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Tornadoes Tear Through 2 States; Massive Auto Recall; Georgia Hostage Standoff; Tensions High on North Korean Peninsula

Aired April 11, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Tornado fury. New this morning: twisters down in at least two states, leaving a path of wrecked homes behind.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: SWAT team rescue. Police storm a home, guns blazing, to save a group of firefighters held hostage.

SAMBOLIN: Dangerous defects. New overnight, four different automakers recalling millions of cars because something meant to protect passengers could hurt them instead.

BERMAN: Outgunned but not outdone. Take a look at this.

SAMBOLIN: It's crazy.

BERMAN: A store owner takes a bullet fights off a gunman with a baseball bat. Oh, my goodness.

SAMBOLIN: There's much more of that for you. We'll share it with you.

BERMAN: That is crazy.

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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday, April 11th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And, up first, thousands of people are without power after fierce tornados touched down in at least two states. And here's what we know so far: the one first hit around 8:00 p.m. in Hazelwood, Missouri. That's just outside of St. Louis.

Debris in the streets, trees toppled over, and at least 24 homes suffered major damage. Take a look at those pictures. Missouri's governor has declared a state of emergency. There are 42,000 people in St. Louis are still without power right now.

BERMAN: In Arkansas, a twister tore a path 30 miles wide through Van Buren County. That's about 75 miles north of Little Rock. At least 13 homes, a church and a business were damaged there. Three people were injured.

Luckily, no deaths have been reported in this area, which is mostly rural. But nerves have been rattled.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, that's just a mess.

And major storms are rumbling through much of the Southern and the Eastern United States.

Let's bring in Samantha Mohr. She's in the severe weather center for us. Samantha, who is seeing the worst of all of this morning?

SAMANTHA MOHR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, all the way from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Detroit, we're seeing strong thunderstorms at this hour. A lot of lightning that's kept people up wondering when the severe weather is going to roll in for them. We do have that threat moving into the Nashville area, within the next hour. It has been a very loud night in Memphis and in Paducah, Kentucky, as the line of strong thunderstorms moved on through.

And in Houston, also, a very nasty start to the day. Just look at that. I mean, literally thousands of lightning strikes overnight. And that's going to continue throughout the day, unfortunately. We have the frontal system moving into some very moist, warm, unstable air, and everything in place with the cold air sweeping in behind it.

And the jet stream position is going to add lift to the atmosphere here. So, we could end up seeing severe thunderstorms with hail, larger than two inches. Those winds gusting up around 70 miles per hour, and the threat for more tornadoes today. So, that's what we're seeing all across this region, from New Orleans, stretching up into the Ohio Valley, and over into the East Coast, as well.

So, we'll be watching for tornadoes today. Even though, so far this season, fairly light as far as the activity -- Zoraida and John.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that crazy? That it's actually fairly light. And it looks awful.

Samantha, we'll be checking back in with you.

BERMAN: New this morning, a massive recall involving four Japanese automakers and 3.4 million vehicles. The problem: a malfunctioning inflator that could inadvertently deploy the front seat air bags or cause a fire.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda, all hit by the recall since they purchase their air bag systems from the same manufacturer in Japan. Twenty-six models in all are affected. Most of the recall cars appear to be from 2001, 2002 and 2003 model years.

SAMBOLIN: It is three minutes past the hour.

Now, for the latest in the hostage situation involving four firefighters. This happened in the town of Suwanee. That is 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, Georgia.

All firefighters are out of the hospital this morning. They're in good condition, the man who held them hostage, shot dead by police. CNN's Martin Savidge is live with the very latest for us. Good morning, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Zoraida. It was a fake heart attack, according to authorities, that reportedly brought the first responders to the house behind us here. But once they got here, they found the real emergency.

And as you point out this morning, four firefighters have been freed, one man is dead, and a police officer wounded.

Here's how it all went down.


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.


SAVIDGE: Initially, there were five firefighters that were held hostage. Thirty minutes into the ordeal, the gunman let one of them go. The reason: to move the fire truck from out of the street in front of his home. And, of course, that was the firefighter that notified authorities as to what was going on.

Right now, the real issue is trying to determine what triggered all this. What set this man off?

