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Merry Christmas for Retailers; Russian Ship Stuck in Antarctic; Green Bay Packers Quarterback Back in the Game

Aired December 27, 2013 - 05:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Terrorists targeting a former ambassador to the U.S. The deadly blast killing him, several others, and wounding dozens more. The very latest just ahead.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Cold and in the dark for days. Thousands waking up without power in the deadly wake of a massive ice storm.

And airport security scare. Two men at airports across the country managing to bypass security and get on the runway. Are airports safe enough?

MARQUEZ: Dozens trapped -- at sea. Near at the Antarctic ice for days. Crews turning into chaos. Rescuers arriving this morning. We are live with the latest.

BROWN: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. Happy Friday, I'm Pamela Brown.

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez.

BROWN: Good to be here with you.

MARQUEZ: Very good. It's Friday, December 27th, 5:00 a.m. out here.

BROWN: Your last day.

MARQUEZ: Last day for both of us, yes, on this one.

With begin with breaking news overnight from Beirut. A car bomb killing five people including Mohamad Chatah, a former Lebanese ambassador to the U.S. 71 people were injured in the attack. Lebanon's news agency says Chatah's convoy was struck in downtown Beirut. He died along with his bodyguard.

There's been no claim of responsibility so far. We'll be following this breaking news story throughout the newscast and bring you a live report from the scene at 5:30.

BROWN: Another cold dark night for tens of thousands of people waiting for the power to come back on from Michigan to Maine and up into Canada they are still reeling from a winter storm that's now blamed for at least 19 deaths.

MARQUEZ: People in Toronto say they've never seen a storm quite like this living with no heat, going to extremes to get some warmth can be dangerous.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So basically my dad used the barbecue charcoal to heat up the house and there is a lot of carbon monoxide.


MARQUEZ: Now authorities in Toronto report several people being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

BALDWIN: And over in Maine utility crews say the progress is slow but steady in restoring power to the people there. Many, though, are shivering for a seventh day and trying to make the best of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was tough. I mean, it was dark. A candle can only do much. I mean, the fire, you've got to keep that going, that's our only option.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've done this before. We've been on this rodeo before.


MARQUEZ: Snowy ice covered roads in Michigan led to a crash on Interstate 96. Consumers Energy trucks slid off the road and tipped over. The driver with taken to the local hospital. His injuries said to be nonlife-threatening.

BROWN: And a burst of snow in Pennsylvania causing a massive pileup on I-78 at Berks County, that's near Reading, Pennsylvania. Nearly three dozen cars were involved in this multiple crashes on the slick roadway there. Police say more than 40 people suffered injuries and many had to be transported to area hospitals.

MARQUEZ: There was a similar scene in -- on I-90 in Ohio, a multiple car pileup about 15 to 20 vehicles involved. Eight people taken to the hospital. Thankfully none of their injuries were serious. One driver says she started to slow down when the road ahead started to look like something out of a movie.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It started looking like the "Day After Tomorrow" so I had made the decision to get off on the next exit, slow down to about 25, 30 miles per hour, and cars still whipping past going a normal speed. And as soon as I made the decision to get off the next exit, that's when everything just happened. I try to stir my car to the walls to avoid hitting the car in front of me and it didn't work and -- but the accident had already happened long before I got to it.


BROWN: All right. After all that, we need some good news now, don't we?


BROWN: Turns out hundreds of households in Upstate, New York, now have their power back after days in the dark following last weekend's ice storm.

So I guess that leads us to the next question. What's the weekend forecast looks like?

MARQUEZ: It better be good or somebody is going to pay a price.

BROWN: It better be good. Yes. We need some relief from this deep freeze, Chad.

MARQUEZ: What's it going to cost? Because it might not be good.


MARQUEZ: In trouble.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, it's going to warm up a little bit and that seems like good news except until the ice starts falling off things that are above you so watch out when it begins to warm up.

New York City 40 today and Washington, D.C. 48. Now in the D.C. tomorrow 54, New York City almost 50 degrees, that's a nice warm up. But that right there, that's the next arctic blast that's on the way.

Look at this by Sunday. Zero, the high in Minneapolis, well below zero for the low. And guess who that air is going, right where we don't want it back again to where power crews still may not have all of the power up.

