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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Special Coverage: The Return of the Triumph; Dems Attempt to Break Republican Filibuster in Senate; Dental Records Confirm Christopher Dorner's Remains

Aired February 15, 2013 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feels really good to be on land and not be swaying back and forth.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over) I'll bet. Back on solid ground, passengers finally leave the crippled cruise ship, but this voyage home, it's not over yet for most.

An international sports icon accused of murder. Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius about to face a judge in the death of his girlfriend.

And new this morning, explosions in the sky, injuries reported after a meteor blows up just before hitting the Earth. That's right.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN HOST (voice-over) That's very scary.

Good Friday morning, everyone.

Right.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. John Berman is going to co-host "STARTING POINT" later this morning.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin, Friday, February 15th. We're on a little bit earlier this morning. So it is 4:00 am in the East.

And up first here, the return of the Triumph. The cruise from hell, as it's being called, is finally over. Thousands of passengers who spent five days stranded at sea and slogging through sewage and now sleeping in warm beds, we understand, or on buses, trains and planes that are heading home.

Carnival's crippled cruise liner docked last night in Mobile, Alabama. Listen to that cheering crowd. Passengers began streaming off about an hour later. Some of them were angry; others really taking it in stride, all of them relieved just to be back to shore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sunday morning --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- the fire --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- at 5:30, there was a fire alarm and, oh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we have 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 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because you just --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- 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: No electricity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No electricity. Our rooms were in total darkness. We had no air.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Horrible. Horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we had -- it was just -- it's been a really, really taxing experience for us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't -- honestly, I don't think this ship should have ever sailed out. I think there's, you know, issues with it. And I think it should have probably should have stayed in dock.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: All right. So make no mistake, most of the passengers said the ordeal at sea was awful, but many of them say that it could have been a lot worse if not for the Carnival crew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we were in awe of, the entire time, is the crew that was completely unselfish. They served us with smiles, and served us in ways that are truly unthinkable, the things that they had to do for us, yet they did it with smiles.

We built relationships with the crew; we came home intending to keep up those -- with the relationships. They did not have to serve us to the capacity that they did, but they chose to make the most of it, and that encouraged all of us to make the most of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Well, you kept on hearing that story over and over again, the crew, truly heroes here.

Let's go to right to David Mattingly, live in Mobile, Alabama, this morning.

So officials had said that it was going to take about five hours to get everybody off of that boat. So is everybody off at this hour?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just say that this is probably the only part of this entire voyage that went exactly as planned. Before the ship even got here, they were saying it was going to take four to five hours to get everybody off the ship.

We received a tweet message from Carnival; it was a little over an hour ago. They said they had accomplished that goal right on the same sort of schedule that they gave us before.

So those people just came streaming off last night. We watched them come down the gangplank. They seemed to be moving fairly steadily and almost faster than the ship itself was moving as it came into port. So a lot of smiles yesterday, finally something working right on this voyage.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's some good news. We've been hearing, of course, for days about the filthy conditions that the passengers had to suffer on board. And now we actually have some images inside the ship.

Can you walk us through those, David?

MATTINGLY: Images and some video in some cases. Everything we were seeing was confirming what passengers were telling us. We were seeing the carpets out in the hallways that had been soaked with urine when the ship tilted and sloshed all that sewage, deck after deck after deck.

Also we saw bags of human waste that had been placed out in the hallway. People sleeping on mattresses outside in the hallways as well, trying to get away from the smell that was inside their cabin.

About the only thing that changed as people were coming off that boat was the attitude. Gone was the stress. Gone was the alarm that we heard in their voices earlier in the week. Instead, they were all smiles, so relieved to be away from that mess they'd been living with.

SAMBOLIN: You know, it seemed like it depended on what side of the boat you were on, how bad those conditions were, because they said it was, you know, tilting in one direction there.

We heard this woman just a little while ago, David, say that this ship should have never sailed. So what is the Carnival cruise company saying? Are they -- are they facing questions as to how that fire started on the ship? Do they have any answers? And one would imagine that they are going to be facing some lawsuits this morning.

