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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Meteor Shower In Ural Mountains; "Cruise From Hell" Finally Ends; Suing Carnival Over Cruise From Hell; Gambled Away $1 Billion; Fifth Grade Boys Accused In Murder Plot; Caught With Pot, Get A Ticket; High School Brawl; "Blade Runner" Charged With Murder; Lebron Leads Heat Past Thunder; Meteor Shower In Ural Mountains; Close Encounter; Asteroid To Pass Near Earth

Aired February 15, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New, developing story overnight, amazing pictures as a meteor shower injuring 500 people when it flew through the sky in Russia's Ural mountain region. Witnesses report hearing and feeling a powerful blast from overhead, followed by bright, burning objects falling. It must have been absolutely terrifying.

Phil Black live from Moscow right now for us. Phil, what are you hearing?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, through the morning, the amount of people injured during this few, terrifying moments has been climbing and climbing steadily. The official numbers from the government say more than 500 people have requested medical assistance as a result of meteor as it struck the earth's atmosphere this morning.

Some Russian media reports from the region put that number at more than 700 now, but certainly the number is still climbing. There are dozens who have been treated in hospital. And within that, a small number of people whose situation and health is said to be grave.

Most people, though, have just received cuts and scratches from flying glass. The glass that shattered as this large meteor struck the earth's atmosphere, breaking up across a wide area and resulting in a serious of sonic booms or shock waves that really shook a vast area.

Just within this few terrifying seconds, resulted in all of these injuries, but no substantial or structural damage reported, just broken glass, but a lot of certainly rattled nerves. But it's a big cleanup operation underway in the region, which is about a four-hour flight east of Moscow -- John.

BERMAN: I understand why there are rattled nerves because the pictures are so different so foreign than anything most of us have ever seen. All right, Phil Black from Moscow. We will be following the story all morning.

Meanwhile, the other big story, "Triumph," that cruise ship now in port. Brooke Baldwin down in Mobile, Alabama, with the latest on that. Hi, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Berman. The sun is rising, get a good being long look at the "Triumph" over my left shoulder. It is upper 30s, low every 40s here in Mobile. So talking to passengers this morning who are walking around in flip-flops, mind you, they are chilly, but they are thrilled to be home after a nightmare cruise vacation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's good to be back on solid ground, a good three-day cruise and a bad four-day camping trip.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After being on the boat for that long and not knowing when or how we're getting back, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: They are so grateful, because for the past five days, they have had to endure some pretty horrific repugnant disgusting conditions. You figure out your adjective this morning. You know what we are.

We've been talking about them all week. Forgive me if you are eating your wheaties. We're talking about urine-soaked carpets, dwindling food supplies, sewage running down the walls, no power.

Rooms that apparently smelled so bad inside this cruise, people were forced to sleep, dragging sheets and mattresses, into the hallways and the decks. One woman I talked to, sleeping in the ding area. Supposed to be a dream vacation looked a lot more like a refugee camp.

Now let's be clear. The cruise line is owning up to what happened. The CEO went on board last night to personally apologize, and the 4,000 plus people and they are offering compensation for passengers on board, $500, expenses paid. These are makeshift cell charging towers that passengers were able to rig in the last 24 to 48 hours.

Now part of the compensation from Carnival is a hotel room for the night. Some of the passengers from this crippled ship here in Mobile. They are waking up two hours away in New Orleans this morning. They have been put up in hotels there by the cruise line.

So let's go to New Orleans, to Brian Todd who is there for us live this morning. I suppose this was a long night for them on buses, Brian Todd, but I suppose dry land feels amazing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: About half of them are basically exhausted and shell shocked. The other half are just giddy with relief. Some of them have had a chance to get cleaned up and come back out. Some of the now getting back on buses to either go to the airport or go back to Texas straight on the buses. These buses have been rolling in here for about 4-1/2 to 5 hours now from Mobile. People coming in and getting cleaned up and a lot of them getting right back on the buses, some of them electing to stay for the day and for the night to rest.

You have described the conditions on board. We're hearing story after story about what people had to go through. You just described them, the sewage and all of that and the food.

But some of them had medical conditions that they had to deal with that were already existent when they got on board the vessel more than a week ago. I spoke with a woman named Joyce Glover. She is an elderly woman in a wheelchair. This is what she had to endure on the trip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOYCE GLOVER, PASSENGER: Well, I have congestive heart failure and diabetes and I had to cut my medicine in half because I only had it through Monday and then I had a heart condition where my lungs were filling up with fluid so we had to go clear down to the basement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And it was at the basement where she says she had to go to get medical care, in that area, she says garbage was piled high, 30 or 40 feet. Joyce Glover and every other passenger we talked to had serious praise for the crew. They did everything they had to take care of them.

