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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tornado Rips Through Northern Iowa; Wildfires Burning Through Colorado; NSA Leaker Snowden Still in Hiding; Sarah Murnaghan Gets New Lungs

Aired June 13, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DEB ABEL, BUSINESS OWNER: I kind of think that it 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 for sure what it was hitting or any injuries at that point in time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And no injuries reported, thankfully, but there were power outages.

And check out this amazing, beautiful image of lightning hitting Chicago's Willis Tower, formally the Sears Tower. You can see the bolt hit two buildings in downtown Chicago.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's crazy.

ROMANS: Let's bring in meteorologist Indra Petersons. She is tracking all this extreme weather for us this morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning.

Unbelievable. We're still dealing with the same storm system. We can show you on the map what started brewing yesterday. We saw showers and thunderstorms developing around Iowa, that same system now has traveled all this length and is now making its way to the East Coast.

You can tell some of the bands are pushing through New York and even D.C. And notice that we're seeing some of that heavier rain pushing into your area.

Now, today, the weather just as severe as yesterday. We're looking at a low that made its way to the East Coast. Watching those the jet stream has actually dipped a little bit more. What that means to us in the weather world, is actually we have a stronger low out there. The threat for severe weather will remain.

In fact, where that low is you can tell where our moderate risk is today. So, pretty much, if you're in Pennsylvania, D.C., all the way down to Virginia. We have that moderate risk, about 15 million of you. The huge swath here includes 70 million for you for that severe weather. And whether you're on slight or moderate risks, you're still dealing with that. And again, it's not just the tornado weather, but look at this heavy rain. And we're talking anywhere from one to three to five inches of rain in places that are already six inches above normal for this time of year. I mean, it's not a good situation between flooding and those strong winds and knocking power lines down.

BERMAN: Bad, already soaked. All right, Indra, thanks so much.

You know, as the water out here. In Colorado, it's the fire, unpredictable wildfires a huge concern, at least five different fires burning this morning. Two major infernos charring more than 11,000 acres, dozens of homes simply gone.

Dan Simon is in Colorado Springs with the latest.

Good morning, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

This fire is still zero percent contained, which is pretty remarkable considering the number of aircraft, dozens of aircraft dropping water and dropping retardant and now you have 500 firefighters on the ground. It just goes to show you that the weather still has the upper hand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice-over): 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. The winds remained 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 near hours, fueled by hot temperatures, dry brush and gusty winds.

COLBY HELGERSON AND TED ROBINSON, FIREFIGHTER AND DENVER FIRE VICTIM: We watched the plumes of smoke as they were rolling -- as the fire was rolling over our neighborhood.

SIMON: And there's 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 are going to be safe.

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

PAULA WARREN, EL PASO COUNTY RESIDENT: The sheriff's came down and said you are 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 is 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Wow.

BERMAN: Zero percent contained at this point.

ROMANS: All right. Forced to grab belongings and evacuate their homes, Black Forest, Colorado, residents could only wait and hope that a raging wildfire would miss their property. For the Hinton family their home was one of the 92 homes under total loss.

This is what it looked like before the fire.

Jack and his son, Travis, join me now from Colorado Springs. We see, gentlemen, we see that picture of your house before the fire and now listed now as a total loss. I'm so sorry. This must be very, very difficult news for you guys to receive. How are you holding up?

JACK HINTON, COLORADO WILDFIRE VICTIM: We're holding up good. Just trying to figure out where we go from here. Thee rebuild and move forward.

BERMAN: Yes, the listing of the home is what is called a total loss. What's it like to hear something like that. Did you ever really think that could happen to you?

JACK HINTON: No, you don't ever think it is going to happen to you. But, you know, when you hear a total loss, then you almost go numb. You just, you look at each other and we cried a little bit and we just try to decide what's next.

ROMANS: Travis, you and your friend Sean -- you and your friend Sean really stepped up to the plate when you saw that fire coming. What happened when you saw that fire coming? What did you guys do?

TRAVIS HINTON, COLORADO WILDFIRE VICTIM: We saw it when it was like pretty little and we kind of, we went back to my house and my neighbor's house because we were babysitting their kids. And like her mom was just like -- well, go ahead and take Holly, one of the kids, to her swim lessons.

