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Eighteen Killed in Russian Train Station Blast; 2013 Ending with Wintry Blast; Obamacare Becomes a Reality in 2014

Aired December 29, 2013 - 07:00   ET


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It didn't actually happen overnight, Victor. It happened about three hours ago, round about midday, Moscow time. So, it's really quite early stages in terms of the investigation.

There could be a number of causes. We are hearing that it was a female suicide bomber. That is basically a signature of the Islamist insurgency which is being fought really close to where Volgograd is, some 400 mile as way in the troubled north Caucasus region.

And we know for example that on Saturday, a suspected Islamist militant was killed there. It's very impossible that this was retaliation for that attack. But at the same time, it's also possible that this is simply a wider call to try and spread terror ahead of the Sochi Olympics which are clearly coming very soon. Volgograd is not near Sochi, but it is basically a train hub where from all of that region, you would have to take the train up to Moscow.

And we know that a lot of these so-called black widows, the female suicide bombers, have tried in the past to reach Moscow and to commit attacks here. In this case, as you have said, apparently, a metal detector was in place, possibly part of the broader security efforts in the region and therefore the suicide bomber if it was one detonated herself before she reached the metal detector, knowing that she could go no further, Victor.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: OK, let me ask you this. There was that bombing in October we talked about the female suicide bomber, also then from Dagestan, blew up a passenger bus killing six, wounded 30 at that point. Do we know if these two are connected in anyway, Diana?

MAGNAY: Again, we don't. No one claimed responsibility for that attack and no one has claimed responsibility yet for this attack. That said, the most wanted man in Russia who basically heads the militant groups has said he wanted to commit as many attacks as possible, ahead of Sochi. So, you know, this can be seen within that context.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: You said that this happened midday at this train station. What do we know about the crowd that would be there at this time of the day and how heavily this station is used?

MAGNAY: This is a really busy rail hub. About 3,500 (ph) people use it every day. As I said, it's basically a hub for all trains up to Moscow. So, midday on a Sunday, you can imagine how busy it was. So, the numbers that we're hearing now, they have been sort of revised a little bit. The interior ministry here have said that 13 people are dead. The local governor of that region has said 15 are dead.

So the numbers are changing a bit, but we have also scores and scores of people injured and the Russian president has ordered emergency helicopters to fly down and bring those who are injured to hospitals here in Moscow.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, we can always expect those numbers to fluctuate so early in a breaking news situation. We're dealing with so many people. So, that's not unusual that we'll see those numbers fluctuate.

PAUL: Diana Magnay, thank you so much. We appreciate all the updates this morning, as this is something that's so fluid right now and just happening.

Also, did you realize this is the last Sunday of 2013?

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's starting to resonate that we're done with the year almost.

PAUL: A lot of people might be saying, good, because this nasty winter weather, I've had enough of it. Look at this.

Of course, here's the thing -- you know it is just the start.

BLACKWELL: Yes, just the start. I mean, for people in parts of North Dakota, Minnesota, this is what they are seeing. Just stay inside. Where do you have to go in this weather? Where do you have to go?

You know, we have been dealing with the blinding snow, the brutally cold temperatures this weekend, and the wind, you can hear it and it's making it feel even worse.

PAUL: Yes.

Take a look at what drivers venture out to in North Dakota. So, think you're behind, and this is what you are seeing, really? You want to get out on that?


PAUL: They are terrible.

BLACKWELL: So, now, more on the nasty weather that could ruin a lot of New Year's plans in parts of the U.S. The snow, we talk about the wind, also this heavy rain that's making travel extremely dangerous in a lot of places.

PAUL: Meteorologist Alexandra Steele --

(CROSSTALK) ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Don't go to her. Are you kidding me? I've got to get mark back exercising.

All right. Hi, everyone. Good morning.

You know, it is brutal. Certainly, you don't want to go out in it. Look at this. Wind-chill warnings, we're going to see and feel wind-chills today in this morning, especially, to 50 below zero. Current wind-chill out the door, drinking your coffee cup, reading the local paper in Minot, you're going that is me -- 43 degrees below zero. That's what it feels like as you walk outside, 37 in Fargo.

And these numbers are going to go lower. They have gone lower in the last hour. But it will get better. It will get better this afternoon and increasingly, but we will see temperatures warm up and the winds settle down.

But that cold air, right now, Minneapolis, 1 degree; Chicago, 31. As we head towards tomorrow, watch this cold air, this arctic air, drop south, drop eastward. By the time we get to Monday, 20s and 30s in the Northeast, and then this cold air, Arctic air modifies. So, it's not as cold as it was in the Upper Midwest. But it will be colder than it has been.

