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Nature's Fury; Grim Discovery in Tornado Aftermath; Missing Marine; Dutschke Indicted in Ricin Letter Case; Scandal Suit; Ellis and Liberty Island Security Revised; One Giant Leap for Solar Power; Writers Guild of America Picks Top Shows; Pistorius in Court; Justice Department Defends Holder

Aired June 4, 2013 - 06:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fires in the west, floods along the Mississippi. We have the latest on what's been done to protect homes from Mother Nature's fury.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to have our first look at South African runner Oscar Pistorius. It's first time we see the blade runner in months. What happened when he went back to court this morning? We are live in Pretoria.

ROMANS: And another honor for one of America's favorite TV family's weather writers behind "The Sopranos" are being called "The Best Of The Best."

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, June 4th, 6:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: And happening right now, wild fires in three states destroying homes, disrupting lives, leaving hundreds and hundreds of families potentially in harm's way this morning. In Ever Green, Colorado thousands are being warned to remain vigilant after being allowed to return home. A wind driven fire there has already scorched dozens of acres.

ROMANS: There's also an 8,000-acre fire right now in New Mexico. A hundred homes have been evacuated there, and the 32,000-acre power house fire north of Los Angeles. It has already destroyed six homes. The situation, though, appears to be improving.

And so, let's get straight to Stephanie Elam live from Lake Hughes, California this morning who told us last hour the air felt just a little better today than it did yesterday -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine and John. I have my humidity checker out here. Yes, it's more humid. It's also colder. You can see my breath today. So that is good for fighting fires. So this is one good thing here. This fire is starting to get controlled. It's 60 percent contained now. While that is happening here, this is not only the fire we are watching in the western region. The season is just off to a very early start.


ELAM (voice-over): Into the night, firefighters in Colorado battling a wild fire that erupted in the foothills west of Denver on Monday forcing thousands to evacuate and now being allowed to return home. Although small in acreage the Bluebell fire burned dangerously close to home. This blaze is just the latest outbreak of flames raging out west. From Colorado to the Trace 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 FEMALE: It's devastating and I feel really bad for my neighbors and really lucky for the firefighters to have saved our house.

ELAM: The wild fire 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 packed 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, the retired fire captain, Patrick Stilson, now picking up the pieces of his parent's home. Like so many residents he spent his life saving.

PATRICK STILSON, PARENTS LOST HOME: I just couldn't believe it. How the fire spread. You know, some of the wheel barrels that I pushed when I was a teenager over there all melted.

ELAM: Sifting through what's left of the home where he and his wife tied the knot, he discovers one of his mother's most beloved keepsakes still stands.

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


ELAM: I have to tell you Patrick just sent me a picture from his wedding day and in the picture you can see that statue of St. Francis there so a lot of memories and nice that a couple of things are remaining. As the fire season gets going here -- in California they say isn't really a fire season. One thing that they are pointing out, one fire official saying that it's already getting going so early that by July they expect there will be a lot more fires than we have seen previously. So something we'll be keeping our eyes on -- John and Christine. ROMANS: All right, Stephanie Elam. Thanks Stephanie. Meantime, water and lots of it wrecking havoc in the Midwest, heavy rains along with the spring thaw has both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers well above flood stage. A levy breach in West Alton, Missouri last night forced hundreds of the town's residents to flee their homes. Forecasters say there could be severe flooding in the St. Louis area today.

CNN's Martin Savidge has more from the scene.


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

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

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

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

SAVIDGE: In many place along the Mississippi near St. Louis, high water threatens small towns. Sandbags and temporary dikes often the only thing standing between a surge of storm water and the main street. In some communities and commercial districts, were already underwater. Other towns are isolated as the rising river closes roads.

As bad as it is, it could be 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 near 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 close to 45 feet.

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

SAVIDGE: There had been fears the draught would close the river to barge traffic that never happened until Monday when the Coast Guard shut down a section of the river in St. Louis saying it was too dangerous to navigate because the water was so high. Martin Savidge, CNN, West Alton, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Now to the search for five missing people in the aftermath of violent storms in Oklahoma. Officials making a grim discovery yesterday, the body of an 8-year-old girl that drowned in a river in Oklahoma City. There now have been 18 storm-related deaths in the state since Friday.

