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EARLY START

Winter Storm Batters Northeast; Flights Grounded by Winter Storm; Man Pulled from Lake Michigan; Kerry: "Not Mission Impossible"; Tanker Explodes in Michigan; "Dead" Banker Appears in Court; Wall Street Opens 2014 with a Loser; Cyber Security Deal for $1 Billion; Americans Detained in Libya; Passengers Rescued from Russian Ship; Arrest in Murder of Priest; Change for Cheerios; Utah's Battle over Same-Sex Marriage

Aired January 3, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A dangerous nor'easter slamming the Northeast. More than a foot of snow will fall as blizzard conditions wreak havoc and it's so cold in some places, exposed skin could freeze in 15 minutes. Yikes!

Travel nightmare. Roads are closed and more than 2,000 flights cancelled because of the storm. We have what you need to know to help you get where you're going today.

Incredible rescue. A man pulled from the ice in Chicago after he fell. He fell into Lake Michigan. Whoa. OK, good morning. Welcome to EARLY START this Friday morning pm. I'm Christine Romans.

And I'm Ana Cabrera. John Berman is hosting NEW DAY on this very cold and very snowy Friday morning. What a way to end the day, right? It's January 3rd, 4:00 am in the east. Let's get right to our breaking news.

A beast of a winter storm battering the Northeast right now; 100 million people are in its path. Driving snow and fierce winds forcing the governors of New Jersey and New York to declare a state of emergency.

This storm is enormous. Parts of New York State and New England will be digging out from well over a foot of snow later today. In fact, we saw 21 inches already in Boxford, Massachusetts. Much of the region also facing extreme cold with sustained winds of 30 miles an hour or more. That makes wind chills below zero.

ROMANS: Air travel is a nightmare. Thousands of flights cancelled or delayed and highways impassible. Many shut down so that plows can do their work. Blizzard conditions from the Big Apple all the way up to Maine. CNN has the first winter storm of 2014. We have got it covered like in other network can. We begin in Boston with Indra Petersons.

Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm going to do everything I can to look at this camera. As you can tell the winds are coming across now. You can actually see all the snow already on the ground really blowing across the area.

I want to show you some of the berms. You can actually see they are a couple of feet high but a blessing and a curse at the same time. We were able to drive through it because it's so powdery but it's the same problem here. A little bit of wind and this is blowing around because it is so cold.

This is a very dry snow. You can see the blizzard warnings; we'll show you there on the map. We have talked about it from the coastal sections of Maine all the way down through Long Island and not including Boston. Remember, formal blizzard warnings; you need those winds be about 35 miles per hour steady and that really brings that visibility down.

That's the big concern for this type of snow we are dealing with. Let's talk about these temperatures. I can tell you firsthand it is freezing. Freezing? Yes, that is an understatement. Right now it is 2 degrees in Boston but the winds are coming in from the north at a good 20 miles per hour.

With that it actually right now it feels like negative 20 degrees. Now this is a danger in itself. It feels like negative 20. Only 10 minutes outside exposed could give you actually give you frostbite so we will test that on my face. But it's only been about five minutes. That is the concern.

Let's talk about the storm itself. We are still expecting this guy -- it's currently forming off the coast of the Carolinas. It's really building here and by late afternoon -- excuse me, late morning into the afternoon, we should start to see the snow dying down. That is the good news here.

As long as we still have these strong winds in place, you have snow like this on the ground, even when the system actually moves offshore and the snow itself stops, you're still going to have those visibility concerns with all the snow blowing around.

The other side of this will be the heavy amounts of snow, especially in Essex County. This low is forming so close to the coast we are actually getting ocean effect snow, so we are talking about as much as two feet of snow can be possible in this area so we have a lot of things to be concerned with, heavy amounts of snow, blowing of the snow and these dangerous temperatures that we are feeling this morning. Guys?

ROMANS: Yes, Indra. All right.

So many of the schools cancelled before the first snowflakes fell they cancelled yesterday. A lot of the highways shut down so the plows can do their work. Really taking this one seriously, thanks, Indra.

