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Holiday Travel Nightmare; Theatre Ceiling Collapse; Target's Costly Credit Attack

Aired December 20, 2013 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Holiday travel nightmare. Severe weather set to wreak havoc on the country this weekend -- more than a hundred million people, 30 states in its path. Our Indra Petersons is tracking the storm for you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A theater ceiling collapses during a live performance with hundreds of people sitting below. Appear moments of share chaos, we have new developments this morning and live with the latest.

ROMANS: New details this morning on the massive credit card security breach at Target. Target could be on the line for hundreds of millions of dollars and its customers feel the pain of identity theft.

BERMAN: Yet, not what you want during the shopping season.

ROMANS: Not the story that Target wants to talk about the holiday shopping season as well.

BERMAN: No, not at all.

Good morning, everyone. On that note, welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: It's Friday. I'm Christine Romans. December 20th, five days to go if you don't have your shopping done. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: So, you know what stinks this morning? The forecast. Just in time for the holiday travel rush, 100 million of us could be grounded at the annoying airport, mired on the heinous highway. Just off exit 13.

That's right. Smack right in the middle of the busy travel times of the year, storms are ranging across 30 states.

ROMANS: And look, this impact is already being felt in Utah. Heavy snow and ice made a mess for drivers near Salt Lake City. Some areas about eight inches of snow, some places around Salt Lake City. It even shut down the Salt Lake City airport for a few hours.


BERMAN: Wow. You see that?

The snow is being blamed for that explosion of a power line that was also near Salt Lake City. Wow.

It knocked out electricity to many residents and businesses. And at the height of the storm, some 13,000 customers lost power in Utah.


MARGARET OLER, SPOKESPERSON: As this storm front moved across, it began to blow contaminants into the system and to facilities.

BRAD BARBER, OWNER, FREESTYLE SUSHI: We got to work this morning and the telephone pole in front of the store was on fire.


ROMANS: Severe weather out West could also be to blame for a series of bus crashes in southern California. One person was killed, dozens were killed. Authorities say the separate incidents happened on highways soaked by rain showers. One fatality was a passenger partially thrown through her tour bus window.

The driver says the bus suddenly just spun out of control.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He felt the bus start to fish tail or veer to the left a little bit, he tried to overcorrect back to the right and that caused the bus to kind of spin around in the lanes.


ROMANS: At least one other person was seriously injured in one of the other crashes in southern California.

BERMAN: So, like we said, this is a mess, a lot of people heading to the roads and trying to get flights this weekend.

Indra Petersons, why do you do this to us?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Of course, there was Thanksgiving and wasn't enough for me. So, now, of course, we go to the next holiday. I just want to one up here, yes.

Once again, we're talking about the same issues. Several systems making their way through the first one, today, is the lighter system but nonetheless, it will still cause some problems. Light rain right now into the Ohio Valley. Also around Madison, also we're talking about Grand Rapids, seeing some freezing rain currently and then farther north currently seeing some of that light snow.

This system will push off to the Northeast and then you'll start to notice not only the icing concerns here in the morning but that light rain will spread all the way into the Northeast. Pretty dry system. This is not the one we're all talking about that we are concerned with primarily as we go through the weekend here.

First thing I want to show you. You got to notice, all the moisture going into the Southeast. That is key. That's going to enhance any system that makes its way through the region.

So, let's take a look now. Here comes the low, the second one making its way through. Notice, it's really fueling even more moisture into there.

So, Ohio Valley, down to the Mississippi Valley, heavy rain and flooding concerns, anywhere from three to five inches of rain is going to be seen with this.

Then, that low goes higher north, where it's colder, right? From the back side of it, heavy snow right around the lakes and notice the icing conditions are going to start to play as you go into the northeast especially Sunday. So, New Hampshire, Vermont, in through Maine. We're talking about potentially a good ice storm out there, farther south, light rain and visibility issues and the snow continues to pummel right behind it. So, that's going to be the concern here.

Unfortunately, it's not the only one into the Southeast. I showed you all of that warm air and moisture there. Severe thunderstorms, even a moderate risk into the Southeast for the next several days.

BERMAN: Going to be a difficult weekend. Thanks, Indra.

