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Extreme Weather Expected; FEMA Denies Aid To West, Texas; Muller to be Questioned Regarding NSA Activity; Maintenance Workers Stranded; Rebirth of the "Man of Steel"

Aired June 13, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A Texas town in shamble is trying to recover from a massive plant explosion. That town is dealt another big blow, but this one comes from the government.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): High-rise rescue. Terrifying moments, two window washers stuck on a platform 45 stories above a Manhattan Street.

BERMAN: Yes. Not a job for me. Not at all.

ROMANS: You know, they have smiles on their faces when they were trying to rescue them.

BERMAN: Because they're crazy.



BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome back, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS (on-camera): I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: We're going to begin with severe weather. Extreme conditions expected to affect some 74 million people across the country today. So, pay attention, this could be you. In Colorado, unpredictable wildfires, that's the big concern. At least five different fires burning this morning. Two of them, major infernos charring more than 11,000 acres. Dozens of homes simply gone.

ROMANS: In Northern Iowa, there were two confirmed tornado touchdowns and reports of extensive damage, including downed power lines and debris. Two businesses took the brunt of the twister's wrath. No injuries, thankfully, reported, but there were power outages.

BERMAN: Storm chasers spotted funnel clouds yesterday in Paw Paw, Illinois. That's about 130 miles southwest of Chicago. And speaking of the Windy City, that's bad, huh? The Windy City lived up to its bill, and Chicago saw 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts yesterday coupled with dime-sized hail. ROMANS: And a striking image at the height of the storm, lightning hitting Chicago's Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, as well as the second building in downtown Chicago.

BERMAN: That's a crazy photo. We're following the threat of tornadoes looming large again today from the Midwest all the way up here to the northeast.

ROMANS: Meteorologist, Indra Petersons, is following all of this extreme weather for us. Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Good morning. We definitely have so much to talk about. The threat is not just tornadoes, but of course, we're also dealing with long-lived straight line winds. We add huge hail, large thunderstorms, and flooding. We're talking about a lot of rain expected and all of this still in the forecast as it progresses off to the east today. Now, this is what we saw yesterday.

Eighteen tornado reports just to give you an idea what looks to be in our future. A 137 strong wind reports and 106 reports of hail. So, a lot going on. It's continue to progress to the east. The difference between today and yesterday, of course, is father east, but we're seeing the thrust to dig a little bit more or the death (ph) stream. It's kind of dug down a little bit more. With that, we're seeing that low enhanced.

So, just a little bit more -- out there to get these storms going, especially as we go through the afternoon. Then, there's something else we're going to be watching. The low section is going offshore by Friday. You think, hey, it's all good, right? Not exactly. We're going to see the moisture wraps around the backside of the low after already getting so much rain, just like four inches of rain, even five inches of rain out there in the northeast.

And then, we're going to see that backward moisture even to produce more flooding out there. So, let's go backward. Today, what are we expecting? We're talking about a moderate risk area really anywhere from Maryland down to a Virginia. But notice, we're talking about a good 70 million people affected today. That's the threat out there. And of course, that's not it.

Not just the threat of tornadoes and heavy thunderstorms, but with that come the strong amounts of rain. Look at this. Three to five inches still expected. Two to four inches up towards the mid- Atlantic. We're talking about areas that have already been inundated with rain just last week. So, a lot of flooding concerns out there as well. Really, a very damaging storm.

BERMAN: This sounds like a terrifying weather infomercial every time, but wait, there's more. Wait, there's more. All right. Indra, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Nearly two months after a deadly fertilizer plant explosion that nearly wiped West Texas off the map, the city is still waiting for FEMA to deliver more than $100 million. That's the city says it needs to rebuild, but here's the rub. The federal government and the state are in a political tug-of-war over disaster aid, and West Texas really caught in the middle. We get more now from CNNs Ed Lavandera.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Webbers are here. They just moved out. They'll be destroying their house and rebuild them.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a drive around town, West mayor, Tommy Muska, knows the longer it takes to rebuild his city, the more likely his neighbors will never move back.

TOMMY MUSKA, WEST, TEXAS MAYOR: My job is to get this town back built up.

LAVANDERA: But the mayor's job is getting harder. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied Texas governor, Rick Perry's request for disaster aid to rebuild schools, roads as well as water and sewage lines. The news steams.

MUSKA: I don't know. I don't know if we needed -- 50 more houses to blow up or five more firemen to die to make it a disaster. I don't know. I don't know what their definition is of a disaster.

LAVANDERA: After the explosion, politicians rolled into town making big promises. Governor Rick Perry.

GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) TEXAS: We will never forget what happened.

And President Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stand with you and we do not forget. We'll be there, even after the cameras leave.

LAVANDERA: Our cameras are still here and this little town needs help. In a letter to Governor Perry, FEMA says the remaining cost for permanent work is within the capabilities of the state and affected local governments. State officials accuse President Obama of turning his back on the people of West.