If you have plans to fly to or from the northeast this Friday morning chances are you're grounded right now. Well over 2,000 flights have been cancelled between Thursday and today, 8,000 more flights delayed. Those numbers are now climbing. Our breaking news coverage of this massive winter storm continues now with Pamela Brown live from New York's LaGuardia airport.

Good morning.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you.

Already, Christine and Ana, there are 1,300 flight cancellations and we are only four hours into the day today and we expect that number to continue to rise. Right here at LaGuardia Airport, 230 flights have been cancelled.

Around 300 at Newark Airport, we're also seeing a lot of cancellations at Boston Logan Airport and Chicago O'Hare Airport. Those are really the main hubs where we are seeing a lot of the issues.

And really the big problem here is that planes can't even make it into the airport. The conditions picked up here in the New York area at around 8:00 pm Eastern time, so we have already seen a lot of cancellations this morning because the planes simply couldn't get in.

The big issue is the visibility. We have about 5 inches of snow but the whippy winds are kicking up that snow. It's a light, feathery kind of snow so it's creating a lot of issues in that regard. The Port Authority says they are ready for the storm, dispatching over 200 pieces of snow/ice equipment at the airport today so they are doing their best to handle the situation.

But as you can see on the board behind me here, all of the cancelled flights already in the yellow and we expect the board to continue to light up in the yellow as these conditions persist through the morning until around 10:00 am Eastern time and we will see the ripple effect beyond that.

Back to you.

ROMANS: Pack your patience if you're at an airport this morning. Thank you so much, Pamela.

CABRERA: Parts of the Midwest also taking a pounding from the first winter storm of 2014. Wind chills in Cleveland well below zero with a foot of snow on the ground already. Driving there is treacherous. Thick ice under all of that snow, triggering spin-outs and accidents all over town.

ROMANS: Chicago has been absolutely battered since Wednesday, 6 more inches of snow falling overnight. That's on top of the 12 inches already on the ground in the Windy City. It's the worst storm to hit Chicago since 2011. O'Hare Airport crippled by the winter blast, hundreds of flights cancelled. That creates this ripple effect of delays across the northeast as well.

CABRERA: Look, these are dramatic pictures of a rescue that happened there in Chicago. A man had to be pulled from the water after falling through the ice. This was on Lake Michigan. The Coast Guard and the Chicago fire department working together to help that man to safety. He was unresponsive at first but then he showed some signs of life after medical help.

He was taken to the University of Chicago Hospital in critical condition.

ROMANS: We will follow the storm closely so stay with us throughout the morning for updates and I want you to tweet us any of your weather pictures at Early StartCNN so we can see what you're seeing as well.

CABRERA: Well, we are following other headlines this morning as well. Breaking news out of South Sudan where U.S. embassy personnel are now ordered to leave the country and all Americans are being urged to get out of the African nation because of flaring violence between rebel forces and government troops. Over 1,000 people have been killed in less than three weeks in this escalating violence.

ROMANS: The U.S. State Department has been in contact with an American stopped by Libyan officials in Benghazi, a report Thursday by the Libyan state-run news agency said two U.S. citizens were detained for scouting at Benghazi University. Meanwhile, a British man and a New Zealand woman were found dead, apparently shot to death outside Tripoli.

CABRERA: And new this morning, "The Washington Post" is reporting the NSA is trying to build a supercomputer capable of breaking nearly all types of encryption. It would be able to able to crack codes protecting banking, medical, business and government records all around the world.

The paper cites documents that were released by Edward Snowden. Those documents also imply the NSA still has plenty of work to do on this project.

ROMANS: New this morning. Secretary of State John Kerry in the West Bank meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry arrived in Israel Thursday to negotiate a Middle East peace deal that he says is not mission impossible.

He had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who says there is growing doubt in Israel the Palestinians want peace. Harsh words that clouded the start of Kerry's 10th trip to the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions. We are close to that time, if not at it, and I think we understand the circumstances within which we are working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The secretary of state vows to work to narrow those differences on a framework that addresses core issues including borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

CABRERA: More drama down South. Happening right now. That Australian icebreaker carrying the 52 rescued passengers who were on the stranded ship in Antarctica now ordered to stay put.

