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Longest-Held American Hostage; Storm Causing Travel Chaos; Holiday Travel Nightmare; Trains Rolling on Getaway Day; U.S. Challenges China Air Defense Zone; Police Rescue Three Arizona Girls

Aired November 27, 2013 - 08:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Can they get all of their flights off the ground this morning?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN NCHOR: Bad deal, President Obama struck a temporary agreement with Iran but no mention of Americans being hold hostage there. Some of the families are angry, one speaks out to us.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Your "NEW DAY" continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: What you need to know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just coasting going about three miles an hour and I just about got in a car accident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I get on the highway, next thing I know, I'm spinning.

ANNOUNCER: What you just have to see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it will make them feel they are appreciated and we do know they're fighting for us.

ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.


BOLDUAN: Good morning. And welcome back to "NEW DAY", everyone. It is Wednesday, November 27th, 8:00 in the East.

You can almost taste the turkey, but you have to get there first. A monster storm stretching all the way up the East Coast, presenting some serious challenges for holiday travelers. It's been a little bit of everything, or a lot in most cases, rain, wind, ice, and snow.

CUOMO: And just poorly placed because major airport hubs are right in the path of the storm, including the three New York City area airports. Nearly 100 flights already canceled, more expected. Most people traveling to their Thanksgiving destinations will be driving and if you're hitting the road you're going to need some patience especially if you're riding shotgun. We've got it all covered -- from the weather delays, what's going on in the air and the road, the rails, everywhere we can. Let's zero in on the storm itself.

For that we have Indra Petersons. She's live in Coraopolis, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

What's the status, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I think you nailed it. It's location, location, location. And I will add, timing, timing, timing. I mean, the worst day of the year to have a major storm system in these major hubs.

And, of course, today, right before Thanksgiving, people trying to take the day off, get out early and right now, we're talking about the time period we'll see the strongest rain, strongest snow and the heaviest winds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-five to 10 miles per hour --

PETERSONS (voice-over): A massive and powerful nor'easter pummeled the Northeast overnight, bringing heavy snow and rain and causing dangerous icy roads. Satellite images from space captured the storm at one point, stretching from Florida to Nova Scotia. A storm that's affecting more than 43 million travelers as they brave the elements to be with loved ones this Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, the Southeast walloped by heavy rain.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Atlanta, steady rain is causing some headaches. The roads are wet. They're slick, and they're causing some problems for the afternoon commute.

PETERSONS: Snow has already blanketed parts of the Midwest. In Wisconsin, crews scramble to keep up with the icy roadways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a point where there's nothing you can do, it's flair ice and just a passenger in your own car.

PETERSONS: The nor'easter already blamed for scores of accidents and at least a dozen deaths.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN REPORTER: We're here in Irwin, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh. This region could see between five and nine inches of snow. State transportation official tells me that about 135 crews will be out in force in over 80 trucks trying to battle this downfall.

PETERSONS: In Arkansas, freezing rain led to this 12-car pile-up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I get on the highway, next thing I know I'm spinning. PETERSONS: And up to a foot of snow is possible in western parts of New York and northwest Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, winds are expected to intensify over the Northeast and into Thanksgiving morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy Thanksgiving!

PETERSONS: Those winds leaving the fate of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons up in the air.


PETERSONS: We talked the heavy rain and heavy snow. Never a good thing with all the people trying to make it out on the roadways, driving on icy roads, never a good situation and, of course, when the rain and snow tapers off by tomorrow, we're still going to be left with strong winds, never a good thing in you're traveling by air.

BOLDUAN: That's right, Indra. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about the worst of the snow expected in parts of western and Upstate New York where they're quite familiar with lake-effect snow.

George Howell is in Amherst, New York, outside of Buffalo.

Hi there, George.


So Buffalo residents, they're used to this sort of thing. The concern, you know, is the people who are traveling through this region who may not be accustomed to the snow that fell. And I want to show you here in western New York, I mean, the snowfall is substantial right here in the suburbs of Buffalo, we're looking at anywhere from three to four inches of snow and I also want to go to the camera over here that we've set up just to show you the roads.

