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Tornadoes Rip Through Country; Firemen Held Hostage in New York; Interview with P.J. Crowley; Honda and Toyota Recall; Stocks to Open at All-Time Highs; Food Label Fraud on the Rise

Aired April 11, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, fierce weather slamming Arkansas and Missouri.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of it sudden, I just saw spinning, out of control for air long time.


COSTELLO: Violent tornadoes on the ground for 30 miles. This morning, a state of emergency in full effect.

Also, shark encounter. A kayaker and the catch he will remember for a lifetime.


ISAAC BRUMAGHIM, ENCOUNTERED SHARK: The shark made a circle, came around, and ate the (INAUDIBLE) under my boat, hit my kayak, and then it kind of hit me what just happened.


COSTELLO: Plus, health alert. Do you know what's in that bottle of juice?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The unfortunate thing about food fraud in the U.S. is we just don't know how much of this is happening.


COSTELLO: CNN taking you to the place where they test to see if what's on the label is what's really inside.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, this is a little sweet, but we'll see.


COSTELLO: And millions of Hondas, Toyotas, Nissans and Mazadas recalled because of faulty airbags. Is your car on the list?

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. From Missouri to Arkansas, the damage is extensive following a series of powerful storms. Outside of Little Rock, a tornado left a debris path 30 miles long. The twister hit one town, passed over another, before slamming into a third. In all, three people suffered injuries, 33 homes damaged and a church absolutely demolished just 90 minutes before the start of weekly services.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And while we were sitting here, it just got real quiet, and then all of a sudden I just heard pouring down rain. Honestly, it sounded like literally a freight train, and all of a sudden, we just saw all of the debris flying at us, some bust my window, and the back of the trust was actually lifted.

FREDERICK BROWN, TRUCK DRIVER: All of a sudden, you couldn't see nothing, and then all of a sudden, I just saw it spinning out of control for a long time, and then all of a sudden, it just stopped. And then I -- you know, all I could do was pray and ask the Lord to not let me die.


COSTELLO: Oh. Severe weather season is starting late this year because of a chilly March. Only about half of the number of tornadoes reported so far.

Justin Lew from affiliate KATV joins us now. Looks terrible behind you.

JUSTIN LEWIS, KATV: Yes, Carol, that's exactly right. We're about 75 miles north of Little Rock in the Van Buren County area. This place was literally turned upside down yesterday. Don't just take my word for it. Look at this. This is that church you just mentioned here in Botkinburg, completely demolished by high winds and severe weather. Now I got off the phone with the county judge here. He tells me they know of at least six homes that were completely demolished, just like this church, a number they expect to grow significantly through the day as they continue to assess this damage.

I caught up with one man who lost both his church and his home from yesterday's storms.


ROCKY THOMAS, STORM SURVIVOR: I just pulled in, saw the damage, saw the boat and the trailer and the storage building in the woods. Saw our roof gone and saw tons of people out here helping. We're thankful for the outpouring we've received. We're just going to get to work, see what has to be done and I know something good's going to come out of this.


LEWIS: And something good could be a lot of volunteers that Mr. Thomas mentioned. The county judge also told me about 3,000 currently without power in the county and there's a lot of rural area in this county. They're trying to get to those spots, assess more damage, see how many homes, how many families, could be displaced this evening, and really just get a better grasp on what has really turned this whole county completely upside down.

Carol, back to you.

COSTELLO: It's amazing only three people hurt, Justin. Was there plenty of warning before the storm hit?

LWEIS: Actually, Carol, this thing came pretty quick. Now, they have a really good prewarning system here kind of dating back to an '08 tornado that really hurt this place. So they now have a prewarning system that helped a lot of those people. It hit quick and, like you said, four people actually taken to the hospital, three of those released. One remains in the hospital right now but with non-life- threatening injuries, so a lot of people really dodged a big bullet with this storm.

COSTELLO: That's a good thing. Justin Lewis, many thanks to you.

A state of emergency is in effect near St. Louis after a tornado there ripped roofs off several homes. At least 24 homes damaged; no serious injuries reported though. Missouri's governor will tour the area today.

In the meantime, much of the southeast could see tornadoes, damaging winds, and large hail today. Greatest risk is in Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle.

In suburban Atlanta, a deadly end to a bizarre hostage taking.


POLICE OFFICER: Oh, let's go, let's go. Stand by, New York, stand by.


COSTELLO: Police used a stun grenade so loud it sets off car alarms across a quiet neighborhood. A SWAT team sweeps into the home and ,after a brief gun fight, the hostage taker is dead. His hostages? Firefighters who responded to a call that turned into a trap.

Martin Savidge in Suwanee with the latest. Good morning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. As you point out, really kind of a troubling story here because it was, according to authorities, a phony call that lured the firefighters to come here believing they were treating somebody who needed to be rescued. But once firefighters got here, then they found out they were the ones in need of help.