ROMANS: Busy day on Indra's beat today, no question.

All right. We are finding out more about the massive credit card breach at Target and just how much it will cost the retail giant. Try hundreds of millions of dollars. Experts say the price tag for dealing with this breach could total more than $600 million. That includes the price of credit monitoring and replacing stolen cards, reimbursing consumers for fraudulent charges.

And, remember, you are not responsible for fraudulent credit card charges. You are not responsible.

Target believes as many as 40 million customers had their information taken and for those who have recently seen their accounts hacked, many are asking, was it all because of where I shopped?


CAROL: Three hundred nineteen dollars and fifty-one cent that they tried to get out of my account.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tour the United States and a little bit of country.

GINA SEKULA, SHOPPER: You think you have money in your account and then you have nothing. You have beyond nothing all because I went shopping at Target.


ROMANS: Target believes the hacking took place between Thanksgiving and last Sunday. If you shopped at Target during those three weeks, keep a close eye on your account statements, report any charges you don't recognize immediately to your card company and Target is asking people contact them.

Another thing that's interesting here is debit card. The debit card transactions are more difficult. That can be money coming out of your bank. Credit card transactions if you report them immediately, you are not responsible.

BERMAN: The thing about this that I find so interesting everybody is worried about online shopping and putting their information on a computer. That is not what happened here. This is going to an old fashion brick and mortar store and this happened.

ROMANS: It is that magnetic strip, which is old technology, by the way.

BERMAN: Right.

ROMANS: Technologies from the '60s. This old technology managed to hack a very sophisticated, and still trying to figure out who did it, but be careful.

BERMAN: A mess.

All right. Five minutes after the hour.

Now, to London where this morning, investigation is underway into that terrifying ceiling collapse at a packed theater. More than 700 people were there to see a play, then something went very, very wrong, leaving dozens hurt, some seriously.

Max Foster is live in London this morning.

Max, tell us what you're hearing from people who were inside that theater. It must have been terrifying.

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, people are quite freaked out. I have to say this, I spoke to a couple of them there last night and they just cannot understand really what happened. It was a packed theater and at one point I'm told before there was a ceiling collapse, there were a group of people who looked up at the ceiling and then moments afterwards, it was just this cloud of dust.

And you had this extraordinary situation that they didn't know what happened and clearly something serious. Initially thought it was part of the show, a sound effects part of the show. One of the actors actually shouted out, "Watch out!" and everyone headed out and they didn't understand what happened.

I've seen a couple of images inside and it is extraordinary that there weren't more serious injuries because you had this big planks of woods, huge amounts of plaster from this very ornate ceiling scattered on the chairs, and some of the seats could not be seen. So the fact that people got out without having serious injuries is extraordinary, and a lot of people are really desperate to find out what happened and an investigation is under way, and we are waiting to hear what it might have been. BERMAN: What do you think it could have been? I mean, what are they looking at? I know it's an old theater but there are older buildings, especially in London.

FOSTER: Yes. Well, this is (INAUDIBLE) is one of the reasons many people come to London. It's huge money for the U.K. economy and number of theaters around here. The council is certainly speaking to all of the theaters around here and asking them to check up on their structures as well, these plaster ceilings.

Some theories about what might have happened. There was a lot of rain last night and what happens that loosened the plaster work somehow, but they think it's an isolated incident and a lot of people I spoke to said they won't be put off going to theaters in the future. They really just want to know what happened here.

BERMAN: I think we all do. All right. Max Foster for us in London this morning -- thanks so much, Max.

So, the Senate is wrapping up its work for the year. It has given its OK to a new defense policy bill that increases true pay and changes the way the military handles sexual assault. The vote was 84-15 and since it's been approved in the House, the bill on its way to the president for his signature.

ROMANS: The Senate isn't quite done, with all it needs to do, though, a final confirmation vote on the nomination of Janet Yellen as the next Fed chair has been put off now. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday the Republicans and Democrats worked out an agreement on both for several of President Obama's nominees. The Senate planned a test vote today to move ahead on Yellen's nomination. A confirmation vote will be on January 6th.