It's on standby because officials on a Chinese vessel involved in that dramatic helicopter rescue yesterday fear it may get stuck in the ice again. Once the Aurora Australis is cleared to resume its journey it will stop at a Antarctic base for some supplies before the 14-day voyage to Tasmania.

ROMANS: A California man has been arrested for the brutal murder of a beloved Catholic priest. Police say Gary Lee Bullock killed Father Eric Freed during a violent struggle inside a church rectory. Freed's body was discovered Wednesday morning by parishioners at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Eureka. He died from blunt force trauma. No word yet about a possible motive.

CABRERA: The Supreme Court could take action today on a request to block a key component of the president's health care law. Several religious nonprofits want the requirement to provide birth control and other reproductive coverage thrown out just as Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary stay on New Year's Eve, putting the provision on hold. Now the court has no official deadline to act but we're certainly watching this one for you.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, more on this nor'easter slamming into the Northeast.

Also a tanker explodes on an icy Michigan road. But the driver is able to walk away. Got to hear about this one.

A hiker is rescued after falling off a waterfall in California. We have more incredible images next.

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ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. Breaking news coverage of this winter storm slamming the Northeast right now, 100 million people are feeling the impact. Long Islanders are looking at a long day of shoveling, close to a foot of snow falling in New York's eastern suburbs forcing the governor to shut down the Long Island Expressway overnight.

A foot of snow or more has buried parts of Boston. Drifts two feet or higher are being reported. The wind chill there this morning makes it feel like 20 below. And if you had plans to fly today, please check in with your airline before you head to the airport because more than 10,000 flights, 10,000 flights have already been cancelled or delayed just in the past 24 hours.

CABRERA: Eastern Massachusetts is getting hit hard this morning and our Laurie Segall joins us by phone from Chatham. That's in Massachusetts where they are battling blizzard conditions with winds gusting over 50 miles an hour. I know as a result, Laurie, you had some technical difficulties already this morning to say the least. That is the least of your concerns, I'm sure.

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. You're exactly right. Right now I'm -- our satellite transmitters went out; they're thinking because some of the cold air. I'm actually standing on Main Street right now. You can probably hear the wind in the background.

Last time I checked it was about 30 miles per hour and the snow here, we are looking at probably over a foot of snow and really right now we are in Chatham, Massachusetts. You have to understand we are on the coast and near the water.

There is a blizzard warning here until 11:00 am. And also, you know, a lot of the folks here say, hey, look. We are used to this kind of storm. That being said, they look out for coastal flooding. It hasn't been that bad right now.

They are going to be looking for high tide which comes in around noon today to see if the water comes up, if there is any effect on the beaches, on the sand dunes.

We actually spoke to the fire department just about four or five hours ago and, you know, it's a small fire department. There are only six here but they have doubled the staff just in case.

When it comes down to it, what you can feel and probably hear in the background is this wind. Then you combine that with the water and with these gusts, the snow blowing and you can really, really feel it over here in Massachusetts, guys.

ROMANS: We know you're going to keep an eye on how things are unfolding there. Laurie, any reports of damage or power outages so far?

SEGALL: I've been on the phone with a couple of different folks and nothing so bad. Nothing that bad so far but I will say just about three hours ago, we saw a power line that was sparking, so you can imagine that people are -- that they are going to be looking out for this kind of thing.

Right now, people in their homes. No one except for me here on Main Street. No one's on the road. As you can imagine. Well, I joke that I always wanted to visit Cape Cod and I really got the best opportunity possible, right, guys?

CABRERA: Yes. Be careful what you wish for, all right? Laurie Segall in Chatham, Massachusetts, this morning, thank you for that.