MATTINGLY: Well, certainly the idea of lawsuits is one that's been speculated before this ship got to shore, and will continue to be. Right now the message we hear from Carnival is a contrite one. And they have been directly on message since this disaster began.

In fact, the CEO spreading that message and a direct apology to the people on board that ship and talking to the cameras last night, repeating that once again. Let's hear what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now something that may be playing in Carnival's favor here, we heard so many stories from people coming off the ship about what a wonderful job that the crew on board had been doing for them, the 1,000-plus member crew who was living in these same conditions, but also working very hard to make sure the customers were as comfortable as they could possibly be.

Almost every single person coming off that boat having stories to tell, huge praise for the staff on board, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that great? Let's hope that the management actually rewards that as well. David Mattingly live in Mobile, Alabama, thank you.

ROMANS: I would say there are about 1,000 bonuses that are due now.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: (Inaudible) awful lot of people (inaudible) pay for all that time out there. We'll see. We have been spending a lot of time talking about what the passengers are going to get for compensation from Carnival. I'd like to see what the crew will get from Carnival.

ROMANS: Oh, no doubt. They may have saved -- or they did save face here, right?

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. They worked hard.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH ALVAREZ, 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's a problem.

ALVAREZ: Yes, this was the smell. And we were on the first floor, like I said. So next thing you know, I went and 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. There was the firefighters.

And then I looked and saw smoke. And I was like, oh, my God. So they were just telling us, you know, just everybody get out. Y'all need to get out. So we started heading up the stairs. And once we got to like level four, they said it's -- everything has been contained. You all go back to your cabins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All morning we will be hearing from passengers who endured this nightmare at sea. We'll hear their first-hand accounts of what it was like on that ship and how they made it through that ordeal and what they're going to do now.

SAMBOLIN: Eight minutes past the hour, and happening right now, South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, one of the heroes of the 2012 games in London in court for a bail hearing after being charged with killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Authorities say the 26-year-old Pistorius shot the 30-year-old Steenkamp four times early Thursday morning at his home in Pretoria. Pistorius, a double amputee, made Olympic history when he competed in the summer games on his carbon fiber blade legs.

CNN's Errol Barnett live from Johannesburg, South Africa.

And, Errol, what is the very latest on this investigation?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zoraida, at this moment, Oscar Pistorius is making his way to the courthouse. This will be the first moment that he will officially face the charge of murder.

It's such a far cry from how he was viewed here in this country and around the world just a few days ago. And his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, I mean, this was almost the equivalent of a Hollywood power couple. He's the Olympic sport star and she's the cover model.

However, as the hours move on and as more details emerge, the scenario, what took place in his home on Valentine's Day, is appearing to be much more disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARNETT (voice-over): Oscar Pistorius covers himself with a coat as he makes his way to the Pretoria magistrate's 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 him without legs below the knees, Oscar Pistorius would overcome incredible odds to become the first double-leg amputee to compete 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 reality 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. The murder charge is so severe the state is opposing bail as investigators as well as an entire nation wonder who this man really is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNETT: And at this moment, we have a correspondent inside the courtroom. We are told there are supporters of Pistorius there, including family members. It is jam-packed. The proceedings are to get underway at any moment. And as soon as that takes place, we'll bring you details and let you know what's happening.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we are looking forward to that. But meantime, this man is admired around the world. And in South Africa, he is considered a national hero. What has reaction been to his arrest?

BARNETT: Absolute shock. But because he is such a sports icon -- you can think of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong -- sometimes people don't look a bit closer or don't really think they know the man behind the fame.

And what's emerged from police is that there have been multiple calls of a domestic nature at his home. He was arrested in 2009 for assault, but then that case was dropped for lack of evidence. So now there are many question marks here in South Africa.

Could, possibly, Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner, the icon of the nation, be an individual with some sort of character flaw?

How possibly could he explain the shooting death of his girlfriend in his home?

Those are the questions investigators will focus on. And many people in South Africa, the billboards are coming down, are wondering if he's really the icon they perceived him to be.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sure we'll find out a lot more. CNN's Errol Barnett, live from Johannesburg, thank you very much.

