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Yosemite Wildfire; U.N. Inspectors Visiting Attack Site in Syria; Fort Hood Trial; Donald Trump Sued; Missing Math Teacher

Aired August 26, 2013 - 05:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Investigating allegations of a chemicals weapon massacre. Inspectors are getting access to the site where the Syrian government is accused of poisoning its people last week. We are live.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Raging out of control. A fast moving wildfire spreading near Yosemite National Park, thousands of firefighters on the battle lines this morning. We are going to show you what's being done to stop those flames.

BROWN: And vanished without a trace. A family's fight to find a missing Pennsylvania teacher who disappeared while hiking in the mountains.

PEREIRA: Good morning. And welcome to a new week and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BROWN: And I'm Pamela Brown. Great to have you with us on this Monday, August 26th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

PEREIRA: Let's start with the wildfires burning.

Veteran firefighters are calling the blaze burning in and around Yosemite National Park one of the worst that they have seen. The wildfire just keeps growing. Only 7 percent contained right now. The spread is threatening not only homes, but also San Francisco's power supply.

CNN's Nick Valencia is following developments for us.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thousands of firefighters are battling this massive blaze raging out of control in California's sierra foothills. Tens of thousands of acres scorched, none more iconic than the Yosemite National Park. The so-called Rim Fire has encroached its western edge.

VICKIE WRIGHT, U.S. FOREST SERVICES, PIO: It was astounding to see the power of what I witnessed earlier. So, our main objectives right now, structure protection, just making sure that we keep everyone safe and we protect that park at all costs.

VALENCIA (on camera): Bucket drops from these aircrafts are the crucial way the firefighters are battling this blaze. Because of the steep terrain, parts of the fire are only accessible by air.

(voice-over): On the ground, firefighters like Harold Cook get little rest between shifts on the front lines.

(on camera): How does this compare to others you have fought?

HAROLD COOK, U.S. FOREST SERVICE FIREFIGHTER: You know, this is probably one of the worst ones, if not one of the more extreme fires that I've been on since 2001 when I started.

VALENCIA: The fire has threatened small communities, including Groveland, just on the outskirts of the fire line.

Susan Loesch and Curtis Evans wait for news about their vacation home.

SUSAN LOESCH, RESIDENT: It's a little nerve-racking when they came knocking on my door because, you know, this is new for us. I have never been in an area where they had bad fires. So, I just wanted to get out. And when we came up here yesterday morning, it was very thick coming in the valley. And then it cleared and I thought we were still OK. So, we are hoping.

VALENCIA: More than 200 miles away, San Francisco also impacted. Power generators that key things like cable fires and street lights in the city threatened by the wildfire that shows no signs of stopping soon.

Nick Valencia, CNN, Tuolumne County, California.


BROWN: And Jennifer Delgado in for Indra Petersons this morning. She's following the weather in northern California.

Jennifer, hopefully, those firefighters will catch a break with some rain. Anytime soon they're coming?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we are going to see any rain there. If we look at the current conditions right now, you can see, we have a temperature at 46 degrees and winds at roughly 46. I should say at 6 miles per hour.

As we go through the next couple days, we are going to see rain chances increasing. As we move through Tuesday, we do have that 30 percent chance of rain. You are thinking to yourself, well, that sounds good. But, unfortunately, as we get the storms out there, of course, they could trigger some lightning and that could allow for more fires to spread.

But, unfortunately, as we go through the next 24 hours, the bulk of the rainfall is going to be just to the east of the Yosemite fire. And, unfortunately, in that area, we are also looking at a flooding potential. So, when you want the rain, you certainly can't get it. But across the region of the Yosemite Park, it looks like it's going to once again be hot and it's also going to be looking at Wednesday, roughly about five to 15 miles per hour. Guys, let's send it back over to you, two.

BROWN: Weather is just not cooperating.

PEREIRA: Yes, no relief there.

All right. Turning from that now to Syria. United Nations inspectors have access to the site of an alleged chemical weapons the attacks on rebel held positions outside of Damascus. The Assad regime denying using poison gas on its own people, calling the claims baseless. But according to one U.S. official, there's almost no doubt they did.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Damascus for us.

Fred, what is the latest there?


Yes, I saw the U.N. weapons inspectors leave from the hotel they are staying at earlier today and make their way to the southeastern outskirts of Damascus, which is, of course, where those chemical weapons were allegedly used here last week.

