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EARLY START

Deadly Winter Weather, Americans Evacuated From South Sudan; Obamacare Deadline Day

Aired December 23, 2013 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly winter weather wreaking havoc across the country. Tornadoes, flooding, severe snowstorms and a record breaking heat wave. Indra Petersons is tracking the damage and what comes next.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Americans rescue from South Sudan as a civil war breaks out of control. American soldiers becoming targets. We are live with the latest developments.

MARQUEZ: A major deadline day for those who want to sign up for Obamacare. The frustration is still facing insurance shoppers as their time runs out.

BROWN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. Time to wake up on this Monday morning. I'm Pamela Brown.

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez. I'm certainly hope I'm awake. It's Monday, December 23rd. It is 5:00 a.m. Is it that really early? Oh my goodness.

BROWN: It's 5:00 a.m. But it's 2:00 a.m. what you're used to in L.A.

MARQUEZ: Oh, dear, dear. Yes, it is.

We begin with wild and extreme weather in the days before Christmas. Flooding, ice storms and tornadoes and record breaking heat.

BROWN: From the Midwest to the south to the east and as far north as Canada. At least eight weather-related deaths have been reported. The weather is creating havoc for holiday travelers and really bad timing for all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Oh, my goodness. In Oklahoma City, it was shop at your own risk. Those are sheets of ice crashing down from the roof in an outlet mall over the weekend, pretty intense stuff and dangerous. A holiday shopper captured this all on camera.

BROWN: Wow. In Wichita, Kansas, look at this -- nearly half a foot of snow and freezing temperatures turned roads into sheets of ice. Police advise residents not to drive if they didn't have to. One man was killed in an accident on a snow covered road there.

MARQUEZ: And people in northern Louisiana are clearing up after a weekend storm that brought strong winds and some tornadoes leaving tens of thousands in the dark. One resident says people were stunned and scared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH NEWELL, MONROE, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: The lights went out and they came back on so everybody thought that we were going to be OK, but then they went off again. The winds hit. The doors started opening up. I went to hold the doors.

The next thing we know, saw little like circles on the ground and that's when stuff started falling. So that is where it went crazy from there. You can hear the windows and stuff busting in the cars and even here on the building. So, that's when everybody took off and started hiding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Cleanup also underway this morning in Arkansas. The National Weather Service saying an EF-2 tornado touchdown down in the town of Hughes, ripping off the roofs of homes and other buildings. The storm is blame for at least one death there.

MARQUEZ: But wait, there is more. In Louisville, Kentucky, strong winds from a storm snapped power lines, causing a massive fire at a local Ford dealership. Thousands of residents were without power for hours, but a dozen cars were either damaged or destroyed.

BROWN: Five storm-related deaths reported in Kentucky. Authorities say three people drowned near new hope after their SUV became trapped in floodwaters. Two people in the vehicle managed to escape, but the others couldn't.

MARQUEZ: And rising floodwaters in the town of Larue, Ohio, excuse me, forced evacuations. Emergency crews went door-to-door, telling people they would have to leave their home. They had to use rafts to rescue some residents who were stranded.

BROWN: And to show how strange this weather system is, parts of the east coast experiencing record breaking winter warmth. It's something New York City tourists never expected to find this time of year, just days before Christmas.

MARQUEZ: It's warmer here than in Los Angeles right now.

BROWN: What does that tell you?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASMIN KUGLER, FROM SWITZERLAND: (INAUDIBLE) warm clothes. And now it's too warm. I'm here in a t-shirt. I have my sweater, I have jacket. I have too much stuff! But it's nice.

KATHY MARSHACK, FROM VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON: I brought boots to walk through snow. I have a heavy parka and I was so warm yesterday that I had to buy a t-shirt so that I could come out! (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Yes, you usually don't have that problem in December in New York City.

MARQUEZ: No. You know, the only reason -- the best reason to live in Los Angeles is that can I tease people in New York how wonderful it is out there and it's warmer here.