ROMANS: There is a slight lingering threat of severe weather in Oklahoma City, but there's another big story developing, the potential for more heavy rains in Florida from a storm system that may soon become a tropical depression. The very busy meteorologist, Indra Petersons, is joining us this morning with more. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. What we're watching is actually kind of the remnants of Barbara that came from the Pacific right across now into the gulf and now all of that moisture is trying to develop. It's about a 30 percent chance there for developing. But what we're really watching as this moisture kind of picks up and gets trained right in through Florida where they've already had 7 inches of rain in seven days.

Take a look at the next five days once they picked up on all that tropical moisture, more heavy rain, expect anywhere from 4 inches to even 6 inches of rain in the forecast for them. So obviously the flood threat there is high. We have already been talking about the flooding in the Midwest, but unfortunately more rain on the way.

But let's talk about it. They were negative 4.5 feet at the beginning of the year. Now they are seeing major flooding at 40 feet. That's 45 feet in one year. Unbelievable, the amount of rain they have seen and of course, it's slow system after slow system the last several weeks.

We're still watching rain. Maybe about Wednesday we'll see some of the St. Louis area, but remember it's coming from the river. So really no matter where in the area they're seeing some of that rain it will kind of train down into the tributaries, of course, and hence the flooding threat out there, hard to believe.

ROMANS: All right, Indra Petersons, thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: Federal agents now investigating the disappearance of a Marine Corps reservist was kidnapped at gun point last month in Mexico. The FBI says a group of armed men kidnapped Armando Torres III along with his father and uncle as his father's ranch in La Bronco, Mexico on May 14th. They have not seen or heard from these men since. Corporal Torres is an Iraq war veteran from Baytown, Texas. The FBI is asking anyone with information about the case to come forward.

ROMANS: A formal five-count indictment this morning in the ricin letter case. James Everett Dutschke stands accused of sending letters laced with the toxin to President Obama, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and 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 today. He could face life in prison, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, if found guilty. BERMAN: A Tampa socialite connected to disgraces former CIA Director David Petraues is suing the government saying that the government violated her privacy. Jill Kelly says officials leaked false information about her to the media. Kelly tipped officials off to the Petraues scandal when she complained about harassing e-mails from his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus later admitted having an affair with Broadwell and resigned his post as CIA director. At that time, Kelly was said to have exchanged inappropriate messages 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 landmarks. The National Park Service original plan was to screen visitors only after they arrive by ferry. A security screening facility has been reposed in Manhattan's Battery Park and the city may try to set up a temporary screening facility before the 4th of July opening weekend for Liberty Island, which, of course, is home to the Statue of Liberty.

New this morning, the solar plane has landed. It put its wheels down in St. Louis earlier this morning. The plane took off from Dallas more than 21 hours earlier. Commercial jets make that hop in about 90 minutes, but they don't run on the sun. They run on, of course, jet fuel. This plane uses 800 pounds of solar powered batteries and can keep flying at night on its reserves. The Dallas to St. Louis leg was its longest flight yet. The next trip is later this month is to Dales Airport outside D.C.

BERMAN: "The Sopranos" is the best written TV show of all time so says the Writers Guild of America in its first ever list of the 101 Best Written Series. Guild members evaluated dramas, sitcoms and talks shows, you name it. The top shows reached all the way back to the early days of TV where scripted sitcoms and dramas really dominating the list.

Rounding out the top five, "Seinfeld," "The Twilight Zone," "All in the Family" and "Mash," 17 of the top picks are still on the air today. I think "Elf" was robbed and I also EARLY START, by the way, didn't place nearly as highly as it should.

ROMANS: I hadn't thought of "Elf" in a long time. That was --

BERMAN: Genius. I know the word you're looking for is genius.

ROMANS: It was a real moment in time in American TV history.

BERMAN: What do you think the best shows are, tweet us. I'm John Berman. This is Christine Romans. We work at EARLY START, which is again somewhere on that list. We don't know where. Coming up, one of the world's top runners back in court this morning and in the public eye for the first time in months. We are live in Pretoria, in South Africa with the latest on his murder case.

