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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Explosive Devices Found on Campus; Massive Fires in Tennessee and South Carolina; Escaped Inmates Captured; Back to Al Qaeda's Iraq Stronghold; Selection Sunday goes Awry for One Team

Aired March 18, 2013 - 06:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wildfires raging in the South. Dozens of cabins are already burned, and now they're calling in the National Guard to help.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A neighborhood in Indiana devastated after a small plane crashes right into several homes. Two people are dead. And now, investigators want to know how it could possibly happen.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama about to make his first visit to Israel since taking office. But how happy are the Israelis to receive him?

BERMAN: And call it the great cookie caper. The Girl Scouts, duped. So will anyone step up before the cookies crumble? Ouch.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Monday, March 18th.

BERMAN: We do have some breaking news this morning. We've just learned that an improvised explosive device, devices, actually, have been found at the University of Central Florida. Classes have been canceled until at least noon today. Police received a 911 call about a suspect with a gun right after midnight. Approximately 500 students were evacuated from the dorm on the central campus. This is in Orlando.

The explosive devices were found, we're being told, along with one person who was found dead. It looks like that person killed him or herself with a single gunshot wound. No word on the identity of that person.

We will have more on this breaking news story as it comes in.

Again, IEDs found at the University of Central Florida. Classes canceled there until at least noon.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-one minutes past the hour. And we have another developing story this morning. The National Guard are being called in to battle a wildfire raging in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. The guard is preparing to deploy two helicopters to help fight that massive blaze in the resort town of Pigeon Forge. It broke out late yesterday afternoon and has already damaged or destroyed more than 30 cabins there. Fire officials believe everyone got out safely and no one is hurt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Meantime, a giant fire near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this weekend damaged or destroyed at least two dozen homes there. Those flames whipped up by some really strong winds. At least four people were injured there.

So let's bring in Jennifer Delgado. She is live in the Weather Center. And Jennifer, what are the conditions like for those firefighters this morning?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know what, guys, Zoraida and John? We are going to see an improvement, because we're going to see some moisture moving in the form of showers and thunderstorms.

Here's the forecast for Monday and Tuesday. Notice the winds aren't going to be as strong as what they were yesterday and some of these locations those winds were up to 25 to 30 miles per hour with those gusts.

Now here's why: you see the storms moving through. Nice little line, and of course this is going to increase the relative humidity. So, nature is going to help provide some relief there. But up towards the north, we're looking at another storm and this is bringing some very heavy snow fall.

Look at this band right here moving through parts of Minnesota. That, along with wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour, we're talking blizzard conditions expected through the evening. Now notice some of the snow totals, four to eight inches, two to four inches for parts of the Upper Midwest, as well as even into the Great Lakes.

Now, across the mid-Atlantic, you have snow, you have some sleet mixing in for parts of Virginia, Washington, D.C., Quantico. It is going to be a messy commute out there, really through about 1:00 p.m. this afternoon. This is going to change over to mostly rain.

But that has to go somewhere. It's going to be moving up towards New England. And starting late tonight, you see that snow working in, some of these locations a foot or more of snowfall. For the mid- Atlantic and those major cities, like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, we are talking maybe about one inch of snow.

If that's not enough for you, we are still talking a severe weather threat setting up for Mississippi, all the way over towards Georgia, and then red flag warning and that means fire danger for parts of Colorado, as well as into Texas, Nebraska, there's a lot going on, guys. And guess what? Spring starts on Wednesday. It's hard to believe, because we're going to be cool for the next couple days. Once we get these fronts out of here.

SAMBOLIN: It's almost impossible to believe when we talk to you. Thank you so much, Jennifer.

DELGADO: I know. I'm telling you all live.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thirty-three minutes past the hour.

Another developing story that we're following for you. It's a horrifying scene in South Bend, Indiana. Take a look at this. A private jet slams into two homes, possibly damaged a third, and it ended up nose-first inside one of those homes -- the body of the plane virtually splitting in half.

An FAA spokesman says there were four people on board that plane. Two of them are dead and at least three other people, including one person on the ground, are injured. The NTSB this morning is investigating exactly what happened there.

BERMAN: All right. This developing overnight, a daring prison break in broad daylight. Two inmates, two suspected accomplices, they are now under arrest in Canada, after breaking out of a maximum security prison using ropes dangled from a hijacked helicopter. Let that sink in for a moment. They escaped on ropes dangled from a hijacked helicopter near Montreal.