BROWN: Exactly. So, maybe you brought the L.A. weather with you, you know?

MARQUEZ: I do. No charge.

BROWN: But, you know, Indra Petersons -- she's been covering this.

When we talked last week, Indra, and you kind of called this. You said this was going to happen and sure enough it did all across the country.

MARQUEZ: You're amazing.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, right. Thank you.

MARQUEZ: You're amazing. Thank you. Bless you.

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: You know, I'm not complaining about 70s. I'll tell you that. And, you know, they are going to be leaving quickly. So, my Christmas will feel like Christmas and temperatures drop down a good 40 degrees on the East Coast. First let's talk about what we have seen.

Look at the amount of rain we have already seen -- as much as 10 inches in Illinois. So, yes, flooding concerns are still present in the area. You get as much as five inches for Indiana. No shortage of severe weather in the South either. Let's talk about what we are dealing with currently.

We can actually see the radar. What we are now left with a still kind of a tail end of that system making its way off shore. So, we are still seeing some rain farther to the South, but to the North right now, still, we are talking about that contrast.

Still some icing concerns in through Maine. That just subsides by the time the morning ends subside, and throughout the day start to see it make its way off the shore. It should be end of the system making its way off the Carolinas last. Another one to three inches is possible and still flooding concerns there.

The other side of the wacky weather, how about the temperature contrast? We were just talking about this -- 70 degrees right now in Tampa. This is a current temperature.

How about negative 22 in Bismarck? So, over a 90-degree temperature difference across the country right now. That is what we call wacky weather. What everyone is talking about but, yes, of course, I'm always a bearer of bad news. If you like it warm there you go. Cold air will be spreading in quickly.

So, already today, many of your temperatures will be going down and it will be going down significantly. We're going to go from 30 degrees above normal in New York City for just taking one example, to 10 degrees below normal by Christmas Day.

Christmas, you kind of want to be cold, right? I'll give you that.

BROWN: That's true. But I have to say I'm really enjoying this weather.

MARQUEZ: It is 51 degrees in West Hollywood and 62 here. That's crazy.

PETERSONS: So, when are you leaving? Is that why it's getting cold?

MARQUEZ: Exactly. As soon as I leave, you guys are down for it. You'll get the bad tweets, the funny tweets.

PETERSONS: Perfect.

MARQUEZ: Now, a key deadline day for President Obama's health care law. Today is the final day for most Americans to sign up for health insurance coverage that would begin January 1st and the White House is putting a positive spin on the state of the health care marketplace.

We get more from CNN's Athena Jones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Pam and Miguel.

The very latest health care enrollment figures we have came directly from the president himself. At his press conference on Friday before departing in Washington to come here in Hawaii, the president said more than half a million people have signed up for health insurance via the federal marketplace. That's Healthcare.gov in the first week of December alone.

Now we know that states that are operating their own marketplaces are seeing mixed results. Some are enrolling people much more quickly than others are. The president said that since October 1st, more than a million people have signed up for health insurance either by the state exchanges or the federal exchange.

Now, we won't get the enrollment figures for the entire month of December until sometime in January. So, those are the latest numbers we have.

Back to you, Pam, Miguel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

And meantime, the president in a letter to Congress says more military action might be necessary to protect U.S. citizens in South Sudan -- a country that appears on the brink of an all-out civil war. The State Department says Americans and other foreigners were evacuated from the country on Sunday, a day after U.S. military aircraft came under attack by rebel forces during a rescue operation.

CNN's Arwa Damon is monitoring the latest developments. She is live now in Nairobi, Kenya.

Hi. Good morning to you, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

It most certainly was quite challenging to try to get those Americans and others out of the town of Bor. That happened because they were able to alert the rebel forces that control the area around the U.N. compound that this was a humanitarian mission, the helicopters flying in both U.N. and privately contracted by the U.S. The 15 or so Americans who presented themselves to the U.N. compound there eventually lifted out to the capital of Juba and then on out of the country.