SAVIDGE (voice-over): We know that firefighters routinely run toward danger. But not this:

ED RITTER, GWINNETT COUNTY POLICE SPOKESMAN: When they made entry into the home, they were taken hostage by him.

SAVIDGE: It began around 3:40 Wednesday afternoon. Firefighters near Atlanta were called to what they thought was a man having a heart attack. This is radio traffic from one of the five firefighters taken hostage.


FIREFIGHTER: We're in a situation where we have a -- an armed person.


SAVIDGE: The gunman began making demands.


FIREFIGHTER: He is requesting certain -- certain utilities to be turned back on at his house. And he is armed. And we are in the room with him.


RITTER: Apparently, he's going through some financial issues. And the power was turned off, along with the cable and cell phone.

SAVIDGE: About 30 minutes into the ordeal, one of the five hostages was released. Then, around 7:30 p.m., police moved in.

A loud bang, then volleys of gunfire.

RITTER: It got to a point where we believed that their lives were in immediate danger. And our SWAT team made a decision to go in there and neutralize the situation.

SAVIDGE: Neighbors who knew the man didn't expect anything like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was really nice. Maybe a little bit too nice, I don't know. IO mean, he seemed like a normal guy.

SAVIDGE: The gunman was killed. One police officer was injured. And the firefighters suffered only minor injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just relieved for us, our firefighters are going to go home safe to their families.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SAVIDGE (on camera): Carol, authorities have not identified the gunman so far. It has been reported that this house was in foreclosure and that raises the specter -- could it have been that, that the homeowner was about to lose his home, that triggered this complete ordeal? Carol.

COSTELLO: Martin Savidge reporting live from Suwanee, Georgia, this morning.

On the same day the Senate could begin debate on a bipartisan gun control bill, a mock cemetery goes up on the National Mall. 3,300 crosses mark those killed by gun violence since the Connecticut school massacre back in December. Today, the Senate is expected to overcome a Republican filibuster attempt to block the gun control legislation from getting to the Senate floor. The bipartisan bill expands background checks on gun buyers to include gun shows and Internet sales.

Now keep your eyes on the left side of the screen. That was a tiger shark. Did you see it? It's probably about ten feet long and 500 pounds; it wanted the same tuna this Hawaiian kayaker was trying to snag.


ISAAC BRUMAGHIM, HAWAIIAN KAYAKER: The shark made a circle, came around, and ate the (INAUDIBLE) under my boat, hitting the kayak, and then it kind of hit me what just happened and I had reaction to all of that.


Yes, you get the shivers a bit on it, just thinking about the whole thing.


COSTELLO: Yes, the fisherman was shaken, but not spooked. He told affiliate KHNL that after his close encounter, he caught three more fish in the very same spot.

One of Senator Mitch McConnell's aides is sticking by the claim that a private meeting on how to take down Ashley Judd as a political contender was secretly recorded in a Watergate-style hacking. Speaking on "Hannity" last night, he says the FBI has been investigating the matter for some time.


JESSE BENTON, SEN. MCCONNELL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The FBI came out to our office, spent about an hour here earlier today, and they did a very thorough checking of our office. They, of course, spent time with myself and the rest of our team; wonderful agents, really, really sharp. They're very serious, they're taking this very, very seriously. They seem to think that they've got some interesting leads that they're running down, and I can't wait until they get to the bottom of this.


COSTELLO: He also said there is no way that the tape was recorded and leaked by another aide. The liberal magazine Mother Jones released the tape in which you can hear McConnell's team discussing how to attack Ashley Judd, who was simply considering a run against McConnell.

More verbal bombs from North Korea. This morning, North Korean state television announced war is just a matter of time, telling South Korea you will regret this. We do know North Korea raised at least one of its missiles to an upright firing position, raising concerns a launch was imminent. And yes, one of North Korea's missiles has the range to hit U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.

On the plus side, it appears China, North Korea's chief ally, is getting pretty darn fed up with Kim Jong-Un's tough talk. Evidence? The Chinese government appears to have no problem allowing its citizens to feast on Jon Stewart's skewering of the North Korean leader.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look past the picture of Kim Jong-Un. There's a chart marked U.S. Mainland Strike Plan with missile trails aiming at Hawaii, California, D.C., and for some reason, Austin, Texas.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Wait, you're going to blow up Austin, Texas? What are you just trying to get the rest of Texas on your side? Or -- or did South by Southwest reject your indie film, "Little Miss Un-shine"?


COSTELLO: That "Daily Show" clip has gone viral in China.

With me now from Washington is P.J. Crowley, a former State Department spokesman. Good morning, P.J..


COSTELLO: So if China is fed up with North Korea, what action could it take?

