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Wildfires Raging in Three States; Midwest Flooding; Missing Marine; Heat Wins Game 7

Aired June 4, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Fire and floods. From Colorado to California, wildfires force evacuations as floodwaters along the Mississippi send crews scramble to go get the upper hand. We'll have the latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Kidnapped. An American marine reservist, his father and uncle apparently taken by armed men in Mexico. The FBI is asking for your help finding them.

BERMAN: The heat is on. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, power Miami pass the Pacers and into the NBA Finals for a chance to defend their title. Next up, the well-rested, not to mention well-seasoned Spurs. They haven't played more than a week.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, June 4th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Happening right now: wildfires raging in three states, destroying homes, disrupting lives and pushing firefighters to their limits. Hundreds of families are in harm's way this morning. Dozens of acres scorched in Evergreen, Colorado. The fire there zero percent contained as of last night.


ROMANS: Residents are warned this morning to remain vigilant. There's also an 8,000 acre fire raging north of Pecos, New Mexico, where 100 homes have been evacuated. And the 32,000-acre Powerhouse fire that's north of Los Angeles, has already destroyed six homes. Hundreds more are at risk.

Let's get the latest this morning from Stephanie Elam. She is live from Lake Hughes, California.

You were telling us yesterday, Stephanie, that so much of this under growth, 1929 the last time they had a big fire through there. So, you're talking about a tinderbox, quite frankly, much of California.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I should specify, Christine, that they are talking about a certain region around here the last time it burned. But the overall ideas, yes, there's a lot of old brush here. And it was just the right kindle for a fire. But I've got to tell you, what a difference a day makes. That's what the officials are saying and it's true. The air feels better out here. It's easier to breathe.

And just though you can see, the road is closed behind us. But while you take a look, it is still closed to mainly everybody else. But people are allowed to come in here and get to their homes. So, that is good news.

But, while that's good news here, it's not the same situation throughout the Western region.


ELAM (voice-over): Into the night, firefighters in Colorado battling a wildfire that erupted in the foothills west of Denver Monday, forcing thousands to evacuate and now being allowed to return home. Although small in acreage, the Bluebell fire burned dangerously close to homes. This place is just the latest outbreak of flames raging out West.

From Colorado to the Tres Lagunas fire near Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the Powerhouse fire near Palmdale, California, these flames consuming much in their path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a battle, that this hill, that hill and this hill were all going at once, and they're right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's devastating. And I feel really bad for all my neighbors. And I feel really lucky for the firefighters to have saved our house it.

ELAM: The wildfire in New Mexico was spread over 8,000 acres, forcing residents in 100 homes to evacuate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's nerve-racking not knowing if your land is OK or not.

ELAM: And true to its name, the Powerhouse fire has pack a punch, scorching more than 30,000 acres of land, threatened 1,000 homes, and destroyed at least six. Homes like the one where the Stilson family used to live reduced to rubble. The family is used to wildfires because they're a family of firefighters.

Retired fire captain Patrick Stilson now picking up the pieces of his parents' home. Like so many residents, he spent his life saving.

PATRICK STILSON, PARENTS LOAD HOME: I couldn't believe it how the fire spread. It's -- you know, some of the wheelbarrows that I pushed when I was a teenager over there all melted.

ELAM: And sifting through the home where he and his wife tied the knot, he happily discovers that one of his mother's beloved keepsakes still stands.

STILSON: The most important thing for me and my mom is St. Francis over there. That's her patron saint.


ELAM: And I'm happy to say that his mom was able to get out safely from the house where she's been living since the '70s, and that house down this road, they continue to come and work through, going through everything that's there. But it's pretty much all destroyed, except for a few things. And that's what some people are coming back to you.

But the good news here is that the vast majority of the 1,500 or so people that live around here are OK and are coming back to their homes. Definitely, it's a different condition today than it was yesterday, John and Christine.

ROMANS: That's good to hear.

All right. Stephanie Elam, we'll check in with you a little bit to see, you know, as the sun starts to come up over California what the fire threat is this morning. Thank you.

BERMAN: You know, the other half of this national nightmare is not fire but flooding. Along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, a levee breach is making the danger even worse. Hundreds of residents in the town of West Alton, Missouri, near St. Louis, had to evacuate after the levee broke last night. And right now, flash flood warnings are posted for parts for St. Charles County.

CNN's Martin Savidge has more.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Danger in the darkness in the small Missouri town of West Alton, a levee breach sent emergency teams rushing to get help hundreds of people to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People could be locked into their house if they don't have a way to get through the water. If the water gets two or three foot deep, they're stuck in the house if they don't evacuate.