The U.S. is saying that in total, it has evacuated around 380 Americans, other countries as well continuing to evacuate their citizens. The U.S. has also said that it is considering sending in more assets to try to ensure the protection of U.S. assets and civilians, especially trying to secure the U.S. embassy in South Sudan.

The violence that has taken place over the last week has really taken a lot of people by surprise. South Sudan is a very young country, the world's newest country. There have been longstanding tensions between the Dinka and the Nuer communities and those really flared up around a week ago, resulting in this widespread violence that has endangered not only the lives of foreign nationals but perhaps more importantly the lives of the South Sudanese as well. Tens of thousands of them have flocked to various U.N. compounds, trying to seek safety.

Meanwhile, the violence is continuing to spread with even more areas falling to rebel control. Most recently the town of Bento, which is in the oil rich state of unity, the government saying, at this point, it has lost control of that key area as well, Pam.

BROWN: Arwa Damon with the very latest -- thank you so much.

MARQUEZ: Now, demands this morning from top Israeli officials for an end to spying on Israelis. Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the spy agency intercepted emails from the offices of the country's top former leaders. The scandal is also renewing calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst who is in prison in the U.S. for nearly three decades for spying on behalf of Israeli.

BROWN: World power struck a deal with Iran on freezing its nuclear program. But now another challenge, figuring out how to implement it. On Sunday, Iran's foreign minister said that they are making slow progress. He also said all parties in the talks should avoid, quote, "troublesome issues", but he didn't elaborate on that.

Israeli and American critics of the deal have said it gives Iran cover to expand the program.

MARQUEZ: In New York, Senator Chuck Schumer taking aim at Target, calling on Federal Consumer Protection Bureau to investigate a massive security breach at the giant retailer. The debt and credit card numbers of some 40 million Target shoppers were stolen over a 20-day period. Three class action lawsuits have already been filed against the big box retailer, seeking more than 5 million in damages.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If there's one silver lining in this mess, it's perhaps that we could use this troubling news as a lesson for the future. We could get to the bottom of how Target's in- store payment security was compromised in order to make sure that Target, in the future, and all other stores, adequately protect consumers from this kind of devastating theft.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Target is offering free credit monitoring to customers affected by the breach.

BROWN: And coming up on EARLY START on this Monday morning, former NBA star Dennis Rodman returning home from North Korea this morning, on a mission to bring the U.S. and the community country closer together through basketball. So, will he achieve the goal?

MARQUEZ: That guy.

BROWN: We are going to dive into that.

MARQUEZ: Live in (INAUDIBLE).

And a teenage girl shot in the head when bullets from a drive-by shooting fly into her home. The miracle that saved her life, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And welcome back to EARLY START.

Developing right now, we are expecting a second member of a Russian feminist punk group to be relieved from prison some time today. Their release was approved last week when Russian lawmakers backed a sweeping amnesty announced by President Vladimir Putin. The women were found guilty of hooliganism last year after performing a punk prayer that criticized Putin.

MARQUEZ: The Worm returns. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman drawing a crowd as he arrives in Beijing overnight, following his trip to North Korea. Rodman's latest visit to Pyongyang was to train a team of basketball players of a national exhibition.

CNN's Anna Coren is live in Beijing.

Anna, what is Rodman saying about this trip?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In one word, Miguel, awesome. He said his trip was awesome.

He didn't, however, meet with the North Korean leader, his good friend Kim Jong-un which all of us found quite unusual. Obviously, Dennis Rodman talked about that before he went into the hermit kingdom about catching up with Kim Jong-un, but that did not happen. However, he says he doesn't have to do that on every trip.

This was his third trip to North Korea, at a time when there is a real political upheaval underway. It was less than two weeks ago that Kim had his uncle executed and really there has been a lot of turmoil ever since. But Rodman didn't catch up the leader but he did train the North Korean basketball team as they are preparing for an exhibition next month as they celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-un, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Now, do they actually think that they are going to get a team together? What is the word in the South? These countries do not trust each other at all. What do the South make of Rodman's antics, his trips to the North?