Now, one of the things that happened as they were about to leave the hotel was that there was a mortar that hit the area where their hotel is. It was a loud bang that all of us heard. We are not sure exactly how much damage it was. It brings that mission off to a difficult start to begin with.

Of course, as you said, the United States believes that a lot of the evidence that might have been there from the chemical weapons attack might have been tampered with because the Assad regime has been shelling that area in a heavy way.

I was there last night, you can see those artillery shells falling on the outskirts of Damascus, which of course, could do things to contaminate soil samples. The U.N., of course, in its investigation is not going to lay blame. They're not going to say this side did it or that side did it. But they are probably going to try to find out what sort of nerve agent it might have been and also how it was delivered. Was it delivered by an artillery shell or was it some other way -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: So, we know that you mentioned, the inspectors are there. The investigation continues. We're hearing world leaders denouncing the Assad regime. How is Bashar al-Assad reacting to this foreign pressure? What is he responding and how is he reacting?

PLEITGEN: Yes, it's interesting. The Assad regime came out very early on in the game when these allegations were made and said that it wasn't them, that this is all fabricated.

This morning, there's an interview that Bashar al-Assad gave to a Russian newspaper where he again reiterated, saying that his army would never use such weapons, that there his own forces were on the front lines, and that he would be a fool to use chemical weapons in an area where his forces are stationed. Nevertheless, as you said, the international community and the United Nations piling on the pressure, saying that time is essential for an investigation like this.

Let's listen in to what the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had to say about all of this.


BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Clearly, this was a major and terrible incident. We owe it to the families of the victims to act. All those in Syria have a stake in finding out the truth. The whole world should be concerned about any threat or use of chemical weapons. And that is why the world is watching Syria.


PLEITGEN: There you have it. The world is watching Syria. Now, I want to give you some details about how this mission is going to go today. The weapons inspectors are going to go to the front line. So, the last check point where the Assad forces are. And then the rebels are going to let them across.

What's gone on is that both the government and the rebels have said that there will be a cessation of hostility. That means no firing in that area as long as the weapons inspectors are on the ground there, Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. Time certainly is of the essence. Fred Pleitgen with the latest from Damascus, thank you so much for that.

BROWN: And as the world is watching Syria, the Obama administration trying to figure out what to do if inspectors find that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people. CNN's Chris Lawrence has more on that. And we do want to warn you, that some of these images are very graphic in the report.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bombs are falling, the accusations flying. Now, the pressure is on President Obama to defend his red line on chemical weapons, which rebels claim killed more than 1,000 people in Syria.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: We cannot sit still. We've got to move and we've got to move quickly.

LAWRENCE: U.S. and British officials claim Syrian forces shelled the site of Wednesday's attack so much, it corrupted any evidence the U.N. might find this week.

A U.S. official tells CNN, behind the scenes, multiple international sources have already collected evidence from that sight. The official says the sources took tissue samples and other evidence shortly after the attack and being analyzed in secure locations.

That's why the White House tone changed so quickly from Friday's "get the inspectors in" to Sunday's "it's too late to be credible." And it's why an administration official sounded so confident in saying, "There is little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians."

The president's newly updated options include cruise missiles launched from one of four Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea or jets firing weapons from outside Syrian air space.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are prepared to exercise whatever option, if he decides to employ one of those options.

LAWRENCE: Chris Lawrence, CNN, Washington.


BROWN: Will army major, Nidal Hasan, become the first active duty soldier to be executed in more than half a century? The punishment phase of Hasan's court martial begins this morning in Fort Hood, Texas. He was found guilty Friday of murdering 13 people and wounding dozens more at a massacre at Ft. Hood back in 2009. Hasan acted as his own attorney but mounted no defense. It's possible Hasan could testify during sentencing.

PEREIRA: Egyptian courts hearing cases against former President Hosni Mubarak and top leaders of his long time political rival, the Muslim Brotherhood. Both involve allegations of killing Egyptian protesters in separate instances.

Mubarak was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison for the killing of nearly 1,000 demonstrators during the Arab Spring. But his sentence was overturned on appeal and a new trial ordered.

BROWN: And in Iraq, at least 27 people were killed and more than 60 others wounded in attacks across the country. Police say 10 people were killed when a bomb exploded inside a popular Baghdad cafe. This is just the latest in a string of deadly attacks there. Officials say attacks on civilians and Iraqi soldiers appeared to be part of the new round of sectarian violence in that country.

