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Stranded Families Rescued; Severe Winter Storm; Remembering Nelson Mandela

Aired December 11, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: An amazing story of survival. A family stranded in the wilderness surviving subzero temperatures. All the right decisions they made that kept them alive.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The East Coast smacked again by a powerful winter storm. The damage done and what's in store for people today.

SAMBOLIN: And the tribute continuing in South Africa for Nelson Mandela this morning. The public given a chance to honor a legend. We are live there.

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

SAMBOLIN: John Berman who never sleeps. I saw a bed in your office this morning

BERMAN: Snuggle pillow.

SAMBOLIN: All right. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Wednesday, December 11th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: A non-concussed Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, much better, much better.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to begin with a remarkable story from the mountains of Nevada. This is amazing. A family has been found alive and well after spending two days stranded in subzero temperatures, 21 below zero. Those searching for the two adults and for children expected the worse.

I spoke with rescuers who thought they weren't going to find anybody alive. But it appears some smart thinking saved lives.

Stephanie Elam has the story.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Zoraida, it's the outcome that everyone was hoping for and wasn't so sure it would be that way. Now, they're calling it a Christmas miracle that all the family members were found alive. No frostbite. They're all doing well. They're in stable condition, and they've been checked in at the hospital and they're gathered with family and friends. All of this after many searchers spent many hours after the family went missing on Sunday afternoon. They took off to play in the snow. But while out there, their car tipped over ever so slowly into some soft snow and went down into a ravine. They were actually tipped all the way over, so the car was upside down.

But the father, through his ingenuity, found a way to get rocks, build a fire and as those rocks, heated up, he'll give them to the kids, that they would hold them and stay warm. They didn't have food with them, but apparently, he had a candy bar. He divvied that up through the family throughout the time.

They're also saying that they also knew someone was looking for them, because they co-hear the helicopters. So, they just stayed together, one thing that rescuers said was really key, is that they stayed with the car, even though they couldn't turn on the engine and stay warm because it was upside down. They stayed together and that was the key to being found -- John and Zoraida.


BERMAN: One right decision after another. Our thanks to Stephanie Elam for that.

SAMBOLIN: Isn't that remarkable? And we've learned some things, right? So, if anybody find themselves in those circumstances, on, you can go, it tells you what are the five things they did right in order to survive this.

BERMAN: Number one, stay with the vehicle. That is so important.


BERMAN: Heating the rocks, the ingenuity there.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, great.

BERMAN: And those kids, I've never seen kids that well-behave.

All right. Two minutes after the hour. Here on the East Coast, Tuesday was a snowy, icy day, as much as five inches of snow falling in some areas, leading to a very bad time if you were trying to get around.

SAMBOLIN: Indeed, in Michigan, snow led to this massive 30-car pileup. This is not far from Grand Rapids. And, luckily, there were no injuries there. But those driving there say the roads got very slippery very fast.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whiteout conditions and, you know, I was driving about 35. I was driving don the road and I see a bunch of brake lights. I ended up trying to veer off the road. Next thing I know, I hit the car in front of me. And the semi truck hit me.


BERMAN: All right. The roads near Dayton, Ohio, were apparently too slick even for a snowplow. This overturned west of the city.

This is not supposed to happen. Luckily, the driver got out OK.

Overall, much of Ohio saw up to three inches of snow.

SAMBOLIN: And snow also leading to school delays and driving problems. This is Indiana, this is what it looked like in Indianapolis. Just an inch or two fell in that area.

BERMAN: And a building collapse in Arkansas blamed on last week's ice storm and continuing cold temperatures. The sun has been melting the nearly two inches of ice that built up, leading to refreezing and heavy weight on roofs, not used to handling that.

SAMBOLIN: All right. And in some of the Washington, D.C. area, they're waking up without power amid very frigid temperatures as well.

Trees that have come down over the weekend still have not been cleaned up and power lines down for a few hundreds customers in Maryland and Virginia.

BERMAN: Obviously, a giant mess for a lot of people.

Jennifer Gray tracking the forecast for us.

And the big freeze still hitting much of the country, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, yes, luckily, that system has pushed out of the Northeast. But the lake-effect snow that guys are talking about in Michigan, that will continue for yet another day. And if we look at the snow totals for yesterday, we had a couple of record-breaking days.

And this is for the daily snowfall amount. In Wilmington, Delaware, almost three inches of snow. And as you head into portions of New Jersey, New York, about 2 inches. Central Park, about 1 1/2 inches of snow yesterday.