He's not being identified so far, Zoraida. But that's the real question for many neighbors, really what happened behind closed doors in that home -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, kind of glimpse is the fact he was trying to get his utilities turned back on and his cell phone. And I read somewhere that his home was in foreclosure. So, that may shed some light.

Martin Savidge, reporting live for us, thank you very much.

BERMAN: Six minutes after the hour right now.

The U.S., Tokyo and Seoul, all on high alert as North Korea keeps the world guessing as to what they're doing this morning. A missile launch from North Korea's east coast could still come at any time.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warning Pyongyang it is taking things too far.


CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF STATE: North Korea has been with its bellicose rhetoric with its actions, has been skating close to a dangerous line. Our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action, that North Korea may take.


BERMAN: Jim Clancy is monitoring developments for us live from Seoul in South Korea.

And, Jim, South Korean officials say they've seen movement of several missiles along the North Korean coast. At this point this morning, are we seeing new signs of an impending launch?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: You know, the skies still clear. Everybody's been looking whether it's through a radar scope or just staring up into the sky and wondering, when is this launch going to come? We know Kim Il Sung's birthday is coming up on the 15th. And the thought was that once the 10th came around, anytime during this window, four or five days, would be a prime time for them to launch.

But you're right. Some intelligence sources here in the Asian media this morning saying there was satellite apparently that the North Koreans had shifted some of those Musudan range missiles that are so interesting to the U.S. and to South Korea because they've never been publicly tested, that are so interesting. They've been moving them around, perhaps to keep people off-guard, perhaps aware that those Aegis Destroyers and that radar platform are out there watching every move that is made.

That's all they can do -- wait and watch, John.

BERMAN: In terms of these new missiles, you know, what's the range? What's the farthest range we expect from these missile tests?

CLANCY: No -- you know, that's an interesting point, because we say 4,000. And that's what some experts have said. No one really knows.

Other experts tell me, this depends on what kind of a warhead might be placed atop it. The heavier the warhead, the less the range.

So, you know, there's a lot of questions that are out there. That's what makes this so, so interesting.

But right now, that would put Japan, that would put Guam and the U.S. Air and Naval bases there, as well as all of South Korea, within the range of that missile.

So, it is something that they have to watch -- John.

BERMAN: Jim Clancy in Seoul, South Korea, as we said, monitoring the North right now where a launch could come really at any moment. Thanks, Jim.

SAMBOLIN: All right. New this morning, the Senate set to move on gun control legislation. A procedural vote is expected a little later this morning to determine whether or not to open debate on a gun bill. This comes as two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, announced a bipartisan deal to expand background checks to include buyers of guns at gun shows and on the Internet.

But the sister of the Newtown victims says more needs to be done.


CARLEE SOTO, SISTER OF SANDY HOOK VICTIM VICKI SOTO: That's not enough. It's really not. You know, these kids were brutally murdered. My sister was brutally murdered. And it's not just not enough what they said about the background checks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLN: And although he has pushed for tighter gun control measures, President Obama called the Manchin/Toomey compromise a significant step.

And meantime, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords plans to be in Washington next week, to lobby supporters to support new gun control legislation, especially expanded background checks.

Gifford, as you know, was shot in the head while greeting constituents in her Tucson, Arizona, district. That was January of 2011. She was severely wounded. Six others were killed in that same attack.

BERMAN: President Obama hosting a group of Republican senators for dinner at the White House last night. They dined on steaks, salads, sauteed vegetables.

Kind of hard to filibuster that, right?


BERMAN: So, we're told they discussed the budget, immigration reform and gun violence. Among the big names breaking bread with the president, Marco Rubio of Florida, Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia helped coordinate last night's White House dinner. He called the talks very productive. The question is, will there be another round? We're going to ask him that when he joins us live on "STARTING POINT" this morning at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And back in the United States and headed to court now, what do the parents accused of abducting their kids and sailing them to Cuba can expect to face in front of a judge today.

BERMAN: Plus, we're going to take you to one of the hardest-hit areas of Missouri, where tornadoes leveled homes. Look at those pictures.

EARLY START is back right after this break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. The parents accused of kidnapping their own sons and taking them by boat to Cuba are scheduled to make their first court appearance in Florida this morning. Josh and Sharyn Hakken are facing a litany of charges, including kidnapping, auto theft and child neglect.