They even had to break up fight sometimes, but tried to give them food and water and trying to keep the place clean as they could, Brooke. The crew coming in for some very high praise this morning.

BALDWIN: Yes, high praise for the crew. Not so much high praise for Carnival. Brian Todd, thank you so much for me in New Orleans. John Berman, I'll send it back to you. I was leaving my hotel right around 4:30 local time this morning, and there were long lines.

These crew members, they are young, young. I mean, I was surprised. Young 20s, some of these folks were waiters and they were just telling us, you know, if we think it was pretty bad for the passengers, it sounds a lot worse for them.

And just finally, hear about the smell. I can't smell anything standing this close, you can't smell anything, but given everything we've heard from these passengers I'm going to take their word for it -- John.

BERMAN: Indeed, you know, and it really does seem like the crew, they were giant heroes in this whole episode so our hats off to them. What next for the thousands of passengers who were stuck on the cruise ship? I'm talking about from a legal standpoint, from dollars and cents standpoint.

We're going to bring Jack Hickey. He is a maritime lawyer who specializes in cruise line liability. Jack, you know, we heard these nightmare stories, just awful stories. The passengers now headed home. What kind of legal recourse do they have? How liable is Carnival?

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME LAWYER: You know, John, that is the 64,000 question.

BERMAN: Or more.

HICKEY: Right, exactly. This is governed by two things, Carnival's liability is governed by two things, one is the maritime law and two is the ticket. Everybody talked about the cruise ticket conditions. I think that in a case where there are mental anguish damages only, you are going to have two things to recover and I think you have them here.

One thing is negligence of Carnival and we can go through the negligence from the fire itself, suppression of the fire, their reaction afterward, not getting the -- you know, generators on board in time. Not getting good food. All of a sudden, you know, they get close to the port and they get good food.

You know, there are a lot of questions there. I think there's negligence of Carnival. Number two, you have to have the risk of an exposing the passengers to the risk of actual physical injury, and they have been exposed with exposure to sewage, raw sewage.

We've seen films on CNN. We've seen video of the carpets soaked with sewage and that's exposing people to Hepatitis A and to a host like seven or eight or nine other infectious diseases.

BERMAN: But exposure is not enough. You actually have to be injured in some way, correct?

HICKEY: No. In order to recover for mental anguish --

BERMAN: Mental anguish.

HICKEY: Right. In order to recover for mental anguish only without the actual physical injury, you have to have those two things. So the question, the question is, which is not terribly resolved in the case law, OK. The question is, is exposure to a disease like that the -- the exposure to actual physical injury?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Carnival ticket contract says that the cruise line is not reliable to the passenger for damages for emotional distress, mental anguish, psychological injury, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. There must be an actual physical injury. When you sign that ticket, how much of your rights to a class action suit are signed away?

HICKEY: OK, so there are a couple of questions here. First of all, you don't sign anything. I mean, you know, people -- they can get it through the internet, you have to click the "I agree." How many people ever read one word of the "I agrees?" You know, before they click on that? Nobody. And second of all, there is a clause -- that's what the ticket says, but if you read down, it does provide, because there is a federal statute, it does provide for mental anguish only damages, and you have to read it like five or six times before you understand anything about it.

And I've been doing this as a maritime attorney for 32 years, and I still, even with this thing, I had to go back and read it several times.

ROMANS: About the crew, I just want to make a point. These crews are not governed by U.S. labor laws, am I right? So when you talk about all those extra hours and the like, it's up to Carnival and maritime law to decide what kind of compensation the crew gets for all the time and energy and extra time, because they are not governed by U.S. labor laws.

BERMAN: There seems there is a lot of murky law here, is that the case?

HICKEY: To use a maritime expression, yes. There are some murky law in regard to their compensation. You know, this is not -- we're not talking about millions of dollars. And in the case of somebody who was just inconvenienced, and I'm not trying to downplay the conditions on board by any means.

Because I think they were horrible, horrendous, but, you know, in those circumstances, you know, you've got to -- you got to consider, well, is it worth bringing a lawsuit against Carnival in federal court in Miami, Florida, for that level of damages?

BERMAN: All right, thank you very much. It's great to see you. A lot of questions legally in this case.

