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Massive Fires in Tennessee & South Carolina; Daring Prison Break; Veterans Help Track Sexual Predators; A Glimpse into Cirque du Soleil's "Totem"

Aired March 18, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly sight. A plane crashes into a neighborhood right inside a home.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A huge fire and really rough conditions. Firefighters and the National Guard working overtime to get this under control right now.

BERMAN: A daring prison break, hijacking a helicopter, broad daylight, sends inmates on the loose, and now, a new development overnight.

SAMBOLIN: Sounds like a movie.

24,000 extra cookies after a Girl Scout troop was duped. It's insane story.

BERMAN: That's just not nice at all.

SAMBOLIN: No, it is not nice. It's very mean spirited.

BERMAn: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Monday, March 18th. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: And up first right now, the investigation under way at this minute to figure out what caused a small plane to crash right into a neighborhood in Indiana. The private jet slamming nose first into three homes on Iowa Street in South Bend. It came to a stop inside one of the houses. The plane hit one woman's home while she and her son were inside.


PATRICIA KOBALSKI, HOME WAS HIT BY PLANE: My roof is caved in. There was glass everywhere. The front of the house window is busted out. I just grabbed my son and got him some clothes and we ran out.

At this point, I'm not worried about material things. I'm just glad my son and I made it out and we're alive.


BERMAN: Two of the four people onboard the plane were killed. At least three others, including one person on the ground, were hurt. There's still no word on what might have caused the crash. The NTSB is investigating.

SAMBOLIN: And happening right now in Eastern Tennessee, the National Guard preparing to deploy two helicopters to help fight a massive fire in the mountain resort town of Pigeon Forge. Take a look at these pictures. It broke out late yesterday afternoon. And it's already damaged or destroyed more than 30 cabins there. Fire officials say everyone did get out safely with no one hurt.


TONY WATSON, PIGEON FORGE FIRE CHIEF: It's a huge fire. large amount of resources up here. We've had -- it's been rough. I mean, it's been as rough as I've ever seen it.


SAMBOLIN: Meantime, a giant fire near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina this weekend damaged or destroyed at least two dozen homes. Those flames whipped up by really strong winds. At least four people were injured there. So let's bring in Jennifer Delgado. She is live in the Weather Center for us. Jennifer, what are the conditions like for the firefighters this morning?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Zoraida. Hi, John. Well, the conditions are going to be better today. We are looking at the winds not being as strong as yesterday, but we're also going to see more of that moisture working in and that is going to help to raise those relative humidity values. So that is good news.

Now, I also want to point out to you, we have those storms out there, and these storms are going to be providing that moisture. You can see a line of them developing. A lot of lightning out there. You see some snow in the Ohio Valley, but big snow coming down right now through parts of Minnesota as well as into Dakotas. Look at this big heavy band.

Well, when you combine that in with wind gusts up to 50 to 60 miles per hour, guess what? We are dealing with blizzard conditions anywhere you're seeing in red, and this is going to continue until 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday. And for the Great Lakes, we are talking four to eight inches of snowfall, but it's not just the Great Lakes and parts of the Midwest.

What's happening across the mid-Atlantic, some snow already being reported for areas like Quantico moving into parts of Pittsburgh with wintry mix. Now, this means for the mid-Atlantic, it is going to be messy out there. You're going to be dealing with snow and sleet through the mornings and really until about 1:00 a.m., and that's why we have all these advisories and warnings in place, extending all the way up towards New England. You'll start to see that snow working into New England, it looks like later this evening, but still, some of these locations we aren't talking more than a foot of snowfall. Don't freak out. We are talking those higher elevations. For areas like Boston, we're talking one to three inches, for New York, you might see roughly about a half inch to an inch of snowfall accumulating there.

On a wider view, we do have a red flag warning for parts of Colorado as well as Nebraska. That means an increase fire threat and then severe weather setting up from Mississippi all the way to Georgia. I'm telling you, there is a lot going on in weather. I don't know if you're writing down all the winter weather threats today and severe weather threats. I'm going to be busy.

SAMBOLIN: Almost everywhere. We'll say that. Jennifer Delgado, thank you.

