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U.S. Prepares for New Year's Celebrations; North Dakota Towns Evacuated Due to Explosion; Ship Remains Trapped in Antarctica; Terrorist Attacks Hit Russia Before Olympics; Safety Concerns at Olympics; Bill de Blasio to Outlaw Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

Aired December 31, 2013 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Such excitement over it being a new day. Good morning. And welcome back to NEW DAY. So glad you could join us for this final day of December, the final day of the year, December 31st. It's 7:00 in the east. Kate and Chris are off today, taking a well-deserved vacation. But we put John Berman and Ana Cabrera to the test.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: John is bringing the party.

PEREIRA: Show them your glasses. These are great.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: For 2014 we have the champagne.

PEREIRA: He's ready.

CABRERA: Never too early to celebrate.

PEREIRA: He has it nearby.

BERMAN: Just in case, for commercials.

CABRERA: While it is still New Year's Eve here and here --

BERMAN: I'm looking at you. Don't mind me.


BERMAN: Bring us the news. Come on.

PEREIRA: It's already 2014 in New Zealand. See the focus right here? This was the celebration just an hour ago as 2013 turned to 2014 in Auckland. Hundreds of thousands turned out. You can hear the cheers and the music and the sounds and a fantastic fireworks display. They had a wonderful LED clock that was lit up in the sky so everyone around the city could see the countdown happen.

BERMAN: Those fireworks went on and on.

PEREIRA: Who was responsible for those fireworks?

BERMAN: Gandalf. Gandalf handles all the fireworks all around the shire in New Zealand, yes. So a happy New Year to the hobbit there.

PEREIRA: He's a father to be sure.

BERMAN: It's two minutes after the hour right now. Back here in the U.S., we are closing out 2013 with another dose of dangerous arctic air. It is cold. People in the eastern half of the country now feeling the coldest jolt so far this season. Parts of the upper Midwest are enduring around the clock subzero temperatures. In Minneapolis -- look at that, Minneapolis, I can't even say it because it's so scary, 18 below will feel like there. Other major cities also not being spared, seven in Chicago, 11 in Boston, 21 in New York City.

Our Jennifer Gray, in for Indra Petersons, is watching the forecast from a very cold Times Square. I should tell you, Jennifer has about 37 layers on right now.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I had more layers on but I was so stuffed in here, I couldn't move my arms. So I had to take one of the layers off. The ball will be dropping in about 17 hours. I was wondering if I was going to be the only person here watching the ball drop. But I spotted the first group of people to show up in Times Square, Miley Cyrus fans with their "Miley for President" signs. They'll have a front row seat for the ball dropping, and it is going to be cold. So definitely, definitely bring on the layers.


GRAY: A brutal freeze is gripping the eastern half of the country in the final hours of 2013.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a cold day but a fun day.

GRAY: Revelers are bundled up and ready to watch the ball drop in New York's Times Square where temperatures will feel like they're in the teens tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's freezing, so I've worn layers. So I'm all layered up.

GRAY: But bitter cold temps won't keep people away from the excitement. New York is not alone. The Midwest is contending with even colder temps for their festivities. Parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan are under wind chill warnings and advisories. The extreme bitter temps are hard to fathom in some parts. This landmark waterfall in Minneapolis frozen solid with wind chills in northern Minnesota Monday plummeting to 50 below zero.

The windy city will mark the New Year with temps in the teens and wind chills that feel like 10 below. Winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour created dangerous conditions for drivers in Minnesota and North Dakota Saturday. The arctic blast is also triggering heavy lake-effect snow for parts of the Great Lakes. And the New Year is expected to get off to a snowy start.

Two weather systems will converge on the northeast on the first day of 2014. One model suggests that New England and parts of the I-95 corridor could get hit by a powerful nor'easter, packing heavy snow and bone-chilling temps that could be the cold coldest in years. Some estimates have the storm dumping as much as 6 inches in New York and 10 inches in the Boston area.