So, we're dealing with that lake-effect snow across portions of Michigan, even upstate New York, as the system continues to push to the East over the next 24 hours or so. That will continue. We're talking very cold temperatures across much of the North, and those snowfall amounts, anywhere from three to five inches around Grand Rapids. Chicago could even pick up an inch or two, and then possibly a foot or more of snow in places like Buffalo, New York.

So, another very snowy day for the north. Of course that air from Canada is coming in, and it is leaving very, very cold temperatures. We have wind-chill advisories and warnings in effect all across the North with wind-chill values about 20, 30, even 40 degrees below zero, guys.

BERMAN: That was awful. Do that thing again you just did.

SAMBOLIN: Brrr! It is really cold. Do not dress like me. You need long sleeves on.

BERMAN: You look like a character from the Christmas special right there. That's awesome.

Jennifer, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

We're going to move on to the shocking news from Washington. House and Senate negotiators, Democrats and Republicans have actually agreed on something, finding common ground. It is a budget deal that could keep the government running through the fall of 2015.

Under the plan, about half of the spending cuts known as the sequester will be canceled. There will actually be funding increases for programs. Both sides say this is far from perfect. It is not their ideal plan. No one got everything they wanted but that's why it's called a compromise.


SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: I am very proud to stand here today, with Chairman Ryan, to announce we have broken through the partisanship and the gridlock and reached a bipartisan budget compromise that will prevent a budget shut down in January.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I see this as an agreement as a step in the right direction. In a divided government, you don't always get what you want. That said, we still can make progress towards our goals. I see this agreement as that kind of progress. It's a step in the right direction.


BERMAN: So the House could vote on this plan by the end of this week. The Senate is likely to take it up next week in time for the Christmas holiday.

So, there are votes here, no one is counting chickens, bipartisan or otherwise, in Washington.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Seven minutes past the hour.

Meanwhile, President Obama is seeing a slight rebound in the public opinion of the job he's doing. But most Americans still are not happy with him. A CBS News/"The New York Times" poll shows 42 percent of Americans now approve of the president's performance. It was only at 37 percent last month, after the problem-plagued rollout of the Obamacare Web site. But half of Americans still say they disapprove of the job he's doing.

BERMAN: Forty-two percent approval is good news.

SAMBOLIN: Right now, yes. BERMAN: The NSA may be tracking what you do on the Internet.

Documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the agency is secretly using Internet cookies to conduct some of its surveillance operations, using the same methods and even the same tracking files as advertising networks to find out what sites you visit what articles you click on. The NSA is declining to comment on this report.

SAMBOLIN: Former CIA Director Leon Panetta spilled secret information about the bin Laden raid to a Hollywood screenwriter. So, that is according to a newly declassified document released Tuesday. In a speech at CIA headquarters, Panetta revealed the U.S. Special Forces ground commander who led the 2011 raid. "Zero Dark Thirty" writer Mark Boal was at that speech. Panetta said he had no idea that Boal was there.

BERMAN: Now to South Africa where the public remembrances for Nelson Mandela continue this morning, a day after world leaders pay tribute to the late South African leader. Thousands are expected to file past his casket now lying in state in Pretoria.

Isha Sesay is there.

Isha, it was such an emotional day yesterday. So, what's the mood like today?

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it was emotional yesterday, but it was also joyous at the memorial service we saw at FNB Stadium in Soweto. We saw scenes of people singing and dancing, united as one, celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela. And today, here at the Union Buildings in Pretoria which is the seat of government for the South African authorities, it is very, very different. It is much more somber. It is much more reflective. And there's just really a great sense of sadness hanging in the air here.

Now, the early hours of the morning have been reserved for VIPs and dignitaries to come here and pay their respects. We have seen the likes of Bono, and supermodel Naomi Campbell. We've seen presidents of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, as well as presidents from various parts of the world, all file past the body of Nelson Mandela.

We have seen tears, John, outward signs of the grief that people feel. And, you know, I think it speaks to the fact that this was a man loved by all, you know? All people from all walks of life -- heads of government, heads of state, and, you know, leaders of pop culture and showbiz, all here to pay their respects.

But, John, I really want to mark one moment that really stood out to me. And that was seeing Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel, as she came here to pay her respects to her departed husband.

And she was just heartbroken. It was clear for all to see. She's being held up by two companions.

She was sobbing. She was sobbing quite frankly. And you could tell that bereft, she had lost her partner. And I think it really speaks to the fact that something we've talked about in the past days, that he was ill. He was old. People had been preparing themselves for this. But the reality of seeing his remains really brings it home to them. They're the father of this democracy and the pillar of the Mandela family has gone -- John.