What we're dealing with here is a wet, heavy, thick snow and slushy on the roads. There's also the concern about black ice and that could be treacherous for travelers, a lot of people taking to the roads this Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

I want to come back to our other camera here, looking live at these power lines, again, it's a heavy snow, and we've seen several power outages, hundreds of people who are out of power, waiting to be restored here in the Buffalo area. We are seeing also the possibility here of more lake-effect snow. So we could have more snow showers as the day goes on.

COUMO: All right. George, thank you very much. We'll check back in with you. Now, look, the reality here -- there's the good and the bad.

Here's the good: there are a lot of people who are watching us right now in airports. The bad part is, you don't want to be, because you want to be getting on your flights. But throughout the day, the delays are going to get longer and longer and the reason is obvious, the massive nor'easter is creating chaos at the busiest airline hubs because they're in its path, and, obviously, that's going to mean delay.

So, let's check in. Give you the latest.

Rene Marsh is keeping an eye on the sky for us. She's at Reagan National Airport this morning, but she's looking at the entire country.

What do we know, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you here at Reagan, we are starting to see those delays start to stack up, they are ranging anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half, places like Philadelphia experiencing lay its on planes coming in as well as LaGuardia.

Bottom line is, folks, if you are trying to get to your destination, you may have to add a little extra time onto your trip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the end of the day, no one can control Mother Nature.

MARSH (voice-over): The ripple effect of this nasty nor'easter causing problems into the night for air travelers. The timing and sheer size of the storm could not be worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A storm this large throughout the East Coast is going to have some effect on the flight system.

MARSH: With just hours before Thanksgiving, delays and cancellations adding up quickly as the storm pummels some of the nation's busiest airports.

On average, one in 10 flights go through New York airports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With 80 percent of our airports touching the congested Northeast, we're acutely aware things can go wrong relatively quickly.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Those planes aren't trying to land.

MARSH: Some flights circled airports in the south Tuesday until they could lapped. Low clouds and heavy rain delaying one in three flights, taking off late from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The weather here delayed her flight.

MARSH: Some air travelers deciding to change their plans in hopes of beating the storm.

HAROLD ROTHMAN, TRAVELER: I was very happy, I booked the day I did, because I booked tomorrow, probably get delayed.

MARSH: The Peterson family planned on driving from North Virginia to Massachusetts, but changed their minds after seeing the forecast. They got a last-minute flight instead.

JENNIFER PETERSON, TRAVELER: It was painful. We could have gone to the Bahamas for a lot less I think.

MARSH: Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate with the great Thanksgiving escape. Once we get through today, forecasters and travelers alike look ahead to Sunday, the busiest travel day of the year.


MARSH: All right, so people making their way to the lines here, everyone hoping that they don't get the bad news that they are getting delayed.

I want to give you just a little bit of information about specific airports, we know Philly is seeing delays for arriving flights, about an hour and 55 minutes on average. LaGuardia, also because of that wind, seeing delays on arriving flights on average, 59 minutes. So the list will go on, it will get longer and these delays, unfortunately, will continue to stack up as we go through the morning.

Back to you.

BOLDUAN: Hope for the best but plan for something a little less than that when you're headed to the airports. Thank you so much.

The crowds not isolated to just the roads and the airports. The nation's railways are also expecting a heavy influx of travelers this holiday.

Let's go live to New York's Penn Station, that's where we find CNN's Alexandra Field this morning. Good morning, Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. We know Thanksgiving travel is always a gamble but if you had bet on the trains this morning, so far, we got good news. You are winning.

Take a look at the big board in Penn Station, the trains are running on time, almost across the word, just one delay posted at the moment.

Amtrak says, system-wide, they have no major delays to report. That's great news for holiday travelers. But if you are coming out to get on a train, expect a big crowd. Amtrak says it will carry 140,000 passengers today, that's double the volume of a normal Wednesday.

Every train in the system is running today, extra seats have been added to some routes to accommodate the extra travelers. Last year, Amtrak had a record number of travelers during Thanksgiving travel season. This year, they are hoping to keep up and if your travel plans have been railroaded for some reason by the weather, Amtrak says they do still has a few seats open -- Michaela. PEREIRA: All right, Alexandra. We wish everyone traveling today the best of luck getting to their destination.