GRAY: Guys, it is going to be cold. The northern plains are cold, around the great lakes, and here in the northeast, this is just the beginning. Temperatures will feel like the teens as that ball drops tonight and it is only going to get colder from here. Look at those temperatures in the north. Those are current wind chills. And as we go through the next three days, single digits across the northern plains, Detroit 17 by Friday. And then that cold air travels to the northeast. Look at New York City's high on Friday, 17. And we'll be in the 20s in Boston and temperatures in the teens even in Pittsburgh. Wind chill, these are your midnight temperatures across the country, below zero in Minneapolis, Bismarck, and even in the teens across places in Texas. Guys? Times Square folks aren't going to be the only ones. Hopefully they'll have about a million neighbors snuggle up against you and stay warm.

PEREIRA: Lean on a friend. Just to make matters worse, Jennifer, I moved here from Los Angeles. Tomorrow is the Rose Parade on New Year's Day. I wanted to see how nice it was going to be. It's 76 degrees in Los Angeles tomorrow.

BERMAN: Well done.

GRAY: I moved here from Miami. I've never felt farther away from Miami as I do now.

CABRERA: Right this moment.

GRAY: Miami is in the 70s.

PEREIRA: Think warm thoughts, Miami thoughts.

BERMAN: I can see the look of doubt.

GRAY: Palm trees and sand. Palm trees and sand.

BERMAN: Jennifer Gray in Times Square, thank you so much. You can see things just sort of getting started behind Jennifer right now. It will be quite a party there, 1 million people. So tune in tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern as Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin welcome in the New Year right there in Times Square. It starts at 9:00 eastern. You will not want to miss a second on CNN because something is bound to happen.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

Turning back to our other news right now, there is growing concern in North Dakota this morning after a powerful explosion, just look at this, ripped through an area west of Fargo, two trains colliding. One was carrying crude oil, the other derailed. Now the smoke from that burning wreck forced thousands of from the small town of Casselton out of their homes. We're joined been I phone by Cass county Sheriff Laney. Sheriff, thank you so much for joining us. Has everyone been able to get out of town safely?

SHERIFF PAUL LANEY, CASS COUNTY: Actually, the evacuation went very smoothly. We were able to communicate through the media. We've drilled these types of exercises a number of times. We were very, very happy and impressed with how smooth it actually went. We're testing about 65 percent of the community has been evacuated. A number of people did choose to stay. We made it -- we did not make it mandatory. We strongly, strongly encouraged because of the fumes and because of that plume of smoke.

PEREIRA: We know you train for situations just like this. Give us an idea the wind conditions there today. Are you concerned that the wind is going to take that toxic air further afield?

LANEY: We very much were last night. Initially the wind was out of the north and the northwest. And we didn't really get a break there. As it switched around, it came straight out of the west and the wreck and wreckage is straight west of the town about a half mile. It was going to push that plume right back towards the city. That was our biggest concern at the time.

We knew we had a few hours because of the timing. The winds weren't going to change until later last night. So we made the call, myself in consultation with the mayor and chairman of the county commission to recommend the evacuation. And people listened. It was orderly and it went very well. We were able to get the majority out before the winds change.

It looks like they're going to change back on it and maybe start pushing it away. We have experts here. There's a number of crews monitoring the air and looking at the particles in the air. By midmorning we should have a good idea of what the quality of the air is. We'll start making decisions on how long people need to be out and when we can start opening the community back up. And they're also out fighting the fire right now. So it will be a while they work on the wreckage. There are still a lot of cars burning.

PEREIRA: And you feel you will have that contained fairly quickly.

LANEY: The crews that they have here, they brought in crews from all over the country in dealing with this. The railroad firefighting crews are dealing with this. They have an action plan. At daylight we're going to kick into the next phase of that. And then at that point we'll see how long it takes them to knock it down. But keep in mind, there's 10 to 12 cars out there still burning.

PEREIRA: Yes. That's sheriff of Casselton there, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney. We thank you so much for joining us on the phone to give us an update. And we hope the folks in that community in North Dakota can find a way to celebrate New Year's Eve, thankful that they got out safely that there were no fatalities or injuries that we've been told of in that collision there. Thanks so much.

LANEY: Thank you so much for keeping us in your thoughts on this New Year. We're very thankful, when you see that explosion, that nobody was hurt.

PEREIRA: Agreed. Thanks so much, sheriff.

BERMAN: It makes you appreciate thinks for sure.