SAVIDGE: As floodwaters from the nearby Mississippi River threaten, many residents didn't need to be told twice to pack up and go.

HEATHER WENDLE, RESIDENT: I want to be safe than sorry, you know? I don't want to take the chances.

SAVIDGE: In many places along the Mississippi, near St. Louis, high water threatened small towns. Sandbags and temporary dikes often the only thing standing between a surge of storm water and mainstream.

In the some communities, commercial districts are already under water. Other towns are isolated, as the rising river closes roads. As bad as it is, it could have been worse. In most places, the water is expected to crest an inch shy of what is regarded as major flooding.

But what makes this event so dramatic is just five months ago, the Mississippi was at record lows due to drought, as I found in Memphis. (on camera): I'm actually standing on the exposed bottom of the Mississippi River.

(voice-over): Since then the river shot up 45 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty crazy to see how fast it came.

SAVIDGE: There had been fears the drought would close the river to barge traffic. That never happened, until Monday when the coast guard shut down the section of the river at St. Louis saying it was due too dangerous because the water was so high.

Martin Savidge, CNN, West Alton, Missouri.


ROMANS: A search for five missing people in the aftermath of violent storms in Oklahoma. Officials make a grim discovery in their search yesterday, the body of an 8-year-old girl who drowned in a river in Oklahoma City. There have been 18 in that state since Friday.

BERMAN: And there is a slight threat of severe weather still looming in Oklahoma City. But there is another big story developing this morning. The potential for more heavy rains in Florida from a storm system that may soon become a tropical depression, I guess we're already in that season.

Meteorologist Indra Petersons has the latest on that.

Hey, Indra.


Definitely a tough time of year, we're still dealing with tornado season. And, of course, the hurricane season. What we are watching are the remnants of Barbara, the one across Mexico now into the Gulf. And as this low makes its way across, we have all this extra moisture out there. And keep in mind, Florida has had so much rain. We may have seven inches of rain in seven days.

And I want to take you for it in time. This is the next five days. Watch how quickly all this rain accumulate. Definitely a potential for some severe flooding in this area and it's not the only place. We were just talking about what's going along the Mississippi River.

Keep in mind, in January of this year, Mississippi River, right around St. Louis was negative 4.5 feet. Now, they're in a major flooding stage, at over 40 -- excuse me, 40 feet, over the flooding stage of 30 feet. Think about that, that is 45 feet of water, unbelievable. And, of course, with that, the major flooding is still in the area.

Unfortunately, if you go to the next five days in this region, look at all the rain that's expected to accumulate there. Now, keep in mind, even though this St. Louis area itself may not get the heaviest rain, it goes to those tributaries, of course. It will still affect the region. Very, very tough out there.

BERMAN: Be careful what you wish for. All that water. Thanks, Indra.

ROMANS: We spent all that time last year talking about the drought. You know, planting -- corn planting was a couple weeks ago. So, they want water. They don't want too much water too quickly because they just planted the corn.

All right. FBI now looking into the disappearance of a Marine Corps Reservist who was kidnapped last month in Mexico. Investigators say Armando Torres III was kidnapped, along with this father and uncle, by armed men at his father's ranch in Barranca, Mexico, on May 14th. They have not been heard or seen since.

Corporal Torres is an Iraq war veteran from Baytown, Texas. The FBI bi is asking anyone with information about this case to come forward.

BERMAN: New this morning, the so-called Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius back in court for the first time in four months. The Olympic star appearing in free trial hearing about two hours ago for the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. A South African judge agreeing to postpone the murder trial until August 19th, after lawyers asked for more time to prepare for this case.

ROMANS: A formal five-count indictment in the ricin letter case. James Everett Dutschke stands accused of sending letters with a toxin to the president, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, also a state judge back in April, he allegedly tried to pin the crimes on a former friend who worked as an Elvis impersonator. Dutschke is set to be arraigned on Thursday. He could face life in prison and hundreds of thousands in fines.

BERMAN: What a strange case.

One of the women connected with last year's David Petraeus' sex scandal is suing the government saying her privacy is violated. Jill Kelley says officials searched for personal emails and leaked false information about her to the media. You remember, Kelley was caught off in the scandal when she complained about harassing emails from Petraeus biographer, I supposed also mistress, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus later admitted having an affair with Broadwell and resigned his post as CIA director. At the time, Kelly was said to have exchanged an inappropriate message with Afghanistan Commander, General John Allen. Neither were ever charged with a crime.

