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Severe Storms Kill At Least 6 People; Stem Cell Breakthrough; Seeing Red Over Yellow Lights

Aired May 16, 2013 - 06:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Most of the 120 homes destroyed. More than 100 people injured at this point.

Victor Blackwell is live in Granbury for us.

Victor, what's the latest this morning?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the team coming from Dallas to look for those 14 missing persons, this rescue task force, is now staging and waiting for the sun to come up to begin to search some of these flattened homes where there were people pinned after the storm came through yesterday. Those people may have been rescued. Some of them unfortunately did not survive. They're now looking for those persons, those 14 who are missing.

We are also told there is a possibility that some of those people are with family members or with friends and just have not checked in with the Red Cross or with the sheriff's office. A bit of optimism there.

But when the storm came through, the National Weather Service said, if you are in the path of this storm, take cover for your life. And that's what some people did. Listen.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the rain -- the hail started, and that was probably ten minutes worth. And then the tornado just started going in circles. It probably lasted 10, 15 minutes at the most.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only place in our house that was probably safe enough was our hallway. I grabbed a mattress and, you know, I -- there's just nothing left. I'm sorry. There's just nothing left.


BLACKWELL: The sheriff says that many of these communities look like a war zone with cars flipped over. Speaking of cars, there's a county employee who wanted to go out and help his neighbors. He wanted to go out and hop into his truck and do what we could but the truck was gone, a three-quarter ton pickup still missing.

When the sun comes up, the people in this community of Granbury will see the full impact of these tornados. BERMAN: A truck just gone.

Victor, how many people have been evacuated, where are they staying?

BLACKWELL: Well, the number we received from the sheriff's office, 250 people were brought out of this area of Rancho Brazos, the worst hit area, 90 of them on school buses. They are with those family and friends. Many of them are in local hotels.

The Red Cross tells us that they have 20 in their shelters but there are shelters open.

What else will be open today? Surprisingly, schools in Hood County will be open as students head back. Although many of them do not have homes. Some of them have no electricity. And they will try to concentrate somehow today in class.

BERMAN: A challenging, challenging day ahead for that community.

Victor Blackwell for us in Texas this morning -- thanks, Victor.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: May be good for some of the kids to have normalcy. Hard, hard.

BERMAN: Somewhere to go.

The National Weather Service estimates up to ten tornadoes may have touched down in this tornado outbreak. Storm chaser Reed Timmer was on the ground in Texas, joins us now by phone.

And, Reed, you were chasing this storm in northern Texas last night. Your team shot video. That's what you do.

Tell us about the video you shot and tell us what you saw.

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER (via telephone): Yes, the first tornado we saw was Red River in north Texas. And a super cell developed further north, has produced tornado. The next one down the line produced a stronger tornado and the next one down the line would be the stronger. That was the Granbury storm. We had a strong tornado.

And we also had a report of a mild wide tornado that changed directions and moved due north. And it reminded me a lot of the Greensburg, Kansas, tornado that had that same type of thing, that mile-wide tornado that headed straight for town and almost stationary. It was the worth case scenario for that area and Granbury.

And we were underneath the storms. They were spinning right off the bat. All the conditions were in place for a major tornado outbreak. And it caught a lot of people by surprise. Forecast model did not show that.

We woke up the next morning and looked and it was totally different. It looked like a major outbreak in Texas. And we deployed immediately and our job as storm chasers is to provide that ground troop in the storm and stream live videos. We did through our Web site, so people could see what's happening underneath the storm and try to help out in the warning process as best we can.

BERMAN: As this was going on, you tweeted, life-threatening situation, mile-wide tornado heading toward Cleburne, Texas. Take cover now.

How fast do these tornadoes come on? Do you think people had enough warning to take shelter?

TIMMER: Yes, the National Weather Service, the storm chasers in the field, the emergency managers, everybody was working together. And the warning was definitely there.

And this is one of those situations that the tornado was so strong that, yes, it had that strong wording in the warning. And if you were above ground, if you're not taking that necessary precautions, I mean, it's a difference between life or death. Very strong tornadoes are scary.

