.

MARQUEZ: But it wasn't until Monday you actually got boots on the ground or shoes on the ground?

DIAZ: We had a couple of detectors who are following up --

MARQUEZ: On Monday.

DIAZ: -- on Monday.

MARQUEZ: The San Bernardino sheriff and his office have only said the area was searched and the condo in question had not been rented since February 6th, two, maybe three days before Dorner moved in. He tied up the Reynolds when they discovered him on Tuesday. They managed to call 911 minutes after he left.

KAREN REYNOLDS: We're very happy to be alive and that the rest of our family is safe.

MARQUEZ: Lucky to be alive, going back to that condo, never the same.

JIM REYNOLDS: Just get the feeling, emotion sometimes, just comes over you, like at the unit and think about going back in.

MARQUEZ: Two ordinary people caught up in a life or death situation. Did it ever have to happen?

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Ahead this morning, we're getting our very first images of a large asteroid passing by the earth. How close will it come? And will your phone work? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Off the ship and headed home. The thousands of weary passengers on board the doomed Carnival cruise ship Triumph back on land at last. And it's safe to say, they're mighty happy about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Land like this just feels awesome. I just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wanted to kiss the ground. We were like oh, my gosh, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The crippled ship limped into an Alabama port late Thursday night with the help of four, count them four, tug boats.

SAMBOLIN: And just a few hours, President Obama will speak to a group of Chicago high school students about the need for tougher gun laws in order to curb the deadly violence in the city and across the country. It is the latest in a series of campaign style stops this week, pushing the proposals outlined in the State of the Union. The president made gun control a priority following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

ROMANS: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is making changes to the way the NYPD handles marijuana arrests. Those in possession of under 15 grams of pot will now be charged with a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Violators will receive a desk appearance ticket and won't have to spend the night in jail.

SAMBOLIN: This is a crazy story, Christine. At least five students and teachers were taken to the hospital after a food fight at a Minneapolis high school turned into a full-scale brawl. Take a look at that. Ambulance is called. As many as 300 students were involved in Thursday's lunch room melee at South High School.

Teachers and school security tried to stop it, but the violence continued even after police arrived on the scene. Officer has to use mace in order to break it up.

ROMANS: And are you ready for an extremely close encounter with an asteroid? Because it's coming. A 150-foot wide space rock is known as 2012 DA-14. It is expected to pass within 17,200 miles of Earth this afternoon.

The best chance to see it with the help of a telescope will come at 2:44 Eastern Time this afternoon when this asteroid passes over the Indian Ocean, traveling nearly 18,000 miles per hour. Now, there have been some concerns about maybe potential disruptions to TV satellites or to cell phone signals, but officials say no major disruptions are expected.

But that is so close it is within our ring of communication satellites, weather satellites and the like.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: We're going to ask a science geek about just to get his perspective on it. We're going to take a closer look at that half of that asteroid.

Indra Petersons is following it for us. She is in the CNN Weather Center. Are you excited about this?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know I am, right?

(LAUGHTER)

PETERSONS: I think you already know the answer. First, I want to explain the difference between an asteroid and a meteor. A lot of people have been asking. It's not called a meteor until it passes through the Earth's atmosphere. This is not expected to pass through the Earth's atmosphere. So, it's going to be still an asteroid.

Now, talking about the distance. I want to give you perspective. It's expected to be 17,000 miles away. What does that mean? Well, the moon is 13 times that distance away. So, definitely not as far as the moon, but it is going to pass by twice here right through our GOC __ ring. That is where our weather satellites are.

It will not pass through our GPS ring. As you can tell, that is only 12,000 miles away. However, you can watch here. There's two chances to go pass that ring and everyone - is this going to effect meeting (ph) for us? Chances are so minimal. I can't say no, but it's very hard to say yes. I mean, there's so much vast space out there, the chance that this hits anything is very, very minute.

The one thing I do want to point out, you're not going to able to see this with the naked eye. even a large telescope looks like just a little flicker of light, and here's the thing. We don't really know what this exactly looks like. So, that's what we want to be seeing here. So, it's going to be so fast, 17,400 miles is to be exact.

And as the path, what we're going to be trying to do is see the length and the density, and all like, you know, composition of this, and that's what we'll be looking forward to as we go through the afternoon.

ROMANS: I don't know if you're a total nerd and I think Indra probably is, if you're a total nerd, at 2:00 Eastern Time, you can starting watching on the NASA Web site where they're going to track it too. And I know we'll be tracking it --

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we will. Thank you, Indra.

PETERSONS: Sure thing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: And up next, a potential security flaw in the iPhone 5 and its latest operating system. It is exposed now how your password, messages, and contact list can all be hacked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back at 58 minutes after the hour. I'm Christine Romans along with Zoraida Sambolin. We're taking a look at the top CNN Trends on the web this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And a new video on YouTube showcases an apparent security flaw in the iPhone 5 and its most recent operating systems, including iOS 6.1. According to the video, iPhone passwords can be hacked, giving the hacker the ability to make calls, listen to recent messages and tinker with your context list as well.

The technique involves using another phone to make a call to the targeted and then fiddling with the power button. Can you believe it? There's no comment from Apple, so far.

ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.