Paula Newton is live this morning in Ottawa. And, Paula, I guess the first question people are asking today is where did they get the helicopter?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, their bright idea was to tell a helicopter pilot, charter it, say that they wanted a nice view of the mountains in the Laurentian (ph). Instead, they then apparently stick a gun to the head of the pilot and said take us to the prison. They then hovered very, very closely over the yard. The two prisoners, as you say, as the prison guards looked on dangled from those cables and were literally swept away, as one witness said, it was that James Bond moment.

But twelve hours later, after a manhunt it was all over. But not before one of the suspects called in to a radio station in Montreal and says he doesn't want to hurt anyone, he just doesn't want to go back to that prison.

Police still are trying to understand the details of exactly what happened and how. And we expect to hear more later this morning.

BERMAN: Yes, I think they'll be checking into this one for a long time to come.

Paula Newton, our thanks to you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour. The Girl Scouts, victims of a cookie hoax. But it turns out 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.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead. You want to tell the rest of the story?

BERMAN: OK. Sure. I tell the rest of the story. I got no problem with it.

The scouts were stuck with 6,000 unsold boxes of cookies, but a last- minute emergency sale this weekend had hundreds of people lining up to buy.

(BEGIN VIKDEO CLIP)

DAVE CLARK, GIRL SCOUTS SUPPORTER: I felt bad about the story we heard on the news yesterday, and was it 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: There are some sketchy people out there.

SAMBOLIN: That is correct.

BERMAN: The prankster will not be charged because no money was actually exchanged here. The remaining 3,000 boxes of cookies -- there are still 3,000 left -- they will go on sale next week.

SAMBOLIN: I guess it's OK to change your mind when you do volume orders like that? Maybe they'll learn from that, right, and put something -- anyway. That is so mean.

Up next, the very real remnants of war nearly 10 years after the start of the Iraq war, the nation is still reeling. Up next, CNN's Arwa Damon talks to the veterans whose battle scars remain.

And we're following breaking news. Explosive devices found on the campus of the University of Central Florida. We are live with an update.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Soledad O'Brien is here with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Lots happening this morning. Going to talk this morning about the GOP releasing that new report. They point on -- it's really an unusual report, highlights their failures and what they can do to reach new voters. Does the plan go far enough to save the party? We'll take a look at that with Ari Fleischer. He was co-chair of the project. Fascinating read.

Also, CNN anchor Jake Tapper kicks off his new show. We'll sit down with him this morning as well.

Then, part one of my sit-down interview with the Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg. You know she's got this new book out called "Lean In" which is all about women and their lack of numbers, frankly, at the top echelons at the workforce.

There's been some critics. We'll ask her about that criticism of her book.

And a groundbreaking moment in history gets its debut on the silver screen. We talk to some of the stars of "The Sapphires" about the moment when aboriginal women performed for the U.S. troops during the Vietnam War. That's all ahead this morning right at the top of the hour.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

So, we're back to breaking news. We're following this morning, improvised explosive devices that have been found at the University of Central Florida. Classes have been canceled until at least noon.

BERMAN: About 500 students evacuated from a dorm room after police got a 911 call and arrived to find the devices and one person apparently they found dead, apparently a suicide.

Grant Heston is the associate vice president for communications of public affairs at UCF. And, Grant, I wonder if you can give us an update right here. We hear improvised explosive devices. What exactly does that mean?

GRANT HESTON, UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA (via telephone): Well, I can tell you that when police did the survey of the room, they discovered a bag that had improvised explosive devices in it. Out of an abundance of caution, we got that dorm tower evacuated. We evacuated the parking garage --

SAMBOLIN: Can you walk us through exactly what happened?

HESTON: Sure. About 12:20 this morning, fire alarm call was received for the tower one building. En route to the fire alarm, our UCF Police Department received a 911 call for a man with a gun. When police arrived they found the subject dead of an apparent self- inflicted gunshot.

SAMBOLIN: Were any other students involved? Was anyone else in danger?

HESTON: Well, I can tell you that we evacuated tower one immediately, and conducted a thorough search and part of that search and response discovered an assault weapon and explosive device.

SAMBOLIN: And I know it's very early in the investigation. But do we know anything about -- was this a student? Do we know anything about that student?

