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Thanksgiving Travel Nightmare; Challenging China; Shocking Accusations

Aired November 27, 2013 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanksgiving travel nightmare. A deadly storm plaguing the country, grounding planes, bringing traffic to a standstill. We are live with where the storm is headed next. And the chaos already created from the nation's biggest airport.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Challenging China. U.S. bombers flying over islands and space China says belongs to it.

ROMANS: Three Arizona kids claiming they were held captive in their own home for years, malnourished and dirty, finally finding their way to freedom. The shocking accusations ahead.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman this morning. So nice to see all of you. It's Wednesday, November 27th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

SAMBOLIN: And, unfortunately, we begin with an eye on the weather, and this massive storm, now a nor'easter. It's barreling up the East Coast. It's bringing strong wind, heavy rain and snow and making travel a bit of awe nightmare for millions.

ROMANS: Let's start in Cleveland. The snow is wet. It was sloppy, 3 to 5 inches around the region with even more coming today. Some areas could see up to 10 inches by the time this is over today.

SAMBOLIN: It looks so pretty, though, doesn't it?

ROMANS: I know. It really does. But it is but nothing pretty about trying to get to grandma's house, making things really challenging and changing a lot of plans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We originally planned to leave in the morning. But with news of the weather forecast, we decided to leave early, to try to beat the weather down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from North Carolina, so I'm definitely not used to this type of weather.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) SAMBOLIN: It's smart to leave early but drive slowly.

The area around New York's capital, Albany, also seeing snow. Just a dusting when this pictures were taken. But it promises to be messy there today, with rain, sleet and snow showers. Those are all in the forecast.

ROMANS: It could be tough to get around Pittsburgh today, with rain and snow, keeping the roads pretty slick there. There were accidents all over major highways as drivers tried to get home just as the storm hit.

SAMBOLIN: So, Indra Petersons is tracking this for us in a few minutes. But, first, if you're planning to go anywhere east of the Mississippi today, be prepared to wait, and wait and wait.

So, this storm is hitting some of the nation's biggest cities and biggest airline hubs. And that means big delays for millions of travelers. But we're hoping is that there are no cancellations.

Rene Marsh is live at Reagan National Airport.

What can you tell us, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's call this the calm before the storm because you can see people are showing up here at this point to arrive only first flights here at Reagan National. Of course, at is this point, things are OK. But, of course, as the day goes on, things will change.

Roughly 200 flights canceled nationwide. That is what the outlook looks like, according to flight tracker Web site this morning. And about 120 delays at this hour.

Here at Reagan National Airport, you look at the boards, everything looks pretty good. On time, on time, on time.

But, of course, it is still early. So, as the volume picks up with these flights, we're going to start seeing these boards start lighting up.

I want to take a look at the misery map. This is by Flight Aware, and essentially, what this map is showing are the airports that are seeing the most delays in the past three hours. You see the two airports on top with the most delays there, JFK and Newark airport. Of course, if you are a person who is in that situation where you're delayed, you just want this thing to be over and you want to get to your destination.

Let's take a listen to some of those people who are going through just that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is about weather coming in and wanting to get home to the family. So, that's pretty much why I moved it up. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to get out. I didn't want to change it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just looking at that weather, that big green/pink slop coming our direction, time to get out of the way.

REPORTER: Yes. So get out now at all costs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to be home for turkey day, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just want to takeoff and land on time. That's why --

REPORTER: And get home on time for the holiday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, yes. Don't want to have to rent a car here and drive all the way to North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'd just want a smooth flight with no delay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got a sweet turkey waiting for us.


MARSH: All right. So, again, last check on that misery map, we saw that JFK and Newark airport, they were on the top of the list in the last three hours with the most delays. But when you look at the numbers, they're relatively low right now, those numbers indeed, without a doubt, will climb as the volume of flights climb as well.

So, be prepared to not be able to get to your destination at the time that you thought you were going to get there.

Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Well, as long as the flights aren't canceled, Rene, I think, you know, people will have patience with that. But keep on tweeting out if you see those become cancellations and not delays.

Thank you so much, Rene. Appreciate you.

Indra Petersons is tracking the storm also. She is in the middle of it. She is in the Pittsburgh suburbs this morning and she's joining us on the phone.

How is the situation there, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST (via telephone): You know, it's really amazing, coming in yesterday. I was shocked to see some of these flights even landed. I mean, the visibility was so poor, but we did make it. And we saw some heavier snow right as we came in yesterday afternoon. Even right now, I'm actually talking to you guys standing in the snow. There's definitely some flurries coming down here.

Take a look at the radar right now. You can actually see where the system is right now. The travel nightmare is filled with so many people today. We're still talking about heavier rain pushing into the Northeast.