Detroit about 10. Chicago, 8. Toronto 15. Now it's those last straggling people. If you are one person with a power line that is going to put up three more houses that's going to be the last power line. The triage, these power lines. If one line can get up 50 people, 50 homes, they're going to do that line first before they do the one that can only get three or four houses back up.

And there you go, by Wednesday, New Year's Day, 30 in New York City. We're thinking somewhere around 24 for the ball drop here in New York City itself.

The air is fairly dry across the country and this right now is a static cling alert. You have to wear natural fibers today because if you wear natural fibers today because if you wear polyester it's going to stick to your legs. That's cling free. You're going to get shaking legs there, you're going to see an awful lot of that static all day long today with this dry air.

Guys, back to you.

MARQUEZ: Now was that an official static cling alert? (LAUGHTER)

MYERS: Absolutely.

BROWN: All right.

MARQUEZ: Good to know. Noted.

BROWN: Code what? What's you got --

MARQUEZ: Chad Myers, thank you very much.


BROWN: Thank you.

MARQUEZ: Post-Christmas shopping is now in full swing. A new figure suggests it was a really very busy and merry holiday shopping season.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And this actually is a surprise because the expectations, the bar was really low.



KOSIK: And so this is just one of many sort of reports we're going to get on --

MARQUEZ: I always set the bar low.

KOSIK: Yes, well --


BROWN: You have to think that way.

KOSIK: No expectations. I like that line of thinking.

MARQUEZ: Exactly.

BROWN: Exactly. Don't get disappointed.

KOSIK: So it does look like consumers really responding to deep discounts and extensive store promotions this year. According to MasterCard, total holiday spending is up 3.5 percent over 2012. Amazon is having its best holiday season ever. They report almost 37 million items ordered worldwide on cyber Monday alone. That's, of course, the Monday following Black Friday.

So what exactly were people buying? Well, the holiday winners were jewelry, children's clothing, the holiday losers, consumers looked like they held back spending on electronics and luxury items. And people apparently shopped less on the final weekend before Christmas which could mean we're going to see more bargain hunters during this post-Christmas frenzy than retailers saw last year. Meantime, they're not guaranteeing it but UPS and FedEx say those Christmas gifts that didn't make it on time should be there by today at the latest. The delivery giants have been under fire with customers and lawmakers demanding they offer refunds for the late deliveries. One customer, though, is actually defending them.


BRAD JOHNSON, UPS CUSTOMER: You know, it's probably not the driver's issue. It's -- you know, maybe they didn't have enough drivers or bring in enough temporary employees, or something like that. You know, they can only do what they can do given the conditions. Things like this, you usually learn from the examples, so I would think that they would figure things out for next year a little better.


KOSIK: And Amazon, for its part, is offering customers $20 gift cards, also offering a refund of shipping charges to customers whose UPS or FedEx packages weren't delivered in time for Christmas. Well, there's always next year.

BROWN: Yes. I think that there is some room for improvement for next year.

MARQUEZ: Yes. Well, could have been worse, I suppose.

KOSIK: I know.

MARQUEZ: Just the lateness.

KOSIK: Exactly. Get over it.

MARQUEZ: (INAUDIBLE) Christmas shopping now I think.

BROWN: There you go.

KOSIK: There you go.

MARQUEZ: Just about ready to begin.

BROWN: This is the time to do it, right?


Alison, thank you so much.

MARQUEZ: Thanks, Alison.

BROWN: Well, President Obama is taking a break from his Hawaiian vacation to sign two important pieces of legislation, the budget and defense bills. The bipartisan budget will ease automatic spending cuts over the next two years and prevent another government shutdown. The defense bill cracks down on sexual assaults in the military.

MARQUEZ: In the meantime, long-term unemployment benefits for over a million Americans are set to expire this weekend because Congress hasn't extended them yet. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed a short-term extension for three months. That will make it to the floor of the Senate but not until Congress returns to work next month.

BROWN: American official said to be growing more concerned about the dangers posed by affiliates of al Qaeda notably in Yemen. CNN has learned recent messages interpreted from operatives suggest the groups are trying to plan new attacks. Analysts say after years of setbacks the group has made strides to rebound in 2013.


SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: There are multiple indications that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is plotting attacks both within Yemen against U.S. and other Western structures, as well as overseas.


BROWN: Now the messages don't indicate specific targets. One source says it shows them actively plotting, though. The Yemeni group is best known for the failed underwear bombing on a 2009 Christmas Day flight to Detroit.

MARQUEZ: Friends of kidnapped American urging the government to answer his plea to bring him home after two years in captivity. The latest video message from Warren Weinstein shows him asking the president to secure his release from al Qaeda. A friend says Weinstein shouldn't be forgotten.


LAURIE WISEBERG, FRIEND OF WARREN WEINSTEIN: He worked in an agency that has been working on development in Pakistan that was very much trying to support the poor people of Pakistan to try to get some development in that country. I would hope what America also believes in, they would do everything possible to try to get him out of this terrible situation he is in. I think they owe it to him.


MARQUEZ: Now Washington says al Qaeda would let him see his family if President Obama releases some al Qaeda detainees.

BROWN: Well, two brazen security breaches at major U.S. airports raising new concerns about safety measures there. In Phoenix, 49- year-old Robert Bump scaled a nine-foot barbed wire fence at Sky Harbor Airport, running on to the tarmac and banging on the engine of a plane as it arrived on Christmas Day. He was arrested after another pilot spotted him and alerted the tower.

MARQUEZ: Dear. That's some mug shot.


MARQUEZ: The other incident across the country at Newark Liberty Airport. Radar motion detector surveillance cameras, none of them prevented a man in women's clothing from scaling a fence and walking onto the airport runway on Christmas Day. Police are investigating. It's the second apparent failure of -- sophisticated security system which is used at New York area airports.

BROWN: Is it bizarre that both of these incidents happened on Christmas Day?

MARQUEZ: And one of them is in a dress. Very --

BROWN: Yes. Says a lot about --


MARQUEZ: There is something to be on there.

Coming up, a Texas man behind bars accused of playing a playing a knockout game, choosing his unsuspecting victim based on the color of his skin. The disturbing details ahead.

BROWN: And Antarctic cruise turned to chaos when it get stuck in the ice. Passengers stranded for days. We are live as the rescue ships arrive.


MARQUEZ: Some developing news in Thailand this morning. Nearly 30 people have been killed and several others seriously hurt when their bus sailed off a bridge in the rural part of the country. Investigators think the bus driver didn't know the area well and might have been going too fast, plus it was late at night when the crash occurred.

BROWN: In southwestern China, at least four people were killed in a fire at a shopping mall. Chinese media reports say a natural gas explosion started this fire. More than 30 people were reported injured.

MARQUEZ: And in Argentina, dozens of people were injured when a school of fish attacked them in a river. One little girl lost part of her finger. Officials say the fish are related to piranhas and that attacks like this are rare. Thankfully.


Well, help is arriving as we speak. The first of three ice breaking rescue ships reaching a Russian expedition vessel today that's been trapped in frozen seas off Antarctica. The ship has been stuck in the ice ever since Monday. Seventy-four people are on board and by all accounts they still enjoyed their Christmas while at a frozen standstill.

CNN's Diana Magnay is following developments and she is live in Moscow.

Good morning to you, Diana. DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Pamela. Well, it's 10:00 p.m. in the Antarctic right now. And we've just seen pictures which you're probably seeing now of the Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon which is making its way through the ice to try and get to this ship called the Akademik Shokalskiy. There are 74 people on board the ship.

Basically, what happened was on Monday night, the temperatures changed and they were literally frozen into the sea where they were. And for the last three days, three icebreakers have been trying to make their way towards them but it's very, very slow progress. And although they can now see the Snow Dragon, the Chinese icebreaker, the first of these ships, on the horizon and they're all clearly very excited about it, the Chinese vessel says it could still take another eight hours or so before they reach them.

So really in the middle of the night there in Antarctica -- Pamela.

BROWN: And what was the ship doing there to begin with, Diana?

MAGNAY: Well, it's basically trying to recreate the steps of an Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, who 100 years ago, in 1911 to 1913, he spent two years doing this kind of expedition in the Antarctic. Looking at the wildlife and the birds and now 100 years later with climate change, they wanted to see how it's all changed.