ROMANS: And a developing story overnight, a possible meteor shower shaking up residents in Russia's Ural Mountain region. Witnesses report hearing and feeling this powerful blast, followed by bright burning objects falling from the sky.

SAMBOLIN: Wow.

ROMANS: I know. This happened earlier this morning. We're told that buildings shook. Car alarms went off. Cell phone service was interrupted. Russian officials tell us 247 people have been injured.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness.

ROMANS: I think nine have been hospitalized. But more than 200 injuries, and most of those injuries, Zoraida, from broken glass.

SAMBOLIN: Boy, this is incredible.

ROMANS: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to have Bill Nye, the science guy, on later. Maybe we can ask him about that cloud and exactly what that means.

SAMBOLIN: All right, 13 minutes past the hour. We're about to experience an extremely close encounter with an asteroid.

A 150-foot wide space rock known as 2012 DA-14 -- that's the official name -- is expected to pass within 17,200 miles of Earth. That's happening this afternoon. That could be the closest near-miss by an asteroid ever.

The space rock won't be visible to the naked eye. The best chance to see it with the aid of a telescope will come at 2:44 Eastern time this afternoon, when the asteroid passes over the Indiana (sic) Ocean traveling at nearly 18,000 miles an hour -- over the Indian ocean. Crazy.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Just head, Police ID the body found in that burned-out cabin in California. They ID'ed the body as ex-L.A. cop Christopher Dorner. Questions this morning remain about how the search was handled.

ROMANS: And a major snag in the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary: does he stand a chance in the Senate?

We're going to have the very latest after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: We have another big story developing this morning: Chuck Hagel, President Obama's pick to run the Pentagon, will be in limbo a little while longer.

Attempts to break a Republican filibuster failed in the Senate. Hagel's confirmation as Defense secretary will now have to wait until after Congress returns from a 10-day recess. Democrats accuse GOP senators of putting politics before national security.

Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash on the setback for the Obama administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion is not agreed to.

BASH (voice-over): Chuck Hagel fell short of the 60 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, 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 been filibustered -- never ever.

BASH (voice-over): 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has a right to appointment 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 (voice-over): 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: Let's not hide behind a filibuster. Let's have the courage, vote yes or vote no. Don't hide behind parliamentary tricks.

BASH (voice-over): 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, did not help.

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

BASH (voice-over): 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), ARIZ.: Senators have the right to have those questions answered.

BASH (voice-over): 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: Another vote to try to stop the Hagel filibuster is already on the schedule a little less than two weeks from now, when the Senate returns from a break. A number of Republican senators who voted no now say they will vote yes then.

If they stick to that, Hagel should be confirmed as the next Defense secretary after a very tough time here from his former colleagues in the Senate -- Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: All right. New this morning, dental records have now confirmed what authorities already suspected. The charred human remains found Tuesday in a burned mountain cabin in Big Bear, California, those remains have been identified as Christopher Dorner's; he's the rogue ex-cop who killed four people during a nine-day reign of terror.

Now that Dorner is dead, questions about the manhunt remains. CNN's Miguel Marquez reports from Big Bear Lake, California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

KAREN REYNOLDS: He talked about how he could see Jim working on the snow every day.

JIM REYNOLDS: He had been watching us and saw me shoveling the snow. And that was Friday.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): That very afternoon, last Friday --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): -- 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of us all pretty much had the feeling that he was still in the area. There's so many vacant houses up here that he could really be anywhere.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: (Inaudible) Dias (ph) is Chief of Riverside Police; detectives from his department didn't arrive in Big Bear till Monday, the day before Dorner was discovered.

MARQUEZ: Did you offer anything on Thursday?

CHIEF DIAZ: I don't -- I don't know. I really don't recall whether -- what every conversation 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 detectives there following up, yes.

MARQUEZ: On Monday?

DIAZ: On Monday.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): 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, but they managed to call 9-1-1 minutes after he left.

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

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Lucky to be alive; going back to that condo, never the same.

JIM REYNOLDS: Just get a feeling, emotion sometimes just comes over me when I look at that unit and think about going back in.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Two ordinary people caught up in a life-or-death situation.

Did it ever have to happen? Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Miguel. It is 23 minutes past the hour.