HESTON: We're still trying to gather all the pieces together. I'd expect by later today, we'll have a much more clear picture. But from the university perspective, we're just pleased that we have university police department that trains for this type of thing.

Our police chief, Richard Barry (ph), is heavily involved with these types of responses. And so, our students and communities should know that we're here to keep them safe.

BERMAN: Now the devices have been removed, they're no longer a threat to the community?

HESTON: The Orange County bomb squad is on scene and they're in the process of evaluating and determining how to deal with those devices.

SAMBOLIN: And I know, as we have all these major crises that happen at universities and colleges across the country that you have some notification system in place for the parents. Did that happen here?

HESTON: Yes, we notified both text messages, e-mails and Web sites, and if there are any parents of students or friends who are wondering what the latest is you can go to UCF.edu and we have the latest information there.

SAMBOLIN: I noticed classes were cancelled. Do you know whether or not you're going to reinstate them today or maybe tomorrow?

HESTON: Well, classes are canceled in the main campus only, the main Orlando campus only until noon, and before then, we'll have a meeting to determine whether or not we need to keep classes closed or if we can reopen.

SAMBOLIN: I know that you're very busy there and we really appreciate that you took some time to talk to us this morning. We wish you luck.

Grant Heston, from public affairs at the University of Central Florida -- thank you.

BERMAN: We'll stay on that story for you al morning.

Meanwhile, tomorrow marks the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We're taking a look now at how the war changed that country. Two journalists know the story better than CNN's Arwa Damon.

She retraced her steps to an area that still bears the scars of the marines fight against al Qaeda. First, I want to give you a warning here. Some of the war footage you're about to see is pretty graphic and disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're heading along the Euphrates River Valley in al-Anbar Province, land that once made up part of al Qaeda's kingdom in Iraq, driving towards Husayba, a town close to the Syrian border.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: The market is vibrant, alive. So different from the last time I was here.

(GUN FIRING)

DAMON: It was November, 2005. I was embedded with U.S. marines on operation steel curtain. It was similar to countless other imbeds. Troops going house to house, civilians filing out, petrified. A man named Mohammed Rejeb was among them and he told me --

MOHAMMED REJEB, HUSAYBA RESIDENT (through translator): We want them to save us from the terrorists. We want stability.

DAMON: A simple wish, perhaps, but al Qaeda killed anyone who spoke out against them. No civilian I had ever met had dare do so so openly. I was in awe of Mohammed's courage. The battle for Husayba was intense. Fighters worked in alleyways, hid behind doors. The ground shook in the U.S. bombardment. But it wasn't only al Qaeda they hit.

In one strike, one entire family was killed. People had buried the dead in a garden. A curfew prevented them from going to the graveyard. When we arrived, they were digging up and moving the bodies. All but one were women and children. And there was Mohammed Rejeb still searching for victims. The dead were his relatives. As the body of 11-year-old Abdullah was recovered, Mohammed said --

REJEB: Look at him. Look at him. You would swear that he was sleeping.

DAMON: Seven years later, I want to find Mohammed again.

(on-camera): So we gave one of our stringers who kind of works in this area a photograph, a screen graph from the footage that we had of Mohammed and we told him the story. And then, he began trying to track him down. It turns out he's pretty well known, but we think his shop is right around the corner here.

(voice-over): I want to give him a hug, but that's not appropriate here. I tell him he hasn't changed and that I have thought often of his family.

REJEB: Look, that's my son. Remember the one who had the little baby? He was shot in the stomach by the Americans when he was in his car.

DAMON: His tone, matter of fact. He is so welcoming it's humbling. We walked towards his house. (on-camera): He remembers exactly how the military unit that I was with actually approached his house and his treat (ph). And we come up from this narrow alleyway and this part I do remember, but in that house right there, there was a foreign fighter who had just been killed by the U.S. forces.

(voice-over): It's a bleak tour. He points out another house that al Qaeda had taken over.

(on-camera): An al Qaeda at the time actually threatened him because he was complaining some about the fact that they were endangering people in the neighborhood by, you know, their presence there and also because they were bomb making all of these bombs and whatnot.

(voice-over): And then, he proudly introduces us to his family.

(on-camera): This young man now, Hamad (ph), was the baby that he was carrying in his arms when he first walked out of the house when we first met him.