And that's why people need to have storm shelters or have a safety plan in place and be proactive and have NOAA weather radios and batteries charged up, above ground shelters, storm rooms and another example. But people need to be proactive and take these warnings seriously, because you never know, it could be the worst case scenario and you have to assume the worst case scenario when the tornado warnings are issued.

And in this case, in rural Hood County, who knows, the sirens were going off. The warnings were in place. But I just hope that, you know, it's just -- here's the harder part when you hear about the loss of life when these tornadoes, because we're out there trying to help out the best we can and it's just sad.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those people.

BERMAN: They are. Reed, terrific advice. When the warnings do come, please take cover. Please heed those warnings.

You know, Reed Timmer, storm chaser who was on the ground shooting that amazing video on north Texas last night, we appreciate it.

SAMBOLIN: It is 36 minutes past the hour.

Jodi arias will be fighting for her life today as the penalty phase of her murder trial gets under way in a Phoenix courtroom. On Wednesday, the jury concluded the aggravation phase of the trial.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The state of Arizona versus Jodi Ann Arias, verdict, count one, aggravating factor, especially cruel. We, the jury, duly impaneled and sworn in above entitled action upon our oaths, do find that the aggravating factor, especially cruel, has been proven.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: So, what that means that decision means Arias remains eligible for the death penalty. Arias and her defense team must now convince that same jury to give her life in prison instead. Under Arizona law, Arias is allowed to beg the jury for mercy and offer an apology to the victim's family if she so chooses.

BERMAN: The 12-year-old cal boy charge with killing his 8-year-old sister remains in custody in a juvenile detention facility. In a court appearance yesterday the brother of Leila fowler repeatedly told the judge she understood the charges against him. The boy is due back in court on May 29th.

SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, there may be a new ricin scare. The Postal Service in Spokane, Washington, says the preliminary shows presence of the poison on two letters. One was addressed to the Spokane post office, the other to a local federal judge. Last month, a Mississippi officer was arrested, accused of sending a letter containing ricin to President Obama.

BERMAN: Attorney General Eric Holder grilled by Congress over why the Justice Department secretly tapped into the phone records of "The Associated Press". But he had little to offer on why it happened. Holder said he recused himself from the investigation.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am a possessor -- I was a possessor -- I am a possessor of the information that was ultimately leaked.


BERMAN: The committee criticized holder and accusing him of not taking responsibility for what happened at the Justice Department.

A little levity during that holder hearing thanks to a 19-month-old child. Take a look at North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt, he's baby sitting while questioning the attorney general. That's his grandson Nico, simply adorable sitting on his lap. Nico, amazing behavior for most of the time there.

Really, just so much any of us can take at a hearing like this. Listen.


REP. MEL WATT (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Many of the sales on increasingly made over the Internet where criminals are -- can hide their identities.


WATT: Where criminals can hide their identities and elude capture.


BERMAN: Nico is really saying what we're all feeling at that point in the hearing. There's only so much you can take. The kid was tired.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, he was. I would cry, too.

BERMAN: Watt was baby sitting because his wife and daughter-in-law was having lunch with the first lady. He was being good grandfather.

The attorney general seemed grateful for the breaker.


HOLDER: Mr. Watt, you're only supposed to do that for your confirmation hearing. That's when you roll out the kids.

WATT: I'm just trying to get my line of questioning. I've been in the back listening and Nico says you've done a good job up to this point. So --


BERMAN: Nico clearly in charge there.

SAMBOLIN: He is a star now.

Thirty-nine minutes past the hour.

Major breakthrough to tell you about this morning. Researchers in Oregon Health and Science University say they have figured out a way to clone human stem cells.

BERMAN: These stem cells developed from human skin cells. They can develop into muscle, nerve, or other cells that make up the body's tissues.

CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from Atlanta.

Elizabeth, how would this work?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I want to tell you first how exciting this is. I mean, this is something that science nerds have been watching and waiting for, for more than a decade.

So, embryonic stem cells can be turned into virtually in the cell in the body. What's really exciting about this recent happening here is that it would genetically be identical to you. So imagine if, let's say, I had a heart attack and I needed fresh cardiac muscle to replace my damaged cardiac muscle, you use these stem cells to make cardiac muscle that is genetically identical to me.

It's got Elizabeth Cohen written all over it. Nobody else. And that way my body won't reject it.

