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Wildfires Devastate Parts of Colorado; Congress Holds Hearings on NSA Surveillance Program; Little Girl Gets New Lungs; Severe Weather in Store for East Coast

Aired June 13, 2013 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning, a tornado touches down as a monster storm system stretches across the United States. Millions of Americans now on alert for heavy flooding and dangerous hail as wildfires smother Colorado in smoke and flames, forcing thousands to flee their homes. We are live on the ground.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Then the NSA chief defending his agency's controversial surveillance program on Capitol Hill, claiming they saved lives. Will the FBI director face a similar grilling today?

BERMAN: And then today, Katherine, the duchess of Cambridge, is making her final solo appearance before the royal baby arrives. We have brand new video of the big ship Christening. Was it successful? All that coming up.

ROMANS: Amazing video, man's best friend saving two people as a car barrels dangerously onto a sidewalk. That's not the only reason this dog is so special. Good morning, I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Welcome to EARLY START. We begin with what could be an epic day for ferocious severe weather. 74 million people in the path of possible tornadoes, powerful thunderstorms, high winds, hail. In northern Iowa two tornado touches confirmed. The Wright County Sheriff's Office reporting extensive damage, downed power lines, lots of debris. Two businesses seemed to take the brunt of the twister's path. The restaurant owner says she left just in time.


DEB ABEL, BUSINESS OWNER: It felt like it getting closer. And so we locked the door and took off for town and probably hit about two minutes after that.

JEREMY HOGREFE, WRIGHT COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: To me it looked large and scary to see the debris. We weren't sure if there were any injuries at that point in time.


ROMANS: No injuries reported but there were power outages. Check out this amazing starkly beautiful image of lightning hitting Chicago's Willis Tower formerly known as the Sears Tower. If you look closely, you can see the bolt hit two buildings in downtown Chicago. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is tracking the weather for us. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, you said tornadoes, wind, hail, add in a ridiculous amount of lightning, heavy rain, and then of course we have the threat for flooding, all of that still in the forecast today. Here's the reports from yesterday, look at the tornados, we mentioned these wind and hail that spread across the area.

Lot of people were talking about this word derecho, throwing it around. What is a derecho? It's a long-lived fast-moving wind storm. The key is long-lived. We need 58-mile-per-hour winds past 240 miles, that's the length we want to see those go across. We don't want to see them but in order to qualify as a derecho.

Here is the key we didn't see those 58-mile-per-hour winds low to the ground, so it is not a derecho. However, the threat is out there. We've seen the low from the jet stream dip a little bit more, giving more strength to that low. With that we continue to have a moderate threat out there today.

It's very easy to see, large swathe area about 70 million of you still under the gun today for the severe weather but that's not the only problem. Once that low makes its way offshore you think the problem is done tomorrow. But on, on the back side of the low we talk about the threat for heavy rain in addition to all this rain we are expecting today. Most areas are six inches above over. High winds are blowing over, a tough situation.

BERMAN: And nowhere to put the rain that's going to fall tomorrow.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra. Let's talk about Colorado now, where unpredictable wildfire is the big concern. At least five different fires are burning, two of them major infernos charring more than 11,000 acres, dozens of homes gone. Dan Simon is in Colorado Springs with the latest. And with darkness comes maybe some relief a little bit of relief, but it will be hot and dry again today, won't it, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. It does provide some temporary relief in the form of cooler temperatures and the winds are calmer. The winds are expected to pick up. This fire has become such a problem that federal authorities are planning to take over the operations.


SIMON: Multiple wildfires burning out of control across Colorado, forcing thousands more to flee their homes. Hundreds of firefighters trying to gain control of the wind-whipped flames as the evacuation areas grow.

TERRY MAKETA, EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF: We've had incredible wind shifting and the winds have remained pretty consistent, and that has done a lot of things we were not really expecting.

SIMON: On Wednesday the fires roared through thousands of acres in mere hours, fueled by hot temperatures, dry brush, and gusty winds.

COLBY HELGERSON, FIREFIGHTER: We watched the plumes of smoke as they were rolling, as the fire was rolling over our neighborhood.

SIMON: And there is no sign of slowing down. This Boy Scout camp heeding the warnings and heading out of harm's way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do want to make sure they're going to be safe.

