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Seven Hospitalized after Plant Explosion; Washington, D.C. Landmarks Defaced; Morsy Meets with E.U. Diplomat; Flossie Threatens Hawaii; Cannes Multi-Million Dollar Jewel Heist; The Next Fed Chairman

Aired July 30, 2013 - 05:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Explosions rocking a Florida town overnight. A giant fireball filling the sky. Several hospitalized. Residents evacuated as a propane plant goes up in flames.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Why would someone do this? National landmarks vandalized, splattered with green paint and a woman is now behind bars. But this morning, investigators are asking, could she have acted alone?

PEREIRA: Speaking of how did they do it -- heist of the century. A thief making off with $136 million in jewels from a luxury French hotel. How exactly did he do it? We're live in Cannes.

BERMAN: There's something fishy with that. You don't just walk away with $135 million.

PEREIRA: Seems straight out of the movies.

BERMAN: There's an inside man in there. That's my suspicion with that.

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

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is Tuesday, the 30th of July. Where is July gone? It is 5:00 in the East.

BERMAN: We do begin with breaking news this morning from Florida where a plant that refills propane tanks has exploded near Orlando. These pictures, filling the sky with a spectacular yet terrifying site, this over the city of Tavares.

Alina Machado is following the latest developments for us.

What do we know about this, Alina?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the video is dramatic. One Tavares, Florida, resident said the loud blast sounded like there were bombs going off. This all started a few hours ago in a town that's about 45 minutes northwest of Orlando.

Now, initially, more than a dozen employees were believed to be missing but authorities say thankfully they have all been accounted for. Seven employees were taken to regional hospitals. We don't know the extent of their injuries.

What we do know is that there were 53,000 cylinders of propane at the plant, more than a million pounds in all. Authorities braced for the worst and set up a half mile evacuation around the plant and began pouring water onto the facility. It took fire crews several hours to get a hand on the situation. Now, the good news in all of this is that authorities say no one has died -- John.

BERMAN: That is great news, Alina.

Any word about the cause of this fire?

MACHADO: Well, so far, the cause of the explosions and the fire is not immediately known. Presumably authorities will be working to find out exactly what caused this to happen.

BERMAN: You said there were no deaths inside the plant. What about the people who live nearby? Are there any homes?

MACHADO: There are homes, a spokesperson for the Lake County sheriff's office said there are 50 homes about three-quarters of a mile away from the plant. You may remember again, the evacuation area that was set up is a half mile around the plant and again, some more good news, is that no residents were hurt in the blast.

BERMAN: But those pictures, these pictures we're looking at, Alina, and we keep on looking at it here, they are simply terrifying and with the amount of propane there. It's a near miracle that there were no deaths there.

All right. Alina Machado following the story for us, thanks very much.

PEREIRA: Big question in the nation's capital, who is defacing some of Washington's most notable landmarks? One person is in custody but as Pamela Brown tells us investigators aren't sure if she's the only culprit.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cleaning crews spent Monday night scrubbing green paint off an organ and a wall inside two National Cathedral chapels. Police arrested Tian Jiamel and charged her with defacing property.

A law enforcement source says the 58-year-old woman was found carrying a green paint can when she was arrested.

RICHARD WEINBERG, NATIONAL CATHEDRAL: I can confirm late this afternoon, an arrest was made. The suspect who appears to have vandalized both Bethlehem Chapel and Children's Chapel here at Washington National Cathedral. The original vandalism was found in Bethlehem Chapel, in the lower level. And so, we closed that and later in the afternoon, additional paint had been found in Children's Chapel.

BROWN: It's still unknown if the suspect is linked to the vandalism of three other D.C. landmarks in recent days.

On Friday, authorities discovered green paint splattered on the Lincoln Memorial. As crews continue to clean it up the historic landmark, authorities discovered what looks like green painted symbols on the statue of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian.

Adding to the history, green paint was discovered on the statue of Martin Luther at a D.C. church a day before the National Cathedral incident.

Officials are still investigating whether the vandalism is linked or if these are copycat crimes.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: Also in Washington, the Senate has given its OK to the next FBI director. James Comey was confirmed 93-1 with only Senator Rand Paul voting against. Paul had a hold on the nomination as he asked for more information on the FBI's drone programs. Comey was a top lawyer in the Justice Department under George W. Bush. He will take over for outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller who has served in the post there the top FBI post for a dozen years.

PEREIRA: We could find out more as soon as today about the NSA surveillance program.