So, we did that. By the time we got there, we could see the fire off of powers and it started like getting black and getting a little bigger. So, we just hurried home and started packing up all the stuff.

BERMAN: How were able to remain so calm? We've been looking at pictures of these flames just raging and fires burning? Do you have a plan in place? Did you know what you should be doing?

TRAVIS HINTON: We've had an idea. Sean had to go through it last year when he was evacuated and my family has been over it a few times with me and like they told me what I should grab. So, we had a good idea of what we needed to grab.

ROMANS: Wow. Jack, thanks to your son and your family, your neighbors, family photos, your pets, otherwise those things would have been lost. You must be really proud of him.

JACK HINTON: Well, you know, we have a plan in place and we have some stuff already packed. So, we just, you know, Sean and Travis did an amazing job staying calm, getting kids together, getting dogs and pets together and when I got home, we were ready to go and we'd grab clothes we could grab and got out and it all happened in a matter of, between 20 and 30 minutes.

ROMANS: Wow. Oh my.

BERMAN: Jack Hinton and Travis Hinton, we're so sorry of what you've been through but we're so happy that you do have each other and that you both, your family doing OK this morning. So, thanks for being with us.

JACK HINTON: Thank you a lot.

TRAVIS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Seven minutes after the hour right now.

The NSA surveillance controversy is front and center on Capitol Hill this morning. Two hours from now, FBI Director Robert Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the government's once secret data mining operations. The director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, told the Senate Committee yesterday, his department has nothing to hide because he says the programs are saving a lot of lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. KEITH ALEXANDER, NSA DIRECTOR: It's dozens of terrorists events that these have helped prevent. This is not us doing something under the covers. This is what we are doing on behalf of all of us for the good of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Alexander told senators he believes the American people expect the government to protect them with these types of programs.

ROMANS: The 29-year-old high school dropout who exposed those programs is still in hiding this morning. But he's sure making his presence felt. Edward Snowden dropped another bombshell, telling the Hong Kong's "South China Morning Post", U.S. intelligence agents have been hacking computer networks of other countries for years and that include thousands of targets in China. Anna Coren live from Hong Kong this morning.

Anna, U.S. officials have said they don't know where Snowden is hiding. But can we assume he's still somewhere there in Hong Kong.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Yes, most definitely, Christine. I mean, he said that in his interview with "The South China Morning Post", that he wants to stay here. You know, he's actually going out in the field to the people to decide his fate and not the U.S. government. So, we can assume that he is still staying in that safe house.

You know, those explosive bomb shells, those allegations that he has made has certainly put him in the spotlight. You have to remember, he never wanted to become the story. Yet, he really has everybody is still searching for him. But as you as you, he has accused the United States of hacking computers here in Hong Kong, as well as China since 2009. Now, "The South China Morning Post" says they have at these documents but certainly yet to verify them.

But, you know, Christine, if true, this would only further complicate the relationship between China and the United States because the U.S. has been accusing China for months now of cyber hacking. So, really, it is tricky territory that we're going into.

ROMANS: Yes. We have to remember, too, we don't know his motives and we don't know whether he had access to that information. We don't know until we verify his claims anyway and as far as being part of the story, I mean, he has put himself front and center in the story. Some would say he seems to be relishing his international notoriety now.

He says he believes that the U.S. is trying to bully Hong Kong into extraditing him. Any sense of what officials there are going to do?

COREN: Yes, look, Christine, people are not talking. You know, no authorities are not talking. The Hong Kong, the Chinese government, the U.S. consulate here, everyone just says, no comment.

So, he has said in that article that he will fight any extradition order out of the United States. He will fight the U.S. government. That he believes in Hong Kong's rule of law to protect him. And, certainly, the immigration lawyers that we have spoken to, Christine, said if he applies for asylum, if he does fights this extradition process, this could drag on for months, if not years.

ROMANS: All right. Anna Coren, live for us this morning in Hong Kong -- thank you, Anna.

BERMAN: A shakeup to tell you about at the highest level of the CIA this morning. Deputy director Michael Morrell announcing his retirement from the agency after 33 years. A move comes just after a month after Morrell took the blame for editing the Benghazi terror attack talking points.