Cuban officials handed them over to U.S. authorities yesterday. The kids are now back with their grandparents.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is live outside the courthouse in Tampa. Good morning, Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. And the Hakken has spent their first full day in jail here in Hillsborough County. They're isolated from the general population. That's customary for two suspects who are so notorious, with the high profile interest in their case.

Now, they'll speak with a judge in this courthouse. But they'll do it through closed-circuit television.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): Joshua and Sharon Hakken, waking up in a Florida jail, facing state charges of kidnapping and child neglect after a week on the run.

Their 2-year-old and 4-year-old sons, Chase and Cole, are back living with their legal guardians, their grandparents, Robert and Patricia Houser -- grateful to the authorities who ended their week-long nightmare.

ROBERT HAUSER, GRANDFATHER: And thousands of other people who have said their prayers and have gone out to try to help find the grandchildren. We are very appreciative of that.

BLACKWELL: The day after the Hakkens lost their parental rights in connection with the father's arrest and erratic behavior in 2012, deputies say Joshua Hakken broke into the Hausers' home in Tampa.

Patricia Hauser called for help.


DISPATCHER: 911, what's your emergency?

PATRICIA HAUSER, GRANDMOTHER: I can't think. My son-in-law just kidnapped my two grandchildren. They've been in my state custody.

BLACKWELL: Investigators learned Joshua had purchased this boat, the Salty, and they were headed south.

DAVE COUVERTIER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT, TAMPA BAY: The State Department received information that they were actually in Cuba.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Patrick Oppmann in Havana searched the marina popular with Americans. And sure enough, found their boat and the Hakken family.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I see a boy playing on top deck. And then a man with a large beard really kind of hunky guy comes out. I say, hey, are you Josh? And he says, yes, who are you? And I say I'm from CNN.

He gets very angry, goes in the boat.

COUVERTIER: We set up a team that consisted of local, state and federal agents, that actually departed the Tampa area and went to Cuba, and actually met with the authorities there.

BLACKWELL: The family was taken into custody. The boys and their parents separated on the flight back to Florida.

Expedient and rare cooperation on extradition between two countries with an inconsistent history.

PATRICK VENTRELL, ACTING DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, U.S. STATE DEPT: We do appreciate the Cuban authorities' cooperation to resolve this situation quickly.

BLACKWELL: The boys now settling into a familiar home. Their parents, at least for now, confined to a new one.


BLACKWELL: Now, this appearance is on state charges. They face about a half-dozen or more each. A federal charge that had been filed has been dropped in the interest of streamlining this process.

BERMAN: So, given that, Victor, if the parents are convicted, what kind of prison sentence might they face?

BLACKWELL: Well, they face these charges of child neglect, auto theft, burglary with battery. But the two kidnapping charges each that could come be a life sentence if they're convicted of those alone.

BERMAN: Oh, wow.

So, we haven't seen the kids yet since they arrived back from Florida. I understand that could happen today?

BLACKWELL: Yes. We're expecting that to happen today. We're told that the Hausers, they have scheduled an 11:00 Eastern news conference on their front line. But those boys will not be speaking.

The family has said that Robert Hauser, the grandfather, will speak for the family. He'll answer questions. And this will be the only opportunity to get answers to the questions about what happened over the last seven days -- John.

BERMAN: Those kids need time and space to move on with their lives.

Victor Blackwell, live for us in Tampa, this morning -- thanks, Victor.

SAMBOLIN: It is 18 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to speed.

Happening right now, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declaring a state of emergency after a powerful tornado tore through the St. Louis area. Dozens of homes are damaged.

Let's go to Laura. She is with our affiliate KMOV. She is live in Hazelwood, Missouri.

And I'm reading here, that there were 24 homes destroyed where you are. How is everyone this morning? LAURA HETTIGER, KMOV REPORTER: Yes. You're right, Zoraida. Maybe about half a mile from where I am, a tornado ripped through here last night, maybe around 9:00.

So far, the good news in this area, we have not heard of any injuries. But I and my photographer, we've been on the ground all morning, driving through this area, looking for damage. We found one giant tree on a home. We saw several very large trees uprooted. But like you said, there's about two dozen homes that trees just fell on.