A Michigan community rocked by a tanker explosion along the interstate. Look at this video. The tanker went up in flames. This is on I-69 in Davidson Township yesterday. This blast was felt for miles forcing evacuations for everyone within one mile of the explosion. A rough day for first responders putting out the fire in what you can see is frigid conditions. The truck was carrying hazardous materials. The driver told officials he hit a patch of ice leading to the explosion. Amazingly that driver was OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He walked away from it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you make of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He walked away the luckiest man I know today.

ROMANS (voice-over): The evacuation order was lifted after a few hours.

Utah's battle over same-sex marriage heads to the Supreme Court and the high court could act as early as today on the state's request to put gay marriages on hold.

Utah officials appealing to the high court after a district court struck down the state's ban saying it violated federal guarantees of equal protection. Ever since that decision came down, Utah clerks' offices have been flooded with gay couples looking to get marriage licenses.

CABRERA: In an unprecedented decision, a California Supreme Court has granted a law license to an undocumented immigrant. Last year, Sergio Garcia challenged a federal law which bars undocumented immigrants from receiving professional licenses from government agencies.

Now Garcia has waited more than half his life to get legal residency. He passed the bar in fact in 2009 and then just yesterday the court found Garcia met the requirements to practice law in California.

ROMANS: Very much alive. A former banker suspected of faking his own death appeared in Georgia in a courtroom Thursday. A federal complaint says Aubrey Lee Price falsified documents to conceal more than $20 million in investor losses.

Price vanished in 2012 reportedly leaving behind a suicide note. He was declared legally dead more than a year ago. Price could face 30 years in prison. He is due back in court Monday.

CABRERA: The Minnesota Vikings insisting punter Chris Kluwe was cut for poor performance on the field not for his advocacy of same-sex marriage off the field.

Now Kluwe unleashed a scathing account Thursday, lashing into the team's top brass, calling one coach a bigot and two others cowards. Kluwe says he was on the receiving end of vicious anti-gay remarks and he was asked to tone down his advocacy for gay rights.

He said he did not come forward sooner because doing so would have hurt his teammates. The Vikings say they take these accusations seriously and they will thoroughly review the matter.

ROMANS: Take a look at this incredible video out of California. Search and rescue teams in Los Angeles airlifting an injured hiker to safety. Police say this 18-year-old woman was with friends at a popular waterfall when she slipped and fell, breaking both ankles. The woman was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. That looks like quite a ride.

CABRERA: Wow. Glad she's OK.

Coming up, what a difference a few years makes. A U.S. automaker about to announce some stunning news. Details straight ahead.

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CABRERA: Welcome back to EARLY START. Thanks for joining us extra early today.

Right now, we are watching that bruising winter storm that is affecting about a hundred million people in the Midwest and the Northeast. A foot of snow has fallen on parts of Boston where the wind chill this morning is 20 below.

Blizzard conditions in the suburbs of New York forcing the governor to shut down the Long Island Expressway overnight. Close to a foot of snow falling east of the city and if you have plans to fly today or this weekend good luck. You better call your carrier. Over 10,000 flights cancelled or delayed between yesterday and today.

ROMANS: Now it's "Money Time." After the best year in stocks since 1997, 2014 starts to stumble.

After a banner year, folks taking a look at the landscape and proceeding with caution in the stock market, at least yesterday. The Dow lost 135 points, the Nasdaq, S&P also lower. In fact, it was the first time the markets started the year on a down note since 2008.

One stock taking a bit hit, Apple was downgraded by a Wells Fargo analyst on concern that balance of power will shift from phone makers to carriers this year.

It should be a banner day for Ford. Auto sales for the month of December and for the year are out later this morning. Ford has already said it will be the best selling car brand in the United States for 2013.

Ford got there this year with big sellers like the F-150 pickup truck, Focus, which is likely to finish as the world's most popular car this year, the Ford Fiesta and the Ford Fusion, it has been a strong year for auto sales in general in the U.S.

Analysts expect sales to finish at 15.6 million cars and light trucks, an important sign of strength in the economy. When people buy a car or a truck it means they are more confident about their financial well-being and they are able to spend money like that. So that's a good sign for the economy.

