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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Wildfires Hit Parts of Colorado; Crowded Sports Bar Deck Collapses in Miami; Syrian Regime Used Chemical Weapons in Civil War; Elections in Iran

Aired June 14, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: How does something like that happen? I'm Don Lemon in today for John Berman. It is Friday, June 14th. Welcome to STARTING POINT.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the final edition of STARTING POINT. Come Monday it's a "NEW DAY" here at CNN.

We begin today in Colorado. We've never seen a wildfire quite like this one, the black forest fire is giving 750 firefighters more than they can handle. You have 400 homes burned to the ground, and now two people who couldn't move fast enough to outrace the oncoming flames are dead. Dan Simon live from Colorado Springs this morning. We're seeing unprecedented damage from the fires, and the threat is far from over.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: By no means, Christine. The folks in this community did get their first bit of hopeful news. This fire is slightly contained, it's a modest number, five percent, but it shows the fire suppression effort might be starting to make a difference. Meanwhile where we've seen the fire take homes over now it's been in a forested area but with the flames advancing towards Colorado Springs it could put a lot more homes at risk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Listen to the crackling of the flames. This just one of the 379 homes now reduced to rubble in what is now being called the most destructive wildfire in Colorado state history. The black forest wildfire has scorched nearly 16,000 acres of land. Its flames widespread, threatening neighboring cities like the densely populated Colorado Springs.

DALE MIELKE, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: It was extremely fast moving. I kept my family here too long because I thought we were safe, and then next thing you know it was crossing the street to the south of us within minutes.

SIMON: The inferno moving rapidly is now deadly, taking the lives of two people who were in the midst of evacuating. Fire officials say just 40 minutes after the victims started packing, the flames were on their doorstep.

MAYOR STEVE BACH, COLORADO SPRINGS: Our hearts go out to their loved ones and our thoughts and prayers are with all the people who have been hurt by this fire.

SIMON: Thousands fleeing their homes, and for some, like the Coyne family, they're now facing the reality of losing their house.

JAENETTE COYNE, LOST HOME IN COLORADO WILDFIRE: It was probably the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. You have that moment where you say is that really my house?

SIMON: And 750 firefighters working tirelessly to contain the flames. And now we're getting a rare look from inside the fire lines. Watch as Air Force academy firefighter Braylen Eubanks aids in the battle against the indper know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me some water!

SIMON: Working diligently alongside his team to extinguish the flames. The Black Forest is just one of several wildfires burning in the state. To the south, the Royal Gorge fire threatens the iconic suspension bridge that has hosted tourists for so many years, while up north lightning has ignited a fire in Rocky Mountain National Park.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: You've got a whole bunch of people displaced by this fire, 40,000 people have been evacuated. It's basically impossible to get a hotel in this area and no one knows when things will return to normal. It's obviously contingent on the firefighting effort and the wind. Christine?

ROMANS: Dan Simon, thanks.

LEMON: High temperatures continue out west making things very difficult for the crews who have to fight those wildfires in Colorado, but what about those storm systems that have been spinning off tornadoes across the country? Indra Petersons is here with a look at the forecast.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: From one case of bad weather to another, it seems to be the story it never really ends. The huge storm system we've been dealing with the last 48 hours. We notice all the lightning we saw overnight in the south this system finally lifting out to the northeast, so moving offshore. That is good news, but unfortunately on the back side we're dealing with a lot of wind but nothing like we saw.

Look at the wind reports, look at the total, 645 of them, that is downed power lines, downed trees, we saw all of this damage yesterday. People are still recovering, a lot of people without power this morning.

We take to you the west and show you why we have a hint and I mean a tiny hint of recovery in Colorado, we're seeing a little bit of moisture moving in the air. But unfortunately, it's really not enough. It is so dry a lot of this moisture is only at the upper levels and for that reason there will be thunderstorms in the mountains, of course the lower levels, a lot of times that dries out. Overnight, about 40 percent in the overnight hours best chance for the firefighters to get a grip on this. By the afternoon we're talking 15 percent again, bad conditions there. Very dry conditions for the next several days. Unfortunately there are thunderstorms moving through, but again, high elevations will be dealing with lower levels and the strong winds and dry lightning.