All right, moving on, 10 minutes after the hour. A blizzard preventing the rescue of those trapped on a ship stranded in Antarctica. After three failed attempts by ice-breaking ships, the new plan is to send in a helicopter to airlift passengers from the Russian research vessel. Problem is that may not happen anytime soon. Now after spending Christmas on board that ship, they will ring in the New Year there as well. Matthew Chance live in London with the latest. Good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right. They'll be bringing in the New Year. In fact they've already posted video messages of themselves preparing for the New Year's celebrations. The reason you plan, it is the only, you're absolutely right, it's the only plan that's going to work according to the rescue officials. They've abandoned all the attempts to reach that stranded research vessel by sea with ice breakers. Instead they're going to stand back, send in a helicopter. They can only do that once weather conditions allow.


CHANCE: This morning, new video, dozens of passengers walking arm in arm doing what they can to speed their rescue.

CHRIS TURNEY, EXPEDITION LEADER: We've just learned the Aurora can't reach us. So we're preparing the helipad by getting the team to stomp down in the snow and ice so the Chinese helicopter from Snow Dragon can reach us when the weather improves.

CHANCE: The weather conditions are not expected to get better until at least one more day. In the meantime, the crew has marked the spot in the ice where the chopper can land. Once it does, it will transport 12 people at a time to a Chinese ice breaker, then a barge will ferry them from the ice breaker to another ship from Australia. The stranded research ship set out to study climate change in Antarctica and retrace the steps of explorer Douglas Morsen, who studied life on the frozen continent a century ago. But they got stuck in thick ice.

TURNEY: This was big chunks of ice. Really thick, lots of years. Lots of years worth of growth. And this is not going to be easy to get through.

CHANCE: Since Christmas, three separate ice breaker ships have tried and failed to cut a path to the research vessel. Once the rescue does happen, a skeleton crew will be left behind. But for most of the 74 people marooned, this Antarctic ordeal may soon be coming to an end.


CHANCE: We're keeping a close eye on the situation, John. The weather conditions they're enduring something in the region of minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit, far too cold, far too windy at present for the helicopters to safely operate. Back to you.

BERMAN: It doesn't sound pleasant but they are keeping their spirits up. Matthew Chance in London for us, appreciate it.

We're going to shift gears now and talk about some serious international terrorism concerns. The big question over whether athletes and fans will be safe at the Olympics coming up in Russia. That is the big question after two terror attacks this week just 38 days before the games. The death toll from the bombings, talking about just 400 miles from Sochi, the death toll stands at 34. And authorities say they have found a link between both these attacks.

For more now on the security concerns let's bring in Raymond Mey, a former FBI agent and president of security consultant International Corporation. May managed counterterrorism security planning and operations for the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. He also provided assistance for the 2006 winter games in Turin in Italy. He joins us now from Salt Lake City. Thanks so much for joining us.

RAYMOND MEY, FORMER FBI AGENT: Good to be here, John.

BERMAN: So in Salt Lake City in 2002, it obviously happened in the wake of September 11th here in the U.S., concerns over terrorism were very, very high. Sochi is a little bit of a different situation. What you have now is weeks before the game, these blasts happening a couple hundred miles away. How high do you believe the concerns are right now? How worried would you be?

MEY: Well, the concerns are obviously very high. And security always is the focus of attention prior to the games and the run-up period just before the games. However, I believe that the Russians will be up to the job and safety and security will be paramount in the Sochi area. And I believe these games will be safe and secure.

BERMAN: You say there are always terrorism concerns, and indeed there are. Security is always a major issue. You seem to have specific threats coming from this Chechen insurgent leader who calls the games satanic. He wants to disrupt the games in Sochi. Do you believe that's a particular reason for concern?

MEY: It's definitely something out of the realm we're not used to hearing, someone coming directly out in making threats like this. However, all these threats have been considered by the Russians. They were considered by us here in Salt Lake City in the wake of 9/11. All of this goes into the various factors that you have to consider in terms of planning and preparation. But I still believe that the Russians will be up to the job and they are going to do a great job with these games.

BERMAN: You talk about the Russians being up to the job. There was an interesting statement yesterday from the National Security Council here in the United States. It condemned the terror attacks in Volgograd. But the end of the statement said this. It said, "We would welcome the opportunity for closer cooperation for the safety of the athletes, spectators, and other participants."