SIMON: Cows and horses taking to safety, and this baby deer carried out by a firefighter as the out of control inferno puts everything and everybody in danger.


PAULA WARREN, EL PASO COUNTY RESIDENT: The sheriffs came down and said you're going now. And this part, not knowing whether I have a house or don't is the worst.

SIMON: About 60 miles to the southwest, a smaller wildfire threatening the iconic Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge, its structural integrity now being evaluated. And this sobering image snapped at a local baseball game gives a glimpse of the incredible size of these unpredictable fires.


SIMON: Things got so bad at one point the local evacuation shelter itself had to be evacuated because the smoke was so thick. At this point this fire is still zero percent contained. Hopefully all those aircraft and all the firefighters on the ground will begin to make a dent, but at this point zero percent containment. John and Christine, we'll send it back to you.

ROMANS: Thanks. Looks like another tough day for firefighters in Colorado.

BERMAN: Tough day for administration officials at Capitol Hill. In just a few hours FBI director Robert Mueller will be on the Hill facing off with members of the House judiciary committee. And they're sure fire tough questions about the NSA's once secret surveillance and data mining operations. Dan Lothian live at the White House. Dan, at least one Republican is vowing to challenge these programs in court.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you're talking about Senator Rand Paul, an outspoken critic of this administration who has also expressed some deep concerns about the nation's surveillance programs. He is expected to bring a court challenge arguing that these broad generalized warrants might be unconstitutional. He's expected to hold a press conference later today joined by some privacy groups.

All of this as a top intelligence official insisted these programs work.


LOTHIAN: Edward Snowden is hiding out with his secrets, perhaps in a Hong Kong safe house, now accusing the U.S. government of a global hacking operation. Thousands of miles away on Capitol Hill, the director of the agency Snowden once worked for argues the controversial surveillance programs work.

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: It's dozens of terrorist events that these have helped prevent for both here and abroad, and disrupting or contributing to the disruption of terrorist attacks.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT: Out of those millions, dozens have been critical?

ALEXANDER: That's correct.

LOTHIAN: Most of the details he says are classified, but Alexander was more than willing to admit this intelligence helped stop a plot to attack the New York subway system, leading to suspect Najibul Azazi, who pleaded guilty to terror related charged in 2010.

ALEXANDER: So I would say it was the one that allowed us to know it was happening.

LOTHIAN: But the target of the investigation, form NSA contractor Snowden, remains defiant, telling the "South China Morning Post" "I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts." He accuses the U.S. of hacking network backbones like huge Internet routers, targeting Hong Kong and China, and proclaims he's neither traitor nor hero. But what to call him is less of an issue than how a high school dropout ended up privy to the super-secret surveillance programs.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Ask you if you're troubled that he was given that kind of opportunity to be so close to important information that was critical to the security of our nation?

ALEXANDER: I have great concerns over that, the access that he had, the process that we did, and those are things that I have to look into and fix from my end and across the intel community.


LOTHIAN: So later today Alexander will hold an unusual classified briefing for all senators where he will provide more details about these programs. He's been coming under fire of late and says he'd rather be criticized rather than jeopardize the security of the country.

BERMAN: Dan, another briefing later today but classified, what do you expect the tone to be there?

LOTHIAN: Well, if only we could be behind those closed door briefings. We expect there will be some very sharp questions. Lot of these lawmakers did know or at least have the opportunity to find out a lot of this information, but many of them have concerns that perhaps the government has gone too far. So we expect there will be some very sharp questions, and perhaps he'll be able to give more details to those classified operations.

BERMAN: Thank you, Dan Lothian at the White House for us this morning.

ROMANS: Amid calls for his prosecution the reporter who told the world about Edward Snowden and the wiretapping program is speaking out. Glenn Greenwald of Britain's "Guardian" newspaper, was on "AC 360" when Anderson Cooper asked him about New York Republican Congressman Peter King's assertion that Greenwald should be prosecuted because he, question, "has said that he has names of CIA agents and assets around the world and has threatening to expose that." Greenwald responding that assertion is simply not true.


GLENN GREENWALD, "THE GUARDIAN": The last thing I would try and do is read the mind and what goes on internally in the swamp of Peter King's brain. What I do know is he has a history of all kinds of radical and extremist statements. He himself was a supporter of terrorism for several decades when it was done by the IRA. So I don't know if he decided to completely make that up or if he hallucinated, or what. But what I do know the claims he made on national television about me were utterly and completely false, and they were very serious charges that I think he ought to be held accountable for.