BERMAN: It's such a public event this week. It's nice that people are having some private moments to say good-bye there. Obviously, very emotional.

Isha Sesay --


BERMAN: -- in Pretoria for us -- thanks so much. Appreciate it.

It is 10 minutes after the hour.

And coming up, al Qaeda moves into Syria. The terror group is making a claim in the country's civil war as journalists and human rights activists go missing. We are live with the latest developments.

SAMBOLIN: And an amazing catch in San Diego. A marine reeling in a great white shark. Guess where he is? He's right on the beach.

BERMAN: And that is a real shark, folks.

SAMBOLIN: This is all caught on camera for you.


Plus, it is time for your morning rhyme.

Tweet us with your own original verse. It can be about anything. The hashtags are #earlystart and #morningrhyme. We'll read the best ones on the air in our next half hour.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Dramatic developments in Ukraine this morning where police have now stormed a protest camp in Kiev Independence Square, clashing with thousands of demonstrators.

Take a look at that.

They have been there for months. They're angrily protesting against the government of the president. It is not clear if anyone was injured. But those in the square are pledging that they are not going anywhere.

BERMAN: Quite a scene.

In Syria, a new spate of kidnappings amid the fighting against the Assad regime, and in-fighting between rebel groups. Human rights activist Razan Zeitouneh and her husband and two colleagues were taken near an office near Damascus. That as two Spanish journalists were also abducted near the Turkish border. The captors are believed to be from an al Qaeda-linked group that is also battling the Assad government.

Nick Paton Walsh following developments for us from Beirut this morning.

Nick, this is always so trouble when you start seeing kidnappings.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, and this really shows the growing influence of the radical al Qaeda- linked group, the Islamic states of Iraq and Syria. We don't know who abducted Ms. Zeitouneh, a human rights activist, one of many to be held captive.

But yesterday, we heard an emotional plea from relatives of Javier Espinoza, a long time serving Middle East correspondent for the Spanish "El Mundo" newspaper and French Ricardo Garcia Villanova, a Spanish freelance journalist. They were both abducted 11 weeks ago. That was kept secret to try and get negotiations going, but the wife of Mr. Espinoza, Monica Prieto, gave an emotional plea saying, look, we've reached an impasse with the captors. She basically appealed to them to release her husband.


MONICA PRIETO, WIFE OF KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST: Javier and Ricardo have traveled a dozen times to Syria, to document war crimes, risking their lives, and becoming brothers with the Syrians and they feel the misery of the humanitarian crisis. They have done so because we believe the Syrian people need our work and that we must live up to our responsibility.

But you, as Syrians, also have a responsibility to help all those who have defended you. Javier and Ricardo are not your enemy. Press honor the revolution they protect, and set them free.


WALSH: The key point she made there was these are two men who put themselves at great risk, devoted much (AUDIO GAP) of their life to bring to get outside world the radical group --


BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Nick Paton Walsh there, a troubling situation with innocents, journalists, human rights activists being caught in the middle of this civil war that still rages in Syria.

SAMBOLIN: Seventeen minutes past the hour.

Two British nationals have now pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in Connecticut. The men are accused of running a Web site to raise money and solicit donations for al Qaeda and the Taliban. The funds were used to support militants fighting in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Sentencing is scheduled for March 4th. Both time have requested to serve their time in the U.K.

BERMAN: Actress Shannon Guess Richardson has pleaded guilty to sending ricin-laced letters to President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Richardson had tried to blame her ex-husband for sending the tainted letters. Now, she has admitted it was her. With her plea deal in Texas federal court, the actress avoids a possible life sentence. Prosecutors say she'll now get at most 18 years in prison.


Suspicious or justifiable? The Texas rangers have been ka called in to investigate the shooting death of a college honor student by a campus police officer. This is in San Antonio. Police say 23-year- old Cameron Redus was driving erratically last Friday. When he was pulled over, he resisted arrest, grabbed the officer's baton and attacked. That's when the police say the officer shot him five times.

The Redus family says they do believe the police account.

BERMAN: NSTB hearings are set for the crash of an Asiana airliner at San Francisco International Airport last July. They were supposed to start on Tuesday but were postponed by the snowstorms that hit the East Coast. Investigators say this is part of the fact-finding process as they investigated the crash hat killed three and injured more than 180. The key question is the pilots relied who heavily on the plane's automated systems.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Let's switch gears here. Ninety minutes past the hour.