And a very big deal in a very hot industry this morning to tell you about: cyber security. With stories every day about companies like Snapchat and Skype being hacked. We got news yesterday that FireEye would buy Mandiant for $1 billion. Mandiant is a computer forensics firm, best known for unveiling a secretive Chinese military unit believed to be behind hacks on U.S. companies.

FireEye shares jumped 20 percent after Thursday's announcement and analysts say they expect more of these kinds of cyber deals as hackers get more sophisticated and ambitious and public companies on it, try to figure out ways to build their business around protecting your information and protecting cyber networks.

CABRERA: In the age of the Internet and technology (INAUDIBLE) absolutely.

Coming up, we are tracking a monster nor'easter battering the East Coast this morning. This is a live look at New York right now. You can see that snow blowing around. We have reporters live on the ground covering every angle for you, so stay with us.

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CABRERA: Mother Nature hammering the Northeast. A dangerous winter storm is bringing heavy snow and freezing temperatures. We are talking wind chills below zero. We have reporters live on the ground all over this story.

ROMANS: Nightmare at the airport. More than 2,000 flights have been cancelled. Delays could last for hours. We have what you need to know.

And danger on the roads. Driving conditions are treacherous this morning. Our Richard Quest shows us why it's critical to be careful.

CABRERA: Welcome back to this extra EARLY START. I'm Ana Cabrera.

ROMANS: It's early or it's late I guess, if you're on the West Coast. I'm Christine Romans. John Berman is hosting NEW DAY. It's 29 minutes past the hour.

The big story this morning, of course, a massive winter storm pummeling the Northeast, blizzard conditions in parts of New York and New England affecting 100 million people. There's a state of emergency in New York. Major highways shut down with parts of Long Island facing up to a foot of snow. And if your travel plans call for air travel today, you might have to change them. More than 10,000 flights have been cancelled or delayed.

Our breaking news coverage of the first big storm of 2014 kicks off in Boston with meteorologist Indra Petersons, where it is cold, my dear. That smile could freeze right on your face.

PETERSONS: I think my teeth hurt smiling. This is a new one for me. It is definitely chilly out here. I got one of these last flights into Logan last night where the snow is steadily coming down, the winds have been picking up and really has not stopped all throughout the overnight. So here in South Boston right now we've got about 6 inches of snow.

Pretty easy to see the winds out here are gusting at about 30 miles per hour. The problem with that is when you take a look at the snow, it is so dry. This is the concern here. It doesn't take much for this to really blow away.

You can kind of see how it quickly blows away and that is the concern here as we talk about these winds continuing to gust. Visibility issues here about a quarter mile or less. Not a blizzard warning per se in Boston itself but take a look at the map and you can actually see really from the coastal sections of Maine even all the way through Long Island.

We are dealing with this type of snow. That cold, dry snow that blows around so easily and that is really the concern as we go forward.

Taking a look as we talk about temperatures. Wow. Yes, cold is an understatement. I think we have been talking about that. Right now in Boston it is 2 degrees but these winds are coming out of the north gusting as high as about 30. You factor that in and it feels like negative 20 degrees.

Very dangerous at that temperature; it only takes 10 minutes to get frostbite. If I keep doing this, I'm sorry, but it's absolutely freezing out here this morning. The low is still really bringing snow down and will continue to do so through these morning hours.

Still that heaviest point of the storm as the low is building off the coastline. When is it expected to leave? Well, that will be late today into the early afternoon and we will start to see it pull its way offshore, but as long as the strong winds still are out here you are going to be talking about this snow blowing around and those visibility issues could still be a concern.

Traffic and air delays will also still be a concern as long as you have those winds out here. As far as how much snow, this is impressive. You can see that low is close to the coastline as it's currently forming. With that you have something called ocean effect snow.

You're talking about pulling that moisture off the coastline and really enhancing the snowfall melt. So just north of here, Essex County, the north end, could get as much as two feet of snow before it's all said and done. Imagine shoveling this, Christine and Ana, when you talk about temperatures feeling like a negative 20. Not a fun thing even when it's all said and done.