To me, that read that U.S. officials wish they would have some greater involvement in what's going on there.

MEY: I mean, that's a very -- a difficult thing, because of the fact that a country that's hosting the games wants to -- this is an opportunity for that country to show their capabilities and their ability to stand up to the job. And every country will have their own -- this is their chance to show the world that they're capable of doing this.

We did the same thing in 2002. You recently saw that in London in 2012, and certainly this is an opportunity for us to cooperate with the Russians better. And the games provide that great opportunity.

BERMAN: What do you think the biggest risks are there in Sochi right now? And who is most at risk? Would it be the athletes or the spectators?

MEY: I don't believe that the risk will be there for anyone, to tell you the truth. I believe that the outer perimeter will be highly secure. The resources, the security, the personnel that will be brought to bear on this event is gonna make it for a very safe and secure environment.

What happens throughout the country of Russia is a whole other ball game in terms of what can happen in places like Volgograd. However, I believe that the area immediately in Sochi where the events -- where the various venues are gonna host the various events for 17 days as well as the outer perimeter surrounding the city of Sochi is gonna be a safe and secure environment for our athletes and for the participants that will be at these games.

BERMAN: You make a very good point. There are concerns that terrorists might use this opportunity to attack other parts of that country, not just the games.

Raymond Mey, thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it.

MEY: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: All right, let's go to Ana Cabrera now for some of the day's other top stories.

CABRERA: Thanks, John.

And good morning again to you.

Making news, the see-saw swing of Obamacare news continues, following a reports of a big surge in enrollment, another top health official is calling it quits.

Michelle Snyder, supervised that website launch. Now she's retiring as coverage just begins in earnest tomorrow, and the White House is now bracing for possible startup stutters.

CNN's Athena Jones is in Honolulu this morning. Athena, you know there's gonna be a lot of eyes watching, a lot of anticipation for how this new health care system is actually going to work.


But about Michelle Snyder, she was the chief operating officer of the centers for Medicare and Medicaid services. She's stepping down, retiring for personal reason after 41 years as a public servant. And the CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner called Snyder a key member of the agency's leadership team and said that she had planned to step down a year ago but stayed on to help out with the health care rollout.

And about that health care rollout, The White House health insurance providers, health care providers and pharmacies are preparing to deal with thousands of people who could find themselves in a health care coverage limbo starting tomorrow, thinking that they've successfully signed up for coverage and then finding out that they haven't. This could be due to errors in transmitting their information from the health exchanges to the insurers, or it could be because of incomplete applications and other reasons.

Now, those who have paid their premium and have their insurance I.D. cards should bring those with them if they go and seek treatment or medicines. But those people who don't yet have an insurance I.D. card may find themselves paying out of pocket for the time being.


CABRERA: All right, Athena Jones in Honolulu following what the first family is doing over the holiday. We appreciate your time this morning.


CABRERA (voice-over): In other news, you could soon see drones flying over your house. If you live in six states, the FAA has now authorized to test the unmanned craft. The list: Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. Now, the goal is to test the drones in a range of terrains and scenarios to see if they're safe for general use by the public and the industry.

An Arizona woman is behind bars accused of stabbing her ex-husband and poisoning her four kids on Christmas Day, killing one of them. Connie Villa faces one count of murder, four counts of attempted murder. Now, authorities say she forced her children to take prescription narcotics. Her 13-year-old daughter died. Her other kids, ages three, five and eight survived. The ex-boyfriend is in stable condition.

Boston's new years celebrations include a special display for the heroes and the victims of the marathon bombings. This ice sculpture unveiled Monday night near the finish line. It will be lit at dusk as part of the city's first night festivities. Security will be tight across the city with up to a million people also expected to take part in those celebrations.

And no, this isn't a scene from the Mel Gibson movie "Signs." This is actual footage of giant crop circles that appeared on this farm near the central California coast. Two friends driving on a nearby road Sunday night say they witnessed strange bursts of green light flashing on the horizon. So they even videotaped that. They posted it on YouTube, where, of course, it went viral, bringing a number of other curious onlookers to this scene on Monday to see it for themselves. No one has yet come forward to admit they are behind it.


CABRERA: We're going to get to the bottom of this.