COREN: Well, on the first part of your question, Rodman is yet to announce a team that will be competing against the North Koreans. Of course, he is putting together a bunch of American former NBA stars and we are hearing reports that he hasn't been able to look in all of those players because they are concerned about that political instability.

As for what people here in South Korea believe and feel, you know, in relations to Rodman's trip, you know, it's a bit of a circus, to say it is a bit of a circus, because you have to remember that North Korea is one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Not much is known about it. But, you know, this execution that Kim Jong-un carried on his uncle, this was a man who was his second in command, his mentor. And we are learning details in the last few hours that it wasn't over a power struggle, which is what some analysts had been saying at the time of the execution, but an actual fact it was a conflict of interest.

Some business deal gone wrong, the details are rather vague at this stage, but that's what we are hearing. You know, the situation in North Korea is very serious. Dennis Rodman going in, you know, it draws attention certainly to what's happening in that country. But as far as Rodman is concerned, he's just there to play basketball. He's not interested in the politics, whatsoever, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Yes. In your sense of that South Korean intelligence reported this is over coal-mining business and a conflict of interest between the two, how -- is that South Koreans just want to make the North look bad, or do you think this is for real? COREN: No, I think this is for real, from what the South Koreans have been able to ascertain. You know, this is -- you have to remember, this is North Korea, the only information that really gets is through defectors or people really leaking information. But that is very hard to come by.

So, these are people and in South Korea, who know the country, as well as what they possibly can. But, yes, the national intelligence security report seems to indicate that this is over a conflict of interest as opposed to a power struggle. You know, there was a feeling that Kim Jong-un was trying to consolidate power by eliminating his uncle. Now, it would seem that he punished him and was really sending a strong message to say that he is the man in control.

MARQUEZ: Absolutely fascinating. Anna Coren for us in South Korea, thank you very much.

BROWN: And back here closer to home, Colorado officials offering condolences to the family of Claire Davis. The 17-year-old was shot at her high school. She died over the weekend after eight days in a coma. The shooter, an 18-year-old classmate, also killed himself at the scene. Karl Pierson's parents say they are heart broken by the girl's death. Police say Pierson seemed to choose Davis at random.

MARQUEZ: And the family of a 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead is not giving up hope. They plan to rally outside the hospital today where she remains on life support following complications from a tonsillectomy. Her mothers say hospital officials have pressure her to pull the plug but a temporary restraining order has cleared the way for a second opinion of her condition. Those results are due this week.

BROWN: This is really an incredible story. Seattle police say a teenager's glasses may have saved her life. Sixteen-year-old Alonza Bryant had fallen asleep with her glasses on when someone sprayed her familiar's home with bullets and one of them hit Alonza right between the eyes. But get this -- her glasses kept the glasses from going all the way into her head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALONZA BRYANT, SHOOTING VICTIM: I heard a big bang and then my nose start bleeding so I went to go tell my mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The glasses saved her life. Yes, I definitely believe that and I thank God for that.

BRYANT: I don't know why somebody did this to me, to our family to shoot our house. If I didn't have my glasses on, I wouldn't be here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Police say someone in the house was involved in gangs and that Alonza was not a target to the shootings. MARQUEZ: Now, a devastating wildfire in California that burned more than 900 acres is now fully contained. Firefighters remained on the scene this morning in Big Sur to clean up and watch for hot spots.

The flame started last Monday, blackening 917 acres and destroying 34 homes and including Celia Sanborn's home on Pfeiffer Ridge. She describes as being chased away by the approaching inferno.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CELIA SANBORN, LOST HOME TO FIRE: There was just an enormous wall of flame, and actually, the smoke becomes illuminated at night. It was kind of glowing in pink, you know. I thought, oh my God. This was really close.