At least five students and teachers were taken to the hospital after a food fight at a Minneapolis high school turned into a full-on brawl. As many as 300 students were involved in Thursday's lunchroom mayhem at South High School.

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

ROMANS: Can you believe that?

SAMBOLIN: Minding your business this morning, cruise passengers may be off the ship but senior management at Carnival may not be off the hook.

What does this mean for the leadership of Carnival?

ROMANS: It means a PR dilemma ATM, if you will, and how they handle it from here is going to be really important.

Look, some are saying this is almost Carnival's Deepwater Horizon. Thankfully, no one perished in this event, but it is a PR nightmare.

Remember what happened to this guy, the BP CEO, Tony Hayward, was forced out after that 2010 oil spill that took place on television, everyone watching that spill? Now no doubt the Carnival management team is feeling the heat right now because last night Carnival Cruise CEO Gerry Cahill apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: In that BP drama, Tony Hayward was accused of being tone-deaf. What's going to be really important here is that the CCL, the Carnival Cruise Line management doesn't appear the same.

Remember, back then, when the Hayward, the BP CEO, famously said, I want my life back, well, Carnival is trying to right things with its apologies. It also offered refunds, $500 cash, a flight home, credit for a future cruise. But it doesn't help that the CEO of Carnival Corporation, the parent company, Mickey Arison (ph), was seen this week kicking back at a Miami Heat game.

Now, to be fair, he is part owner of that team, but -- and he's a billionaire. Arison's (ph) net worth is $5 billion.

But a lot of folks are saying, hey, wait a minute; you have got people walking through sewage on your ship. And you're courtside? Not cool.

Gerry Cahill, CEO of Carnival Cruises, isn't doing too bad, either, by the way, in terms of the money part of it. He's got a $3.7 million pay package from Carnival in 2011. So these are very highly compensated, wealthy men, running a company that's going to have a serious, serious challenge to try to repair its reputation right now.

Now Wall Street does not seem to be too concerned, though. The stock tanked on Wednesday, but since then, Zoraida, it hasn't moved much. Some analysts we talked to say that in terms of the business, this probably won't hurt too much.

Long-term cruise loyalists will still book trips. Remember after the Costa Concordia went aground last year? Bookings didn't take a hit. Thirty-two people died; bookings did not take a hit. So, for now, we don't know what the fallout will be, but Carnival management closely being scrutinized, Zoraida, in how it handles this particular case.

SAMBOLIN: You know, I think that the crew should be getting big kudos on this. I was listening to a group of women who were on the cruise. And somebody in that group needed dialysis treatment. And so Erin Burnett asked them last night, so, how do you feel, you know, or do you trust this cruise line?

They said after the way they handled that, they got her off the ship right away, they got her here dialysis. I totally trust them.

ROMANS: We'll have to see what the hit is to the brand, if there is a hit to the brand at all, but how management behaved publicly and how they compensate the passengers --

SAMBOLIN: The crew -- and the crew --

ROMANS: -- will be key, I think the repair to the reputation of the company.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, 26 minutes past the hour, coming up, they are all off the ship and they are headed home, but what's waiting for passengers of the cruise ship Triumph? We are talking to two local motel operators as to how they are welcoming these incredibly weary travelers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are glad to be on dry land. Our -- it's just been a horrible experience for us.

ROMANS (voice-over): That nightmare cruise is over, but home is still far away for many of those weary passengers this morning.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The Blade Runner accused of murder. Olympic star Oscar Pistorius facing a judge at this hour.

ROMANS: And an unbelievable story, rather, developing out of Russia this morning. Hundreds of people injured when a meteor explodes in the sky.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans; I'm in for John Berman this morning.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

So home at last. More than 3,000 passengers on board that doomed Carnival's cruise ship Triumph will be waking up on dry land this morning.

Can you hear the cheers in the background? These folks are super happy. The crippled ship limped into an Alabama port late Thursday night with the help of some tugboats. And a steady stream of relieved passengers began to disembark an hour later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good to be back on solid ground. And you know, I mean, just when you think about a good three-day cruise that we had, and then it was a bad four-day camping trip. So...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After being on that boat for that long and not knowing when or how we were getting back, it was just so good to finally be back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You really don't realize how fortunate we are to have a flushing toilet, running clean water and water to drink.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): That's great perspective there. The cruise line is compensating the passengers. And they admit that they really messed this one up.