As for the how part that you asked, it's really theoretically this would work quite simply. You would take some of my skin, just scrapes of my skin, turn it into an embryo. I know that sounds very science fictiony. But you would ask, what they do in the lab is turn that skin cell into an embryo and then they develop stem cells from that embryo and then turn it into virtually any human body part they want.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. It does sound science fictiony.

So, how far away are we from actually accomplishing this?

COHEN: Right. We are quite far away. The only thing they've done now is made the embryonic stem cells. They haven't turned it into cardiac muscle or nerve cells for someone who has had a spinal cord injury or whatever.

Five to 10 years is the estimate that the study author gave us. I mean, they're not really sure. That's a ballpark figure. He thinks that possibly the first body part that they could make would be bone marrow cells to help people who have, say, leukemia. And then they would move on from there.

But we're talking about possibly being able to help diabetics, making new brain cells to help people with Parkinson's. The list goes on and on.

SAMBOLIN: It's incredible.

COHEN: It is.

BERMAN: It's remarkable, exciting progress.

COHEN: If it works, I should say. If it works, this is the first step.

BERMAN: Still a long way to go.

COHEN: Right. There's still long way to go, but there is a lot of optimism that this in years to come will work out.

BERMAN: A thrilling first step. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: Our resident science nerd.

All right. Coming up, heart stopping video of an infant in a stroller rolling right on to train tracks. The dramatic rescue that followed.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Whether it's on the road or parked on a local street, it really does seem that now more than ever, drivers are being targeted for tickets. Financial -- governments big and small are really looking for new revenue streams. It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.


BERMAN (voice-over): To the naked eye, you may not be able to see the difference between this and this. But in Florida, a subtle maneuver has drivers seeing red, a lot faster. The Florida Department of Transportation quietly shortened yellow light intervals by milliseconds. At intersections with red light cameras like this one, that means more hefty $158 fines. Motorists are fired up.

JOSH BLOOM, FLORIDA DRIVER: My issue is not with the ticket. My issue is with you trying to squeeze the law to make it unsafe for drivers.

BERMAN: Fractions of a second can make a huge difference, according to research cited by the Federal Highway Administration. Increasing yellow time can dramatically reduce red-light running. Running red lights is big money in states like Florida. Research shows red light cameras generated more than $100 million last year in Florida alone. Even state legislators say the Department of Transportation needs to pump the brakes on their newly reduced yellow lights.

JACK LATVALA, (R) FLORIDA STATE SENATE: If they changed it without legislation, they ought to be able to fix it without legislation. And I'd be willing to bet that they're getting some phone calls about that today.

BERMAN: And in New Hampshire, a different type of traffic jam. The city of Keene is suing six members of a group called Robin Hood and his merry men who save people from parking infractions by putting coins in parking meters that are about to expire. The town says the Robin Hoods are taunting meter people. Wouldn't taunting be what Paul Newman did in "Cool Hand Luke," so what do we have here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we've got here is failure to communicate.

BERMAN: One thing's for certain, no one likes getting a ticket. And parkers in Keene, New Hampshire, are no doubt seeing red, just not as fast as people in Florida.


BERMAN (on-camera): Now, we should say that parking officers in Keene say that the members of the Robin Hood group are doing more than just putting money in the meters. The officers claim that they're being followed, harassed, and verbally abused while they're trying to do their jobs. The Robin Hood group says they're just talking to the officers.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: It seems a little unfair, right, if they're changing these times and it's $158 per ticket?

BERMAN: Pretty crazy, right?

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness. All right. At least you've enlightened us all about that. Thank you.



BERMAN: Just a little.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, the video you need to see today. It is incredible. Come over to the TV set.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): It's a terrifying scene in a subway station in Philadelphia. This is officially your worst nightmare, ladies. A 14- month-old baby girl in a stroller rolling off the platform and on to the tracks. This that we're showing you right now surveillance video. You see what that mother does. She was standing on the platform when the stroller just happened to go on the tracks.

She leapt on to the tracks. She grabs her baby. She hands it over to a man that is standing on the platform. And the child is doing well, suffered four head lacerations and is being treated in an area hospital, but alive this morning, thanks to mom jumping to action there. Can you imagine?

BERMAN (voice-over): Amazing.