PEREIRA: I see lawnmower tracks.

BERMAN: The truth is out there.


PEREIRA: Ana, thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right, coming up next on NEW DAY, another New York tradition, a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park. But they may become a thing of the past if the new mayor has his way. It's a controversial move that has a lot of people talking this morning.

PEREIRA: And we are a day away from legalized recreational marijuana usage in Colorado, but is this sending the wrong kind of message to teens? We went to the Mile-High City to find out. It takes on a whole new meaning.


PEREIRA: He keeps sliding this bottle of champagne in front of me. Welcome back to NEW DAY!

New York City's fabled horse-drawn carriages, you probably even ridden one when you came one to New York. Well, they could soon be riding into the sunset. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is vowing to outlaw these wildly popular tourist attractions, calling them inhumane. But Central Park's carriage drivers are saying they're not going without a fight.

CNN's Margaret Conley joins us now with more.

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a horse buggy battle. And as it plays out, some tourists are flocking to Central Park to see the horses or go for a ride one last time. This is as mayor- elect Bill de Blasio says it's over.


CONLEY (voice-over): Horse drawn carriage rides, they're an iconic way for so many visitors to take in New York City's Central Park. But soon they may be a thing of the past. Tomorrow New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio takes the reigns at City Hall from current mayor Mike Bloomberg, and he plans to make good on a campaign promise to pull the carriages off the streets.

BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK MAYOR-ELECT: We are going to get rid of the horse carriages, period. It's over.

CONELY: The carriage rides have been offered since Central Park opened in 1858. They've been celebrated on film, here in "Barefoot in the Park."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: We just got married!

CONELY: And on TV, including HBO's hit series, "Sex and the City."

SARAH JESSICA PARKER, ACTRESS: And I wasn't going to question any of it, not even how he found a horse-drawn sleigh in the middle of Manhattan.

CONLEY: And they've been at the top of so many tours' must-do lists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's part of New York City!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's one of the things you need to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't get rid of the horses or we won't come back.

PROTESTERS: How many horses have to die?

CONLEY: But animal rights groups have long been calling for a ban on the rides, citing accidents like these. And they argue the animals are forced to live in conditions they describe as inhumane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No matter what they say, the horses are really not kept in a good condition.

CONLEY: Mayor-elect de Blasio says he's open to alternatives, including possibly replacing the carriages with antique-style electric cars. But carriage driver Stephen Malone says the move to get rid of the horses just won't work and that he and other drivers plan to fight it in court.

STEPHEN MALONE, CARRIAGE DRIVER: The horses are the star. It's not the car. It's not the carriage. It's not me. He's the star. That's what people come for. You can't create that with an electric car. You'll never create it. Kids can't pet fenders. They pet horses.


CONLEY (on-camera): Now, the two sides are going back and forth, with animal rights groups saying horses don't belong in an urban setting. They breathe exhaust, and it's just too dangerous for them to dodge traffic.

Now a horse carriage driver fighting for his job argues that the horses lead great lives and are not getting overworked. He says the horses -- and I haven't thought about this before -- but they get at least five weeks vacation time, with some of them getting up to six months off.

Anyway, De Blasio has hired legal counsel to try to get this done.

PEREIRA: Wow. It's going to have an impact. People visiting from all around the country and around the world love having their pictures taken on those trips. It will be interesting to see what happens.

BERMAN: But the political lines are drawn here. I think the mayor has been crystal clear what he wants to do.

PEREIRA: Oh yeah.

CONLEY: It's going to be a big hit, though. I was running there yesterday, lots of horse-drawn carriages.

PEREIRA: Lots of horse-drawn carriages.

BERMAN: Makes it hard to run, actually.

CONELY: I was dodging them.

PEREIRA: Well, there's the leftover stuff.

Margaret, thank you so much, and Happy New Year to you.

CONLEY: Happy New Year.

BERMAN: All right, coming up next on NEW DAY, with recreational marijuana about to become legal in Colorado, there are new concerns about teenagers. It's still illegal for them, but is there any way to stop them from getting their hands on pot? We'll have that story.

And could this photo bomb be a fake? A California mother says it's real. So why all the questions? Is anything on the internet actually real? That and more when NEW DAY returns.