Let's give you a look at what is making news at this hour: Heightened tension this morning between the U.S. and China, after two American B- 52 bombers flew into disputed air space over the East China Sea earlier this week, a direct challenge to China's claims of sovereignty over the region.

The flights were conducted without incident. Beijing says it identified and monitored the B-52s and will continue to exercise effective control over the disputed air space.

A disturbing story out of Arizona this morning: three girls say they were imprisoned in their family home in Tucson for two years. The three are siblings. They are ages 12, 13 and 17. Police say the girls were malnourished and living in filthy conditions. The youngest who escaped when their stepfather broke down a door and threatened them. Their mother and stepfather are now facing kidnapping and child abuse charges.

A Texas nurse is dead, stabbed to death while defending patients from a man with a knife. Witnesses say Gail Sandidge rushed to help when she heard screams at a surgical center in Longview, Texas. Four others were injured. Police later arrested Kyron Templeton near the hospital. He's been arraigned on charges of murder and aggravated assault.

The Supreme Court will take up a new Obamacare dispute. The justices will hear two cases challenging the law's mandate that requires employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance. Many religious organizations are exempt, but some business owners say the rule forces them to violate their faith. Lower courts have been divided on the issue. These cases will be argued next spring.

You know, there are buzzer beaters and then there are buzzer beaters. Check out this shot third quarter court winning shot by Huntington University senior Shane Merman (ph) last night, nothing but net! Merman made it all the way to ESPN's "Sports Center" as number one on the network's top ten play. Nothing but net.

CUOMO: There was good defense on the play. Just saying.

PEREIRA: And the crowd goes wild!

BOLDUAN: There's nothing better than those moments.

PEREIRA: I've been dreaming doing one of those.

CUOMO: Yes, I've only experienced them the other way.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. I throw it in, oh it didn't make it to the rim at all.

CUOMO: Shoot it.

BOLDUAN: That's a throw. That's not a shot. Come on, be with me on this.

CUOMO: It was great. I'll give it to you, I'm thankful for you today. You got it. You got it. It was a great throw.

Coming up on "NEW DAY", he's the longest held American hostage in history. The question is, why, with all these negotiations going on with Iran, why is former FBI agent Robert Levinson not on the table to be brought back home?

We're going to speak exclusively with his wife and son about their efforts to bring them home.

BOLDUAN: We're keeping you updated on travel woes, a live picture from the road, that's our Pamela Brown outside of New York.

CUOMO: That is the face of pain on the road.

BOLDUAN: That's the face of I'm stuck in traffic. She's been on the road all morning long and she's going to tell us what drivers can expect.


CUOMO: Welcome back to "NEW DAY". As we've reported, the U.S. recently struck a deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Not part of the deal is something you need to know about, the release of at least three American hostages thought to be held there. One of those hostages is former FBI agent, Robert Levinson, that's who you're looking at. He was taken in the Iranian island of Kish in 2007, making him the longest held American hostage in history.

Levinson family is fighting for any information regarding his condition or whereabouts. Joining us now is Robert's wife, Christine Levinson and his son, Dan Levinson as well. Thank you to both of you for joining us.



CUOMO: I wish there were more cause to be thankful for this situation, but hopefully, we can change that by keeping the word out there especially with Iran being in the national dialogue right now. And Christine, let me start with you. Tell us who your husband is. What happened to him?

CHRISTINE LEVINSON: My husband is Robert Levinson. He went on a business trip to Kish Island, which is part of Iran, and it was supposed to be a 24-hour trip, and he never left there. Unfortunately, that was March 9th, 2007, and we have never heard anything about his whereabouts since then. His passport has not been seen. We have not received any recent information about him, although, I do believe he is safe and will come home to us soon. CUOMO: Dan, the picture that we're seeing of your father, we believe, right? What are the circumstances of this photo? What's the best guess as to why he's in Iran? What can you tell us?

D. LEVINSON: I'm assuming that you're showing the orange jumpsuit photos e-mailed to us.

CUOMO: Yes. I'm sorry.