But even despite Texas' robust and healthy budget, state officials haven't provided enough disaster relief to cover the rebuilding cost either.


LAVANDERA: Mayor Muska says the city has a $2 million yearly budget and needs $17 million to repair the damaged infrastructure. And officials say the school system is lacking about $25 million to rebuild two destroyed schools. Mayor Muska says without the disaster aid, he might only be able to afford gravel roads in the destroyed neighborhoods.

So, when you tell folks here in town that they might be driving on gravel roads in these neighborhoods --

MUSKA: I haven't told them yet. I mean, they're going to have to understand it.

LAVANDERA: While the politicians haggle, Mayor Muska and his neighbors sit and wait.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, West, Texas.


ROMANS: It will be FBI director, Robert Muller's, turn to sit in the Capitol Hill hot seat this morning.


ROMANS (voice-over): Muller will be questioned by the House Judiciary Committee about the government's sweeping data mining and surveillance operations. Yesterday, the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, told the Senate committee he believes that agency's efforts are saving lives by uncovering dozens of terrorist threats.

BERMAN (voice-over): The man who blew the lid off Washington secret surveillance operations has dropped another bombshell. Edward Snowden tells a Hong Kong newspaper that the U.S. has been hacking foreign computers for years with thousands of those targets in China. Snowden is also vowing to fight extradition efforts, insisting he'd rather stay in Hong Kong to take on the United States government in court.

ROMANS: A shake-up at the CIA, deputy director, Michael Morrell, announcing his retirement after 33 years at the agency. The move comes just a month after the White House released e-mails showing he was responsible for editing the Benghazi terror attack talking points. Morrell says he made the decision to retire so he could spend more time with his family.

BERMAN: President Obama back home in Washington this morning after a night of heavy, hearty fundraising in Florida. The president spoke at two events in Miami Beach raising money for the Democratic National Committee. Meantime, two Miami police officers who were part of the president's motorcade were injured when their vehicle was involved in a crash on Interstate 95. Both officers taken to a hospital. Their injuries are not considered life threatening.

ROMANS: Hillary Clinton back in the political spotlight today. She's scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago. It's likely to fuel more speculation from people like John Berman about a presidential run in 2016. Earlier this week, Clinton debuted her Twitter account which hinted that her future in politics was TBD, to be determined.

BERMAN: Turkey's prime minister now offering to hold a referendum to decide the fate of the Istanbul Park that's become the center of anti- government protests. But at the same time, Prime Minister Erdogan has also ordered his interior minister to put a stop to the protests within 24 hours, which could set the stage for more violence, and Istanbul are (ph)also the capital, Ankara. The protests are now in their 14th day. Two protesters have been killed since May 31st and 4,300 demonstrators have been injured in the last week. ROMANS: Iran is gearing up for tomorrow's presidential election. Voters will pick a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was prevented by law from seeking a third consecutive term. All Iranian citizens 18 and over 18 are eligible to vote in tomorrow's election. That adds up to about 50 million potential voters, but only Iranian born male Shiites are allowed to run for president. Six candidates are on ballot.

BERMAN: An emotional reunion following the Santa Monica shooting rampage. Debra Fine was shot four times in her car last Friday. She credits Gerri Cunningham (ph) with helping save her life. And last night, CNNs Piers Morgan brought the two women together for the first time since the near fatal shooting. Fine told Piers what it was like when they first saw each other.


DEBRA FINE, WOUNDED IN SANTA MONICA SHOOTING: We gave each other big hugs. I recognized Gerri right away. And she was the only one who would open my door, because everyone else was afraid that he was going to come back, but he had actually gotten into Laura's car. So, it was quite a reunion and especially with both of us thanking each other for saving each other's lives. It was festive.


BERMAN: Brave, brave woman. Debra Fine told Cunningham, "thanks for getting me out of my car and saving my life" and all that other stuff.


ROMANS (on-camera): Speaking of saving lives, coming up, scaffolding scare. Two workers, if you're afraid of heights, imagine 45 stories dangling above the New York streets. We're going to tell you what happened and how they were set free.

BERMAN (on-camera): And Amanda Bynes at it again. What the troubled actress is saying on Twitter now? And guess who she's taking aim at.


ROMANS: What a pretty morning. The George Washington Bridge.

BERMAN: Yes, pretty right now. It's going to be an ugly, wet, rainy, terrible stormy day later on. So, take one last look at the George Washington Bridge.


BERMAN: I know. That's the last time you'll see it not shrouded in clouds. But nice morning. Happy to see you this morning. Great to see you.