HICKEY: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Christine, you have some other --

ROMANS: I do, a lot going on today. A city mayor losing nearly a billion dollars -- yes, a billion dollars at the casino, federal prosecutors say former San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Conner is now destitute after gambling in California and Las Vegas.

O'Conner admitted to losing millions of dollars that her late husband, "Jack in the Box" founder, Robert Peterson, had earmarked for charity. The 66-year-old O'Conner agreed to pay $2 million in restitution and will undergo counseling.

A possible murder plot foiled. The suspects, two fifth grade boys who showed up for class with a stolen semi-automatic gun, ammo clip and a knife. They showed up to class with it. Authorities in Coleville, Washington, about an hour from Spokane said that one boy planned to stab a female classmate.

While the others stood guard with the gun. The boys claimed the girl picked on them. They allegedly wanted to lure six other students away from school and kill them. But another student tipped of a school employee. One boy stole the gun from his brother who had stolen it from their deceased grandfather's home.

Big changes to New York City marijuana rules, starting next month, people with small amounts of marijuana will not be taken to jail. Instead, they will be given a ticket and court date. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says this change will free up police resources.

At least five students and teachers taken to a hospital after a food fight at a Minneapolis high school turned into a full on brawl. A food fight sending people to hospital, as many as 300 involved in Thursday's lunchroom mele at South High School.

Teachers and school security tried to stop the fighting but the violence, John, continued even after police officers arrived on the scene. Cops had to spray maze over the students head to break it up.

BERMAN: My goodness, you know, it sounds like something that is humorous, a food fight, but this is serious.

ROMANS: Yes, that was a brawl that involves teachers, police, they could not contain it.

BERMAN: All right, Christine Romans, thanks very much.

So ahead on STARTING POINT, a close encounter of the asteroid kind, 150-foot wide space rock flying by the earth at this hour. So will this have any effect on you or your cell phone service?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, this just in. New reports from Reuter's that Oscar Pistorius will dispute the murder charge against him. Pistorius broke down in court this morning and now faces premeditated murder charges in the killing of his girlfriend. With that and other sport stories, Joe Carter with the "Bleacher Report." Hi, Joe.

JOE CARTER, "BLEACHER REPORT": Hi. Good morning, John. Our CNN reporter who was actually in the courtroom this morning said that Oscar Pistorius got very emotional when the charges were read to him that he actually broke down in tears and his entire body shook uncontrollably and that he sobbed desperately when those murder charges were read out loud to him.

According to several media reports this morning, Pistorius, they say shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, four times through a bathroom door at his home in South Africa. Now police say Pistorius has previously faced allegations of a domestic nature.

Steenkamp, a former model, actually has a reality TV show debuting this weekend on South African television. Pistorius is currently in custody and he will remain until his bail hearing on Tuesday. That was postponed from today. Prosecutors say they will argue that Pistorius committed premeditated murder. NBA action for you, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, and Miami's Lebron James, arguing to be the two best players in the NBA leading the two best teams. It's a rematch of last season's finals and in this game, it was all Miami all game. Lebron James scored 39 points actually to be exact.

But he failed to shoot over 60 percent, which means his NBA record comes to an end. Miami won by ten. They have beaten the Thunder six straight times. After the game, Lebron talked about his record coming to an end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, MIAMI WINS CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES REMATCH, 110-100: All good things have to come to an end at some point. A good run, we got the win tonight and that's the most important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: This is a good one to end on. The LPGA Australian Open was delayed by what else? Kangaroos, dozens of them bounced up and down the fairway. Play stopped for a short time. Seeing all these kangaroos got us thinking. What if one picked up a player's ball?

According to the rules, that player would not be penalized, because kangaroos are not part of the course. For more entertaining sports news, go to bleacherreport.com. This is the same course, John, yesterday, the player was bitten by the black widow spider, Daniela Holmquist and then you got the kangaroos. It's the Wild West out there.

BERMAN: Yes, like it's not a sports. It's wild kingdom. All right, Joe Carter, thanks very much, the "Bleacher Report" this morning.

We're getting our first look at an asteroid that is heading our way right now. Plus, new overnight, a meteor shower rains down on Russia. What on earth is going on in the skies right now? Bill Nye, the science guy, he will explain coming up next.

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BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. While you were sleeping a meteor shower causing a massive blast and injuring people, the meteor over Southern Russia broke up, entering the earth's atmosphere causing burning fragments to fall off. That's not all this morning, there is also a 150-mile, foot-wide asteroid heading for earth right now.