CROWLEY: Well, it's already sent a stern public message. I'm confident they're sending private messages, but the reality is that China, while it has significant influence over North Korea, does not have the same influence with Kim Jong-Un that it had with his father, Kim Jong-Il.

COSTELLO: So again on the North Korean state television, there were these threats. Why do they keep on coming if North Korea is not going to do anything?

CROWLEY: This morning's paper, on the front page of "The New York Times," there's a story about swatting, you know, these prank calls that require the authorities to respond even though it turns out that, you know, there is only an amusement factor here. Well, North Korea is doing something similar; they are creating this crisis, but with a more sinister motive. This is intimidation; this is extortion. They want the international community to pay attention to them; they want the international community to, in essence, reward them for bad behavior.

COSTELLO: Well, actually, the international community is paying attention to them, because Secretary of State John Kerry, he's heading to Seoul tomorrow. What will he do there to calm the waters?

CROWLEY: Two primary missions -- to South Korea and to Japan, it's to reassure that we will protect not only our interests, but our allies in the region as well. And to China, it is, look, you have more influence than anyone else with North Korea, and you've got to find a way to get through to this young leader and help him back off of the escalation that he has created in recent weeks.

COSTELLO: Pyongyang is getting ready to celebrate a national holiday, which would be the birthday of its founder, a big holiday. Does that seem like -- does that seem like a country that's ready for war? Would it launch something on this national holiday, this birthday?

CROWLEY: I think it's quite possible that it will launch a missile. It's done it before. That missile could carry across Japan. That's happened before. I mean, the danger here is not that North Korea is going to go to war. If they do, it will be brief, brutal, but the end result is clear.

But I think that the -- there is one risk of miscalculation that if, you know, the missile goes where they expect it to; if it doesn't, then that creates one circumstance. Or at some point in time, somebody has got their trigger on a short-range missile; they fire it. South Korea is going to fire back. If you think in baseball terms, Kim Jong-Un is new, he's never been brushed back. And if that happens, then how is he going to respond? That's an unknown factor, and we hope it doesn't come to that.

COSTELLO: We hope so too. P.J. Crowley, thanks so much.

CROWLEY: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Some of the world's best-selling cars are stained (ph) in a massive recall. It involves defective airbags that could open with too much pressure and actually injure you. Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange to tell us more.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Carol, good morning. You will definitely recognize some of these names: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda. This recaall doesn't only involve cars here in the U.S.; it involves cars around the world. 3.4 million cars are being recalled, most are from Toyota, 1.7 million of them. Corollas, Sequoias, Tundras, Lexus SC 430. Now this is a one-two punch for Toyota; it's just coming off a recall of 7 million cars last year.

The next biggest in this recall is Honda. Honda is recalling 1.1 million vehicles. What seems to be the issue here for this recall is that the passenger airbag could deploy with too much pressure. Good thing is, no injuries or deaths reported. But this recall is under way nonetheless.

Interesting tidbit about this recall, all of these airbags came from the same Japanese manufacturer, Takata. And if are you an affected owner, you should be contacted by mail -- Carol.

COSTELLO: OK. Let's switch gears for just a minute and talk about the markets. Dow and S&P open at all time highs. Actually that happened yesterday. What can we expect today?

KOSIK: Yes, yesterday's stocks skyrocketed, breaking new records and any gains that happen today with the Dow, with the S&P that's just going to break yesterday's record. This comes from indications from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting that the Fed will most likely continue its stimulus measures for the foreseeable future.

One report came out today that could give stocks momentum, because right now, stocks are flat before the opening bell. And a third claim for unemployment benefits, they fell 42,000 to 346,000. That came in better than expected. It may create doubt about whether or not, last week's lousy jobs report showing 88,000 positions are reported, may add credence to the conspiracy theory that it could have been a fluke. But, of course, we won't know that for sure until we get next month's jobs reports.

Nonetheless, stocks are flat ahead of the opening bell -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Alison Kosik, reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Just ahead in THE NEWSROOM: do you know what's in your food? The label says one thing, but that may not be actually what's inside. We'll have more on the growing problem of food fraud.


COSTELLO: Nineteen minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories:

Two crooks tried robbing a Chicago souvenir shop. But the other fought back despite being shot in the leg. The 62-year-old grabbed the bat, you see him there, he just started swinging. The robber keeps shooting. One of the suspects accidentally shot his own accomplice in the leg. And you can see the accomplice limping out of store.

The gunman jumps the counter. And the brother-in-law throws a chair at the robber and then chases him with a fire extinguisher. Wow!

The owner now recovering from his injuries. Police are still searching for those suspects.

George Zimmerman's mother is accusing the media of propagating a lie against her son. George Zimmerman, as you know, is he charged with killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

In a letter released on the anniversary of her son's arrest, Gladys Zimmerman calls April 11th, 2012, quote, "the day the justice system failed us as Americans, and as a consequence, an innocent man was arrested for a crime he did not commit, solely placate the masses," end quote.