So this is a mixture of scientists and some tourists who paid $8,000 to be on board the ship. 74 of them all taking part. Apparently over the last few days, they have been using the extra time to do a little bit more research as they wait for those icebreakers to come rescue them -- Pamela.

BROWN: At least they are making the most out of their time stuck there.

All right, Diana Magnay, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

MARQUEZ: In just a few hours, Connecticut Police records from the investigation into last year's Newtown school massacre will be released. It includes texts, photos, and 911 calls received by Connecticut State Police. Prosecutors issued a summary of the investigation last month. That portrayed Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza as obsessed with previous mass murders. Lanza killed 20 first graders and six educators at the school before killing himself.

BROWN: A not guilty plea from Paul Ciancia, the man accused of fatally shooting a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport last month. Ciancia faces 11 felony charges including first-degree murder in the death of 39-year-old Girardeau Hernandez. If convicted he faces life in prison without parole or possible death penalty. Ciancia's trial is set to begin on February 11th.

MARQUEZ: And Monsignor William Lind, the first U.S. Catholic priest, convicted of covering up clergy sex abuse crimes, is being released from prison. A Pennsylvania appeals court overturned Lind's conviction ruling that a lower court had misapplied child endangerment laws. Lind has been in prison since last July serving a three to six- year sentence. The state district attorney says an appeal is likely.

BROWN: Well, it is anything but a game and it could be a hate crime. 27-year-old Conrad Barrett now facing federal hate crime charges for an alleged knockout game style attack in Texas. Prosecutors say he videotaped himself sucker punching an elderly black man in Houston last month. Someone who witnessed it could not believe what he was seeing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His face was swollen on this side, you see here three plates. You know, he's sucking out of a straw. What is the world coming to?


BROWN: It's so disturbing. Conrad Barrett was arrested Thursday and he's due in court for a detention hearing on -- today actually.

MARQUEZ: The family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath declared brain dead after complications from a tonsillectomy wants to transfer her to a nursing home facility willing to continue caring for her. Officials at Oakland's Children's Hospital says they won't cooperate. The family is speaking publicly trying to convince them to see it their way.


OMARI SEALEY, JAHI MCMATH'S UNCLE: We have found out that someone is willing to take Jahi away from Children's Hospital to a facility nearby here in the bay area to treat her, give her a tube for nutrition and to give her a fighting chance. So right now we're asking Children's Hospital to work with us to make that possible.


MARQUEZ: Doctors at Children's Hospital in Oakland have said Jahi is beyond help but her family has refused to accept that believing she will recover. Just heartbreaking.

BROWN: Really is.

Well, same-sex marriage is a boon for the state of Utah. In the week since a federal judge overturned Utah's gay marriage ban, more than 1200 marriage licenses have been issued, nearly 75 percent of those to gay and lesbian couples. The record-breaking business has resulted in nearly $50,000 in license fees going into the Utah county coffers.

MARQUEZ: A 911 operator in Seattle is being praised after she helped prevent a mother from jumping off a bridge on Christmas Day. The would-be jumper's 7-year-old daughter was in the car and would have seen her mother kill herself. The woman called 911 and told the dispatcher about her plan. Mindy Mezek managed to keep on the phone for eight minutes, long enough for a state trooper to arrive and grab her.


MINDY MEZEK, 911 DISPATCHER: And I kept saying, we don't want your daughter to see you jump. I mean, she's not going to want her daughter to have that last image of her so I did keep saying that over on and over again. We don't want her to see you jump. We don't want her to be unsafe on the street. We need to know where she is.

SGT. CURT BOYLE, WASHINGTON STATE PATROL: Caught up to her. She was going up the rail and getting ready to pike over the top to jump off the bridge. So I dove, grabbed her by the waist and took her to the ground.


MARQUEZ: Wow. The woman told Mezek she was a victim of domestic violence and felt like she couldn't go on with her life. She is now in the hospital, her daughter is in protective custody.

BROWN: Have you heard about this story? Bargain hunters scoring some incredible Delta Airlines Web deals by mistake, and now the airlines says it will honor them. Rock bottom, roundtrip Web fares as low as 25 bucks even though the airlines says the prices on its Web site and other travel sites were clearly incorrect. Delta says the pricing problem is now fixed.