ROMANS: And she's one of the most beautiful women, Penelope Cruz, now set to add a new title to her resume. We're back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. New this morning, the blade runner back in public, Olympic star, Oscar Pistorius appearing at a pre-trial hearing just hours ago for the shooting death of his girlfriend, the model, Reeva Steenkamp. A judge agreeing to postpone the start of this trial until August. Robyn Curnow is live from Pretoria for us this morning. Good morning, Robin.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, Oscar Pistorius was here at the Pretoria Magistrate Court just a few hours ago. It was a very, very brief hearing. He looked quite emotionless. He stood in the dark very briefly for about 10 minutes. He was clean shaven.

Last week when I saw him at his house he had a beard. He seemed to have also put on weight, bulked up a bit. This is because he has been going to the gym a lot in his home. He has been pretty much house bound since he appeared last year in February. So this has pretty much been the first time the world is seeing Oscar Pistorius again and of course, like you said, he'll be back here at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court in August.

BERMAN: So when does he -- in August he is back in the magistrate, of course, what happens then?

CURNOW: OK, well, essentially it's been postponed until then. Now this is because the state says they're not ready. They still need to do some investigation. So there's also that criticism particularly from legal experts who are looking at this saying has the state lost confidence in its case? Why is it delaying?

All of those nitty gritty details that we're going to see in August should have been done today. That is, for example, a trial date should have been set today. It will probably now be done in August. We are also looking at the contents of the charges being laid out before him. He'll also have the possibility to plead guilty or not guilty.

All of that will be done in August. Now in a very ironic twist of affairs it turns out the 19th of August when he will appear here next is also Reeva Steenkamp's birthday and she would have turned 30 on that day. So I think for both families, for the Pistorius' and the Steenkamps, it is going to be quite a big day.

BERMAN: So, the drama there delayed until August. That's the headline this morning. Robyn Curnow in Pretoria for us -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Developing this morning, day two of Bradley Manning's court martial at Fort Meade, Maryland. The army private is accused of aiding America's enemies by leaking 700,000 classified documents to the WikiLeaks Web site.

Manning's defense in his opening statement said that he was naive but good intentioned, and did not believe he was putting U.S. secrets at risk. If convicted, Manning could face life in prison.

Former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering will be talking about the attack in Benghazi when he appears today for a closed deposition before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Pickering who served as co-chair of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board wanted this morning's deposition to be done in public. The committee chairman in California Republican Darrell Issa denied his request to make that hearing public.

BERMAN: The Department of Justice is defending Eric Holder, saying the attorney general's testimony last month about classified info leaks and searching reporters e-mails, they're saying that testimony was accurate.

A former State Department contractor Steven Jin-Woo Kim allegedly gave classified information to a FOX News reporter. Holder claimed he didn't push for the press to be prosecuted in the case. Kim has a hearing later this morning.

ROMANS: Justice or unjust shaming. That's the debate in one county outside New York City. More than 100 men since April have been arrested and charged with soliciting prostitution. They allegedly tried to arrange the hookups online, only to discover the hookers are really cops.

The attorney for several suspects says it's wrong for Nassau County to post the men's mug shots before their day in court. The D.A. disagrees. The alleged johns were range in age from 17 to 79. They include doctors, lawyers, professors and college students.

BERMAN: So, now, just what the world was missing. A job site for beautiful people. It's hard for them. The controversial dating site aptly named announced Monday, it is starting a recruiting service.

Employers looking to attract good-looking workers will have access to the sites 750,000 members. Who knew there were that many good-looking people? In order to stay on the site, you have to survive a ruthless peer review. Sort of like the hundred games but also more cruel, and it could raise questions about employment discrimination, that's if any employers are willing to give it a try.

ROMANS: What kind of person considers themselves beautiful enough to sign --

BERMAN: It seems like hazing. It seems like "mean girls", you know? It just doesn't seem worth it.

ROMANS: And if you're an employer, do you really want a bunch of beautiful people working in your office? I mean --

BERMAN: I'm sorry.

ROMANS: I'm not sure, I don't know, you want -- now I'm getting myself into --

BERMAN: Some of the worse in the workplace.

ROMANS: Speaking of beauties, Oscar winner Penelope Cruz is repeatedly going to play a Bond girl in the next 007 blockbuster. That's just part of the story. If the casting rumor is true, the 40- year-old Spanish bombshell would be age appropriate for Daniel Craig's super spy. Some websites jumped on the news, saying Cruz would be the oldest ever Bond girl. Oh, how cruel and rude.

Cruz's husband Javier Bardem played the major villain in "Sky Fall" in the last Bond film.

BERMAN: He was awesome.