It wasn't flames flickering. It was balls of fire, you know-- hot, fast -- you know, just ripping along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: It's a beautiful area. Sanborn says she will rebuild and is grateful that no one was hurt. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

BROWN: Well, attorneys in Utah set to tell a federal judge today to hold off on a ruling he issued, declaring that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The decision prompted a flurry of same sex weddings and the state sought an emergency band-aid when it requested to immediately halt same-sex marriage in the state but a federal appeals court denied that request.

MARQUEZ: And coming up, Peyton Manning breaking NFL records this morning. Pretty exciting stuff. Joe Carter explains in "The Bleacher Report", coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: Well, it goes without saying. It was another exciting Sunday all around the NFL. Several teams needing to win to stay in the playoff picture. The one in dramatic fashion at the very end of the game.

Joe Carter has those fantastic finishes in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hello there, Joe.

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, as they say, it's not how you start, but how you finish, especially when you're fighting to get into the NFL playoffs. Just ask the Carolina Panthers. Of course, this is a team that you got to watch out for. Carolina in the playoffs for the first time in five years. They locked up that spot yesterday with a stunning win over New Orleans. Remember, back in the beginning of the month, the Saints throttled this team. Carolina scored the game winner in the final 20 seconds and they went on to win.

Tony Romo threw away the game last week and threw the game winner this week. Dallas beat the Redskins in the final minutes to remain in the playoff hunt. The Cowboys play the Eagles next Sunday, winner is in and loser is done. Can't say I saw this coming. The Arizona Cardinals pulled off the biggest win yesterday. They beat Seattle in Seattle with a touchdown in the final two minutes.

With the win, the Cardinals still have a chance to get into the playoffs. And Packers -- well, they could have made it four fantastic finishes but a pass in the game's final play did not go for a Green Bay touchdown. The Steelers pulled off the win and still have an outside shot to get in the playoffs. Of course, they need a lot of help. The packers have to win next week to get in.

Hey, trending this morning on bleacherreport.com, what can you say about Peyton Manning? Oh, man is he good. He is once again on the top of the list for the most touchdown passes in a single season. The Broncos quarterback threw four touchdowns yesterday against the Texans. That gives him 51 touchdowns for the year. That breaks the record of 50 set by New England's Tom Brady back in '07.

Keep this in mind, guys -- Peyton Manning still has one more game left to play, likely to get a few more touchdowns next week and then a lot to look forward to with the playoffs and the Broncos being a Super Bowl favorite this year -- guys.

MARQUEZ: Oh, the Broncos.

BROWN: It's a good year for him.

MARQUEZ: Not bad.

BROWN: Thanks so much, Joe. Appreciate it. Good to see you.

The top headlines and everything you need to know for the day --

MARQUEZ: Everything.

BROWN: Everything. So stay with us. We're going to be right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Deadly winter storm creating catastrophe across the country. We are seeing floods and snowstorms and record breaking heat thrown in that mix. Really just bizarre.

Indra Petersons, what is going on?

MARQUEZ: And breaking news. An American behind bars in Dubai detained for months for posting a parody on YouTube, finally getting his day in court. When will he be set free? We are live.

BROWN: And target under fire, now facing class action lawsuits. Investigators are trying to figure out how hackers stole credit card information from 40 million shoppers.

MARQUEZ: Crazy.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez, or at least I think I am.

BROWN: You are. I can assure.

I'm Pamela Brown. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Great to have you along with us.

MARQUEZ: And it will be a white place in many places across the country, but the start of winter has seen wild and, in some cases, deadly weather.

Snow, ice, flooding and record warmth where you'd least expect it. The weather extremes also impacting pre-Christmas holiday travel.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BROWN: Look at here. This is scene out of Oklahoma City. Unbelievable, those right there, sheets of ice crashing down from the roof in an outlet mall. A holiday shopper captured this all on camera.

MARQUEZ: And a deadly accident in Wichita, Kansas, after nearly a foot and a half of snow and freezing temperatures turned roads into thick sheets of ice. Police warned residents against driving.