Take a look at the Northeast all the way down to the mid-Atlantic. You're still talking about that heavy rain on the back side, just like in Pennsylvania, still talking about the snow coming down.

The bulk of it pushing east, that's the good news, kind of moving out of the Ohio Valley. Unfortunately, conditions can worsen to places like Upstate New York with heavier bands of snow making their way in.

And speaking of snow, we've seen good amounts already. In Ohio, we've seen anywhere from six to eight inches of snow already. We've also talked about just north of us here in Pennsylvania, we have a good 10 inches of snow.

So, we kind of had an idea of what we're expecting as we push through this later time this morning. That's what we're concerned with, really the heaviest amounts of rain and snow today, are going to be the morning hours trying to get out ahead of Thanksgiving and unfortunately, not a good situation. We're still going to be talking about anywhere from two to four inches of rain can be seen in the Northeast.

Of course, the higher up you are, the farther north, heavier amounts. The farther south, you'll see that rain taper off, we'll see those totals probably one to two inches, but on the back side, we're still talking about anywhere of eight inches, even a foot of snow, especially off the Great Lakes, and the kind of tapering off to Kentucky, Tennessee will see some of these flurries.

But here's the thing that everyone seems to forget, even when you start to see the rain and snow taper off tonight which we will by midnight, things could be gone. Wind, that is one of the biggest reasons that we have the travel delays. And the winds are out there and they continue to strengthen.

So, as the system makes its way north today, we'll talk about those winds first kind of hanging around the mid-Atlantic, 20, even 40 miles per hour. Already saw a report today in New York City, about 45-mile- per-hour gusts never a good thing for delays.

As we go into tonight, we'll start to see those windy areas shift farther into the Northeast, in places like Boston on Thanksgiving, we'll still be talking about winds even as we go through Thursday evening.

So, definitely a lot in the picture here. A lot of cancellations still likely when we get to the storm.

SAMBOLIN: That's really unfortunate. I'm really worried about the roads. We were coming in this morning. There's a lost water accumulation. I'm concerned about accidents along the way because it was pretty dicey. Pretty dicey.

Thanks, Indra. We're going to try to get you up in our next half hour.

ROMANS: All right. Now, to the flights that threaten to inflame tensions between the U.S. and China. The Air Force sending a pair of B-52 bombers over a disputed stretch of the East China Sea. Pentagon calling it a routine mission. But it comes days after the Chinese said only they have the right to police skies there.

David McKenzie following this live from Beijing.

And, David, does this have the makings of an international incident?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, it could certainly have the makings of an incident or a flare-up. This is an intense region.

And the Chinese response to these B-52 bombers flying through their (INAUDIBLE) declared zone is that we're watching you. They say they tracked those planes as they move past that area, in the disputed area between Japan and China. The Chinese saying that they reserve the right to act if they wish against any suspicious aircraft or military planes in that zone that they declared just days ago.

Certainly, this is worrying development in this area because it has long been disputed, Christine.

ROMANS: What are the Chinese saying about this? I mean, we know the Chinese are flexing their own military might in the region. What are they saying?

MCKENZIE: Well, they're saying they have the right to protect their national security. They point to the fact that the U.S. has similar zones around its airspace as a way to protect the U.S. shores. So, they're saying they're just doing the same thing.

Well, the problem with that argument is that, analysts say that, well, this area isn't decided between Japan and China. So, by China saying they effectively own the policing of this area, they say they're just inflaming tensions further and making it less likely that any kind of diplomatic solution between Japan and China could come through.

It must be stated that no one really believes that China wants to have any kind of fight with the U.S. and Japan on this issue. But perhaps, there's an accidental chance that something could happen that could flare-up.

ROMANS: All right. David McKenzie for us this morning -- thank you, David.

SAMBOLIN: Nine minutes past the hour.

How do Americans feel about the newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran?

Many are in favor. This is according to a "Reuters"/Ipsos poll. Forty-four percent of Americans support the interim agreement between Iran and six world powers that was reached in Geneva, while just 22 percent of those surveyed are against. The poll also indicates Americans are opposed to any military action if the diplomatic effort falls through.

ROMANS: Interesting story this morning, in the years just after the September 11th attacks, the CIA reportedly turned Guantanamo Bay prisoners into terrorist-fighting double agents, sending them back home to spy on al Qaeda. In return, according to "The Associated Press," the CIA promised the prisoners freedom, safety for their families and millions of dollars from the agency's secret accounts.

"The A.P." says the system was carried out in a top secret Gitmo facility dubbed "Penny Lane". The program ended in 2006.

SAMBOLIN: Obamacare is headed back that the Supreme Court. The justices have agreed to hear two cases challenging the law's mandate providing that employers provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans.