BERMAN: Last-minute change in the rules for Obamacare could be a break for hundreds of thousands of Americans who've been dropped by their insurance companies. The White House granting a special hardship exemption allowing people to enroll in less expensive, catastrophic coverage plan. The exemption applies to anyone who's been notified their policies will be not be renewed in 2014 as they long as they made no other arrangements for coverage.

ROMANS: Eight convicted crack cocaine offenders have had their sentences commuted by President Obama, each of them have already served at least 15 years behind bars. The president says their sentences were unduly harsh.

Among those being released, Reynolds Allen Winter Smith. The 39-year- old Illinois man is serving a life sentence for dealing crack. He will now be freed in April. Life sentence.

Winter Smith is the first cousin of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, one of the president's biggest supporters. But Patrick insists he had nothing to do with the president's decision and doesn't even think he has ever even met his cousin.

Each of these cases, the judge had lamented the fact they couldn't be more lenient that the sentencing guidelines meant they had to put these people away for so long.

BERMAN: No, the issue of the mandatory sentencing has become very controversial and changed quite substantially since the '90s.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: We are finding out now what led to the firing of high ranking Air Force officer in charge of some of the nation's nuclear weapons. Major General Michael Carey was removed as head of the 20th Air Force in October. And in an inspector general's report now made public shows he was caught drinking and carousing during a trip to Russia last summer. Nothing goes better with nuclear technology than drinking and carousing. He was there for a nuclear security training exercise.

ROMANS: The U.S. is sending troops into South Sudan as the new African countries teeters on civil war this morning. President Obama deployed 45 American military personnel to protect the U.S. embassy and Americans there in the fledgling nation.

Violence erupted there after an apparent coup on Sunday. So far, 500 people have been killed and the fighting is spreading. The fighting has intensified this hour.

BERMAN: President Obama and the first family are heading west today, way west for their Christmas vacation, going to Hawaii as they have in past years. The first family is expecting to stay in the same neighborhood where they housed in 2008, when he was president-elect. Of course, the president grew up in Hawaii. He has no public events scheduled and is expected to arrive early Saturday morning.

ROMANS: All right. U.S. congressman busted for cocaine back from rehab. On the record about whether he will step down from office.

BERMAN: And a big blow to the e-cigarette industry and its customers. Where e-customers will be forbidden from e-puffing up.

ROMANS: And a Missouri mom in hot water taking a topless photo with her 12-year-old daughter. Topless hot tub photo with her 12-year-old daughter. The picture causing controversy but does she --

BERMAN: It's hard! Even hard to get this out! It's a big controversy! You'll want to stick around and find out why. It just sounds controversial.

ROMANS: Should she be behind bars for years -- is what I meant to say.


ROMANS: Fourteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START, 14 minutes past the hour.

In Syria, nearly a week of devastating bombings have ravaged the area around Aleppo. Government forces are dropping bombs still to explosives and shrapnel onto rebel-held parts of that city, leaving dozens of people, most of them civilians dead.

Arwa Damon is covering the story from Beirut.

Arwa, is the bombing continuing today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly is and it appears to be as relentless it has been all along. We are beginning to receive reports from the local coordination committees talking how apartment levels continue to be leveled. A lot of these targeting civilian areas and earlier in the week, it was devastating and it seemed as if the regime has decided to intensify its campaign of bombing the rebel strongholds in the city of Aleppo. There is no way for families to try to hide, for parents to try to protect their children.

Doctors With Borders has put out a statement saying that the hospitals are absolutely overwhelmed and you can just try to imagine a Westerner or an American facility would be overwhelmed with all of the modern technology at its disposal by these numbers of wounded that are coming in.

The facilities that are in Aleppo are really mediocre at best. They barely run on electricity. They don't have the needed technology. They don't have the need medicine to deal with these increasing casualty numbers.

So, this most certainly is yet another tragic turn of events for this ongoing revolution in Syria entering its third year, Christine.

ROMANS: Third year. And just countless casualties.

The U.S. trying to push through a resolution condemning the bombings in the U.N. Security Council. But Russia blocked it. Why?