ROMANS: The Interior Department reversing itself now saying visitors to Ellis and Liberty Islands should be screened before embarking to the New York landmark. The National Park Service original plan was to screen visitors only after they arrived by ferry. A security screening facility has been proposed in Manhattan's Battery Park. And the city may try to set up a temporary screening before the July 4th opening weekend to Liberty Island, which, of course, is home to the Statue of Liberty. The move comes days after a senator and police official raised security concerns at those landmarks. BERMAN: Big win for all the little guys, the underdogs out there, led by LeBron James and his 32 points, the Miami Heat rolled over the Indiana Pacers in the seventh and deciding game in their NBA Eastern Conference Finals series. So, the defending champ Heat will now face the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. Game 1 Thursday night in Miami.

You know, the deal last night, it wasn't just LeBron James. Finally, some other members of the Heat showed up. Dwayne Wade I guess had 22 points. Chris Bosh actually appeared on the court and had almost 10 rebounds, which is big for him.

ROMANS: From the mouth of babes, my son who's just turned 7, he said, mom, I'm tired of the Heat. They just win. And it's all LeBron. I'd love someone else to win for once.

BERMAN: He's only got one championship, you know?

ROMANS: All right. Well, keeps going on, lots of lost productivity in my household coming up.

Coming up, talk about a super mom. What one Seattle area woman did to protect her child from a possible kidnapping.


BERMAN: Get ready. A new report due out today shines a spotlight on the way the IRS handles its own business expenses. This focuses on IRS conference spending, including an August 2010 event in Anaheim, where IRS workers stayed in presidential suites. Rooms that go for between $1,500 to $3,500 a night. Training videos produced for the conference caused the IRS more than $60,000.

This one, as you can see, features a "Gilligan's Island" theme.

ROMANS: The latest bomb shell comes on a day when the House Ways and Means Committee will hear from conservative groups who say they were unfairly targeted by the IRS.

CNN's Brianna Keilar has more from Washington.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vicky Gerritson well tell congressional investigators this morning that her Tea Party group in Alabama was unfairly scrutinized by the IRS. In 2010, just before the midterm elections were victories by Tea Party candidates gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives, the group applied for tax exempt status and was sent a 90-question form.

BECKY GERRITSON, WETUMPKA TEA PARTY: They wanted me to identify volunteers, donors. And they wanted to know about every speech we had ever given. I felt like it was just an oppression over me as a citizen.

I live in America. And I should be able to express my views. I felt like it was very unfair. It was a little scary.

KEILAR: After nearly two years, Gerritson's group finally did get IRS approval.

Susan Martinek is president of a small anti-abortion group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She says the IRS ultimately granted her group tax- exempt status. But a worker at the Cincinnati IRS office asked the group not to picket Planned Parenthood offices.

SUSAN MARTINEK, COALITION OF LIFE OF IOWA: And she required that their entire board would sign a letter under perjury of oath that we would not protest or picket at Planned Parenthood.

KEILAR: After the group's attorney sent a letter asking the basis for this demand, Martinek says it was dropped.

By the end of this week, Congress will have held half a dozen hearings on the IRS controversy. Monday, the new acting commissioner of the IRS pledged to clean up the agency. Daniel Werfel and the inspector general who first investigated the allegations also denied knowing of any direct White House involvement.

REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: Is there any evidence that the White House directed, requested, recommended, or in any way supported such a review?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not aware of any evidence of that.

KEILAR: Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: President Obama said to put forward three names to serve on the federal appeals court in Washington, often called the second most powerful court in the country. A White House official says he'll nominate attorney Patricia Millett, law professor Cornelia Pillard, and District Judge Robert Wilkins, he will nominate them to a highly influential court. The president is expected to makes that announcement later today in the Rose Garden.

ROMANS: A second person has reportedly died now in violent clashes during anti-government protests in Turkey. Turkish media reporting the 22-year-old was killed during demonstrations by unknown suspects carrying firearms. Protests have united demonstrators from across the political spectrum against the common foe. Security forces who earlier unleashed tear gas and water cannons on them during those protest.

BERMAN: One hundred and one orthodox Jewish high school kids and their chaperones kicked off a flight from New York to Atlanta. Southwest Airlines claimed several students wouldn't stay in their seats or turned off their cell phones when they were told. One chaperone claims the kids did comply and that the flight crew simply overreacted. They airline put the group on other flights but they had to be split up.

ROMANS: All right. A Seattle area mom was telling her story after fighting off a would-be kidnapper who tried to take her 3-year-old. Melissa says her son was playing in the backyard when she felt someone brush by her Sunday evening. That's when she spotted a masked man running around the back of the house with her son under his arm. She chased him. And he tripped, dropping the boy. That's when the fight begun.