CAHILL: I would like to reiterate the apology I made earlier. I know the conditions on board were very poor. I know it was very difficult, and I want to apologize again for subjecting our guests to that. We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: So let's go to David Mattingly. He is live in Mobile, Alabama, this morning.

And David, everyone now is off the ship. So what is the scene like right now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, after all that activity we saw here at this facility that was built just for that purpose of off- loading people from cruise ships, everything went very smoothly. So much activity last night, but right now everything very quiet. In fact, you can see the ship behind me. It's all lit up, its white hull just shining in the lights.

Looking at it right now, everything so quiet, so peaceful. You would never know that anything had ever gone wrong on that ship. Of course, we know that is entirely not the case. But we saw a lot of relieved people putting their feet on dry ground for the first time in days late last night.

They were taken off to hotels here and in New Orleans, where they're now probably getting their first long-awaited hot shower, hot meal and a nice dry bed. So, right now what we're seeing here, the calm after the proverbial storm.

SAMBOLIN: And David, we were just listening to CEO Cahill, and he was saying that the conditions on board were difficult. This is the second time that he apologizes. So let's take look at some of those conditions on board. I know that you have some pictures and some video for us.

MATTINGLY: That's right. Every picture that we saw posted on social media sent directly to us, even the video that we were seeing coming off of that ship, confirming everything that the customers were talking about earlier in the week when they first had cell service.

We could see the carpets stained with urine that were still damp from when all the sewage sloshed out of the system, when the ship was tilting to one side.

We saw the bags of bodily waste that had been placed out in the hallways.

We saw people lined up, seemingly an endless line down the hallways, sleeping on mattresses that they had pulled out there because they just couldn't sleep inside their smelly rooms anymore.

About the only thing that was different after everybody got here was their attitude, the tone in their voice. Gone was all that alarm that we heard on those worried phone calls earlier in the week. Nothing but a lot of smiles, a lot of relief as people finally got to their destination here in Mobile.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, some of them almost giddy with excitement as they were reunited with their families, which is really nice to see. David Mattingly, live in Mobile, Alabama, for us, thank you.

ROMANS: And after all that, nothing like a hot shower and a cool pillow after five days slogging through sewage and urine-soaked carpets. Most of the passengers on the cruise ship Triumph stayed in local hotels in Mobile last night, courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines.

Victor Blackwell is at the Mobile Holiday Inn this morning, and that has got to be one of the best showers of your life. Good morning, sir.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I would imagine that first warm shower after the days these folks have been through is going to feel amazing. I'm here with the managers of the Holiday Inn and the Wingate.

Next to me is Miller Williams (ph) and this is Virin Moti (ph). They manage these hotels. Between them, you have about 135 rooms that have been booked by Carnival?

MILLER WILLIAMS (PH), HOTEL MANAGER: That's correct. Yes, (inaudible). Yes.

BLACKWELL: So you have some passengers here, but you have mostly crew. And what we've heard from most of the people is -- actually everyone, is that the crew was amazing. They took care of the passengers here.

How difficult is that to do?

WILLIAMS (PH): It's extremely important and difficult, Victor, because considering the stress these people have been under the last few days, I'm sure they want a warm bath, a place to lay down and good food to eat. So it's extremely important.

BLACKWELL: And carnival has booked these rooms for three days.

Virin (ph), they took care of these passengers. What are you now doing to take care of the members of this crew?

VIRIN MOTI (PH), HOTEL MANAGER: We are doing a lot right now, all we can do. We are doing our breakfast buffets earlier.

We are all set, ready, we are filled with our -- we have filled all the rooms with additional towels and soaps and all the needs they have. We have additional staff on the ground if they need anything on stand-by as we are here this early, too, to welcome them and make them feel better.

BLACKWELL: There are some buses still to come. Some people have arrived. What have been their first reactions in walking into these hotels?