ROMANS: How old is he?

BERMAN: No one ever complains about him. But it was his teeth. Did you see "Sky Fall"?

ROMANS: Yes, yes.

BERMAN: That scene, one of the best.

All right. Coming up, the luxury of room service, the well-dressed waiters, the silver trays, the big price tag and my favorite, leaving the tray on the floor -- but Hilton says no more at one of it's big hotels. The question is, will other hotels follow?


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Wow, look at that. Sun is rising, 6:22 a.m. in the East over New York City. Nice clear, clear spring day.

Minding your business. The S&P 500 getting a new member. General Motors back in the S&P. You know, it was kicked out when G.M. filed for bankruptcy back in 2009.

Coming back in, a lot of people say it just shows -- it's a sign of the recovery. It replaces Heinz which is going private.

Looking at all the major averages after yesterday's rally, stock futures today point to a mixed open, but it's been a pretty stellar rally and yesterday was another very good day.

Five years after the financial crisis, the government is still working to put rules in place to prevent the crisis from happening again. The Financial Stability Oversight Council reported wants to designate financial companies that aren't banks as systemically important. That doesn't mean it would mean more oversight. Some possibilities: requiring companies to set aside more money to undergo stress tests, to be subject to limits on executive pay. "The Wall Street Journal" says it will include AIG, Prudential Financial, and G.E. Capital.

Say good-bye to room service -- at least at one major New York hotel. The Hilton, just a few blocks from her in midtown Manhattan, will stop offering room service starting in August. To fill the void, the hotel is launching a grab and go cafeteria type service. So, you have to go downstairs to pick up a premade sandwich or a goody.

Fewer people are ordering room service these days and it's generally seen as an expensive endeavor for the hotels because of the labor required. No word on yet if this means job cuts. I don't know how you can't make money charging $38. I don't know how.

BERMAN: Exactly. Coffee doesn't cost $15.

ROMANS: My expense account doesn't even cover what they cost.

BERMAN: I will say it when you need it, you need it. For some business travel, it's just not going to fly.

ROMANS: Yes. We'll see if it sticks. I mean, it's one hotel. We'll see if Hilton does it broader, and, you know, more broadly and if other people start doing it.

BERMAN: So, besides this room service thing, what's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: Stocks love Tuesdays. The Dow has risen the past 20 Tuesdays, that's the longest winning streak for any day of the week since 1900. And, Berman, you remember what was happening back in 1900.


ROMANS: No, I mean, there's some kind of quirks. For some reason stocks love Tuesdays this year. We'll see if it repeats itself today.

BERMAN: That's fantastic information. Investing advice right there.

So, here's a story about something that's bad for business, smoking. New research shows the average smoker costs his or her employer an extra $6,000 a year. More than half of that is the price of lost productive from frequent smoking breaks. It's interesting.

Increased health care expenses are also a factor. The authors say it should be a wake up call to businesses that it makes economic and health since to help their employees kick the habit.

ROMANS: I don't think you see as many people out on smoke breaks as you used to.

BERMAN: No, definitely I agree with that.

ROMANS: You really don't. It must be a lonely place.

BERMAN: Do you remember? I mean, I remember when I started this business, people smoking in the office.

ROMANS: Yes, I can remember, when I first started this business 150 years ago, they had ashtrays on the top of the desk. The old editors still had ashtrays in their desk. BERMAN: Near their typewriters.

ROMANS: Right.


ROMANS: The way we used to figure out the stock charts.

All right. A bizarre scene as a truck towing four alpacas crashed on a Florida interstate. Driver of the pickup was taken to a hospital was minor injuries. It's reported to be in stable condition. One of the animals suffered a leg injury and was removed from the crash site on a backboard. The other three were described as jumpy and disoriented but were found unharmed inside their trailer. Police say that rain slick road conditions probably played a role in that crash.

You don't see an alpaca on a backboard very often.

BERMAN: You don't see many that can handle alpacas. I wonder if they had a special one just in case.

ROMANS: An alpac board.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up, from Colorado to California, wild fires threatening homes, forcing evacuations. We will have the latest, look at these pictures here. We're going to have the latest on the fire lines.

ROMANS: And what's wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways. A taco bell employee licking taco shells.

The investigation into what happened and what is being done at the fast food giant.

BERMAN: The French called that a galocher of the taco --