A senior U.S. official tells CNN the agency plans to declassify additional information about the programs and the top secret court that oversees anti-terror operations. It's not clear yet what will be unveiled or how much information the Obama administration will make public.

BERMAN: Edward Snowden's father is defending his son as the NSA leaker seeks temporary asylum in Russia. Lon Snowden tells Anderson Cooper on "360" his son should not return to the U.S. unless he gets assurances that he will receive a fair trial. And he says people are focusing too much on his son's leaks and not enough on the programs that the leaks revealed.


LON SNOWDEN, EDWARD SNOWDEN'S FATHER: He's not living a comfortable life at this point. He said he's an American. He loves his country. I know my son. I know he loves his country.

You know, what he believed is that this information, the American people needed to be aware of what their government was doing to them, spying upon them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Meantime, Edward Snowden remains holed up at a Moscow airport, awaiting Russian participation. They have received his asylum request that would let him leave the country and possibly the country.

PEREIRA: A verdict is expected today in the case of an army private who admitted leaking government documents. A military judge has said she will announce her decision in the case of Bradley Manning this afternoon. He faces charges he aided the enemy by giving hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to WikiLeaks. His lawyer said Manning was just blowing the whistle on the government.

BERMAN: President Obama travels to Chattanooga today, talking jobs and the middle class at an Amazon shipping center. That company announces plans Monday to hire some 7,000 more workers nationwide.

The White House says the speech will focus on creating high-wage jobs to help the middle class and promote sustainable economic growth.

PEREIRA: A new wave of violence in Iraq. Security officials say at least 50 people were killed and more than a dozen car bombings Monday. More than 100 people were injured. Ten of the blasts were in Baghdad, mostly in Shiite neighborhoods. Coordinated bombings and other attacks have intensified in Iraq since the start of Ramadan earlier this month.

BERMAN: Authorities in Switzerland trying to determine what caused two commuter trains to collide head on Monday night. Reports say the driver of one of the trains was killed and nearly three dozen passengers injured, five seriously. The trains were traveling on a route in western Switzerland near the city of Lausanne, in the shores of Lake Geneva.

PEREIRA: Tension remaining high in Egypt this morning, days after violence left dozens dead. Monday night, a new round of marches by supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsy sent them towards security headquarters in Cairo and raised fears the country is closer to descending into chaos.

There is late word. A top diplomat has met with the former president.

Arwa Damon is in Cairo this morning.

Good morning.


That's right. E.U. foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, has been in Cairo since yesterday, and she has reportedly met with deposed President Mohamed Morsy for around two hours. We're still waiting for specific details as to what they discussed, also waiting for specific details as to what she may have been able to negotiate between deposed President Mohamed Morsy, his supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood, on the one hand, and on the other the Egyptian military and government it backs. She most certainly is facing an incredibly tough task as both of these sides are very hardened in their positions.

The international community and the especially the United States do want to see some sort of political negotiation, ending up resolving this crisis that really has Egypt teetering on a knife's edge. But it's very hard to see exactly how that is going to materialize given that the pro-Morsy camp is so hardened in their position, in their demand that Morsy be returned to power and that, of course, is a no nonstarter for those who do oppose him.

A lot of people in the pro-Morsy camp say they are willing to stand their ground there. They've already begun digging in, erecting even more barricades, making medical preparations they say, fully anticipating that the military, the security forces are going to try to go in and clear them out.

And so, a lot of other Egyptians that we're talking to are saying they're incredibly naturally concerned about the direction that the country is heading, and there was such optimism some two years ago after president, former President Mubarak, was removed from power. And some of those young Egyptians that took to the streets back then feel as though their revolution has been hijacked twice, first by the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsy, and now, by the military.

So, there most certainly is a long and potentially dangerous road ahead for this country.

PEREIRA: All right. Arwa Damon with that update for us, thank you o much.

BERMAN: Some breaking weather news. Flossie has been downgraded from a tropical storm to a tropical depression but people in Hawaii may not know the difference. They're getting battered by heavy waves and high winds.

Look at that, Indra Petersons is tracking all those for us in the weather center, just feet away from us.


We definitely watched it dissipate as it made itself closer towards the Hawaiian Islands yesterday. Clearly, you can actually -- I mean, look at the radar. You can see how it started to break apart almost like it enhanced a little bit, and now, it's dissipating again.