Here's an actual image of the asteroid from NASA when it was more than 450,000 miles from earth. CNN's Tom Foreman has the details on how close this will get today.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's get some reference points here. When we talk about the earth, many of us like to think the moon is close to us, but the moon is really not as close as you think. It's almost a quarter million miles away so what is close in space in satellites. We've been launching these for decades and we filled the sky with them. Some are fairly low, others are quite high. The highest ones out there are communications and GPS satellites, which are about 22,000 miles up in the air.

So where is this asteroid going to be? It is going to shoot out of the sky and cut right through the top of the satellite belt at about 17,000 miles.

BERMAN: All right, an awful lot going on in the skies right now so we're joined by Bill Nye, the science guy, he is in Los Angeles this morning. Bill, the meteor shower in Russia, the asteroid some 17,000 miles away, I think everyone really has two questions here, first of all, is there a connection here and is there a difference between a meteor shower and an asteroid? Help us out.

BILL NYE, "THE SCIENCE GUY": Yes, yes, yes. So there's no connection in a sense they're independent orbits, but there's a connection in the sense they're both primordial objects in the solar system that cross the earth's orbits.

So by long tradition the word meteor refers to the bright streak in the sky so an object in space doesn't become a meteor until it starts burning up in the atmosphere. Now it's interesting these things would happen in the same day.

They're independent objects yet the earth passes through about 100,000 of these things. The earth's orbit crosses the orbit of about 100,000 of these things every year. We know about 1 percent of them so understand everybody that this 45-meter object, 150-foot object, that thing would destroy a city, but this time it will not hit anything. There's a lot of space in space.

BERMAN: You're talking about the asteroid right now, which again is coming some 17,000 miles away.

NYE: Yes. So 70,000 miles is closer than geosynchronous satellites. If you have binoculars at sunset and you're very skilled you might get a glimpse of it. We found this object because the Planetary Society supports astronomers around the world who are especially skilled at looking for these relatively small, relatively fast moving objects.

BERMAN: OK, Bill.

NYE: We are the first generation of humans that could do something about it.

BERMAN: So Bill, what do we learn from this meteor shower in Russia, which has caused some damage in more than 500 injuries? What does that tell us about what we need to look out for?

NYE: Let me ask you this, you know this expression if you jump of a bridge it doesn't make any difference, the water is going to act like concrete at some high bridge. Have you ever heard this expression?

BERMAN: Sure. NYE: No matter what you do with your hands or point your toes it will still get you. Well, these meteoric objects that hit in the Russian, above Russia last night or yesterday Russian time were destroyed by the earth's atmosphere. The atmosphere acts like concrete. Wham!

And it disintegrates immediately. The stuff, even if it's metal or solid rock, it burns in the earth's oxygen like that, and this for example the 2012 DA14 is several dozen times bigger than the nuclear weapons used to end World War II.

BERMAN: All right.

NYE: So we only know about 1 percent of them. There are 100,000 more of them out there that we don't really know where they go and how they cross the earth's orbit and so it's quite a concern if you're a thinking person.

Science fiction stories have been written about this for good reason. So today by the way the planetary site will have a webcast if you want to check us out around 11:00 Pacific Time and we'll have the experts from NASA and the experts from jet propulsion lab along with our guys.

BERMAN: Bill Nye "The Science Guy," thanks very much. I think we will all be looking especially after what we've seen in Russia with that meteor shower. Bottom line though, the asteroid not a threat to us right now. Still more than 500 people in Russia from a separate incident with meteors earlier today. Thanks a lot, Bill Nye in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, new images just into CNN of Olympian superstar Oscar Pistorius breaking down in court. We are hearing he will be charged, hearing he'll be charged with premeditated murder in the killing of his girlfriend. We'll have the latest developments at the top of the hour.

They are literally kissing the ground with joy to be back on land. All the passengers finally of the cruise ship "Triumph" and heading home this morning. We'll speak with several of them coming up live from Mobile, Alabama. Stay with us.

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BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman opinion incredible pictures from overnight, a meteor shower resembles fireballs raining down on Russia, shattering glass, 500 people, maybe more are hurt. We'll have a live report in a few moments.

Plus an Olympic champion charged with murdering his girlfriend, he breaks down crying and shaking in court. We have a brand new images and the bombshell, he'll be charged with premeditated murder.

BALDWIN: And good morning, I'm Brooke Baldwin live in Mobile, Alabama. Count them 4,229 passengers and crew now slowly making their way home, after their cruise vacation turned horrendous, hear what they had to endure this last long five days coming up. It is Friday, February 15th with a special edition of STARTING POINT beginning right now.