So many religious are exempt, but some business owners say the rule forces them to violate their faith. The central issue is whether the Constitution protects the religious rights of for-profit companies. Lower courts have split in the cases which will be argued next spring.

And a Thanksgiving tradition at the White House. President Obama will pardon a turkey. A lucky turkey. This year, caramel and popcorn are the two turkeys that will have a chance to live out their lives at Mt. Vernon. They're adorable, aren't that? Nice and lump.

The first family will also take part in a community service event.

ROMANS: All right. Another market milestone for you. The NASDAQ closed above 4,000 for the first time in 13 years. The last time that happened all the way back from the dot-com bubble in 2000. It follows two other milestones last week. The S&P 500 hit 1,800. The Dow closed above 16,000.

I will say a drop in consumer confidence has been offset by strong housing news.

SAMBOLIN: A little early "Money Time" news. That's good news.

ROMANS: We'll have more for you later, too.

SAMBOLIN: And coming up, shocking allegations out of Arizona this morning. Did you hear about this? Three girls breaking out of a home where they say they have been held captive for years.

ROMANS: And terror at a Texas hospital where a man takes out a knife and begins to attack.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START.

A shocking story this morning from Arizona where three girls claim they were held in a home in Tucson for two years. These three girls are siblings, ages, 12, 13 and 17. And their mother and stepfather have now been arrested. Police say the three were malnourished. They were dirty. They told investigators they had not taken a bath up to six months. The youngest escaped when they say their stepfather broke down a door and threatened them. Neighbors simply amazed. Some didn't even know there were children in that home.


JESSIE CRUZ, NEIGHBOR: If there was kids, they never came out and played. We have kids all over the neighborhood. They had to try extra hard to keep themselves secluded. You know, obviously, somebody would have noticed something.


ROMANS: The mother and stepfather facing kidnapping and child abuse charges. The stepfather also accused of sexually abuse one of the girls.

SAMBOLIN: A Texas nurse is dead and four others injured after a stabbing rampage at a hospital east of Dallas. It happened at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview. Police say Kyron Rayshawn Templeton was visiting his mother at the hospital's ambulatory surgery center when he pulled out a knife and just started slashing people. The nurse, Gail Sandidge was on the staff for 35 years.


STEVE ALTMILLER, GOOD SHEPHERD MEDICAL CENTER: Nurses are protectors by nature. And Gail, she fit that profile. She was protecting her patients in an act of courage. In so doing, she lost her life.


SAMBOLIN: Such a sad story. I just wanted to mention that he also described her as a seamstress, a Sunday school teacher of 2-year-olds, a huge Baylor fan, a mother, a grandmother, a healer, a mentor. Just an amazing woman.

Police say they're still trying to figure out what was behind this attack. Templeton is in jail charged with murder and aggravated assault.

ROMANS: All right. A Connecticut judge has ordered that state officials release the 911 tapes from the Sandy Hook School massacre. The judge rejecting arguments that releasing the calls could cost emotional harm to the families of the victims, writing that while the calls are harrowing and disturbing, it is in the public's best interest to release them. He ordered officials to put them out by December 4th.

SAMBOLIN: O.J. Simpson has lost his bid for a new trial. A Nevada judge rejecting Simpson's claims that he was not properly represented by his lawyers when he was convicted of robbing a sports memorabilia dealer in 2007. The judge wrote that there was nothing to cause her to question the validity of the conviction. Simpson is likely to serve at least four more years in prison.

ROMANS: An Ohio school superintendent, two other employees are placed on leave, a day after being indicted and accused of lying and covering up the rape of a 16-year-old girl. The three all worked for the Steubenville schools, a city under close scrutiny since two football players were convicted earlier this year. The three school employees and the volunteer coach -- they are due in court on December 6th.

SAMBOLIN: Shocking new allegations against a Montana bride accused of pushing her husband off a cliff just eight gays after their June wedding. Federal prosecutors say 22-year-old Jordan Graham spoke of murdering her own mother and stepfather in the weeks before the ceremony. They say the comments will help them prove contempt. Graham was charged with first and second degree murder. She has pleaded not guilty.

ROMANS: The actor Alec Baldwin is out of a job, officially losing his MSNBC talk show after allegedly yelling a gay slur at a photographer. The cable channel and Baldwin's rep told he parting mutual. Baldwin told "Gothamist," he still disputes use the slur, insisted the, quote, "fundamentalist wing of gay advocacy" killed his show.

SAMBOLIN: So, a Chicago couple has won the right to marry months before a state law would actually allow them to marry. Sixty-four- year-old Vernita Gray is dying of cancer and wanted to exchange vows with her partner Patricia Ewert. But same sex marriage won't be legal in Illinois until June.