(voice-over): And then I asked, why did he speak out and beg the Americans to save them?

REJEB: We had nothing left to lose. We wanted security. We wanted to get rid of this chaos.

DAMON: Then, came the air strikes.

REJEB: I never imagined we would pay this price. We never imagined the Americans wouldn't differentiate between friend and foe. It was all the same to them.

DAMON: He's unable to articulate his emotions that day. The rubble of the house that was pulverized is long cleared, another home built on the lot. Grass covers the place where those bodies were temporarily buried. Rows of tombstones just a short distance away.

(on-camera): Some of these graves still have what was used as the original tombstones lying next to them with the names just crudely carved into the rock. And it was all that they could do at the time, so that they would remember who was buried where.

(voice-over): Today, Mohammed's views about the U.S. invasion are very different.

REJEB: I wish that the Americans had never come. They ruined our country. They planted divisions and brought in things that were not here.

DAMON: Ten years on, Iraqis are still paying the price for an invasion they had no say in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (on-camera): And, John, what, perhaps, makes what's happened in Iraq especially heartbreaking is that there was such optimism that existed when Saddam Hussein's regime first fell. What happened afterwards absolutely devastated this country, and still, Iraqis right now are struggling to try to survive in a country that is neither entirely stable or secure.

BERMAN: Ten years later and so many difficulties do continue. Arwa Damon live this morning in Baghdad. Our thanks to you.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty minutes past the hour. Up next, Selection Sunday goes awry. The college basketball team who had to see if they make the big dance from a Best Buy store.

BERMAN: This is amazing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: College basketball Selection Sunday --

SAMBOLIN: Hold it up.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: The brackets, everyone.

SAMBOLIN: Andy Scholes is in with today's Bleacher Report. Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Good morning, guys. According to a Yahoo! survey, it gets fans an average of 75 minutes to fill out their bracket. And I'm about 30 minutes into mine right here. It looks like I'm probably going to take a little longer than that.

Yesterday, championship week wrapped up with four games. One of those being the ACC title game between Miami and North Carolina. The Hurricanes would come out on top to win the ACC for the first time in school history. But it still wasn't enough to earn them a one seed in the big dance. Miami will be a two seed in the East Region. Louisville the number one overall seed in the tournament. The other one seeds are Kansas, Indiana, and Gonzaga. Last year's number one overall seed and defending champion, Kentucky, they failed to make the tournament this year.

Well, St. Louis wrapped up the Atlantic 10 title yesterday, taking care of VCU at the Barkley's Center in Brooklyn. After the game, they tried to get right to the airport to watch the selection show, but the Billikens got stuck in traffic in New Jersey. So get this, the entire team stopped off at a local Best Buy and set up their own watch party in the magnolia room. A decent crowd of shoppers joined the Billikens as they learned they would be the fourth seed in the Midwest Region. Pretty cool.

Will Lebron and the Heat ever lose again? Miami beat the Raptors yesterday for their 22nd consecutive win. That ties the Houston Rockets for the second longest streak ever. The Heat are now 11 wins away from tying the 1972 Lakers for the longest winning streak in NBA history. Miami plays in Boston tonight, and ironically, it was the Celtics who snapped the Rockets 22-game winning streak five years ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, NBA BASKETBALL PLAYER: We're going to be ready for -- we'll be ready for game. And it's the team that we can possibly see in the playoff. So you know, I'm not worried about our level of play or our level of focus, because we know the (ph) team we're playing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: There was no love lost yesterday between former teammates Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at the Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. With about 150 laps to go, Hamlin tapped Logano's bumper, spinning him out. Logano confronted him after the race and a shoving match would ensue between the two pit crews. Afterwards, Logano said of Hemlin, "He's probably the worst teammate I've ever had."

Guys, back to that St. Louis story, got to be a pretty cool deal if you're just a shopper going into Best Buy and you end up being a part of NCAA tournament watch party.

BERMAN: You definitely have to pick them if you watched the selection with them. I think that's --

SAMBOLIN: Well, I don't think so.

SCHOLES: -- New Mexico (ph) stand at first round, so they're the favorite now.

BERMAN: All right. Andy Scholes, appreciate, it. Thanks, man.

And coming up on "STARTING POINT," we will have more on this breaking news story. Explosive devices found at the campus of the University of Central Florida. We will have some new details at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.