By Tuesday, New Year's Eve, only in the teens in the Northeast. But if we have the cold air and the moisture at the same time, we'd have a lot of snow in the big cities. But we don't. The moisture is there, it's a very wet morning, up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and as we head toward tonight, it all moves out, we will see some snow, though, where it is cold off.

So, watching us from Manchester, Vermont, the great, the white mountains, you will see some fresh powder tonight into tomorrow morning. But just in northern New England.

So, all of that moves out, and again, it feel a little bit in terms of accumulations, but we are going to see some very cold temperatures across the country, guys, for New Year's Eve. Times Square only in the 30s, at midnight. Chicago only in the teens.

So, we've got cold air across a lot of the country, even Atlanta, only in the 30s and low 40s.

PAUL: Alexandra Steele, I thank you.

STEELE: Alexandra, just go, go.

PAUL: We don't mean that.


You know, the thing is, thousands of people are still in the dark, too, after last weekend's big eye storm. This weekend, utility crews are still working to get the power back on.

BLACKWELL: Now, the storm slammed an area from Michigan to Maine, and into eastern Canada. This scenes in Canada's largest city, Toronto, where tree limbs are still snapping. You can see ice is falling there.

The storm hit Michigan hardest though. Almost 600,000 homes and business lost power there, and thousands as we said are still in the dark.

New this morning, that nationwide manhunt for suspected bank robber and cop killer appears to be over. Phoenix police say they have shot and killed a man they believe is the suspect after yet another bank robbery.

Now, earlier this morning, we spoke to Ray Hall about why they believe the suspect may be the same person who killed an officer in Mississippi.


RAY HALL, MISSISSIPPI POLICE: Based on information we received, that's basically after the Phoenix (INAUDIBLE) FBI agents, local agents have begun running down leads, started to see just a few things that seemed to be similar and continue to track those leads and at this time, we do believe this killer is going to be connected, not only in Atlanta and that shooting in Phoenix. But here is maybe responsible for the death of Officer Gale Stauffer.


BLACKWELL: Officer Hall says the investigation in Tupelo is on going and they are trying to determine if more suspects are involved.

PAUL: As you are counting down to the New Year and it is approaching, so is another major milestone, and the implementation of Obamacare, specifically, just what can you expect from the Affordable Care Act when it becomes a reality on New Year's Day?

Well, CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live in Washington for us with the latest.

Sunlen, good to see you. What have you discovered that we're going to discover in three days?


Exactly. Well, new this morning, the administration says more than 1.1 million people enrolled in health care plans. That's from October 1st to December 24th. This is a big moment for President Obama and a big test for his signature piece of legislation. The big question now, how will it all go?


SERFATY (voice-over): A White House toast in 2010 when its health care bill passed in the House.

But at the stroke of midnight this New Year's Eve, when that legislation becomes reality, will the president again pop the champagne?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: I now have a couple of million people maybe more who are going to have health care on January 1st and that is a big deal. That's why I ran for this office.

SERFATY: And a big debate for years.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's been a fiasco.

SERFATY: Come Wednesday, the program gets its first full test. Those who could sign up on the new insurance market places will now be able to use their coverage, although they now have until January 10th, to make their first payment.

OBAMA: We've screwed it up.

SERFATY: A Web site plagued by glitches is now improved. But shifting deadlines and canceled policies have created more confusion. At this library in northern Virginia Saturday, that confusion still bringing people needing help enrolling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you try to do it by yourself, and you sit down at the Web site and works through it, it can be a little bit difficult.

SERFATY: This past week, the Web site has seen a surge in traffic. Nearly 9,000 visitors Christmas Eve alone.

But it's still unclear whether insurance companies are getting reliable information.

After the botched Web site roll out October 1st, the president took heat for not paying close enough attention. Now, while he's on vacation in Hawaii, the White House is taking pains to show that he is not dropping the ball as New Year's Eve approaches, saying the president "reiterated to his health care team that minimizing the disruptions that have come from switching plans in the past and maximizing consumer flexibility must remain the primary."

But on January 1st, will there be something to celebrate?


SERFATY: Now, most Americans are required to have health insurance in 2014, or face a fine. But if you still need to sign up and you haven't, you won't be fined just yet. The real deadline to enroll without penalty is March 31st -- Christi and Victor.

PAUL: Good to snow. All right. Sunlen Serfaty, we appreciate it thank you.

BLACKWELL: You know there are these people who are waiting for rescue more than 70 researchers on this ship near Antarctica. This morning, an Australian ice breaker is just hours away. But is it going to be able to break through the ice once and for all? We're going to bring you the very latest on that rescue mission, next. Stay close.


