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Ferocious Wildfire in Southern California; Tragedy Along Tornado Alley; Jolie Return to Spotlight; Rep. Issa: Tea Party Targeting was "Ordered by Washington"

Aired June 3, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: On fire. Thousands fleeing their homes, 25,000 acres scorched. One massive wildfire threatens Los Angeles, another ravages New Mexico. We are live on the fire line.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The death toll spikes. Sixteen dead from the monster twisters in Oklahoma, including three veteran storm chasers. New questions about the risks they took as the search for the missing is on.

BERMAN: And Angelina Jolie takes to the red carpet for the first time since her surgery, thanking the fans and speaking openly about her double mastectomy.

So, good to see her out in public again --

ROMANS: Sure is.

BERMAN: -- for the first time.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, June 3rd. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: We're going to start this morning in southern California, which is very much up in smoke. A massive wildfire is driving thousands of people from their homes just north of Los Angeles. This has grown to more than 25,000 acres. The so-called Powerhouse Fire has already destroyed at least six homes, and it is not close to being under control, and it's not the only major fire burning out West.

Stephanie Elam now joins us live from Palmdale, California, this morning.

Good morning, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm having a little trouble hearing you, but I'm going to tell you that this is one of those situations where it may be in the middle of the night on the West Coast, but that has not stopped firefighters from being out here, putting out hotspots all throughout the night. And while this fire is burning, it is not the only fire in the western region that is having people on edge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.

ELAM (voice-over): By air and land, a full-scale assault on massive wildfires raging out west. More than 1,000 firefighters are battling the ferocious powerhouse fire, about an hour northeast of Los Angeles. The unpredictable fire doubled in size over the weekend, forcing the mandatory evacuation of nearly 3,000 people and leaving about 1,000 homes in danger.

CHIEF DARRYL OSBY, L.A. COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We have 15 homes that were damaged, six were destroyed.

ELAM: But the Los Angeles County Fire Department says those numbers could have been worse if not for their around-the-clock air assault.

NORM WALKER, INCIDENT COMMANDER: We have put everything that we have into this, including night air attack from the Forest Service, three L.A. County fire helicopters dropping water at night and one L.A. City fire helicopter dropping at night.

OSBY: We are the only region in the world that does that.

ELAM: And in New Mexico, firefighters are working to contain two raging wildfires fueled by historic drought conditions. The Tres Lagunas Fire has charred more than 7,400 acres and forced the evacuation of more than 100 summer homes, some campgrounds and six hiking trails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've had the smoke coming over in years before, but it's never been this close and it's never been that big.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It looks like the whole canyon's going to blow up, literally. The whole canyon's going to blow up and we're going to be screwed.

ELAM: Back in California, firefighters hope Mother Nature will lend a helping hand.

DEPUTY CHIEF DAVID RICHARDSON, L.A. COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We're supposed to see a decrease in our winds, as well as an increase of relative humidity.


ELAM: I've got to tell you, you probably can see it when you look at me, the winds out here is a major, major issue for these firefighters. As you can see behind me, the winds are just stoking the flames on this hillside here, and that's what they want to keep their eyes out for, because if the winds change direction, there could be another community that could be looking toward evacuations, but firefighters are going to keep working on it throughout the night.

BERMAN: You can see that fire raging right behind you, Stephanie.

Stephanie Elam on the fire line, the powerhouse fire burning just behind her. Thanks, Stephanie.

ROMANS: From wildfires to tragedy along Tornado Alley and proof of just how dangerous and unpredictable these storms can be. A tornado killing at least 16 people in Oklahoma, including experienced storm chasers, Tim Samaras, Carl Young and Tim's 24-year-old son, Paul.

Storm chaser Tim Samaras' death is especially shocking, given his focus on safety and his decades of experience. His brother says he was the very last person you think would get trapped and killed in a tornado.


JIM SAMARAS, TIM SAMARAS' BROTHER: I just could never think it would ever happen to him because of his level of expertise, years of being able, of doing this, his safety and all of his training, everything else he's done. If I had to have a way for my brother to die, it would be doing what he did, chasing tornadoes.


ROMANS: A search will continue today for six others who are missing, among them an 8-year-old girl.

Ed Lavandera is in El Reno, Oklahoma, this morning.

Just such a sad story, such a sad story.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, this has been a simply brutal weekend here in Oklahoma. You know, Friday night's tornado wasn't as strong as the tornado that struck and ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, two weeks ago, but that doesn't matter. This storm still wreaked deadly havoc.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): The search for six missing people swept away in flash floodwaters will continue Monday morning. The bodies of three children and two adults were found Sunday. They drowned as they tried to hide in storm drains from Friday night's storms.