Yes, we talked about that 35-mile-per-hour steady winds currently out there, and we're going to continue to watch this dissipate. The latest we've noticed is a change here in the track kind of moving to that west-northwesterly direction. What we're expecting the next 36 hours, it will become a remnant low and dissipate in about 72 hours after that. But still dealing with heavy rains and strong winds 40 miles per hour as it makes its way towards Kauai.

On the opposite side, outwards the Atlantic, we have the remnants of Dorian now still about 20 percent chance that we could see this develop, not likely here, but either way, still bringing heavy rain out towards Turks and Caicos. The other big story overnight -- I mean, Look at this unbelievable rain the last 24 hours that kind of shot through Kansas. We are going to monitor that today. It's still very active here.

Look at all the lightning and such a slow-moving system that very heavy rain is still expected today. The other big difference we're going to be looking at, of course, other than heavy rain is in the Dakotas, the threat for heavy showers there. The good news -- Northeast, Southeast still getting a break at least for a little bit.

PEREIRA: For a little bit.

BERMAN: We'll take it. Thanks, Indra.

PEREIRA: All right. Coming up, several homes suddenly exploding and neighborhoods shaken. We're going to show you the rubble left behind.

BERMAN: And, more than $100 million in jewels stolen from a luxury hotel in France. Police are searching for one masked man. How did he pull it off?

We're going to live to Cannes. That's right after the break.


BERMAN: Back to Florida now with the latest on that propane plant explosion. This amateur video shows the moments right after the Blue Rhino plant in Tavares, near Orlando, exploded. Seven people are in the hospital, some with critical injuries. Thankfully, all others have been accounted for.

PEREIRA: Scary moments in south Philadelphia. I want to show you what is left of three homes -- look at that -- after a natural gas explosion tore them apart. Eight people injured including two small children, and a contractor who had been working in one of the buildings.


UNIDENTIFIED BOY: The whole house went down. I saw the house next to it, it was fallen over. I saw firemen, his dude was burned up. They were hosing him down with the fire hose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was running out of the house he had burn marks from head to toe, and he was bleeding from the side and he was just asking for help.


PEREIRA: He is listed in critical condition this morning with severe burns. Gas has been shut off to the block as the investigation continues.

BERMAN: Police dive teams expected to resume their search this morning of a lake in Bristol, Connecticut. That's the hometown of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez. They are searching for evidence and a possible murder weapon as prosecutors build their homicide case against Hernandez. They allege that 23-year-old orchestrated the killing of Odin Lloyd last month.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty. He is being held without bail in Massachusetts.

PEREIRA: Michael Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe could take the witness stand in the wrongful death case against a concert promoter. AEG live expected to her to the stand to talk about Jackson's drug use as it makes its case that it was the King of Pop's addictions that were responsible for his death.

On Monday, an entertainment industry expert testifies that Jackson was good at selling tickets but not at getting commercial endorsements that could have boosted his earnings.

BERMAN: We are finding out more this morning about what killed a bride-to-be and a member of their wedding party when they were thrown from a boat on New York's Hudson River. An autopsy shows that Lindsey Stewart had severe head injuries and drowned. Her best man-to-be, Mark Lennon, drowned with minor injuries. Both were on a boat that crashed into a barge north of New York City.

The driver has been arrested. Police believe he was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

PEREIRA: It was a brazen jewel heist to one of the world's most exclusive place -- Cannes, France. This morning, we now know that the value of what was taken is much higher than originally thought, try $136 million.

Erin McLaughlin is in Cannes where they certainly must be feeling that. Tell us the latest.


Well, police are scouring through hours of surveillance, footage in an effort to try and identify the man behind Sunday's brazen heist. Now, it took place just in the hotel right behind me. It was 11:30 a.m. on Sunday and prosecutors coming out with some new details as to what exactly happened.

A man with his head concealed in a scarf. He's wearing a cap, walked into the hotel. He walked through doors that were normally locked doors that opened up out on to this very prominent promenade here in Cannes. He walked into the Leviev Diamond exhibition, held the manager of that exhibition at gunpoint, and then stuffed a bag full of diamonds and earrings and rings and pendants before leaving the hotel, we're told, through a separate door -- a different door than the one that he entered before making his escape.

Now, experts that I talked to say that this kind of heist has all the hallmarks of someone who is very experienced, someone who knew what they were doing, Michaela.