"MELISSA", FOUGHT OFF KIDNAPPER: As soon as my son was on the ground, I jumped on top of my son. And that's when he started hitting and punching me. He was bent over. I continued to kick and punch him back and tried to get him away from me.


ROMANS: Melissa said the suspect ran off. Her son was unharmed. Terrifying. Terrifying.

BERMAN: All right. We're learning this morning that NFL hall of famer Deacon Jones has died. He was one of the league's all time great defensive players, really maybe one of the best ever.

He anchored the Los Angeles Rams' famed Fearsome Foursome defensive line in the mid to late '60s. You know, sacking the quarterback was not just what he did for a living. Deacon Jones was actually credited with coining the phrase. He was 74 years old. The late Morlan Olson (ph), one of his lineman said, there has simply never been a better football player than Deacon Jones.

You see him right there. His patented move was actually to slap the offensive lineman's head and to run around and to sack the quarterback. They banned that move after Deacon Jones retired. He really invented parts of the game right there. Football great.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, we've got donuts. We've all have donuts.

BERMAN: I wish we had donuts for breakfast.

ROMANS: What about donut sandwich? John, look at that sandwich.

BERMAN: It's awesome.

ROMANS: What one chain is going to be offering. Look at that.

BERMAN: Oh, make it happen. Please make it happen. Please.

ROMANS: American cheese on a couple of donuts, that cannot be good for you.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to "STARTING POINT". Wow, look at that. New York City, the sun is coming up.

BERMAN: That is good producing. Whoever did that shot did a great job.

ROMANS: Ordering and producing a beautiful sunrise in New York.

You know what, it was a good sunrise yesterday for stocks. New month with a win there. Dow posting a triple-digit gain yesterday, extending that rally we have seen since the start of the year. Futures pointing to a mixed open today.

S&P 500, by the way, is getting a new member. General Motors was back in. It was kicked out when it filed for bankruptcy in 2009. G.M. now replaces Heinz, which is going private.

A lot of people say it's an important milestone in this rally. They have G.M. back in the S&P 500.

Speaking of automakers, good news for autoworkers and the economy. Ford is boosting production in its North American plants. Americans are buying more cars. Ford will be making more cars. Ford, G.M., Chrysler are reported an increase in sales in May.

Ford's F-150 truck selling well ahead of the housing -- because of the housing recovery. Analysts also credit a rising stock market, increase in consumer confidence and loosening credit.

Meantime, remember the yoga pants debacle, Lululemon, they had pulled off the shelf? Their pants are back. Some stores a beginning to restock the Lululemon yoga pants. They were pulled from the market in March because they became sheer when the wearer bent over, which is apparently something that happens in yoga.

Lululemon says it's now using a new fabric that went to 15 tests, including one that ensures the pants snap back after they have been stretched. I don't know if your body snaps back after you stretch.

The company also developed a sheer-o-meter to measure the light coming through the fabric. And next week, we're going to know more about that Shares are up 16 percent.

BERMAN: You call it a fiasco. Some investors call it a celebration, the see-through-ness or something.

ROMANS: Forget the bread or English muffin. Use a donut instead. Check out this new breakfast sandwich from Dunkin Donuts. It's a fried egg and bacon sandwiched between two glazed donut. The company will be rolling this out nationwide of Friday. And for those of you counting calories, because it's in the tease, I said that looks like it can't be good for you. Guess what? It's 360 calories.

BERMAN: That's great. ROMANS: It's actually 30 calories less than the Dunkin turkey sausage breakfast, which it considers a reduced fat option. Can I show you the waffle taco? Because remember, we were talking about the waffle taco?


ROMANS: Then, there's this, the Taco Bell. They're rolling this out, we talk about this a couple of weeks ago. Which would you rather have, Berman?

BERMAN: I don't think I have to choose. I can have both, apparently, the low, low calorie count like 360. I can have several of those, way beneath my 10,000 calorie a day limit, which I set for myself.

ROMANS: Anyway, there you go, just to make you all hungry this morning, while you're on the treadmill. For all of you on the treadmill.

BERMAN: We are willing to try those out on Friday when they are released, memo to Dunkin' Donuts. If some happened to arrive, we'll try them.

Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now.

Coming up, a phone call between the Boston marathon bombing suspect and his parents. Could what he said to his family now affect this case?

ROMANS: And yes, you are seeing double. We'll have the story of one happy pair who say their secret of nearly four decades of marital bliss is dressing alike.

BERMAN: That is awesome.