Three storm chasers were also killed by the ferocious tornado, their car mangled and shredded by the storm's force, found on a backcountry road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the roof of the house.

LAVANDERA: Around Oklahoma City, again, people are staring at their homes and piles of rubble, and for Dana Trammell (ph), it's not the first time.

(on camera): When you look at all of that, and you're like, where in the world do you begin? That's what I keep asking myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, and if it hadn't been for the other time, you know, I probably would have been more devastated than I am now, but I'm used to it now.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): He's used to it, because as crazy as this might sound, just two years ago, another tornado destroyed his house.

(on camera): You just feel incredibly unlucky?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes. It's kind of hard to take. The more I look around and look and see the stuff that's scattered everywhere makes it a little tougher, you know?

LAVANDERA: It is hard to take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, I mean, this is basically, you're looking at everything I owned.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Trammell says the only thing he wants to find is an old picture of his little boy with a cast on his arm running around in daddy's shoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I'm just afraid it's gone. I don't think it's possible. As much as it rained, even if it's there, it's more than likely ruined.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's really nothing left much of anything.

LAVANDERA: The Acres of Angels Farm is a refuge for abused animals in the town of El Reno.

Angela Cobalt (ph) cares from everything from pigeons to dogs to llamas. One of those llamas was killed. This llama and several horses and donkeys had to be taken to shelters for treatment of wounds. But her family lived here in a 117-year-old two-story farm house that had endured countless Oklahoma storms, but not this one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was special because we really had our fingers planted pretty deep in caring for the animals. It was just like a simple country life kind of home. You're away from the city, and -- you know, I loved it.


ED LAVANDERA: And, John and Christine, what we've heard repeatedly over this weekend is that from residents here is that this has been a tornado season for the ages and they're simply tired of just all of the nerve-racking tornado warnings that they've had to live with for the last several weeks and they can't wait for all of this to be over -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ed Lavandera -- thank you so much, Ed.

BERMAN: You heard Ed and Christine talking about it. Three storm chasers whose work has been featured on the Discovery Channel are among the latest victims from these Oklahoma tornadoes.

Indra Petersons is here now with more on Tim Samaras and TWISTEX, his highly respected team of storm chasers. These guys were experienced. They knew what they were doing.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, this is a hard weekend for everyone in the science community. I mean, these are the most respected guys chasing out there. In fact, their researchers, they're doing groundbreaking research that's actually saving lives.


PETERSONS (voice-over): A monster twister that forecasters predicted all week could happen and it did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on, brothers. Hold on.

PETERSONS: A crew from the Weather Channel caught in the middle of it.

UNIDENTIFEID MALE: Everybody duck! Go, go, go, go! Just keep going if you can. Keep going if you can. Everybody duck down.

PETERSONS: Watch as a violent tornado sent cars, trucks and everything else in its path flying.

The storm so erratic that among those killed were veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras, his 24-year-old son, Paul Samaras, and fellow tornado researcher Carl Young. Three men who normally found themselves running toward the storm, rather than away from it, as seen here in the Discovery Channel show "Storm Chasers."

TIM SAMARAS, STORM CHASER: This is Tim. Can we get an update?

PETERSONS: Samaras explained why to CNN's Soledad O'Brien in 2004.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Why do you want to get so close to tornadoes and do this?

SAMARAS: My plan probes in the path of tornadoes, and in order to get them correctly in the path, you have to be close.

PETERSONS: His team tried to close in on the tornado that Samaras ominously warned about in what became his final tweet. "Dangerous day ahead for Oklahoma. Stay weather savvy!"

Other chasers were in harm's way, including meteorologist Mike Bettes and his crew, as seen here on the Weather Channel.

MIKE BETTES, WEATHER CHANNEL: Eventually, the camera was ejected.

REPORTER: This is the camera. It never stopped recording. Watch it here, as you can actually see Bettes' truck rolling over and over in the field.

BETTES: I just saw my wife's face, and I thought, you know, that's, you know, that's my life, and I don't want to give that up just yet. And thankfully, I don't have to. PETERSONS: A fortunate fate Bettes' photographer Austin Anderson told as well. He escaped with broken back bones, a broken rib and breast plate, but says he's not done storm chasing.