ROMANS: And when it's blowing around while you're shoveling it. Really important information, Indra Petersons, thanks, Indra.

CABRERA: New York, as well as New Jersey, are both under a state of emergency right now. Several major highways shut down overnight. They are facing 14 inches of snow or more in places like Albany. Now Long Islanders are also taking a beating close to a foot of snow falling there with blizzard conditions.

Let's bring in Alexandra Field live from Islandia. That's about 50 miles east of New York City or so, Alexandra. I'm sure it's cold and not so fun where you are, either?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. But I can still smile out here, Ana, because what I'm hearing Indra say feels like 20 below where she is, well, it only feels like 6 below out here so I have to toughen up and take this one.

We do have this blizzard warning in effect in Long Island until 1 o'clock. Take a look what has happened out here overnight so far. That's the Long Island Expressway out there in the distance. You can see plows going by on it and you actually do see a couple of cars right now, but make no mistake about it. That road is shut down.

Part of Interstate 84 is also supposed to be shut down along with the New York State thruway south of Albany. Those were the orders from Governor Cuomo last night. The idea is to keep everyone safe as the snow continues to fall.

So how much have we had so far? Well, take a look down here. We are being told right now across Long Island we have got about 4 to 5 inches and it is just this incredibly light, powdery show; that also speaks to you just how cold it is here because you aren't getting that wet, sloppy, heavier snow.

Almost a foot of snow is expected on parts of Long Island so a lot more to come today. Take a look at this parking lot out here. This was covered in snow overnight. Some of the plows have been out here; they are making that first or second pass through. They're sort of working through the night to stay ahead of this because we know some of the heaviest snowfall is still coming over the next couple of hours and we know some of the lowest temperatures will come just after that. So we are very much right in the middle of it out here on Long Island right now. Governor Cuomo has said that he hopes to open up these roads by 5 o'clock in the morning. That was the announcement yesterday so the roads would be open in time for the morning rush.

That said, no one will be rushing anywhere this morning and the governor has not yet announced officially when the roads will open. It is all subject to how the weather continues to play out over the next couple of hours. CABRERA: It's a dangerous situation. Looks like you have lots of layers on this morning. That's a good thing and key if you have to be out in this. Thank you, Alexandra Field.

ROMANS: Grounded, thousands of air travelers in the Northeast going nowhere this morning. Tens of thousands of travelers. Well over 2,000 flights have now been cancelled between Thursday and today and 8,000 more delayed. Those numbers are climbing.

Our breaking news coverage of the massive winter storm continues with now Pamela Brown live from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

A lot of I hope patient and not frustrated people there at LaGuardia this morning, Pamela?

BROWN: Yes, Christine. People have been waiting here for hours. In fact, we just spoke to one passenger already waiting 14 hours for his flight, and that is the theme here at LaGuardia Airport. People coming here just waiting for their flights to take off. There's not a lot of flights coming or going here at LaGuardia Airport as well as Newark Airport, Chicago O'Hare Airport and Boston Logan. In fact, a bulk of the cancellations are right here in the New York area. So far this morning, we are only 41/2 hours into the day and already 1,330 flight cancellations. We expect that number to continue to tick up as the morning goes on and as these conditions continue to pick up.

The conditions really started at around 8:00 pm last night, these blizzard-like conditions in the New York area and beyond, and that is when we saw a lot of the flight cancellations begin.

So, again, we will see that issue throughout the morning. You can see on the board behind me there is a lot of yellow, showing the flight cancellations. We expect the board to continue to light up as the conditions pick up.

The Port Authority is saying that they are ready for this storm. They are deploying more than 200 pieces of snow and ice equipment to help with the situation here, but there's not a lot that can be done about the visibility issue with this light, fluffy snow and these whipping winds. That is really creating the issue here.

Only about half a mile visibility here at LaGuardia Airport according to a local aviation weather report. Once these conditions do calm down later this morning, we are likely still going to see a lot of delays throughout the day.

This is really having a domino effect with delays and so people traveling to any state in the U.S. are probably going to be impacted by this storm. Back to you.