PEREIRA: A train derailment in a remote area of Mexico killing at least five people, injuring more than a dozen. Authorities say eight cars of the cargo train derailed in southern Mexico, near the border with Guatemala. Heavy rains had reportedly loosen the earth beneath the tracks, causing those rails to shift, triggering the accident.

Officials say about 250 Honduran immigrants were on the train.

BROWN: And we are getting our first look at some dramatic video of a life-saving rescue in Beijing. Let's watch this together. Firefighters racing against the clock to save a 2-year-old little girl who was trapped after falling into a deep well at a construction site. You can hear her crying there in that video. The opening was too narrow for firefighters to get in themselves.

They used a rope to lasso the little girl's body and pull her up to safety. Unbelievable. And remarkably, the girl suffered no serious injuries in that accident.

PEREIRA: Grateful family this morning. That's for sure.

BROWN: Absolutely.

PEREIRA: Coming up, a family's desperate plea to find a Pennsylvania schoolteacher who vanished while camping in the mountains.

BROWN: And Donald Trump sued by the state. New York's attorney general demanding $40 million. So, what's got the Donald in so much trouble? We're going to tell you about that and more right after this break.


BROWN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

More than a month after he went missing in California Sierra Mountains, authorities admit they are no closer to finding out what happened to Matthew Greene, a high school math teacher from Pennsylvania.

And as CNN's Brianna Keilar tells us, his family is desperately trying to keep hope alive.


TIFFANY MINTO, SISTER: I want to be hopeful. But yet, at this point, it's so hard to be hopeful.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard because her brother Matthew Greene is missing. The avid 39-year-old hiker and high school math teacher from Pennsylvania who loved being outdoors vanished more a month ago while vacationing in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, California.

His family says he had gone there to camp, hike and climb. He had been staying at the Shady Rest Campground nearby while his car was being repaired. His family says he was supposed to pick up his car then meet some friends. He never picked up his car and his friends say he never showed up.

MINTO: So there's really not a lot of clues to go by and that's kind of the pitfall of the investigation right now, is where could he have gone?

KEILAR: Air and ground searches haven't produced many clues. His family and friends have launched a "Find Matthew" Facebook page.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of our best friends. He deserves our best effort. We're going to focus on the pages that were missing from his guide book that he probably with him, but we are looking in an area that is probably going to be 20, 30, 40 acres of mountains.

KEILAR: Police aren't sure what happened to Matthew. It's a missing person's case for now. His family just wants answers. MINTO: At this point, no matter what the outcome we just want to find him, you know? We just want him back. We want to know what happened to him.

KEILAR: Brianna Keilar, CNN, Atlanta.


PERIERA: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell weighing in on the jury verdict that cleared George Zimmerman in the killing of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Powell had this reaction on CBS's "Face the Nation."


GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that it will be seen as a questionable judgment on the part of the judicial system down there. But, I don't know if it will have staying power. These cases come along and they glaze across the midnight sky and then after a period of time, they are forgotten.


PEREIRA: Powell says he'd like to see President Obama and future presidents be more passionate about race issues.

BROWN: While at the age of 80, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says he has no plans to retire anytime soon. Ginsburg telling "The New York Times" she's in good health after surviving two bouts of cancer and she intends to keep working as long as she can do the job full steam, she says, saying who is president and would name her replacement would not play a factor in her retirement decision. Ginsburg described the current court as one of the most activist in history.

PEREIRA: New York's attorney general is suing Donald Trump for a whopping $40 million, accusing the real estate mogul of being a fraud. The Donald accused of running a phony university, allegedly fleecing people out of thousands of dollars, offering useless seminars and failing to deliver on promises of apprenticeships. Well, Trump fired back that the civil lawsuit is false and politically motivated. Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general, is a Democrat.

BROWN: Troubling questions swirling around NBA forward Lamar Odom, including whether he might be on a serious drug binge. TMZ reported people close to him, including the family of his wife, Khloe Kardashian, haven't heard from him for about three days now. The Web site says they are worried that he's battling a crack cocaine addiction. Odom's rep tells TMZ he is fine, but wouldn't say anything about where he is.

PEREIRA: Talk about a second act, a series of books by the reclusive writer, J.D. Salinger will be publishes next year, four years after he died. That according to the authors of new Salinger biography, who claim Salinger planned for a series of works to be released posthumously. "Catcher in the Rye", of course, remember, was published in 1951. Salinger's last work is a short story in the "New Yorker" appeared in 1965.