How's this for an unlikely catch on a California beach I might add? It's a great white shark. Marine Jazz Fangman (ph) hooked the young female shark near Camp Pendleton while visiting the beach with his wife and his young daughter. He had just moved west from a Gulf Coast where he says he had hooked many sharks before. But catching a great white on a California beach, I don't think anybody expected that.

Just listen to his wife's reaction.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Look at it. Oh -- oh, my God. Oh, my God.


SAMBOLIN: I would not have been doing any of that. It is illegal to catch a great white. So, Fangman quickly set the shark free. He said it took 25 minutes to reel it in, and he was pretty exhausted by the time it was all over.

BERMAN: I like his name is Fangman. Fangman versus the shark. I'll go with the Fangman on that one. Well done, sir.

All right. In today's "Road Warriors", we're in the middle of one of the busiest seasons. When it comes to airline delays, the bad weather in recent days, not helping at all.

But what do the airlines actually owe you if your flight is grounded? Policies differ for each airline, but most of them try to put you on the next flight if there's an available seat.

Depending on the situation that could mean a wait of a few hours even a few days. If your flight is canceled, you may be able to get a refund if you decide not to get on any other flight. Don't think you'll get anything from the airline if there are mechanical issues with the plane.

One of your best bets is to avoid the drama by signing out for flight alerts from the airline. That way, if you find out your flight won't be taking off, you'll be able to make other plans.

SAMBOLIN: How many times --

BERMAN: Why are you laughing at me?

SAMBOLIN: I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing at all of this information. How many times have you gotten to the airport and that's when you get that crazy alert?

BERMAN: Oh, yes, it always happens the minute I get there. I just slept all the way there, packed the bag, everything else, and it's like, six phones start ringing --

SAMBOLIN: What can you do but be patient, folks, really?

All right. Coming up, he led the Crimson Tide to three national championship but could Alabama be about to lose Coach Nick Saban? Andy Scholes joins us in the "Bleacher Report" to explain this one.

That's coming up next.


BERMAN: In the middle of the rumor mill again? The biggest name in college football may soon be changing his address? For real?

SAMBOLIN: I believe this one.

BERMAN: The Nick Saban to Texas rumors are heating up. This was the rage on social media yesterday.

Andy Scholes now with the "Bleacher Report."

For real, Andy?

SAMBOLIN: For real.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: You know what? I think it's for real. The Alabama fan base, whoo, they're in crisis lockdown mode right now. Reports are that Mack Brown is going to step down as the head coach of the Longhorns on Friday. And Texas is preparing to do whatever it takes to get Nick Saban.

Now, Twitter has been going nuts over this. There are reports that Texas who has the highest revenue of any college football team, is ready to offer Saban as much as $10 million a year. Now, everyone in Austin is on the lookout for Saban. As a joke, this is pretty funny. Someone at the Austin airport got on the P.A. and they said, Nick Saban, your car is waiting for you.

Of course, everyone ran around like crazy looking for him.

All right. One of the top stories on today, imagine this -- American football in the Olympics. Talk about a sport where you could just hand the United States the gold medal. This is a possibility now because the International Olympic Committee has recognized football as an international sport. It's still pretty far off from happening, if it is added it would likely be seven on seven format where it's just quarterbacks and receivers.

All right. Mike Tyson is currently touring the world promoting his new autobiography, "The Undisputed Truth." But he can't go to Great Britain because, get this, he's now banned from entering the United Kingdom. Tyson served three years of a six-year sentence for rape conviction in the '90s. And under new immigration laws, anyone sentence to more than four years in prison is barred from entering the country.

All right. My favorite story of the day. Houston Texans all pro receiver Andre Johnson spent $17,000 on toys for a dozen underprivileged kids and their siblings. The kids were allowed to grab as many toys as they could in 80 seconds at a Houston-area Toys "R" Us.


ANDRE JOHNSON, HOUSTON TEXANS: Or, whatever they have on their Christmas list, they can pick up. So, that's the reason why I do it.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I think he's awesome for doing this. Yes. And I like toys and shopping.


SCHOLES: Hey, guys, this is the seventh year that Johnson has given toys to kids. They're picked from Child Protective Services. And, guys, this is so cool of Johnson. It's every kids' dream, right, to go in a toy store and grab whatever you can.

BERMAN: Yes, I do it.

SCHOLES: Yes, me too.

SAMBOLIN: I like toys. That's a great story.

Thank you, Andy.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

SCHOLES: How are you doing?

BERMAN: All right.

The top headlines and what's to come on the day ahead. We'll tell you all about it, right after the break.