ROMANS: Congressman King did not respond to a CNN request to clarify his comments.

BERMAN: New this morning, president Obama is looking for a surgeon general because the current holder of the office, Regina Benjamin, announced she's stepping down from her post next month. Benjamin has been surgeon general since 2009, a longtime advocate for change in the nation's health care system to one focuses on wellness and prevention programs.

ROMANS: Also new this morning, shock and sadness in the world of stock car racing. NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed in an accident at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey while taking part in a 25 lap event for sprint cars. Leffler was 37 years old. In a statement NASCAR said it extends its "thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening. For more than a decade Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed."

BERMAN: A jellyfish sting has ended Chloe McCardel attempt at a record breaking swim from Cuba to Florida. The Australian endurance swimmer was trying to become the first person ever to complete the 103-mile journey without a shark cage, but she had to pull out last night after 11 hours. McCardel will be recuperating in Key West today. That seems hard and dangerous.

ROMANS: Absolutely. You think without a shark cage you think sharks are the biggest threat but it's jelly fish that are dangerous too.

A three overtime thriller at the mad house in Madison where the Chicago Blackhawks battle the Boston Bruins in the NHL Stanley Cup finals battle for nearly five hours, tied 3-3 in overtime, so close at the end of this overtime the Bruins, look at that shot barely, barely misses ringing off the post. Midway through the third OT just around 1:00 a.m. here in the east a wicked deflection, the Harks Andrew Shaw wins it. The Hawks take the first game in the series. They play again Saturday in Chicago.

BERMAN: Let's go, Boston strong.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, a little girl with cystic fibrosis finally gets the lung transplant she desperately needed to have. We're going to have an update on her progress live from the hospital, next.

ROMANS: then, he was trapped underwater for two days trapped in a sunken ship and lived.

BERMAN: No way.

ROMANS: How was this man able to survive? You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Today is an exciting new day for the Murnaghan family of Pennsylvania. 10-year-old Sarah begins a brand new chapter of her young life.

BERMAN: Yesterday Sarah received a new set of lungs in transplant operation - lungs that came from an adult donor. Doctors are pleased with her prognosis. CNN's Jason Carroll is in Philadelphia. Jason, good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you. Sarah Murnaghan at this point still resting, she is heavily sedated. Her family, her parents at her side wanting to be there for when she wakes up.

The surgery lasting about six hours yesterday. You can imagine how excited the family was when they got word on Tuesday that donor lungs had become available. When I spoke to Sarah's mother last night she said literally they were jumping for joy when they got the news.

Now that the surgery is over, basically at this point the family saying they really wanted to thank the donor family that made this possible. Also at this point, they talked about what they're looking forward to as they move forward.


SHARON RUDDOCK, SARAH'S AUNT: We expect her to be doing some things within the next couple days and taking her first breaths so we can't wait for that. And she really did well so we're very, very, very excited and we're very, very thankful. We're quite certain we were down to the last week so that wonderful family gave us the best gift ever, and we are really happy for that. We can't imagine their pain but we're thankful for what they did for us.

CARROLL: Do we know anything about the doner?

JANET MURNAGHAN, DAUGHTER RECEIVED LUNG TRANSPLANT: They don't tell you anything but that donor is her hero, our hero, of this story but she wouldn't have had access to that hero if it weren't for the change. This is a low-bar transplant. This is an adult donor, this is lungs she wouldn't have had the opportunity to have access to just two weeks ago.


CARROLL: And that was an important point that her family wanted to get out. Also, as you know, John, this was a delicate procedure. Sarah is still going to have a very long road ahead of her. There's still the risk of infection, a risk her body will reject the organ but Sarah's been a fighter all along and her parents expect her to keep on fighting as she continues with her recovery.

BERMAN: Jason Carroll in Philadelphia this morning, thanks very much.

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 over the last two weeks. However, at the same time Prime Minister Erdogan has ordered his interior minister to put a stop to the protests within 24 hours, which could set the stage for more violence in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. Erdogan saying this morning he is giving the protesters one last warning to get out of that park. Sounds ominous.