LEMON: Thank you, Indra.

ROMANS: Dozens of people injured, three critically after a terrifying deck collapse at a Miami area sports bar. The waterfront deck at Shuckers was packed with fan last night watching the NBA finals game, suddenly gave way. People were sent into the shallow waters in Biscayne Bay. CNN's John Zarrella live in North Bay Village. I can't imagine how surprised people must have been celebrating the play in the game.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Christine, one minute you're cheering for your home team and the next minute you're in the water and people are falling on top of you, one after the other, toppling on top of you.

Authorities say about 100 people in all may have been involved, 24 of course, about two dozen of them injured. We still have reports of two, possibly three people in critical condition. But the good news, no one is missing.

Now you can see behind me the deck there, and everything collapsed in the water, the tables, the chairs, the railing, potted palm trees, fans, light posts, everything, and people underneath all that debris, on top of that debris. And patrons inside the restaurant say all of this happened literally in an instant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were sitting there enjoying the view after our dinner and we heard people screaming. We didn't know where it was coming from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were walking into the back area and it was more of what we heard rather than what we saw. First we heard like a crack, and then it was within seconds that the whole deck had collapsed into the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people went to this bar to see the heat game, and many of them got hurt. We were coming from the beach we saw all of these lights so it occurred to us to figure out what was going on or wonder what was going on so we noticed it was close to our hotel. And we were actually notified by some kids that the rooftop was opened, so we got access to that and I was able to record this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Couple other things that certainly benefited the rescue efforts was the fact that the water is very shallow here and there is a fire rescue unit less than a mile away. Now, of course, the next step is going to be for investigators to start figuring out what went wrong here. Were there too many people on the deck or was it something else that caused it to collapse. Christine?

ROMANS: So at this hour we don't have any idea why the deck collapsed. There were reports 100 people were on it at the time. Could it have been overcapacity?

ZARRELLA: Yes. But a lot of people who come here often say whenever there's a big event, a sporting event on television here whether it's the heat, the dolphins, whatever it might be, that dock is always packed and there's always a lot of people, and it wasn't a number of people on there any more than there have been in other times. So we're just going to have to wait and see how this all shakes out over the course of the investigation, but it will probably be sometime before we have an answer.

ROMANS: Thanks, John.

LEMON: Let's talk more about the investigation. I want to bring Lieutenant Eugene Germain of the Miami-Dade Fire Department. Thanks for being her this morning. I understand we are getting some new numbers of people, 33 people hurt, two seriously, right, lieutenant?

LT. EUGENE GERMAIN, MIAMI-DADE FIRE DEPARTMENT: That is correct. We had a total of 33 individuals, victims that were hurt on the scene. We actually transported 24 victims to area hospitals.

LEMON: Let's talk about capacity. Was this deck overcapacity?

GERMAIN: At this time, North Bay Village Police Department is already commencing with their investigation and they won't know any information probably for some time.

LEMON: So this particular deck, this particular business, were there any complaints, any structural problems before?

GERMAIN: We were not privy to any complaints or any information. As with all the different commercial properties in that area, the fire department does an annual assessment. If anything would happen we would be able to respond to meet the needs of the individuals involved.

Lieutenant Eugene Germain of the Miami-Dade Fire Department, thank you very much for that. It was really not many people got hurt, or at least no one drowned because the water was so shallow. Quite surprising there. We'll continue to follow the story.

And straight ahead on STARTING POINT, a confirmation of the worst kind. The administration says Syria used chemical weapons on its own people. Now pressure is mounting on the White House, so how will President Obama respond?

And look at this video, how does something like this happen. The story behind a routine engine check gone horribly wrong.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. Let's talk Syria now, where the White House says now it is clear Syria used chemical weapons, including sarin nerve gas, on its own people, killing as many as 150. The big question now, how forcefully will the White House respond? The pressure on the president is building. Barbara Starr has more now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Obama administration is confirming what was feared, that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons multiple times.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or utilized. That would change my calculus.