PEREIRA: I'm curious what it is like there today, Erin, if it's business as usual at the hotel and in the area. Are you seeing a big police presence still?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that was one of the incredible things. Even yesterday was business as usual at the hotel to take a walk through the lobby of the Carlton Hotel. You would never know a heist of this magnitude had happened. There was still jewelry on display, diamonds and sapphires, even fine furs for sale, very low -- minimal appearing security in the lobby there. So, pretty interesting.

This morning, however, that Leviev Diamond exhibition, which used to have very prominent advertisements outside the hotel, those advertisements were taken down. It appears as though the exhibition as been closed, Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. Erin, thank you so much for an update. We'll certainly watch.

What a mystery -- who knows how they're going to solve it -- $136 million likely one of the biggest jewelry thefts ever to have been just perpetrated in broad daylight. Truly amazing.

BERMAN: And this is one man's opinion, but they may want to step up security there, if they've had this string of heists with $136 million.

PEREIRA: Surprising still jewels not lying around.


PEREIRA: They did not.

Coming up, across the country, fast food workers are hitting the picket lines. What's igniting these protests, coming up next.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is "Money Time".

Christine Romans is here with everything we need to know this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Money time -- well, I've got futures higher. Markets pulled back yesterday. We had earnings report. We have a Fed meeting this week. We've got a jobs report later this week.

So, there's a whole lot to consider and don't forget, we had five weeks in a row higher for stocks.

Also, today, we're going to get home prices. News about home prices in May.

I hope this is a number that's going to make you happy, because prices have been rising. Home prices rose 12 percent year over year in May. Look at that chart. That was the biggest jump in seven years.

But in housing -- in housing, it's all about timing, right? I want you to look at where we are for the peak. Home prices are still down 30 percent from the 2006 peak. So, sometimes, I give you this happy housing headlines and people start screaming at me, because they say, hey, I can't refinance or I bought in 2007 and I'm still underwater.

So, I get it. I get it all realistic is local, but we're going to be looking at that number later this morning to see if we're going to have a continuation of higher prices.

BERMAN: So stop screaming at Romans.

ROMANS: Stop screaming at Romans. Just follow me, don't scream at me.

The president needs to pick a new Federal Reserve chairman and behold the Washington parlor game. Will it be current Fed vice chairwoman Janice Yellen or will it be President Obama's former economic adviser Larry Summers?

Yellen has been a strong supporter of the bond buying program. Her appointment could mean a continuation of Bernanke's policy.

Larry Summers, on the other hand, you all know him. He had questioned the Fed's stimulus program and hasn't helped the economy as much as people think. He says this has added to income inequality. He could cause a shift in policy.

The politics around these two is getting, isn't it, it's getting so interesting in Washington.

BERMAN: White hot over the last week.

ROMANS: White hot, and the White House not making any indication who they'll pick and exactly when. But I promise you, the politics surrounding this has been so interesting and will continue to get interesting.

And there are other people throwing out names like Robert Reich and Joe Stiglitz. So, other names are coming out there. But those are the two front-runners.

The current Fed chief headed to a court. A judge ruled Ben Bernanke must answer questions about the 2008 bailout of AIG. Very rare to see a Fed chief testify in a private lawsuit.

The suit was brought by former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg against the government, even though the firm would have gone bankrupt without the government's help, Greenberg says it sank the value of stock for shareholders like him. AIG considered joining the lawsuit but backed out after public backlash. That would be another interesting parlor game to watch.

And big story yesterday, the fast food workers in cities across the country walking off the job. They say minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, not livable asking for 15 bucks an hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FRANKLIN LAPAZ, STRIKING WORKER: I have a second job and try to catch up on bills and this is -- living in New York City is so expensive you have to think about transportation, high taxes, food. Everything is just so like expensive here.


ROMANS: So, of course, it's, you know, expensive in New York City but this is happening across the country and heard that a lot across the country, St. Louis and elsewhere. Pictures from St. Louis, they're taking two jobs to get by.

We asked McDonald's and Burger King about their wages, and they said their restaurants are a great start in the workforce with plenty of opportunities to move up. Too many of those people, though, taking to the streets yesterday, say this isn't a start for them. This is their reality.

They got two jobs. They're making 18 grand a year maybe, can't send a kid to college, can't pay your student loans and some of these people have student loans, by the way. They went to college for a better spot in the economy and they're not getting it.

So, we'll watch it. It's going to probably spread to retail today. I'll be watching to see if there will be more protests today.

BERMAN: We'll check back in. Christine Romans, thanks so much.


BERMAN: We'll be right back.