He'll be replaced by Avril Haines. She's the top attorney at the National Security Council. She'll become of the first woman ever to hold one of the CIA's top two jobs.

ROMANS: Sadness this morning in the world of stock car racing. NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed last night in a crash at Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey, while taking part in a 25-lap event for sprint cars. He was 37 years old.

NASCAR released a statement offering condolences to Leffler's family, calling him a fierce competitor for more than a decade.

BERMAN: So, she was nervous about sharks, but it turned out to be the jelly fish that ended Chloe McCardel's record-setting attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. The Australian endurance swimmer was trying to become the first person to complete the 103-mile jersey without a protective shark cage. It was a jelly fish sting that forced her out of the water just after 11 hours.

A fate she feared five months ago in this interview with our very own Zoraida Sambolin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHLOE MCCARDEL, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: I think the hardest thing for me is probably going to be the jelly fish because Diana Nyad in her valiant attempts has really come up against some really serious jelly fish. So, we're looking, my team and I, and researching it some ways to combat these little guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: McCardel says she will spend today recuperating in Key West, not a bad place to recuperate before deciding on her next challenge.

ROMANS: And look at this -- a group of Jersey shore fishermen could not believe their eyes when they came face-to-face with a great white shark last weekend, about 30 miles off the coast of Atlantic City when a shark suddenly appeared, circling their boats for 10 minutes. They say the shark was massive, but seemed more curious than aggressive.

So, we have one of these fishermen and we'll have him on the line and talk to him in a few minutes.

BERMAN: Sixteen feet long and I've got one sentence that will send chills down your spine. Teeth marks on the boat. Think about that.

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

ROMANS: Then, what would you do if a car came hurdling towards you and your baby? How one mother's quick action saved her baby's life.

BERMAN: Later this hour, some very special guests. CNN has a new morning show, you may have heard of it, "NEW DAY." The new anchors Chris Cuomo and Kate Baldwin, they will join us live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. This morning, 10- year-old Sarah Murnaghan of Pennsylvania who suffers from cystic fibrosis has a new chance at life.

ROMANS: Yes. Yesterday, Sarah received a new set of lungs in a six- hour transplant operation. Lungs that came from an adult donor. Doctors are pleased, so far, with her prognosis.

BERMAN: We're joined now this morning by chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, great to see you this morning. Thanks for being with us. Now, that she has received this lung transplant, you know, what's the situation for Sarah?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's sort of three phases to it. The recovery over the next couple of days. You heard that she's going to have the breathing tube and the breathing machine for at least 48 hours for the short-term. Through medium term is that she's going to start the medications to prevent rejection, these immune suppressing drugs and sort of, you know, be in the hospital for a period of time.

And then after that, it's sort of the longer term recovery, how she's functioning at home. Hopefully, the lungs, the new lungs will allow her to function and do things that little 10-year-old girls do much more easily. I will tell you, a tough operation, a tough recovery overall. If you take all lung transplants, John and Christine, about 50 percent of patients survive around five years. So, there's a lot of work for her to be done.

ROMANS: Yes. I know, a long road ahead here. And she's not cured of cystic fibrosis. She still has that condition. Could it attack these lungs?

GUPTA: Yes. Very good point. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease. So, the lungs are one of the organs that are most affected by this, and that's why she needed a transplant. But the cystic fibrosis is not cured. It can still affect the new lungs. It can still put people at risk for infections.

And keep in mind again, she's on these drugs to suppress her immune system because of the transplant. So, the disease is not cured and it's still going to play a very important role for doctors to manage.

BERMAN: All right. Sanjay, thank you so much. A long road ahead for Sarah Murnaghan, 10-years old, but, we are told, recovering this morning.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. Not safe there. Not one bit safe. We will talk to one of the fishermen who took this jaw dropping video of a great white shark.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: A group of jersey shore fishermen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(EXPLETIVE DELETED)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a good video.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Those Jersey Shore fishermen, I have to say, there were some bleeps, but overall, pretty calm when they came face-to-face with a great white shark last weekend. We're talking a 16-foot long shark that was circling their boat for ten minutes. Honestly, look at this. This is crazy.