DELGADO: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. So developing overnight, a daring prison break in broad daylight. It sounds like something out of a movie, honestly. Two inmates, two others now under arrest in Canada after breaking out a maximum security prison using ropes dangled from a hijacked helicopter. Crazy.

Paula Newton is live in Ottawa. Paul, first talk -- you know, where did they get the helicopter?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently, a few miles away in a resort community in a skiing community of (INAUDIBLE), these two suspects posed as tourists. And then, when they got on the helicopter, apparently, they brandished a gun and said to the pilot, take us to this prison. And that is when people are describing that James Bond moment.

This helicopter hovered very close to the yard outside that prison in Saint Jerome. Those two suspects hopped onboard those cables and they were whisked away, literally, dangling from this helicopter as prison guards looked on. There are conflicting reports as to whether or not one of the suspects was shot in the leg. About 12 hours later, it was all over as the two of the suspects went hiding in a wooded area.

The police did find them, though. And incredibly, as if this thing could get even worse, one of suspects called into a Montreal radio station in the middle of all this. We can't confirm that it was actually him saying, look, I just had to leave that prison. I don't want to hurt anyone. I don't want to go back there. I'll die if i have to go back there -- John.

BERMAN: The whole thing is just plain nuts. All right. Paula Newton, our thanks to you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-six minutes past the hour. Fewer debates and a shortened primary season. Two key recommendations and a Republican National Committee autopsy report being released in just a few hours. It looks at mistakes during the 2012 election and offers a blueprint for 2016.

Here's RNC chairman, Reince Priebus.


REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: I believe that our primary process is way too long. I think our calendar needs to be looked at. I think our debate calendar needs to be shrunk. I think we had way too many debates with our candidates slicing and dicing each other. And I think they had waited too long to get to the convention.

I'm calling for a convention in June or July. We're going to set up a commission that's going to make that decision. I'm going to be a part of that. I'm going to chair that commission, but no more August conventions.


SAMBOLIN: Priebus also says the RNC plans to spend $10 million courting minority voters. He says that it's going to happen coast-to- coast.

BERMAN: Big changes.

Passengers who are aboard the Carnival Legend are now off the ship and unloading on the cruise company after finally making it back to Tampa yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the worst vacation I've ever had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dining room was shaking violently for at least 35 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I plan on contacting my lawyer. I plan on contacting the Better Business Bureau. I plan on writing plenty of complaints on that Web site.


BERMAN: Those are some tough reviews right there. So propulsion (ph) problems last week kept the Legend from moving a top speed, cut out a plan stopping grand caiman. The U.S. Coast Guard inspected its repairs and clear to set sail with new passengers, wow, for another week long cruise.

SAMBOLIN: Really, again, right?

BERMAN: Good luck.

SAMBOLIN: Shocking.

All right. Girl Scouts duped by a cookie hoax. Two girl scout troops in Portland will likely get to go to summer camp after all, even though a prankster placed a fraudulent order for $24,000. The scouts were stuck with 6,000 unsold boxes of cookies, but a last minute emergency sale this weekend had hundreds of people showing up to buy them.


DAVE CLARK, GIRL SCOUTS SUPPORTER: I wanted to support the Girl Scouts and felt bad about the story we heard on the news yesterday and it wasn't a good thing. Plus, I like the cookies. So it's a win-win.

SARAH MILLER, GIRL SCOUTS OF OREGON & SOUTHWEST WASHINGTON: It's a hard lesson for the girls to learn but a really important and valuable business lesson to learn that there are people out there who don't have your best intentions at heart, and you need to be prepared for that and know how to handle it when it does happen.


SAMBOLIN: I would say she was being very kind about that. A local station says the prankster won't be charged. Why? Because there was no money exchanged. The remaining 3,000 boxes will go on sale next weekend. Good luck to those girls.

BERMAN: If you're hungry, you know where to go.


BERMAN: Thirty-nine minutes after the hour. Iraq war veterans helping track down sexual predators. Why their expertise is now proving crucial?


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. So what's the worst crime you can think of? Murder? Most cops will tell you it is any case involving a sexual predator and a child. The suspects often share their crimes on the Internet, but police departments across the country do not have the expertise or personnel to track them down.