WILLIAMS (PH): They are glad do get off the ship. And it is, of course they have been in a little stress situation for the last few days. And we welcome them and welcome them and showing them some Mobile hospitality.

BLACKWELL: And Mobile is known for its hospitality. Miller Williams (ph), Virin Moti (ph), thank you very much. And I know the people who are on their way here and the people who are already in these showers and beds are very happy as well.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Victor Blackwell, thank you so much.

SAMBOLIN: It is 37 minutes past the hour. Another developing story overnight. A meteor shower shaking up residents in Russia's Ural Mountain region. Witnesses report hearing and feeling a powerful blast. It was followed by bright burning objects falling from the sky. Take a look at your screen right now. That looks like a cloud, right? Russian officials say 247 people have been injured.

So let's go to Phil Black. He is live in Moscow. What can you tell us about this?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the pictures that are emerging from this region of Russia are certainly very dramatic, and they tend to support what witnesses are saying took place here in the early morning hours of this morning, not long after everybody sort of (inaudible) and headed off to work and school.

They say it was a bright flash in the sky, followed a few moments later by a loud explosion, and then some of those very dramatic white streaks. Now what the Russian government believes happened was that it was a fairly large-sized meteor, hitting the atmosphere, partially breaking up, then showering out across a very wide region.

And that would explain why the injuries, the damage is being reported across a very wide area. Most of the damage, we are told, is broken or shattered glass, windows that exploded at the time that this explosion was heard, and most of the injuries are also certainly a result of that shattered glass as well.

The Russian government is saying more than 200 people have been injured at the moment. Some reports from the area put it as high as 400 or more. Most of those, however, are not serious. They are mostly cuts and scratches from the glass.

But a few people, we believe around nine or 10, have been sent to hospital for treatment. A very dramatic morning in this part of Russia about four hours east of Moscow here, near the border with Kazakhstan. And officials there say they have located the bulk, the large part of the meteor that has survived the descent through the Earth's atmosphere in a lake in that region.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Very dramatic and very scary as well. Phil Black, live in Moscow for us, thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right. Ahead on EARLY START, developments just moments ago in the Oscar Pistorius case. We've learned the Olympic icon broke down in court when charged with the murder of his girlfriend. A live report right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: We are welcoming our international viewers now with just in to CNN. South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius formally charged in court just moments ago with killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. This is new video of Pistorius leaving for today's court hearing.

Police say the 26-year-old runner shot his 30-year-old girlfriend four times early Thursday morning at his home in Pretoria. You're taking a look at him right there. He has got himself covered up in the background.

Pistorius, a double amputee, is a national hero in South Africa. He made Olympic history when he competed in the 2012 London Games on his carbon fiber blades, winning a silver medal as part of a relay team.

CNN's Errol Barnett, live from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Errol, what is the very latest right now?

BARNETT: Well, this is our first glimpse at the state, the physical and emotional state, of Oscar Pistorius since all of this news has been crossing, this tragedy that his girlfriend was shot four times in his home.

It's notable that, as we see him, it seems as though the severity and the seriousness of what's happened is hitting him all at once. You can see him there in the courtroom in Pretoria, in a gray suit; for much of the time, his head is in his hands.

We have a correspondent in the courtroom who's giving us updates, saying that his body, Zoraida, is shaking uncontrollably when the charges of murder were read to him by the judge. It said that he broke down in tears, again, putting his face in his hands as he is surrounded in that courtroom not just by media, but by relatives, family members and friends as well.

There are supporters of him in the courtroom. And just for a moment, consider what he has been going through since the incident took place. He's been questioned by police for most of Valentine's Day.

The police conducted a number of standard blood tests to see if he was inebriated in any way, and he's now spent his first night in jail. But it should also be noted that another person's life has been lost. His girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, died at 29 years old. And she in her own right had a very promising career ahead of her. A reality show she is starring in begins airing tomorrow.

So, for the first time, we're kind of seeing after Oscar Pistorius, the so-called Blade Runner, had blocked his appearance and face for so many hours, we're seeing how emotionally rocked he is to the core.

SAMBOLIN: Errol, I know that these are all very late-breaking details, that they just appeared in court, but do we know if her family was also in court?