PAUL: See, I hear that music and I think I'm going to see some sunshine. But we're in the studio and we forget, it's 7:14. And look at what it looks like outside Atlanta.

BLACKWELL: And you can see at the top of your screen, you've got that layer of cloud cover. This is Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park, next to CNN world headquarters. We've got the Ferris wheel there, soggy and wet out there this morning. It rained like the dickens overnight. High today 55 degrees. Little more rain.

PAUL: It's pretty, though. You get to stay inside, as I know most of you probably are right now.

BLACKWELL: You get the best sleep when it's raining.

PAUL: Yes, that's true.

BLACKWELL: And this morning, an Australian ship, it's en route to help this stranded expedition vessel in Antarctica.

PAUL: Now, we know yesterday a Chinese ice breaker was forced to turn around just six nautical miles out. This ship, the Chinese ship known as the Snow Dragon is still nearby. It has a helicopter onboard to assist an aerial rescue effort if needed.

And the winds have been fierce. The icy conditions have already forced a French ice breaker to call off it's mission.

CNN's Rosie Tomkins joins us live from London.

So, we've got this Australian ship in route. We're on, what, plan D, E? Where are we, Rosie?

ROSIE TOMKINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've lost track. We have gone through the alphabet with plans, Victor, at this point. Hopefully, third time, lucky with the ship attempting to reach the vessel.

Now, the Australian ship, we believe, is only about an hour away. So, we are so close to getting an update but we still have no guarantee what will happen when the Australian ship gets close to the Russian vessel, because the ice may still be too for it to get through. Now, the thickness of the ice is, of course, what thwarted the last two efforts to get through from the Chinese and the French vessels.

The Australian ship is bigger and more powerful. But until they get that, they simply do not know if they can cut through that ice and access the ship. And if they can't, they were revert to plan B or C or whatever it was, which is the helicopter on the Chinese vessel standing by, Victor.

PAUL: Rosie, let me ask you this -- we understand that the crew is pretty happy right now. They've got enough food and water and they're doing fine, even doing a little celebrating I understand after a week being stranded. But how long will they wait before they would resort to possible aerial rescues of those folks?

TOMKINS: Yes, I spoke to the Australian maritime authority this morning. And they told me that whatever happens, they would get the people out today. So, if the Australian ship can't get through, they will definitely revert to this aerial lift.

Part of the reason for that is that they have no other options at this stage. When they sent out the alert, the authorities asked any ships in the area to come forward that maybe able to help and this Australian vessel is their last chance. There are no more ships in the area. It's, of course, very remote out there.

So, the people onboard know they are coming off today. They also can see the Chinese vessel on the horizon standing by there. So, they don't feel alone. They have visits from penguins (ph), they're really, really in good spirits. They are having a lovely time.

We have YouTube updates from several of them each day. We can have a listen now to one of the people onboard, on how they are feeling today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apparently this afternoon, we're going to have singing on the ice, which should be fantastic as well. But it's absolutely spectacular here. This magical winter wonderland. Having a fantastic time, everyone. See you when I get home.


TOMKINS: Today, we go happy travel.

Back to you.

PAUL: Rosie Tomkins, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: If there's one person on board who actually is celebrating a birthday and had a birthday cake?

PAUL: I'm going to guess they have chefs onboard and they can just whip on up.

BLACKWELL: Or they took a cake with them. I mean, great planning.

PAUL: Hey, we want to tell you about this in depth investigation by "The New York Times" into last years attack in Benghazi right now, that shoots down much of what Republicans have said about the incident in accusing the Obama administration of the cover up. It finds, "The Times" does, al Qaeda was likely not involved in the attack and suggests independent Libyan militias played a key role rather. The report finds that it was fueled in part by a U.S. made anti-Muslim video but not solely as the Obama administration suggested. So, neither side is right, it seems, according to this newest investigation, or investigative report, I should say. Four Americans, remember, were killed in the attack, at the diplomatic compound, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The attack in questions about circumstances surrounding it, though, have been a subject of a long running battle, as you know, between the White House and the GOP.

BLACKWELL: And I'm sure this will be the topic of conversation, at least a portion of the conversation coming up at 9:00 on "STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY". So, we'll check in with Candy at some point this morning.

Also still to come on NEW DAY, the Minnesota Vikings. They are saying goodbye to the Metrodome. But a lot of people who work there say it's really a bittersweet ending to an era. We're going to have that story next.


BLACKWELL: Twenty-two after the hour now.

And in 2014, Florida could become the third most populist state in the country.