There is one organization that might be able to change that using Iraq war veterans. Martin Savidge explains.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All Rich Robertson ever wanted to do was serve his country. He joined the army at 17. In Iraq, he was in the special forces tracking down terrorists when a blast tore through his vehicle.

RICH ROBERTSON, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I blew about a three, four foot hole in the bottom of the vehicle, killed four, injured me.

SAVIDGE: Now, in a wheelchair and out of the army, Robertson no longer wears a uniform or carries a gun, but he is still on the hunt, targeting hundreds of thousands of suspected child predators and pornographers operating on the Internet.

ROBERTSON What we've got here is what the investigator is going to have on the screen.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): He's helping design software that can spot suspected porn images far faster than humans, dramatically speeding police investigations and the chances of a child's rescue.

How quickly compared to, say, a human being?

ROBERTSON: Oh gosh, on the order of hundreds times faster.

SAVIDGE: But police departments need more than software. They need expert boots on the ground. Lieutenant Warren Handlin works in the Knoxville Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Unit. It's the lead agency for the entire state. He has just eight people. Which is why Robertson's Special Forces background is such a help.

LT. WARREN HAMLIN, KNOXVILLE P.D. INTERNET CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN UNIT: Some of their tactics for looking for the worst of the worst, you know, can be applied to our job.

SAVIDGE: And if Grier Weeks has his way, Robertson is just the tip of the sphere.

ROBERTSON: The law enforcement officers on the front lines of this fight, really, are in a war.

SAVIDGE: Weeks saw two problems with a single solution, police departments short on help and wounded heroes looking for work. His foundation, The National Association to Protect Children, wants to train 200 wounded former special ops vets to become digital forensics experts, placing them in police departments across the country. He sees them as ruthless warriors honed in battle rescuing children here at home.

GRIER WEEKS, NATL. ASSOCIATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN: They are the heat seeking missile in the entire investigation who is focused on finding those kids.

SAVIDGE: For Robertson, the job offers a perfect reward.

ROBERTSON: Knowing that I was -- I'm part of a team again that's going out and looking for people that are doing extremely evil and vile things.

SAVIDGE: Most of all, it gives back to him and those like him something they thought lost a war, the opportunity to serve.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Knoxville.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Coming up, a soccer player's Nazi salute causing outrage this morning, and now, we have learned his punishment.

BERMAN: And Zoraida takes us inside the world of Cirque du Soleil, and she sees if she can keep up. Is that you on the top of the pole? SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. Don't I look good?

BERMAN: And there you are again.


BERMAN: And there's you.

SAMBOLIN: And me and me and me.

BERMAN: It is you again.



BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Forty-nine minutes after the hour right now. Let's bring you up to speed in all the news.

In just a few hours, the Republican National Committee releases what some are calling an autopsy report, a blueprint for the party's recovery after its failure during the 2012 elections. Among the recommendations, fewer debates, shortened primary season, and greater outreach to minority voters.

So while you were sleeping, Canadian police apprehended two inmates and two others in connection with a daring and some might say just ridiculous prison escape using a hijacked helicopter. This happened Sunday at a maximum security facility in Quebec. The helicopter pilot was taken to a local hospital where police will question him.

So planned bridge explosion near Austin, Texas, did not exactly go off without a hitch.





BERMAN: Wow. So shrapnel from the blast cut a fiber optic cable and knocked out cell phone and landline service in the area. At least three 911 centers were knocked off as well. Verizon hopes to get at least some service restored by this morning.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. That's crazy. It looked cool, but not good.

All right. Fifty minutes past the hour. For almost three decades, Cirque du Soleil has been dazzling audiences with its visual and acrobatic artistry. Their latest production is called "Totem," which traces the journey of the human species from an amphibian state to its ultimate desire to fly. I got a chance to meet the artists and really got head over heels into all the action.


SAMBOLIN: Tell me about "Totem." What does it mean? What is it?

FRANCIS JALBERT, PUBLICIST, CIRQUE DE SOLEIL: Well, it's about devotion of mankind. It's actually (INAUDIBLE) an aspect of the devotion of the human body and civilization on devotion that (INAUDIBLE).

SAMBOLIN: This is quite an impressive setup.


SAMBOLIN: How big is it? How many people can see here?