DAMON: Well, Russia has blocked just about every single resolution to do with Syria and in this particular case, it seems that Russia wanted any reference to the regime removed from the language of the resolution itself. And so once again, it was blocked and this has been the problem really all along. The Syrian regime, the Assad regime, knows that it can act with a certain level of impunity because it does have a very firm ally in Russia and in China, effectively leaving any sort of U.N. resolution when it passes through utterly toothless and Western governments, to include the United States, have been unwilling to really up the ante, to put it that way, to put pressure on the Russians or on the Syrians to try to decrease the levels of violence.

And so, we're seeing the Syrian government acting with even more impunity to a certain degree, with even more confidence as we go towards these so-called talks that are meant to be happening towards the end of January, talks that are supposed to be bringing about some sort of resolution to this crisis but at this stage, it doesn't seem they will be able to publish anything significant to alter the devastating dynamics on the ground.

ROMANS: All right. Arwa Damon, live for us in Beirut this morning -- thank you, Arwa.

BERMAN: Florida Congressman Trey Radel is out of rehab, a month after he pleaded guilty to cocaine possession charges. The 37-year-old Republican is pledging to get back to work, insisting he will not resign despite the fact some of his own party are calling for Radel to give up his seat.


REP. TREY RADEL (R), FLORIDA: I have a new focus and I'm making sure that the important things come first because what I have to account for my life, is the accomplishments that will matter. I'm proud of what I've done here in southwest Florida, both professionally and personally. With the grace of God, I am going to continue doing what I love to do, what I have been elected to do, with a clearer focus, more focus than ever before.


BERMAN: The House Ethics Committee is looking into Radel's conduct. He is promising to cooperate with that investigation as he works to rebuild the trust of the voters.

ROMANS: Gay marriages now the law across New Mexico. The state Supreme Court ruling unanimously that barring same-sex couples from marrying violates the state's constitution. Eight counties are giving out marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, after a lower court ruling over the summer. But the Supreme Court ruling makes it the law statewide.

New Mexico is now the 17th state to recognize same sex nuptials.

BERMAN: New Jersey will soon allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay lower tuition rates to public colleges, a compromise reached between Democrats and Governor Chris Christie, will make a so-called Dream Act a law, and let many unauthorized immigrants pay in-state tuition instead of the higher out-of-state rate. But they will not be eligible for state financial aide programs.

ROMANS: It's last call for e-cigarettes in New York. The city council voting overwhelming to ban the devices from bars and restaurants. E- cigarettes have sparked controversy, admitting vaporized nicotine that health officials say is harmful. The manufacture say the ban is not based on science. The measure would go into effect 120 days after the mayor signs it.

BERMAN: All right. This is a story that is so controversial. Christine Romans can't even say it out loud.

A suburban St. Louis mother is now facing charges after a topless photo of her and her 14-year-old daughter was shared on social media. Prosecutors say in the photo, the mother seems to be posing topless with her daughter in a hot tub. But the mother insists that's not true. Her other daughter snapped the photo without her permission and shared it on Snapchat even though she was told not to.


TIM LOHMAR, PROSECUTOR, ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MISSOURI: The issue here is the fact that the daughter was 14 and the mother was very clearly present and involved when the picture was taken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wasn't posing. I was getting out of a tub! I was aware that the photo was taken by my 13-year-old daughter and I specifically told her at that second please delete that photo.

LOHMAR: This was a mother who made a very poor choice. I don't think she had any intention this thing blew up the way it did, but it did, and she only has her poor judgment to blame for that.


BERMAN: The mother is facing misdemeanor child endangerment charges and could spend up to a year in jail.

ROMANS: And that's the controversy. Is bad judgment worth a year in jail or something like that?

BERMAN: She is obviously, distraught. Listen to her. That's amazing.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Ryan O'Neal will keep to keep an Andy Warhol portrait of his long-time love Farrah Fawcett. He can keep it. The "Charlie's Angels" actress died in 2009, leaving her artwork to the University of Texas which sued O'Neal.

But in tearful testimony, O'Neal described his connection to the painting, saying he talked to it and wanted to leave it to their only son. After a three-week trial a jury finally sided with O'Neal. The portrait could be worth as much as $12 million.

BERMAN: I love the portrait.