STARR: Pressure is growing on president Obama to act.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I applaud the president's decision and I appreciate it, but the president of the United States had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation on the ground for the balance of power.

STARR: The White House says it will give military support to the rebels but won't say how. A leading option -- arming the rebels, desperately need ammunition and rifles and machine guns and new shipments of machine guns, shoulder-fired weapons to attack tanks, artillery, helicopters and jets, and mortars and rockets. The White House does not plan to put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria and is far from ready to commit to a no fly zone.

REP. MAC THORNBERRY, (R) TEXAS: The question is, what is going to make a decisive difference now, and is the administration willing to do that? Or is this kind of a throw some guns that way and pretend you're doing something when it's not going to make a difference?

STARR: The stakes couldn't be higher.

THORNBERRY: It's important to us because of the tremendous number of chemical weapons that are there and if these weapons get in the hands of the Al Qaeda related terrorist groups, they will certainly be used against Europe and against us.

STARR: The White House announcement comes after word that former president Bill Clinton is now siding with McCain, calling for tougher action. According to "Politico," Clinton said at a private event with McCain, "Some people say stay out. I think that's a big mistake."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So let's say the president does decide to go down the route of at least initially supplying ammunition and weapons, a very limited option. Well, military commander also tell you, Christine, limited action may be very tough. What if Assad ups the game, then you have to go all in. Don?

LEMON: Barbara Starr, thank you, Barbara.

ROMANS: For more on what the United States can do in Syria and the political effects it will have in the United States, let's turn to Candy Crowley.

She is CNN's chief political correspondent and host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" which airs 9:00 a.m. eastern on Sunday.

Candy, the White House now disclosing actual dates they say sarin was used from mid March to mid May. Why now? Why make this decision now? Haven't we known the red line was crossed, or they needed verification?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president said he needed verification. Certainly there were other countries said the evidence -- preponderance of the evidence tells us this has happened, but the president ordered a review and said I realize that there's some evidence but I want more.

They finally got more evidence that in fact sarin gas in particular, but chemical weapons have been used. They're not totally sure about a death count but they say 150 to 200 people died in these chemical weapons attacks. There might be more.

So, that's the precipitator of it. The president, as you saw in Barbara's piece, had talked about the red line being crossed and they now have proof that red line was crossed. The question is whether, as you heard Barbara's part, whether this is too little right now.

ROMANS: Also what do you do next? Wednesday night President Clinton argued the U.S. should get involved in Syria. He was at an event closed to the press. He didn't give specific examples of what should be done but reportedly this is what Clinton said, "Some people say okay, see what a big mess this is, stay out. I think that's a big mistake. I agree with you, Senator McCain, about this, sometimes it's best to get caught trying as long as you don't over commit."

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Does that force the administration's hand?

CROWLEY: I don't think so. I think obviously when the former president says something, particularly this former president, it carries a lot of weight. The administration by the president's own definition of a red line had the evidence that it had to move. The question is, that's a pretty general statement by former president Clinton. There are lots of things, what is over-committing? I mean, you're now hearing John McCain say we need someone to take out Syria's ability to bring in these arms coming from Iran. Basically get rid of the airfields. We need someone to do the no fly zone similar to something that happened in Libya to keep all of the help from coming in.

So the question is how far do you go? Right now it seems the administration only at least publicly or at least on background is saying weapons and ammunition, but critics have said they should have gotten in a lot sooner saying they need more than that now. They're losing on the ground and they're going to need more. It's not enough to give them small weapons and ammunition. They need to have some major help in keeping out the help that Syria is getting from Iran, from Hezbollah, and certainly from Russia.

ROMANS: At this point does this White House have just a host of different scenarios and they debate what to do? You also don't know how the Assad regime would react to any kind of U.S. input in the region.

CROWLEY: Well, not to mention that Bashar al Assad is still recognized as the leader of Syria so you're really taking on something when you're trying to oust him but this administration has been on the record for about two years saying this guy has to go.

It is a constant push and pull inside the administration. There were many who last year and the year before had been trying to push the president into helping some of the rebels. The president has been very reluctant to do so. This is an ongoing -- they're all bad options, they really are. This is a mess over there. The president is very reluctant to get into another entanglement in the region.