We have a really terrifying image to show you, these pictures from yesterday. Two maintenance workers stranded when their scaffolding snapped 45 stories above a Manhattan Street. The Hearst Tower has a unique zigzag shape, not easy to clean. It requires a complex window washing scaffold and that may getting the men to safety even trickier.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Familiar sight turned into a high-rise rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This drama first started to unfold there on the 44th floor.

BERMAN (voice-over): This dramatic scene played out more than 550 feet above the New York City streets. For 90 terrifying minutes, two maintenance workers dangled outside the Hearst Tower, one of the city's most recognizable skyscrapers. Stranded when their scaffolding buckled and broke in the middle.

Instead of hoisting the men up, firefighters determined it was safer to cut a hole in the double-sided window on the 44th floor. This is what it looked like from the inside. Watch as they carefully crawl through and enter the building

MOSES NELSON, PARAMEDIC ATTENDED TO THE MEN: They're used to being out on the scaffolding, so they didn't have any complaints. It was just for being out there for such a long time. Tensions were high.

BERMAN: It is a dangerous job. Last October, this Washington, D.C. construction worker dangled from a safety rope in midair when one side of his scaffolding failed. D.C. firefighters used a ladder to get him down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rescue workers inside that window.

BERMAN: In this high rise rescue in Yonkers New York where two men clung to the side of a building into the night, their scaffold hanging off the side of a high-rise apartment building. Rescue workers helped one man climbed through a window, the other lowered to the ground. Fortunately, Wednesday's frightening ordeal also ended safely, and paramedics that attended to the men after the rescue said they both smiled through it all.


BERMAN (on-camera): Can you imagine smiling? Neither of the men were injured in Wednesday's accident. And authorities say people below, they were never in danger either. The scaffold was for only secure the entire time. However, scaffold workers do have a dangerous job. That will not surprise you. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 60 deaths and about 4,500 high-rise related injuries each year.

ROMANS: Well, glad that turned out great. I mean, the firefighters were very calm the whole afternoon.


BERMAN: I wasn't. Terrified me the whole time.

ROMANS: All right. A nasty jellyfish sting has ended Chloe McCardel's (ph) attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. The Australian endurance swimmer was trying to become the first person to ever complete the 103-mile journey without a shark cage, but she had to pull out after 11 hours. McCardel's handler say she'll spend the next 24 hours recuperating in Key West, a good place to recuperate, before figuring out her next move.

BERMAN: This seems to be a really hard thing to do.

ROMANS: I know. And you know, who is the other one last year who tried to do it a couple of times?

BERMAN: She couldn't make it.

ROMANS: I mean, she couldn't make it. I mean, the jellyfish, the sharks, saltwater.

BERMAN: Yes, Diana Nyad (ph).

ROMANS: Diana Nyad (ph), that's right.

BERMAN: But she's not trying anymore, because it's really hard, it turns out.

ROMANS: Right, right.

BERMAN: Coming up, Tim Tebow is heading to New England, but why do the Patriots want them on our team? The surprising answer from the team's owner.

ROMANS: And Amanda Bynes takes to twitter, blasting Miley Cyrus --


ROMANS: We'll tell you what she said with no apologies.


ROMANS: Good morning, Atlanta. Beautiful shot from Atlanta this morning. More young Americans are graduating from college. The National Center for Education Statistics says last year, 33.5 percent of Americans between 25 and 29 years old had at least a college degree. That is a new high. After years of stagnant growth, graduation numbers have been soaring with more Americans also completing master's degrees and doctoral programs.

BERMAN: A smartphone summit takes place in New York City today. It's not a meeting of phones, but of government officials and industry reps. They will discuss ways to crack down on the rising number of thefts of smartphones and other electronic devices. More than a million and a half Americans had their smartphones stolen last year.

ROMANS: A popular south Mississippi water park that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina is now back in business eight years later. The Buccaneer Bay Water Park reopens today in Waveland, Mississippi. Before Katrina, the water park was one of the state's most popular tourist attractions. And after spending $5 million to restore it, officials are hoping it will soon regain that status.

BERMAN: It could be (ph) a lot of fun, actually.

ROMANS: Yes, good luck.

BERMAN: New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, shedding light on why the Pat signed Tim Tebow. Kraft telling reporters that Tebow's spirituality and work ethic are very appealing to him, and you can never have enough good people around you, right, Christine?


BERMAN: As for Tebow's on field mechanics as quarterback, Kraft seemed a little less impressed saying, quote, "well, he's a lot better than I am."

ROMANS: Should a boy be allowed to wear make up to school?

BERMAN: I do every day.

ROMANS: This is true. Fourteen-year-old Chris Martin (ph) of Florida did, wearing black eye liner and lipstick on his last day of eight grade. Administrators told him to wipe it off, but two women who raised Martin say that's unfair, that his moderate make-up is no different from the girls'. The school district says there's more to the story, but it's confidential. Martin's family has started an online petition on, saying teachers and administrators need more tolerance training.