PAUL: Yes. Right now, New York is number three. But Florida's population had been growing at a much faster last clip.

At last count, both states have just under 20 million people, but new census estimates come out tomorrow. They could give Florida the edge.

BLACKWELL: So, which two states are number one and two? California and Texas. California with 38 million, and Texas with 26 million.

Well, it's an end of an era for Minnesota football fans. The Vikings will play the very last game at the Metrodome before it closes its doors to the public.

PAUL: Yes, remember, the stadium was severely damaged in 2010, after heavy snow caused that roof to collapse.

Well, the site is going to be knocked down, replaced with the new stadium for the 2016 season. But for Metrodome employees, saying good-bye is not there at all.

Rachel Slavik from CNN affiliate WCCO has more for us.


RACHEL SLAVIK, WCCO (voice-over): It's a place where few fans have ever traveled. But in the belly of the dome, history is on display.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have so many memories and this reinforces them all. SLAVIK: Three canvass show the employees from the past 31 years, while also offering a chance to reflect in the dome's twilight hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It has been fun to check them out and see what people have written on there.

SLAVIK: Staff are encouraged to leave messages and memories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great times in stand 140.

One of my bartenders thanks for the memories.

SLAVIK: Patricia Emar and Nicholas Lagar (ph), it's an emotional walk down memory lane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of people missing, too. You know, people aren't here anymore.

SLAVIK: Photos show staff during some of the dome's greatest moments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: World Series, Super Bowl.

SLAVIK: And even capture uniforms better left forgotten.

UNIDEENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember we used to have red and green pizza outfits as well.

SLAVIK: Theresa couldn't help but leave her mark an explanation on how this job added to her life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks for sending to (INAUDIBLE) countries.

SLAVIK: And while many Minnesotans will remember the dome for it's moments, those work here, well, the write is on the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just the dome. It's concrete and nylon structure. It is about the people that have been here over the years, and the teams who have been here.


BLACKWELL: And thanks to Rachel Slavik from our affiliate WCCO in Minnesota for that report.

These stadiums become a part of the game, the Candlestick and, you know, Wrigley Field -- I mean, these are places people wait a life time to visit.

PAUL: Sorry to those folks there.

BLACKWELL: A new place is coming though.

PAUL: Yes. BLACKWELL: Pedaling away to power one of the most iconic events of New Year's Eve. We'll take you to New York to show you how it's being done.

PAUL: But, first, we want to check with Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a look at what's coming up on "SGMD" at 7:30 Eastern.

Hey, Sanjay.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, by the year 2050, the number of people living with Alzheimer's is expected to triple. And if you ask anyone, they'll tell you it's heartbreaking to care for someone suffering with dementia. So, we wanted to show you what compassionate care would look like and we traveled to this tiny village in the Netherlands that's on the cutting edge of dementia care. We're going to give you a rare look at one of the most humane things I have ever seen, coming up at the bottom of the hour.



PAUL: All right. So, New Yorkers and visitors are getting the chance to help power the Times Square New Year's Eve festivities. Six stationary city bike bicycles -- have you seen them around New York if you've been there? They've been set up and people are being invited to get on and ride.

The energy generated by the pedaling is being collected and stored and it will be transferred to help light the New Year's Eve ball.

PAUL: Getting started on there, workout, nothing better than kicking off the New Year with a fresh start, right?

BLACKWELL: Yes. And how about a good riddance day? Throw out the old, bring in the new. As this last weekend of 2013 underway, New Yorkers gathered for good riddance day, bad memories form this were written down. Hopefully they got rid of some people. I have a couple of names I could toss on there. But that's just me.

PAUL: They know who they are.

One of the event's organizers says if the chance to get rid of those low lights to shred, to pulverize, beat into tiny pieces, whatever you want to say, get riddance to, go ahead and do it now.

All right. This is frightening. A giant python on the loose after strangling a hotel security guard in Indonesia.

BLACKWELL: Now, the snake which looks like this -- I think yes, this one -- apparently suffocated the man who was trying to capture it. PAUL: So, how dangerous are these things and how in the world are they going to catch it?

BLACKWELL: A wildlife expert joins us next hour, and yes, he is bringing a python.

PAUL: Victor is going to be doing that story, by the way.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I also want to talk about this good riddance day at some point. Just about any family can tell you, caring for a loved one with dementia can certainly be challenging, expensive and exhausting.

PAUL: And so tough emotionally. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently traveled to the small village just outside Amsterdam to see what the future of dementia looks like, and he calls it one of the most humane things that he has ever seen. He is sharing it with you now. Stay close.