MARQUEZ: The cost of doing business for some road warriors is getting taxed for services while traveling and in some cities those charges can add up to a surprisingly hefty amount. If you break it down the total tax bill for a business traveler is up 58 percent this year.

According to recent study from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation, the report factors taxes on hotel stays, car rentals and meals. The top 50 U.S. destinations.

So in what cities do road warriors and vacationers rack up the most tax burden?

Chicago was the highest with a combined single day of travel taxes hitting $41.04. New York second with $38.65 per day and Minneapolis was third with travelers spending $36.70 per day on taxes. Fourth, Kansas City, Missouri with $36.61 hits. And Indianapolis was fifth highest at $36 even per day.

And one of the bigger surprises was Los Angeles where I live. The city of angels didn't even crack the top 10 list. Who knew? The three cities with the lowest travel taxes are the sunshine state, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach, Florida, all tied at $22.61 per day.

Now coming up, the Green Bay Packers announcing a big comeback just in time for the big game matchup. Joe Carter, on hold for us, explains it all coming right up on the "Bleacher Report. "

Hello, Joe.

BROWN: Hey there. MARQUEZ: See you in a second.


MARQUEZ: Just in time for their biggest game of the season. The Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, he is back.


MARQUEZ: He'll play for the first time since he went missing seven games from a broken collarbone.

Joe Carter has it all for us.

Joe, what's going on there?

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. You know, Green Bay has a lot at stake come Sunday. You know, if they beat the Bears on Sunday they win the division, they get into the playoffs. If they lose to the Bears their season is over. So, obviously, Green Bay is all in and with Aaron Rodgers back, it makes them a legitimate playoff team, a legitimate threat again.

Before he broke his collarbone the Packers were 5-2. They only lost two games to two playoff teams on the road. During the seven weeks that he was out the Packers only won two games so obviously he is the difference maker.

Hey, last week at this time, Jon Kitna was teaching math and coaching football at a Tacoma, Washington, high school. Now Kitna is the emergency third string quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. But what I love about this story is the 41-year-old has not forgotten where he came from. Kitna says that he's donating his entire $53,000 game check to the high school he works at.

And if the Cowboys happen to beat the Eagles on Sunday and get into the playoffs obviously, he'll stay with the team and those donations could get even bigger.

Well, the fastest man in rugby is coming to the NFL. The Detroit Lions have signed Carlin Isles to the practice squad as a wide receiver. They signed him yesterday. And during his tryout the 24- year-old reportedly ran the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds. That is fast. That's like Usain Bolt fast.

Now the Lions don't seem to mind Isles has not played football since his division three college days four years ago.

All right. This story is really interesting. Remember Jose Canseco's diaper-wearing, fainting goats? Well, apparently his Las Vegas neighbors are not happy he still has these goats. The former slugger got a warning from his homeowners association that his pet goats are making too much noise. Canseco, as you see there, posted a picture of the note from the HOA on Twitter.

The homeowners association wants the animals, wants his two goats off his property within 14 days. So you might be asking yourself, OK, why in the world does Jose Canseco have goats? Well, apparently he purchased these goats because he was trying to get an adventure reality show off the air -- basically on the air and that project has not gone off the ground, I should say, and the goats are still living in his house.

As a matter of fact around Thanksgiving time, he got pulled over with one of those diaper-wearing goats in the back of his SUV.

BROWN: Oh no. Wow.

MARQUEZ: I have a got a great recipe for goats. Goat soup. Delicious.

BROWN: Miguel.

MARQUEZ: What? Sorry.


MARQUEZ: We love goats.

BROWN: We love animals. We love goats.

MARQUEZ: Goats. Cute goats.

Thanks. You really made our day.

BROWN: The goat had a diaper on, is that what you said? When he was pulled over?

MARQUEZ: Well -- yes, well, you've got to -- you know.



BROWN: We need to -- OK. Here we go.

MARQUEZ: Goes with the business.

BROWN: All right. Everyone, the top headlines and everything you need to know for the day right after this break. Stay with us.