BARNETT: We don't know. The only statement that has been made by the Steenkamp family has been made through their late daughter's management company. And understandably they want privacy during this horrific time. They are grieving.

And they're asking that the media respect that, as we all wait now to try and understand what was exactly happening in Oscar Pistorius' mansion on Valentine's Day. There were no indications before this that the two had a rocky relationship, albeit a new one. So we're waiting now to hear from Oscar Pistorius himself, his lawyer, to see what possibly his defense could be.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We're really looking forward to that. CNN's Errol Barnett, live in Johannesburg, thank you.

ROMANS: Also developing this morning, passengers on board the cruise ship Triumph slowly making their way home. We're going to speak with one woman about her ordeal after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 51 minutes past the hour. Overnight we've heard Carnival Triumph passengers counting their blessings now that their nightmare is finally over. Most seem to know things could have been much worse. Gary Tuchman reports on other recent cruises that went terribly wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN HOST (voice-over): January 2012: the mother of all recent cruise ship disasters, the Costa Concordia. More than 3,200 passengers, more than 1,000 crew members, enjoying their cruise near the coast of Italy. But then the giant ship hits a patch of rocks. The ship shudders, the lights go out, an enormous gash in the hull of the ship. The passengers are told not to worry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were saying everything was under control, that there was an electrical problem with the generator.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But the passengers begin to panic. The situation is bad. Lifeboats are lowered into the water. Speedboats and helicopters take off to save lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And everyone was just swimming. There were some people that were really freaking out, grabbing hold of other people. And you know, everyone was just trying to keep everyone calm.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Thirty-two people ended up dying. Two of the bodies are still missing.

In November 2010, the Carnival Splendor was on a cruise from California to the Mexican Riviera. There was a fire in the engine room. All power was cut off. Just like the Triumph, the ship had to be towed. Three days later it arrived in San Diego. Nobody was hurt.

March of 2010, three huge waves referred to as rogue waves, crash into this cruise ship, the Louis Majesty. The ship in the Mediterranean Sea was on a voyage from Spain to Italy. Windows were smashed. Cabins were flooded. Two people were killed, more than a dozen others hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was -- it was pure hell.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Norwegian Dawn in April 2005, on its way from the Bahamas back to New York, also hit by three huge rogue waves. This is what one passenger told a loved one on their answering machine.

KAREN HOGAN, NORWEGIAN DAWN PASSENGER: We have been in 42-foot swells for 24 hours. There's damage to our ship. People have been hurt. It's been a nightmare.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Like most incidents there was much panic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're talking 47-foot waves hitting the 10th floor, knocking Jacuzzis on the 12th floor overboard, people sleeping in hallways with life preservers on, just pure pandemonium.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife and myself were celebrating our honeymoon. We called our loved ones because we thought that was the end.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Nobody died although four people were hurt. Four years later, the same ship lost all power and had to be rescued by helicopters and other ships.

And, of course, there is the most famous of cruise ship incidents, just over a century ago, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic; 1,502 people perished on a ship believed to be unsinkable -- Gary Tuchman, CNN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Well, if you're doing PR for the cruise industry, you're just like, wow, when will this be over?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: We're digging deeper here, digging deeper.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama returns home to Chicago today to make a pitch for gun control. He will be speaking to students at a high school not far from the first family's home.

The president has been traveling the country this week, as you know, fleshing out proposals from his State of the Union address. Today he'll stress the need for tougher gun laws in a city where gun violence has been rampant.

SAMBOLIN: 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 (ph) appearance ticket and will not have to spend the night in jail.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up in the next hour, we're going to go live to Mobile, Alabama. Passengers there are making their way home after that nightmare cruise. Their stories, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The situation that 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.

SAMBOLIN: Don't you love to hear stories like that, giving all these props to the crew? Their nightmare cruise finally over, passengers on board the Carnival Triumph, back on land and they are heading home.

ROMANS: 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 the Republican block in the Senate. As President Obama's choice for Defense secretary hits a major snag, will the Senate see eye to eye on Chuck Hagel?

(END VIDEO CLIP)