SAMBOLIN: The moment that that happens and thank goodness there was not a train coming.

BERMAN: First the horror and then the courage.


BERMAN: Amazing pictures.


BERMAN (on-camera): All right. Coming up, new details this morning on the house of horrors in Cleveland. Allegation that the suspect singled out one of the victims as his personal punching bag.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Plus, honoring the first responders who helped free those women from captivity. We are back in a moment.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. New revelation this morning about the three victims in the horrific Cleveland kidnapping case.

SAMBOLIN: We now know that two of the girls have remained in contact since they were rescued. Both are in decent health and they are adjusting to their freedom very quickly.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, the first responders who rescued them were honored yesterday in an emotional ceremony. Our Pamela Brown is in Cleveland with the details on that. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. For the first time, the city of Cleveland were able to hail their first responders as heroes for rescuing these girls. The first responders one by one shared their emotional stories. They talked about that unforgettable moment when the girls rushed into their arms.

They talked about the emotional highs and lows, the feelings of happiness and sadness for what they went through, and also the excitement of finding the girls after so many years searching for them. Here's what officers Michael Tracey and Anthony Espada had to say about that.


OFFICER ANTHONY ESPADA, CLEVELAND FIRST RESPONDER: Seeing her poster down the halls here and there. And I think all of us in the second district on the west side have seen those fliers. We've all gone to house whether to keep (INAUDIBLE). You know, we still follow them up. Take all of them serious. So, it was just amazing to see her there and just peering through the window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just one of the first persons they saw in 10 or 12 years. So, just very emotional. Again, just took everything just to hold it together.


BROWN: And the first responders say they're not the heroes, the girls are the heroes. And we have learned this morning that they are bouncing back and enjoying their new found freedom. We've learned that Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight have been and talked with each other. They have talked on the phone at least once. According to ABC News, Gina DeJesus has visited a salon for the first time since being released.

And also, the girls are learning how to use a new technology, maybe not so new to us, but they're learning how to use technology like iPhones for the first time. Something that they haven't seen ever until now.

BERMAN: It's nice. A little sense of normalcy there, Pam. We're also hearing from Castro's daughter for the very first time, one of his daughters that is in jail. Can you share what she said, because we're all shocked all the time when we hear that these girls were actually inside the house while he was holding these girls captive?

BROWN: She gets interesting inside -- Emily Castro spoke to a private investigator from Indiana prison where she is an inmate and she shared how her father was able to keep this a secret. Let's take a listen here.


VOICE OF EMILY CASTRO, ARIEL CASTRO'S DAUGHTER: The upstairs was blocked off with a big bass speaker. So, I figured that since he lived there alone so long, that he didn't have any need for those, what, there's four bedrooms upstairs he didn't have any need for them. So, you know, I was just kind of like, can I, you know, sleep upstairs in my old bedroom? And he said, no, because it's cold up there, it's blocked off, you know, it's dusty, and so, I just was like, OK.


BROWN: And what we heard there from Emily Castro is not unlike what we heard from Castro's two brothers who Martin Savidge interviewed that, essentially, Castro was able to keep this secret through manipulation. Even though that his family members did visit the home, he was clearly able to hide what he had going on. Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: At least we heard some bright and positive news from Gina and Amanda. We appreciate that this morning. Thank you so much, Pamela Brown.

EARLY START back right after this.


SAMBOLIN: That is it for EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We'll see you back here tomorrow. "Starting Point" begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.




BERMAN: That is the sound, that is the sight of danger. Our "Starting Point" this morning, breaking news, tornadoes tear through Texas killing at least six people, injuring 100 others. Homes flattened, neighborhoods gone. We are live on the ground there.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Then, first on CNN, their integrity has been questioned and they've been accused of lying. Now, the two men responsible for the independent state department review on the Benghazi attack, they demand a public hearing to clear their names. Will Congress listen?

BERMAN: Plus, you still have a chance, the Powerball still up for grabs and the jackpot, perhaps, will reach an eye-popping $475 million by the winner.

Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, may 16th. "Starting Point" begins right now.

We do begin this morning with those dangerous deadly tornadoes. An outbreak overnight killing at least six people, more than 100 others injured in North Texas. And right now, this morning, 14 people are missing.