BROWN: Well, zoo keepers at the National Zoo recovering from a scare. They say that they endured five minutes of pure terror when they thought their day old panda cub was unresponsive on its mother's belly.

But the reality was bittersweet. Mama bear has given birth to two cubs, one in which was stillborn. Visitors at the zoo say they know how precious and fragile these cubs are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once they are born, every time one is born it's a big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: I just like him really much. They are cute.



BROWN: Look how cute they are. Tiny, too.

Giant panda not so giant when they are first born. It fits in the palm of a person's hand, weighs less than five ounces, like a stick of butter.

PEREIRA: Isn't that something to think about, when you see how big they grow up to be. It really is quite amazing.

BROWN: It is. But, you know, they're at the National Zoo. I lived in Washington and a panda cub died last year. So, there's a lot of sensitivity around it.

PEREIRA: Yes, sure there is.

BROWN: Imagine how scary that was.

PEREIRA: A lot of excitement.

BROWN: A lot of excitement, that's right.

PEREIRA: All right. Coming up on EARLY START, shifting gears when it comes to paying big prices when it comes to those Super Bowl ads. We've got "Money Time" coming your way next.


PEREIRA: There she is, Lady Liberty. How about that?

Good morning New York. Good morning, America. Good to have you with us on EARLY START. So glad you can be with us on this bright, bright Monday morning.

BROWN: You know why she's green, right?



PEREIRA: Christine Romans is with us --

BROWN: You know, when she's here, we are talking money.

ROMANS: That's right. It's a Monday morning this morning and a $10 billion deal to tell you about, aimed at killing cancer. That top services headlines this morning. Amgen, the world's biggest biotech company is buying Onyx Pharmaceuticals for $10.4 billion. It's a big deal. And it's a deal that will give Amgen a leg up and a foot into one of the biggest and fastest growing markets, cancer drugs.

The crown jewel of Onyx is its drug Kyprolis, which is a treatment for bone marrow cancer. It will generate annual sales of $2 billion in several years.

For the overall market, stocks futures are a little bit lower this morning. The Dow Industrials topped three weeks in a row of decline called the late summer swoon. When you add it all up, the Dow is down 647 point. That's 4 percent over the three-week period. The longest since November, 2012.

Investors aren't feeling so confident about stocks right now. The latest weekly survey from the American Association of Individual Investors found nearly 43 percent of respondents were bearish, 29 percent are bullish, and, you know, you got about 28 percent neutral.

PEREIRA: Neutralish.

ROMANS: Neutralish. But you are still up -- you are still up big for the year so far.

All right. Speaking of big, after passing on the 2013 Super Bowl, General Motors is now back in the game for 2014. In 2012, GM bought five ads slots for Chevy and one for Cadillac. GM says its back in the game this year because of 12 new products coming out by the end of 2014.

Slots for the Super Bowl selling now for $4 million for 30 seconds. I know. That's up from the last telecast. FOX is the network Super Bowl will appear on. It's sold 85 percent of the ad space. So, already talking about the big football game.

PEREIRA: At least, we should start planning our Super Bowl parties.

ROMANS: Absolutely. And I want to introduce you guys to somebody who is a legend on Wall Street. This is a woman who was known as the first lady of Wall Street. And she was literally the first lady of Wall Street. There she is, Muriel Siebert. To her friends, she was known as Mickie.

She was the first woman to own a seat at the New York Stock Exchange, 1967. She had to fight. I tell you, the gender barrier she fought through, it would be nearly a decade before another woman joined her. She was a pioneer of the discount brokerage industry. She transformed Muriel Siebert and Company into a discount brokerage in '70s. She passed away over the weekend. She was 80 years old.

I'm going to tell you. I asked her once, I said, Mickie, how did you do it? How did you fight through all the old guard, all those guys on the street? She said, just don't take no for an answer. In anything you do, my dear, honey, never take no for an answer. Thank you, Mickie Siebert.

BROWN: It's a lesson we can all learn from.

ROMANS: She passed away this week at the age 80. She changed Wall Street.

PEREIRA: Always going to be felt. Absolutely.

ROMANS: Never take no for an answer, ladies. I love it.

PEREIRA: All right. Coming up, the world waiting as U.N. inspectors try to determine if the Syrian government poisoned its own people with chemical weapons. Nic Robertson live in Amman where world leaders are discussing a possible Syrian intervention. That's coming up after the break.