ROMANS: Now is a really good time to sort of check the fine print on the ticket you bought. For weather, your airline is not really required to get you on a different airline to get out. You're just going to get rolled until you can finally get out on the next flight standby. It's important for people to be patient and talk to their air carrier. Thanks so much, Pamela Brown.

CABRERA: As Pamela mentioned one of the worst areas as far as travel goes was Chicago yesterday and it's taken a beating since Wednesday. Six more inches of snow falling overnight on top of the 12 inches already on the ground.

It's the worst storm to hit the Windy City since 2011. O'Hare Airport crippled by the winter blast, and hundreds of flights cancelled there, creating a whole ripple effect of delays all across the country.

ROMANS: Conditions aren't much better in Ohio. Wind chills in the Cleveland area well below zero this morning. A foot of snow on the ground in some areas and driving, as you can see there, very dangerous. A layer of ice under all that snow. That's causing spinouts and accidents all over Ohio.

CABRERA: In Pennsylvania, a worker was killed when a 100-foot pile of salt used to clear the icy roads fell on top of him. This happened at a storage facility in Philadelphia hours before the storm system hit. Rescue crews tried to save the man and it is not clear what caused the salt pile to tip.

ROMANS: Troubling developments out of Libya this morning. We're getting reports of two U.S. citizens being detained by authorities for allegedly scouting at the University of Benghazi. And a British man and a woman from New Zealand have been found shot to death near an oil terminal 60 miles west of Tripoli. Jomana Karadsheh joins us now live on the phone from Tripoli this morning.

Jomana, what do we know about this?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, there's very little information or official comment on these incidents that were reported late on Thursday. The State Department said it was in contact with a private U.S. citizen who was stopped by authorities in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Due to privacy reasons, the State Department did not provide more information. Their comment came after the Libyan state news agency reported that two American citizens had been detained in Benghazi. It said the two were allegedly scouting on the campus of Benghazi University; campus security stopped them and handed them over to Libyan army special forces.

It is also said that the two claim to be basketball players for one of the city's basketball clubs. It's not clear now if they were released or if they are still being held.

In a separate incident as you mentioned local authorities in the western coastal town of Sabratha said the bodies of two foreigners, a man and a woman, who were reported missing earlier were found shot dead on a beach. They appeared to be having a picnic when they were killed, according to the initial police report we are being told. There is no official statement from Libyan authorities on their death or their identities, but the U.K. foreign office and the New Zealand foreign ministry are saying they are looking into the dead were citizens of Britain and New Zealand. Locals in the area we have spoken to said criminality has been on the rise there in recent weeks.

ROMANS: And Jomana, they were teachers, is that right?

KARADSHEH: This has still not been confirmed, Christine; there are various reports about what they were doing in the area or what they were doing in Libya, especially at this time, Christine, because many of the expats here, many of the foreigners living and working in Libya are out of the country for the holidays. Not many have returned so it's really not clear yet what they were doing and there are various reports about their job in Libya.

ROMANS: OK, Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much for the latest on that from Tripoli, still a dangerous situation for foreigners there. Thank you.

CABRERA: Forty minutes past the hour now, another snag for 52 passengers rescued from the Russian research vessel in Antarctica after being trapped in the ice since Christmas Eve. Their journey home has suddenly been halted again. Anna Coren tracking the latest development. She joins us live from Hong Kong this morning.

Anna, it's just one thing after another for this group, isn't it?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, it is. But you know what? They are together; they're all fine and have all got food and water supplies. So yes, but they are stuck, stuck in ice again on the Australian icebreaker that came to rescue them.

They are waiting for this ice to dislodge. They had made progress yesterday, but it seems that they have found themselves surrounded by ice again. They are trying to get to open water and from there they will either make their way to Casey, which is an Australian post in Antarctica, and then on to Hobart and Tasmania at the very bottom of Australia.

That is the situation with the Australian vessel. We understand the Chinese icebreaker that also came to the rescue that was providing that helicopter, they are also stuck in ice and I think the passengers, the 52 passengers, are feeling pretty bad for them, considering, you know, the Chinese helped them out.