So, the good news is they lived and how do I know that, because we have one of the guys on the phone right now. Rob Pompilio, he is the man behind the camera of this scary video. Rob, you can assure me that you have all your fingers and toes and you're perfectly safe this morning.

VOICE OF ROB POMPILIO, BRONX, NY: Yes. We made -- all three of us made it back intact. 30 fingers, 30 toes. We all made it back.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: But one big fish story. That is awesome, and you caught it on camera. You just started rolling right away. Tell me, what was this beast doing and for how long?

POMPILIO: Well, the video that you saw is actually probably about five minutes into it. We have probably four to five minutes of cell phone videos of just -- we were shooting it back. We were so nervous that we couldn't even aim the camera.

(LAUGHTER)

POMPILIO: It wasn't even so much nerves as it was excitement because we always heard them rumored at the Jersey Shore, but you know, we never actually, I never dreamt I would actually see one in person, in the flesh.

ROMANS: Was he checking you out for lunch? I mean, ten minutes. Ten minutes he was circling the boat.

POMPILIO: Well, we were trying track -- we're shark fishing. We had champ switch (ph) -- says let's go and we had baits in the water and it's not uncommon that the shark has the bait to come up the champ switch and the source of it. And that's exactly what it did. It came up. It knows it jumped -- it dropped back down under the boat and I circled around in a figure eight pattern.

And like I said, it just circled us curiously for a good 10 to 15 minutes. It felt like, believe me, it felt like a lot longer than that, but it definitely exits (ph) then to 15 minutes.

BERMAN: Every part of this, Rob.

POMPILIO: Everything that we would see on National Geographic off of Australia or South Africa right here in Jersey.

BERMAN: The great part about watching it on National Geographic, though, is it's on TV.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: -- where you, you're in the boat, and the shark is like two feet away from you and the part of this that's truly terrifying to me, actually just one of the 5,000 parts that are terrifying to me. There are teeth marks on your boat. This thing was coming after you.

POMPILIO: That's true. It wasn't coming. They always say that they don't have hands and they use their mouth as hands and that's exactly kind of what it did. It came up and grabbed the boat and, I guess, it sort of, you know, was hard and somebody could actually eat and let go and just continue to swim around the boat and it came up twice and I just said when it came up and grabbed the boat, its head was halfway out of the water.

ROMANS: So, the 28-foot boat, right? Sixteen-foot shark, 28-foot boat, I mean, you had to feel a little vulnerable.

POMPILIO: I'm sorry?

ROMANS: So, a 16-foot shark, you're in, what, a 28-foot boat, its head halfway out of the water, you must have felt a little vulnerable.

POMPILIO: At that point, when its head was out of the water and, yes, that was a little unnerving. I felt a little uncomfortable. I would be lying if I said I did didn't.

BERMAN: It's understandable. You can be honest with us. Rob Pompilio, it's great to talk to you. We are so glad your boat doesn't taste good, apparently. And the shark swam off and you guys all survived. That's an amazing video you have. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROMANS: And Rob Pompilio, I'm going to think differently on my Jersey Shore vacation about going too far into the water.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Cancelled vacation.

ROMANS: Thanks, Rob.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, it feels like Groundhog Day, Republican congressman in hot water over comments about pregnancies from rape. What Congressman Frank says he was taken out of context?

BERMAN: And we have some terrifying moments to show you as a car barrels towards a mom and her baby. What the mother did to save her baby's life? ROMANS: Then, this is not what you want to see in your backyard. No way. Find out what happened when a nine-foot alligator turned up at this man's house.

BERMAN: We got sharks, we got alligators. We got it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Day one, I said, good God almighty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with the threat of tornadoes looming large against today from the Midwest to the northeast, even in D.C.

BERMAN: A lot of people affected by this storm. Meteorologist, Indra Petersons, following all of the extreme weather for us. Hey, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Good morning. We're still following the storms that were popping up yesterday right around Iowa, and you can tell that at this point they're kind of starting to make their way towards the east coast. What we're actually watching? The reason we keep talking about the strong wind is this kind of backwards C-shape.

We call it a bow echo. We're actually seeing the strong down drop coming out of the storm itself and then you add that speed of the winds to how fast the storm system is moving, and for that reason, we know these winds can be upwards of 80, 90 miles per hour producing damage, even a strong as a tornado, itself.