The stars of the reality television show "Duck Dynasty" are standing behind their patriarch Phil Robertson, after his comments at "G.Q." magazine, which equates gays with prostitutes and blames homosexuality as one of the causes for the country's problems. Robertson has been suspended from the show and the family now says they're disappointed and can't see the show going on without him. A&E which airs "Duck Dynasty" is giving no further comments.

ROMANS: They are running reruns this week, right?

BERMAN: And they launched the new season in January, which he will be all over. I mean, they have at least nine episodes of him. You're not going to miss Phil Robertson for months and months and months.

ROMANS: Wow, I think if you're the executives of A&E you're trying to figure out what exactly to do at this point.

All right. Coming up, Kobe Bryant's injury putting the Lakers season in jeopardy. How long will he be out? Andy Scholes breaks it all down for us in the "Bleacher Report". That's coming up next. BERMAN: The question is, is his career in jeopardy? Kobe is no young man. We'll be right back.


BERMAN: Wow. Some huge news in sports. Just when it looked like he was getting back to his old self, Kobe Bryant delivered another blow. The Lakers star, he's going to miss six weeks now with a fractured knee.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes joins us with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey there.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes, good morning, guys.

You know, this is just devastating news for Kobe and the Lakers. He worked so hard to come back from that torn Achilles and goes back to the bench with fracture in his left knee and happened during Tuesday's win over the Grizzlies. Kobe and Tony Allen get tangled up on this play and Kobe goes to the ground holding his knee.

And no one thought much of it at the time because Kobe played the rest of the game and hit a big three-pointer to seal the victory. But the knee kept bothering him so they had an MRI and it revealed that he has a fracture. No surgery is going to be needed for this. Kobe is just going to have to wait for it to heal and they are hoping it just takes about six weeks.

All right. Trending on today, Major League pitchers look like they were going to have the option to wear protective head gear this upcoming season. In an interview with FOX Sports, Diamondback starter Brandon McCarthy says the gear is being developed but it will be optional, not mandatory.

McCarthy is one of a number of pitchers who has suffered head injuries over the last few years as a result of being hit in a head by a line drive. Many pitchers say they welcome the protective gear but only if it doesn't affect their delivery.

I recently saw Mike Tyson making up with Evander Holyfield in a Footlocker commercial and this week, Iron Mike sat down with CNN's Rachel Nichols to talk about a number of topics, including his relationship with Holyfield.


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: When you look back on it now, what do you think?

MIKE TYSON, FORMER BOXING CHAMP: I am very sorry I bit his ear. I really am sorry to bit his ear. I live Evander. He's a good guy, really good guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: You can watch the entire interview on "UNGUARDED" with Rachel Nichols. That's tonight at 10:30 Eastern, right here on CNN.

And one of the topics I think they talk about how do you keep a pet tiger? I really want to know the answer.

BERMAN: Very carefully I think is always the answer.

Andy, before I let you go -- the Kobe Bryant thing, 35 years old, coming back from an injury that not many people come back for with Achilles and now the knee. It feels like, I don't know, the beginning of the end? Yes, no? Maybe?

SCHOLES: Yes. You know, you hope -- if anyone can come back from this, you know, it's Kobe. You know, he always finds a way to defy the odds but the Lakers really hope he is coming back from this because they shined him with a shiny two-year extension where he's going to be the highest player in the NBA. You hope he comes back and be a shade of his former self because it's tough to see Kobe go down in this way.

BERMAN: Two years and $48 million worth of -- hoping he gets back soon.

Andy Scholes, great to see you. Have a great holiday, my friend.

SCHOLES: You too, guys.

BERMAN: All right. The top headlines and everything you need to know for the day. That's right after the break.


BERMAN: Snow. Sleet. Rain. Even tornadoes! Get ready for a travel nightmare this weekend for millions and millions of people. Indra Petersons is tracking who will be hardest hit.

ROMANS: Catastrophe at a London theater. Dozens hurt when the ceiling suddenly collapses, chaos unfolding. We're bringing you the new developments overnight.

BERMAN: Really, Dennis Rodman? The ex-basketball star puts together a team he says could unite the U.S. and North Korea. We are live with photos of his new strange, strange trip.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Thirty minutes past the hour right now.

ROMANS: If you're planning to hit the road today or this weekend, listen up. We have very important information.