Now, we are at the Red Cross center that's been set up. Right now, there are six people who are staying here overnight. They haven't even had a chance yet to see what their home looks like. I'm sure you can tell around me, it's pitch black out here. And more importantly, power has been out in much of the St. Louis area, since about 9:00 last night.

So, we can really imagine as the sun starts to come up, the emotions here in St. Louis. They're definitely going to come up, as the people at the Red Cross shelter see their homes for the first time after this tornado ripped through.

Let's send it back to you guys.

SAMBOLIN: We're happy, though, that so far, you have no injuries that you are reporting.

Laura Hettinger with our affiliate KMOV, thank you for that reporting.

BERMAN: Twenty minutes after the hour right now.

We have some amazing video to show you this morning. Two Chicago shopkeepers, they were fighting back when two men tried to rob their store at gun point.

Look at this. This happened Tuesday evening at a souvenir shop. The robbers pull out the gun. They demanded cash.

That's when the 62-year-old store owner Louis Quizhpe, I should say, grabbed the bat. Started swinging. Check that out.

One of the robbers started firing his gun. He shot his accomplice in the leg. The accomplice limped out of the store. Quizhpe was also hit by gunfire in the thigh. He kept on swinging and swinging and swinging.

You saw, there he is, the gunman coming back for more right there. The swinging apparently not enough. His brother springs into action, throwing a chair, a fire extinguisher.

Quizhpe is back home this morning. Holy cow, he's got a good swing. He's shot in the leg, you know, he's going to make you swing that bad again and again. There's the fire extinguisher right.

Quizhpe is in the hospital getting that leg treated. The suspects, you know, remain at large. I would say probably heavily bruised and at large this morning.

SAMBOLIN: He got him in the head with that bat. Wow. That is incredible.

I would say, don't do that, right?

BERMAN: Not to Quizhpe.

SAMBOLIN: No, actually, he's got a gun. The guy's got a bat. He kept on going.

All right. Twenty-one minutes past the hour.

SAMBOLIN: Look at your 401(k) and you probably are going to like what you see. The question: will the sky-high ride last? Christine has that, coming up.


BERMAN: We're minding your business. Oh, and you're minding our business. We're all minding your business this morning.

SAMBOLIN: You go ahead. Go mind it.

BERMAN: Stocks. Set to head higher again today, after a really big rally yesterday. The Dow and the S&P 500 closed at new record highs.

SAMBOLIN: Did you check your accounts? The market has been on fire this year.

Christine Romans has much more for us. We love this news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's every day, just shuttering records every day.

Look, I want to show you the gains for the year so you can see what we're doing here. The Dow up 13 percent, The NASDAQ up 9 percent, the S&P 500 up 11 percent. How much higher can it go?

We asked Sam Stovall. He's one of the best in the business and knowing where the markets are headed. We asked him, Sam, can it keep going higher?


SAM STOVALL, CHIEF EQUITY STRATEGIST, S&P CAPITAL IQ: History says, but it does not guarantee. We probably will advance another 3 percent before stumbling from exhaustion like the messenger from marathon, into a meaningful decline of about 5 percent or more. But I do not expect a new bear market.


ROMANS: OK. So, if we get that 3 percent gain that he's talking about, before it stumbles like the exhausted marathoner, it would be enough to put the Dow above 15,000. Stovall also told us investing in the market, likes whitewater rafting. You want to let the market take you where it wants to go. Don't try to time the decline. You can't move this boat very much at all. Just follow it. And he doesn't think a decline in the long run should be painful.

Now, speaking of painful, the Federal Reserve is especially worried about student debt. I want to show you for the first time. This topic came up at the Fed's policy meeting in March.

To have the Fed concerned about student debt is notable. "Fiscal restraint and the high level of student debt were mentioned risk to the aggregate household spending over the forecast period."

Translation, too much debt means less money that households have to spend. Americans are holding almost $1 trillion in student loan debt. The average household with debt owes $24,000.

BERMAN: Too much.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

His crime spree legendary. But his alleged identity a mystery until now. A myth from backwoods Maine comes to life, coming up.