ROMANS: For the first time we're hearing from the mother of Cleveland captive Gina DeJesus had to say after her daughter was rescud last month. Yesterday suspect Ariel Castro pleaded not guilty to 329 charges, including two counts of aggravated murder. Back on May 6th Gina DeSesus' family was just thinking about seeing her again after she disappeared after a trace for a decade. Listen to what Gina's mother said about Ariel Castro.


NANCY RUIZ, MOTHER OF GINA DEJESUS: I don't even hate him. I forgive him.


ROMANS: Wow. Ariel Castro's attorney says his client is taupe to a plea bargain if prosecutors drop the aggravated murder charges that will eliminate him from receiving the death penalty.

BERMAN" A hands on killer, that's how a federal prosecutor described Boston's most famous former fugitive, James "Whitey" Bulger in his opening statement. The trial for the reputed (ph) mob boss begain Wednesday. Bulger is charged with 19 murders and other crimes. In their opening, the defense said Bulger was a criminal but not a killer. The 83-year-old was captured back in 2011 after 16 years in hiding on the run. His federal trial is expected to last about three months.

ROMANS: All eyes on the Supreme Court. We're awaiting rulings on 23 high profile cases, and some of them could come down at 10:00 eastern this morning. Among the cases being considered, same-sex marriage, voting rights and affirmative action. Decisions on all of the cases are expected by the end of the current session later this month.

Brand new video this morning of the duchess christens a princess. Kate, duchess of Cambridge, just did the honor, smashing a bottle against the new Princess cruise ship.

BERMAN: Success.

ROMANS: This is her last official solo engagement before she's due to give birth next month. Later this hour, we're going to get more from a royal insider

BERMAN: And we're going to talk about that dress -- or coat. The snow leopard print. Whatever it is, it's certainly snow leopard, and fashionable -- as always.

ROMANS: She rocks the maternity wear.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, stock futures are down and the market showing serious volatility. Should you be worried about your 401(k)? That's next. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Good morning, welcome back to STARTING POINT. Minding your business this morning. A major selloff overseas, Japan's main stock market plummeting more than 6 percent. The Nikkei, in bare (ph) market territory, that means it's down 20 percent from its recent peak. Investors worried about Japan's long-term growth strategy and here in the U.S. Wall Street is worried about the federal reserve gradually tapering back its stimulus plan. Because of that, we're seeing a lot of volatility and nervousness.

The Dow rose 100 points during yesterday's session but ended down 100 points. The VIX, that's the fear gauge in the market jumping as well. Remember the market, though, has some wiggle room. The S&P 500 is up 13 percent this year, Dow futures this morning are off about 25 points right now.

Yahoo! is giving a new lease on life to old e-mail accounts, beginning next month web surfers will be able to claim a new handle that had previously been used but became inactive. The move lights a fire under you guys out there who haven't logged in for a year. Use your Yahoo! e-mail account July 15th or you may lose it.

BERMAN: Hashtag, about freaking time.

ROMANS: One of the most recognizable features of social media finally coming to Facebook, the hashtag. Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, already have them, and until now users on Facebook, you couldn't click on hashtage. Facebook has some stiff competition in advertising and is looking for ways to stay competitive with the rapidly changing social media space.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT a mother fed up with a man sending lewd texts and pictures to her 11-year-old takes matters into her own hands, every parent needs to hear what she did to protect her child, that's coming up next.

ROMANS: Then, he survived a shipwreck in two days underwater, how he was able to do that, in moments.

BERMAN: Then this guy dogs (ph) action, saves the lives of two people when a car careens wildly onto the sidewalk. Look at that. This is why dogs are called man's best friend. We're going to show you this whole thing. Amazing. You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

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

ROMANS: Quite a weather story. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is following the weather for us. Good morning.

PETERSONS: Yeah, good morning. It's unbelievable. We already saw a good 24 hours of severe weather. We're seeing even more of it building in through today. As you look at the radar you can see some of the first bands making their way to the East Coast. Look how long of a line the storm has really lasted. All of the severe weather expected as we go through the afternoon today.

And you can notice this backwards C shape, that's the reason we can really tell we have these strong winds, strong downdraft and dry air. The speed of those winds gets added to the speed of the system itself and that's why we keep talking about the threat of these winds being as strong of a threat as tornadoes.

Now, we're also watching the jetstream dipping down a little bit today, so that low that's moved its way to the East has a little bit more energy with it.