And your lunchtime burrito will able to get healthier, but not for quite some time. Taco Bell will have a more nutritious menu by 2020. The fast food chains announced plans to have 20 percent of its combo meals meet FDA guidelines so that the proposed changes are coming at the request of its younger customers who will be its older customers by the time the things are put into place in 2020.

While we're talking food, it's tough to eat healthy. Arduous to read all of those food labels that every single ingredient, maybe you shouldn't bought, we're going to come out to me.

Anyway, the labels on those things, the juices, they may not be accurate, accurate at all. It's a growing problem with food fraud.

CNN's Zain Asher has more for you.


ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is where it all begins, more ingredients that will eventually make their way onto trucks, into factories and onto our table. But how can we be sure that the ingredients you read on the label's outside are exactly what's inside?

SARAH KLEIN, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: The unfortunate thing about food fraud in the U.S. we don't know how much is happening. Consumers have no way of knowing unless the worst happens. Someone gets sick.

ASHER: According to the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a non-profit watchdog, food fraud, the substation or dilution of food ingredients listed on levels, is up a dramatic 60 percent in the last year alone.

RAVI RAMADHAR, FOOD & CONSUMER GOODS SAFETY DIR., PERKINELMER: A lot of that has to do with the economics of food, and it's driven by a profit motive.

ASHER: As food costs climb steadily around the world from drought and higher oil prices, experts say it appears some flyers are more willing to cut costs by replacing key ingredients with something cheaper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, the instrument just shines light up.

ASHER: Detection devices here at PerkinElmer use light reflectance to see if food has been adulterated before it hits the shelves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to do a little bit of a taste test.

ASHER: I decided to see if I could distinguish real pomegranate juice from a version that had been diluted with the cheaper ingredient like pear juice.

(on camera): I'm going to guess that this is the real one.

ASHER: I happened to be right. And what if I had reference points? What if the substituted ingredient was potentially harmful?

ROB PACKER, SOLUTIONS DEVELOPMENT LEADER, PERKINELEMER: These food companies, they are really worried about the next melamine. What's the next unknown.

ASHER: In 2008, Chinese suppliers were caught adding melamine to milk powder. The contamination led to the death of at least six children in China. Authorities in Europe uncovered horse meat being passed off as beef.

And conservation group Oceana recently released a study that showing that a third of seafood worldwide is mislabeled.

KLEIN: It's quite easy to dilute something and have it snuck through.

ASHER: But the FDA says it is dealing harsh punishments for food fraud. That could mean legal action, or yanking misbranded product from shelves.

RAMADHAR: The worst thing for a food company is have their brands associated with fraud or safety issues.

KLEIN: They may not know that the product they are adding to the food is dangerous for consumers. Unfortunately, that kind of ignorance can have a high cost.


ASHER: The FDA spends $300 million a year preventing food contamination. So, this is a huge priority. A lot of it, though, sadly, is out of the consumer's hands. You can obviously make sure you find a retailer you trust.

There's also a Web site, Carol, Go in there, you type any food you want and see if it's a food commonly adulterated and what it's adulterated with -- Carol.

COSTELLO:, OK, I'm going to try it. Zain Asher, reporting live for us this morning. Talk back question for you today, will background checks really decrease gun violence? CNN or tweet me @carolCNN.


COSTELLO: Now your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the stay. The question this morning: will background checks really decrease gun violence?

Is this all there is? Background checks, after months of agonizing debate about assault rifles, high capacity magazines, violent movies and video games, background checks?

The deal brokered by Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin is not exactly a crowd pleaser.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calls it a, quote, "sellout to the gun lobby".

According to the pro-gun group, Gun Owners of America, the sellout is actually Senator Toomey.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: NRA has always been basically the benchmark. It's the one that we look towards. It's one I'm proud to be a member of.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But they are opposed to your legislation.

MANCHIN: Well, you know, that doesn't mean (ph) -- my wife disagrees with me, and I still love her.


COSTELLO: As you saw Joe Manchin there getting emotional, it's been a gut-wrenching process for the Newtown families and for Joe Manchin, who you heard from. A senator with the "A" rating from the NRA. Yet, NRA leaders say expanding background checks will not stop violent crime or keep kids safe.

Manchin is hoping gun owners will see way beyond that.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: NRA has always been basically the benchmark. It's the one that we look towards. It's one I'm proud to be a member of.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But they are opposed to your legislation.

MANCHIN: Well, you know, that doesn't mean (ph) -- my wife disagrees with me, and I still love her.


COSTELLO: And if background checks are as bipartisan as the Senate gets on guns, at least the sides can make a deal on something. Talk back questions for you today, will background checks decrease gun violence?,, or tweet me @carolCNN.