On the other hand, this is something where there are national security reasons to see a stabilized Syria and something where there's a place where there is not so much Iranian influence and again with the Hezbollah element is very troubling to this administration. So absolutely no good options. They will constantly now be talking about well what types of things should we have? Should we do this or that? Should we have a secure zone in the north? Many, many things they have to think about.

ROMANS: Rebels want air cover and they want arms aid, we'll see if the White House says this has changed, the president's calculus has changed. We'll se what they do next. Thanks.

LEMON: To Iran now where voters are going to the polls to elect a new president. The interior ministry says turnout is high so voting hours are being extended. Six candidates are vying to replace outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is barred from seeking a third term. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini cast the very first vote today. The candidates only got on the ballot with the his approval.

ROMANS: The government is insisting the top secret NSA program that collects Americans' phone records isn't just legal. FBI Director Robert Mueller says it could have prevented the September 11 attacks had the program been in place earlier. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller said the data mining could have identified one of the 9/11 hijackers and potentially foiled the attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: The 9/11 commission itself indicated that investigations or interrogations of Al Midhar (ph) once he was identified, could have had evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot, the simple fact their detention could have derailed the plan, in any case the opportunity was not there. If we had had that program, that opportunity would have been there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: As for the source of the leak, the NSA leak, Edward Snowden, you're seeing him there, he's believed to be in a safehouse somewhere in Hong Kong. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is calling for laws that would keep government contractors like Snowden from having access to sensitive information, but there are thousands and thousands of government contractors, people who work for private companies who have this top secret clearance who, we have outsourced our secrets to big public companies and he is one of those employees.

LEMON: He's one of the people we didn't had access until now.

ROMANS: All right, ahead on STARTING POINT a devastating chemical plant explosion rocks Louisiana. Everyone within two miles ordered to stay in their homes. We're going to take you there live.

LEMON: I want you to look at this incredible video, a man falls from the fifth floor of a hotel and you will absolutely never believe what happens next.

ROMANS: Five stories?

LEMON: Five stories. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good Friday morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT, minding your business this morning. What a comeback, stock futures are slightly lower this morning, but that follows the S&P's second biggest gain of the year. The Dow also popped yesterday, gained nearly 200 points on Thursday. Investors responded to hints that the fed will soothe the dreaded tapering talk sometime next week.

Shares of Smith & Wesson, the gun maker, are jumping 4 percent this morning. According to preliminary sales and earnings that were a record. Those sales hit nearly $590 million. The industry as a whole saw this unbelievable spike in command from consumers who feared Washington could limit their ability to buy certain firearms. That trend accelerated after the Newtown shootings which happened six months ago today.

Apple is exploring the "phablet" market, it's a cross between a phone and tablet in terms of size and a segment that rival Samsung has been very successful in with the Galaxy line. Reuters reports that Apple is thinking about launching at least two bigger iPhones next year and a cheaper model, too. A phablet. Just when you thought you could have one more device.

LEMON: It is Apple. It should be like Apple-bet or something. Phablet.

All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, an Ohio toddler missing for nearly two weeks, now the child's mother is under arrest. A live report is coming up.

ROMANS: A deadly chemical plant explosion in Louisiana, why the state's governor is demanding answers. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Oh, it says John, but there is no John. John is not here. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans.

LEMON: And I'm Don Berman. I'm Don Lemon. We've been joking around this morning.

ROMANS: This is the last edition of STARTING POINT.

LEMON: But not "EARLY START."

ROMANS: No, "EARLY START" stays from 5:00 to 6:00. A lot of you are asking --

LEMON: And so does John Berman.

ROMANS: John Berman stays. Don is just here for fun.

LEMON: Wreaking havoc.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get to the top stories this morning.

There are new questions about the disappearance of an Ohio toddler nearly two weeks ago. The mother of the 18-month-old is under arrest. We have Pamela Brown to give us details of this story. Just an 18- month-old angel of a little girl disappeared, now the mother under scrutiny.