Coming up, look at the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's possibly the biggest movie of the year, "Man of Steel" comes to theaters. What are the fans saying?


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Fifty-five minutes after the hour. Taking a look at the top CNN Trends on the web this morning. So, Amanda Bynes, you will be shocked to learn, is apparently no fan of Miley Cyrus. Bynes tweeting at the pop star Wednesday morning, writing, "You're ugly and including a link of a picture to Cyrus." Didn't sound friendly. Bynes was also (INAUDIBLE) Drake calling his face ugly. The tweets have since been taken down, but Bynes has no apologies, writing, "This is my Twitter. I say whatever I want, thanks."

(INAUDIBLE) after a lot of celebrities including Jenny McCarthy, Rihanna, and Courtney Love. Classy, that's the thing.

ROMANS: Yes. And more proof it's always a good idea to pay attention when you're out for a walk. These guide dogs for the blind trainers were out on a street in San Rafael, California, I think, when one realizes, whoa, get out of the way. Huh. A 93-year-old woman drove backwards down a sidewalk. Police think she accidentally put the car in reverse. The driver, her passenger, the trainers, the dog, all said to be fine.

BERMAN: That is really fast in reverse down a sidewalk, apparently. It's lucky she didn't hit a building.

All right. Superman fans have been waiting a long time for this. "Man of Steel," the rebirth of the superhero franchise hits the theaters at midnight. Reviews have been mixed, but the new superman, darker, more grounded, looks ready to soar at the box office. More from CNN's Margaret Connolly.


MARGARET CONNOLLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been seven years since Superman last flew on to the big screen. And while Superman returns made plenty of money, it failed to span a blockbuster franchiser beloved lead actor. Now, Warner Brothers Studio own by the same company that owns CNN hopes the director, Zack Snyder, will change that. With a more human, man of steel who packs a punch.

ZACK SNYDER, DIRECTOR, "MAN OF STEEL": He's got to throw a punch every now and then. If some guys are threatening his mom, are you kidding me?

CONNOLLY: Known for his darker take on comic heroes, Snyder and producer, Christopher Nolan, offer fans a conflicted, brooding, and more violent Superman played by a British hunk, Henry Cavill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Superman is one of those universal superheroes, I think. It's genuinely not just an American thing.

CONNOLLY: Industry estimates show the film tracking around $100 million opening weekend.

What are you hearing from the fans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our fandango fans are telling us that this is one of the most anticipated movies of the whole year. An 80 percent of people who have bought tickets for "Man of Steel" are excited by the darker tone.

CONNOLLY: If fans are excited, the film's corporate partners are through the roof. Companies are banking on the "Man of Steel" from licensing deals to product placement, but then, there are other critics.

Rotten tomatoes has rated in the mid 60s, high 60s. That's good, but it's not great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the reviews are going to be as strong as they were for "Star Trek: Into Darkness" or "Ironman 3," but I do think Warner Brothers has a very viable franchise on their hands.

CONNOLLY: Which at the end of the day, it's the super news this Superman is looking for.

Margaret Connolly, CNN, Hollywood.


BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, be honest, what did you say -- what review did you give to the new Superman?

ROMANS: Oh, I said, yes, he is a hunk. She said the British hunk and I looked and he is a hunk.

BERMAN: Yes, but you said ooh, he is a hunk. Wasn't quite so analytical as you make it sound right now.


BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS (voice-over): A major destructive storm unleashed on a huge part of the country. Tornadoes, thunderstorms and floods with millions in its path.

BERMAN (voice-over): Lawmakers taking on the NSA in the secret surveillance program. But has all the spying paid off?

ROMANS: Royal watch, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, minutes away from making her final photo appearance before giving birth. We're live in South Hampton.


BERMAN (on-camera): We have live royal news for you this hour. How exciting is that. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS (on-camera): And I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, June 13th at 6:00 a.m. in the east.

BERMAN: We're going to start right now with what could be an epic day with ferocious severe weather out there. An estimated 74 million people in the path of possible tornadoes, powerful thunderstorms, high winds, hail, a lot of rain. Storm chasers spotted funnel clouds yesterday in Paw Paw, Illinois.

That's about 130 miles south less of Chicago. Speaking of the Windy City, absolutely lived up to its billing (ph), Chicago saw 50-mile- per-hour wind gusts yesterday coupled with dime-sized hail.

ROMANS: In Northern Iowa, two tornado touchdowns confirmed. The Wright County sheriff's office reporting extensive damage, downed power lines, lots of debris. Two businesses took the brunt of this twister's path -- wrath. Restaurant owner says she left just in time.


DEB ABEL, BUSINESS OWNER: I kind of look at it, and it felt like it kind of getting closer. And so, we locked the door and jumped in and took off for town and I kind of think that it probably hit about two minutes after that.