D. LEVINSON: -- in April, 2011, and we were -- e-mailed those photos, there are about other five of them and he's holding messages which we're still trying to understand the actual meaning behind the messages. And, he looks very different from when we last saw him. He was visibly thinner. He has an unkempt beard, long hair, and it does worry us, but at the same time, we were happy to see that he's alive and relatively well, being treated relatively well, but it's concerning to us because we haven't heard anything since those last photos.

CUOMO: Of course, it is. I mean, this has got to be a panic for you every day and that's why we're trying to help because it's a little confusing. Let me just ask one more question and then we'll get into the obvious about what needs to be done now. Is there any reason to believe he's somewhere else?

Is there any good explanation that the state department or any authority or agency in the United States government could offer for why he may be somewhere else, because there was a recent report that I think it was Ahmadinejad, an Iranian official, had somewhat alluded to the fact that your father was there. Is that accurate?

C. LEVINSON: He was last seen in Iran on Kish Island. That's the only information we have about his travels. As I said earlier, his passport has never been seen anywhere else. But six and a half years have passed and we don't know exactly where he is at this moment in time.

CUOMO: When you go to the state department, when you ask the government for help, what do they tell you?

C. LEVINSON: They are working as hard as they can to get him home. Unfortunately, he disappeared in the country of Iran, and it is very hard to get anything done there. We need the officials in Iran to help us and make sure that Bob is safe and get him home to us.

CUOMO: And that's where the frustration comes in, certainly, Dan, for you, where right now, we're negotiating with Iran, right now, we're discussing what should be on the table in terms of establishing trust. There has been some news reporting given to Pastor Abedini, who has been held there supposedly for his practice of Christianity. Your father wasn't really on the radar. Did you make efforts to them? Do you think he should be part of this negotiation?

D. LEVINSON: We've been told and the U.S. officials have been saying in recent days that he's brought up in every opportunity to have on the sidelines of these negotiations, and they're going to continue to press his case and we have no doubt that the U.S. government is doing everything they can.

Something I'd like to note that was very important for us was during that phone call two months ago between President Obama and President Rouhani, which is the first direct contact between the leaders of two countries in 34 years, President Obama did bring up my dad's case and we think that was very big for us and shows how important it is to the U.S. government and we're very grateful for President Obama bringing that up and we're just hoping that President Rouhani and his administration can follow up on that request.

CUOMO: Yes. And thank you for correcting me, because I said Ahmadinejad. It's Rouhani. It's the newly elected leader there. And it was President Obama and there was an Aleutian (ph) made and my understanding from the reporting is that Rouhani didn't say, who are you talking about, or you know, he's not here. And obviously, that gives some credence to the suggestion that he is. Is that your take as well?

DAN LEVINSON: Well, we don't know what he actually said back or what was discussed. All we know was that he was brought up and President Obama noted the importance of bringing him home. There are other reports from when Ahmadinejad was interviewed years previous, but we're focused on the new administration and they seem very willing to cooperate with the U.S. on a number of issues and we're just hoping our dad's returned home to us is one of those.

CUOMO: Fourth year you can't or you don't want is what, I believe, the sign says that was hung around your father there. You said you've been struggling to make sense of that. I'm sure you're trying to make sense of all of this, Christine. It's such an unnatural circumstance to be in. Let the people watching the show know who is missing right now. Who is this man? Who is he to you? What does he represent to your family?

C. LEVINSON: Bob is a wonderful man. He is my whole life. We will be married for 40 years on our next anniversary. We have seven children. We were living the American dream. We had a happy family, and Bob had business. He was running his own business and doing well and then this happened and our whole world fell apart. We now miss him at every occasion since he disappeared.

There have been numerous graduations. Two daughters have gotten married. We have a new grandson who was born just a month ago. Another grandson will be born in February. We have a granddaughter who is going to be five years old in December, and Bob knows nothing about any of these children. It's extremely difficult for our family, because this is something that can be resolved.