JALBERT: You can sit 2,600 people in the big top, but it is still very intimate. So wherever you're sitting, you're still kind of close to the action. And as soon as you step in, you have artists on top of you, walking next to you. The sound is surround. So you just forget about your reality and let yourself be amazed in front of those, amazing acrobatic.

So behind me, this -- actually lifts up. There are videos that have been shot around the world. So for example, for this act, there's a ton (ph) that were in Asia from the one (INAUDIBLE) that was shot in Argentina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have 52 artists from about 17 different countries and 11 different languages. So every day, I come on site and I am the artistic director, meaning, I take care of the show. Keep it at the quality that is synonymous for Cirque du Soleil.

SAMBOLIN: Do you have to be a gymnast in order to be able to be the artistic director of a show like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great question. And I would be hooked on painkillers, I think, if I tried to do what they did. So absolutely not.

SAMBOLIN: Tell me about crystal man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He kind of represent that's spark of life that came to earth whether it came from a cosmos or whether it came from somewhere else.

You can kind of get an idea.

SAMBOLIN: Oh! It's heavy.


SAMBOLIN: It's very form fitting also.

So Umi, you are a gymnast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a gymnast.

SAMBOLIN: A was. You don't consider yourself a gymnast anymore?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's different now. I'm an artist. Gymnastics is more competing and more perfection. We get judged. Our show is different. This is entertainment.

SAMBOLIN: Apparently, I'm going to try something today. You're going to teach me something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to train you a little easy skill. OK?

SAMBOLIN: You want to show me first?





SAMBOLIN: Seriously? Umi?


SAMBOLIN: Seriously, no way. I don't know that I have the upper body strength for that. Are you going to help me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to help you. Bend. There we go. And slowly up.




BERMAN: I had no idea you were so graceful.

SAMBOLIN: Right. With a lot of help. I got to tell you, one of the coolest things about this. Everybody who I talked to who actually works on any of the Cirque de Soleil, they said that the nomadic lifestyle is something that they actually enjoy, because you know, you just kind of -- you're there for a little bit and then you're off to another country, maybe another continent.

BERMAN: It's like joining the circus.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. The one thing that I could not find out which I wanted to, because everybody really loves being a part of Cirque du Soleil, I was trying to figure out how much they get paid. They won't cough up the information.

BERMAN: Do you get the keep the crystal, you know, spandex outfit? SAMBOLIN: No. As a matter of fact, it's a first crystal spandex outfit that was used is now retired, because it's really difficult to maintain all of those crystals on there and the safety of all of the performers as well, because you know, they fall off. And then, if you come on the stage, you could fall off the stage.

BERMAN: You totally can't tumble dry.



SAMBOLIN: Actually, a lot of them do go into the washer and drier. I was shocked.


BERMAN: Things you learn.


BERMAN: -- you were going to put it on.

SAMBOLIN: No. Well, no.


BERMAN: Fifty-four minutes after the hour right now. And a soccer player's controversial move on the field, and this morning, big consequences for this Nazi salute.

SAMBOLIN: And don't forget, folks, the big debut of "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper, 4:00 Eastern this afternoon right here on CNN.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Fifty-eight minutes after the hour and trending online this morning, royal baby news. While Will and Kate both say they're ready to be parents, they don't quite agree apparently on the gender of their baby.


BERMAN: Listen to this. The Duchess of Cambridge revealed Sunday to a soldier at a St. Patrick's Day celebration in Southern England that she would prefer a boy while husband, Will, prefers a girl. Middleton is five months pregnant and due in July.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't she who's the one that famously kind of already let it out of the bag, yes, that it's a little girl.

BERMAN: Maybe it's a head fake.


(LAUGHTER) SAMBOLIN: All right. A Greek soccer player has reportedly been banned from his national team for life for allegedly flashing a Nazi salute after scoring a goal. The Greek Soccer Federation called Giorgos Katidis' actions deep insult to all victims of Nazi brutality. And on Twitter, Katidis said, "He wouldn't have made gesture if he knew what it actually meant."

BERMAN: What did he think it was?


BERMAN: What are you mistake that for?

SAMBOLIN: That makes no sense.

BERMAN: Very little.

SAMBOLIN: All right. To check other top CNN trends, head to

BERMAN: Meanwhile, EARLY START continues right now.