AUSTIN ANDERSON, PHOTOGRAPHER: There's a lot more to learn about tornadoes and getting out there and seeing them up close firsthand is important because it's, I think I feel like I'm helping people learn about tornadoes.

PETERSONS: A mission he shared with storm chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young. Their lifelong passion cut short by a ferocious twister's unpredictable force.

JIM SAMARAS, VICTIM'S BROTHER: I just could never think it would ever happen to him because of his level of expertise, years of doing this. If I had to have a way for my brother to die, it would be doing what he did, chasing tornadoes.


PETERSONS: That same storm system now has made its way all the way to the East and it's producing heavy rain and even lightning, all the way from the Northeast, straight down to the south, and they're going to be dealing with strong winds out there, even a threat for hail. The next thing we're actually going to be watching is a low that's currently really starting to bring in some showers, starting to exit out of the Rockies. We do have a slight risk for us today, but as this exits the Rockies, we'll see that enhanced a little bit for us tomorrow.

Currently today, the slight risk is extending really all the way from the Dakotas kind of down through Texas, and we'll be monitoring that. But, again, we'll enhance it through the next several days. Unfortunately, it's that time of year. We are still dealing with this -- Christine, John.

BERMAN: It's going on.

All right. Indra Petersons, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

In just a few hours, the court-martial proceeding for Army Private Bradley Manning gets under way at Fort Meade in Maryland. Manning is charged with aiding and abetting the enemy by causing classified material to be published on WikiLeaks. Manning has already admitted sending over 7,000 war-related and other classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks. If convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.

ROMANS: New images of actress Angelina Jolie speaking out Sunday for the first time after announcing her double mastectomy.


ANGELINA JOLIE, ACTRESS: I've been very happy just to see the discussion about women's health expanded, and that means the world to me, and after losing my mom to these issues, I'm very grateful for it and I've been very moved by the kind support from people. I'm really very grateful for it.


ROMANS: Both her mother and aunt died of cancer. Jolie had the surgery after learning she carries the same rare cancer gene. She and husband Brad Pitt spoke at the premiere of his new movie, "World War Z," saying the decision to go public was a difficult one, but that it's brought them closer together.

BERMAN: She really did launch this new round of discussions about women's health, people talking much more publicly than ever before.

ROMANS: Absolutely, and it's a decision tied up in your identity and your sexuality and your health, and you know, your parenthood and being a wife, and I think she has sparked a conversation that a lot of people had been wanting for some time.

BERMAN: All right. It is 12 minutes after the hour right now.

And coming up, reckless, liar, swindler, and that's practically the nicest stuff our politicians are saying about each other. We will have the latest in the who knew what controversy swirling around the IRS.

ROMANS: And llama on the loose! What police will to do to stop this animal from running amuck in Florida.

BERMAN: Llama drama.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

So, the IRS controversy seems to be heating up. This afternoon, acting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel testifies before a House committee about the agency's targeting of Tea Party groups. And tomorrow morning, we will hear testimony for the first time from members of those groups who claim they were victimized.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, a top Republican is adding fuel to the fire. Darrell Issa of California alleging that calls for the IRS to target conservative groups may have come directly from Washington.

Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For the first time, we're hearing what IRS workers in Cincinnati are telling congressional investigators about why they targeted conservative groups.

Republican Darrell Issa in an exclusive interview on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT & GOVT. REFORM CHAIRMAN: As late as last week, the administration's still trying to say there's a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, when, in fact, the indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington.

LOTHIAN: Issa released just partial transcripts, citing an ongoing investigation. So, the full context isn't clear.

In one excerpt, one worker quotes a supervisor. "He told me that Washington, D.C., wanted some cases." And when asked about targeting Tea Party applications and whether those directions emanated from Washington, the worker replies, quote, "I believe so."

CANDY CROWLEY, "STATE OF THE UNION" HOST: "I believe so." It's totally not definitive, you can understand.

ISSA: That one isn't.


LOTHIAN: Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on Issa's House Oversight Committee called his claims, quote, "reckless," saying, "So far, no witnesses who have appeared before the committee have identified any IRS official in Washington, D.C."

Issa says more interviews and transcripts are coming.

ISSA: This is a problem that was coordinated, in all likelihood, right out of Washington headquarters, and we're getting to proving it.

LOTHIAN: But two Democratic sources involved complain Issa released the transcript's excerpts before making them available to Democrats in what they say is supposed to be a bipartisan investigation. The sources tell CNN the excerpts are taken out of context and Issa's claim they indicate direction from Washington is misleading. They say their impression was the workers were talking about consulting with tax attorney specialists in Washington about how much political activity is acceptable for tax-exempt status.