C. LEVINSON: The people who have Bob need to send him home to his family. Six and a half years is far too long.

CUOMO: And this man, your husband, did work in the FBI, but this wasn't an FBI caper gone wrong. This was a business trip just to make that clear, is that correct, Dan? C. LEVINSON: Correct. Bob retired from the FBI in 1998.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you both. I'm sorry to have to meet you this way and have this discussion, especially so close to the holidays, but you have to keep hope alive for this. We'll keep this story and discussion especially while negotiations are ongoing and they're trying to establish trust between the countries. Certainly, this should be on the agenda. Let us know how we can help keep this story going.

C. LEVINSON: Thank you.

D. LEVINSON: Thanks for keeping the word out.

C. LEVINSON: We appreciate this.

CUOMO: All right. And to the rest of your family and you, a Happy Thanksgiving.

C. LEVINSON: Thank you.

D. LEVINSON: Same to you.

CUOMO: Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Chris.

Coming up next on "NEW DAY", a severe weather playbook, how do major airlines handle a massive storm on a huge holiday travel day? We'll take you live inside the operations center of United Airlines.

And then, Black Friday, the retail stampede where everyone looks for bargains. It's right around the corner but buyer beware. Some retailers have things up their sleeves to possibly fool you into thinking you're saving big. We have what you need to know.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to "NEW DAY", everyone. A nasty winter storm moving across the country, creating chaos for holiday travelers. Snow and ice and much, much more making treacherous road conditions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York. Flights are already being canceled or delayed at major northeast airports with ripple effects felt across the country.

Passengers face the very real possibility of being stranded on Thanksgiving Day. We hope we are wrong on this. We promise you that we hope we are wrong on this one. CNN is covering this like no other network can. Let's begin with Indra Petersons in the snowy suburb of Pittsburgh.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Kate, this is exactly what we were worried about. This is the worst time of the entire storm. We're talking about the heaviest rain, the heaviest snow falling down and the strongest winds. As we get throughout later today, things will start to taper off, but right now, unfortunately, this is going to continue to affect millions of people trying to get out ahead of the holiday, the biggest travel day of the year.

And take a look at this, we're still talking about rain going all the way from the northeast stretching back down even towards the Carolinas, slowly exiting as its making its way farther to the north. The front side, if you're closer to the coastline, you're still talking about rain. You're seeing that moisture coming out of the south.

If you're on the back side of the storm system, you're talking about snow just like we're seeing here in Pittsburgh. So, definitely, a lot to be talking about today. We've already seen a lot of snow already in many places. A lot of the places are cleaning up with the snow and ice already on the ground. A lot of places in Ohio. And you saw anywhere from six to eight inches of snow already. Now, if you are near the lakes, you're seeing about a foot of snow still possible in the forecast today.

Of course, those totals will taper down the farther south you go. So maybe just some flurries out towards Kentucky and Tennessee. Now, again, as we go forward in time today, things will start to taper off. So, the hardest and heaviest rain in these morning hours, even as much as two to four inches of rain can be seen in the northeast today. We already talked around the lakes maybe a foot of snow right up from that lake-effect snow.

And then, as you go through the afternoon, things taper off. It looks like it's getting better. That rain and snow goes away, but unfortunately, the winds are going to be the strong thing. We're going to be staying here even as we go in through Thanksgiving -- Chris and Kate.

CUOMO: All right. Indra, thank you for that part of it. Now, those same conditions are going to make for a scary drive for almost 39 million people who are expected to get behind the wheel for the obvious holiday trips to make. Many major corridors are already clogged with drivers between work and the vacation travel, and that includes Interstate 95, which is outside New York City but really stretches down the East Coast.

That's why we asked Pamela Brown to be there who was exhibiting a very unhappy travel face before, but now, you're looking a little bit better, a little bit of smile working out there. What are you seeing on the roads?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You got to keep a smile when you're traveling on a day like today, Chris, because let me tell you something, this is not going to be a fun day for a lot of travelers hitting the road. Thirty-nine million Americans expected to hit the road, and the weather is expected to add insult to injury, just not a good ingredient here.

We've already learned that there have been several accidents this morning. In fact, I-76 in Philadelphia, major highway there, the westbound side of that highway, is closed. We've learned due to an accident where one person was killed and then there's only one lane open on the other side of the highway because of flooding there.