So, they went to a federal judge who ordered the Cook County clerk to issue a marriage license. They got that license Monday night.


PATRICIA EWERT: In sickness and health has real meaning to us.

VERNITA GRAY: The judge was so brave to do what he did. I'm just amazed.

EWERT: I've worked my whole life. I have a pension, I have Social Security. These are the things we work for in life for our families. Not to just disappear because I'm going to leave this Earth.


SAMBOLIN: My goodness, what bravery, right, to talk about that? They could wed as soon as today. The judge's decision only applies to this particular couple, but their lawyer says they expect they may hear from others in a similar situation.

ROMANS: All right. In today's "Road Warriors," we're talking about frequent flier miles, if you have a lot of them you may want to think about cashing them in soon. United and Delta are both making changes that could make it harder to get a free trip.

First, let's talk about United. It is raising the amount of miles to get a business or first class seat. Starting in February, you're going to need 25,000 more miles to get a first class trip to Europe. You're going to need even more to fly one United's partner airlines for free. Delta also increasing the number of miles you'll need for a free seat.

Say, if you're thinking of a trip to Hawaii -- right now, it takes 40,000 to get an economy class seat. Starting in February, you'll need 45,000. Expect even more changes coming in June. Both Delta and United say they have to charge more miles to offset their --

SAMBOLIN: Blah, blah, blah. So annoying.

All right. Coming up, a major contender in the Heisman race, putting on an incredible show last night. But will Jordan Lynch get in by -- who knows? Maybe, Andy Scholes, he joins us with the record breaking speech, next in the "Bleacher Report."

Plus, it's time for your morning rhyme. Tweet us with your own original verse. It can be anything. It doesn't to be travel or turkey or snow.

SAMBOLIN: But what if there's fun of turkey --


ROMANS: Hashtag earlystart and #morningrhyme. We're going to read the best ones on the air in our next half hour.


ROMANS: All right. LeBron James left the Cavs four years ago with the infamous decision. Fans in Cleveland outraged then. But now, they've started a movement to try to bring him back to his hometown.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I don't know. They were really mean-spirited.

Andy Scholes joins us now with more on this morning's "Bleacher Report."

What is going on?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey. Good morning, guys.

You know, after the decision, LeBron was pretty much the most hated athlete in Cleveland. Fans were even burning his jerseys in the street. But, you know, as we know, time heals all. A movement called "Come Home LeBron" has been started and tried to lurking James back to Cleveland this off-season, when he could be a free agent.

A group of fans started this movement. And they have a website. They even put up billboards around the city.

Now, LeBron and the Miami Heat play the Cavs in Cleveland tonight. This is interesting, instead of flying straight to Toronto after the game. The team is going to hang out and celebrate Thanksgiving at LeBron's home in Akron. All right. You might recognize this guy, his name is Alex Tanney. He was the quarterback for division 3 Monmouth College. He made this amazing trick shot video a few years ago.

Well, guess what? He's been signed to play quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Now, Browns troubles at quarterback are well- documented. They have had a league high, 20 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. Tanney is expected to back up Brandon Weeden this weekend.

All right. The lineup section on today, you'll see one of the biggest issue ever. Check it out. That's 800-pound fish known as a hookskate. Fisherman Mark Quartiano caught it off the shore of Miami Beach.


SCHOLES: He said it took four hours to haul that bad boy in, guys.

SAMBOLIN: And what is he going to do with it now?

SCHOLES: Who knows? That thing belongs in a museum.

ROMANS: That is not a fish. That is a beast.

SAMBOLIN: It is. It's big and ugly.

ROMANS: Someone will get Cuomo for his analysis of that fish. Cuomo, a big fisherman. All right.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Andy.

So, all your top headlines and everything you need to know for the day, right after the break.


SAMBOLIN: A Thanksgiving travel nightmare. Dozens of planes grounded. Even more delayed. And travelers take to get roads, not having a lot of luck there. A deadly storm coating streets with snow, ice and rain.

We have live coverage of the travel trouble at the airport and who electrical impacted by the storm today.

ROMANS: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START this Wednesday morning. I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John Berman today.

SAMBOLIN: Did you see Indra covering up?

ROMANS: I know.

SAMBOLIN: We're headed to her in a moment.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

ROMANS: All right. Grab your coat, grab your umbrella, maybe your snow boots, maybe your rain boots. And --

SAMBOLIN: It's crazy.

ROMANS: -- you know, take as much time as you can if you're heading anywhere on the East Coast today. A massive nor'easter bringing strong winds, heavy rains, snow to millions. You're messing up plans on one of the busiest travel days of the year.