Issa is also going after IRS spending, saying the agency wasted $50,000 on training videos like this newly released Cuban love shuffle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm receiving incoming reports from the landing party.

LOTHIAN: And on an already notorious "Star Trek" spoof. The video's shown at one of 225 IRS conferences between 2010 and 2012, costing $50 million, including $17,000 for a speaker on leadership through art at a 2010 conference in Anaheim, where Issa says one high-ranking IRS worker stayed in the Hilton Anaheim's two-bedroom presidential suite that normally runs $1,500 a night.

The man the president has chosen to fix the IRS, Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel, faces his first congressional grilling this morning, one of three IRS hearings this week on a controversy that shows no signs of letting up.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Dan for that report.

So, this sounds like the title of a Dr. Seuss book, but there really was a llama on the loose in Leon County, Florida, Saturday morning. He wasn't any too pleased when sheriff's deputies corralled him and tried to cram him into the back of a trailer. The llama knocked one of the officers down, then spat in his face. That's what llamas do.

The llama drama leaving locals shaking their heads.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't believe it until I saw it, and I was just like, wow, where did that thing come from?

DEP. TONY DRZEWIECKI, LEON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: I've been doing this 20 years, and they said there was going to be a lot of excitement on this job. Nobody ever told me, you know that I'd get spit in the face by a llama and trampled by one.


BERMAN: So, deputies finally had to use a taser to subdue the llama. I suppose that's a llama trauma. It turned out that the creator is someone's pet. He has been reunited with his owner, perhaps his mama.

ROMANS: No word on charges for assaulting police officers or resisting arrest.

Coming up, stocks soared in May, but will June lead to a letdown? I'm going to tell you what's happening in your 401(k). That's next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Minding your business -- stocks to set the new week and new month off with a gain. Dow futures are up about 20 points. This follows a very stellar May. The major averages, I'm going to tell you, they rose 3 percent to 4 percent last month. It was the Dow's sixth straight monthly gain. Six months of gains.

The Fed chief -- breaking news -- the Fed chief is funny. He let loose delivering Princeton's commencement speech.

BERMAN: Really?

ROMANS: It was pretty funny. I mean, not just by central banking standards. It was funny, funny. Ben Bernanke usually serious, offering grads 10 suggestions for life. His first life lesson: don't be afraid to let the drama play out. He starts quoting poet Robert Burns but changes gears, going for someone a little more modern.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: A more contemporary philosopher, Forrest Gump, said something similar about life and boxes of chocolate and not knowing what you're going to get. They were both right.

Look what happened to me. A dozen years ago, I was minding my own business teaching economics 101 in Alexander Hall and thinking of good excuses for avoiding faculty meetings. Then, I got a phone call.


ROMANS: Of course, that phone call was from Washington in the middle of the financial crisis. Bernanke also advised -- actually, just before the financial crisis -- he also advised the graduates to remember who paid their tuition.

BERMAN: He's freaking hilarious, you're right.

ROMANS: A lot of funny stuff. Well, for a central banker, pretty funny.

All right, just in time for summer, Disney raises prices. One day at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando is now $95 for an adult. Anyone over age 10 is an adult and up 6 bucks from last year. Kids cost $89.

So, for a family of four, a day at Disney World will set you back $368. Multiday admission tickets also went up. You've been with the whole family, right?

BERMAN: I have been with the whole family, indeed. You know, it's not cheap. Disney's not inexpensive, but it's fun and magical.

And I think there are going to be a lot of 11-year-olds who are surprised they're adults.

ROMANS: Yes, the only place where an 11-year-old is an adult is at Disney.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up, flames force thousands from their homes as these massive wildfires scorch the landscapes and threaten lives in New Mexico and California.

ROMANS: And why is this cereal ad making many people so upset? We're going to tell you why the company had to disable comments on its YouTube page.


ROMANS: Thousands forced to evacuate as raging wildfires burned 25,000 acres of land. Homes already destroyed. Many more in the path of danger.

BERMAN: National park nightmare. A frantic search under way for a 19-year-old man swept over a water fall at Yosemite National Park.

ROMANS: A 10-year-old girl's in the fight for her life, desperate for a lung transplant. Why her family is calling out the Obama administration for refusing to help.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour this morning.

BERMAN: And happening right now, fire crews are battling ferocious wildfire just north of Los Angeles. Thousands of homes evacuated because of the so-called Powerhouse Fire.