Of course, there's the Russian ship, that research ship that they were all originally on, that is also stuck in ice. The 22 crew on board have been given extra supplies, enough supplies to last them for six weeks. They are waiting also for that ice to break up so they can make their way back to New Zealand.

So that is the status at the moment in Antarctica. Everybody is stuck in ice waiting for things to change. But as we can report, Ana, everybody is fine, in good spirits, and nothing really too bad to complain about. CABRERA: Well, that is good to hear. We know the group expected an adventure and that is exactly what they got.

COREN: They got one.

Thanks, Ana.

ROMANS: All right. New this morning, Secretary of State John Kerry in the West Bank meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry arrived in Israeli Thursday to negotiate a Middle East peace deal that he says, quote, "is not mission impossible."

He had dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who -- he says there is growing doubt in Israel that Palestinians want peace. Harsh words that clouded the start of Kerry's 10th trip now to the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions. We are close to that time, if not at it, and I think we understand the circumstances within which we are working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Kerry vows to work to narrow differences on a framework that addresses core issues including borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

CABRERA: New this morning, "The Washington Post" reporting that the NSA is trying to build a super computer capable of breaking nearly all types of encryption. It would be able to crack codes protecting banking, medical, business and government records around the world.

The paper cites documents released by Edward Snowden and those documents also imply the NSA still has a lot of work to do on this project.

ROMANS: The House goes back to work next week and ObamaCare is the first order of business for Republicans. Majority leader Eric Cantor says the first thing on the to-do list is a measure to address potential security risks on the healthcare.gov website. Cantor says he is afraid hackers could steal enrollees' personal information. Democratic officials say that the vote is just another cheap shot at ObamaCare.

A California man has been arrested in the brutal murder of a beloved Catholic priest. Police say Gary Lee Bullock killed Father Eric Freed during a violent struggle inside a church rectory. Freed's body was discovered Wednesday morning by parishioners at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Eureka, dead of an apparent blunt force trauma. No word yet on a possible motive.

CABRERA: The Supreme Court could take action today on a request to block a key component of the president's health care law. Several religious nonprofits want the requirement to provide birth control and other reproductive coverage thrown out, just as Sonia Sotomayor, you may recall, issued a temporary stay on New Year's Eve, putting the provision on hold.

Now the court has no official deadline to act.

ROMANS: A flagrant act of arson Thursday at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco; the FBI says there's no evidence of terrorism, but it certainly appears to be intentional. Surveillance footage captured a person apparently pouring two buckets of gasoline on the front door then lighting it on fire. The consulate is calling on the U.S. to provide more protection to personnel. No injuries were reported.

CABRERA: Two hearings scheduled today in the heartbreaking case of Jahi McMath, the 13-year old who was declared brain dead following complications from tonsil surgery. Her family is fighting to keep her on a ventilator. A federal judge has ordered settlement talks now with lawyers for a California children's hospital.

McMath's mother says the girl still shows signs of life and she wants her to be moved to a different facility.

ROMANS: The U.S. Marines are delaying a physical fitness requirement for female recruits. Starting this year, all female Marines were supposed to be able to do at least three pull-ups, but officials say more than half of the women in boot camp couldn't meet the standard.

The delay is sparking a new debate about the place of women in the Armed Forces as thousands of combat roles are set to open for them in 2016.

CABRERA: Officials at the Vatican say Pope Francis drew more than 6.6 million people to his events in 2013. The figures are based on the number of tickets issued, as well as estimates of the number of people at events where tickets were not needed, like the pope's weekly appearances overlooking St. Peter's Square.

ROMANS: If you could charge a goat -- a goat -- with attempted burglary this billy would be in jail right now. It got loose in an Oklahoma City neighborhood, tried to head-butt one man's front door.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDGAR CARDOZA, OKC RESIDENT: I see it coming towards me. And so I run back inside. And heck, no.

LT. JEFF SPRUILL, OKC POLICE DEPARTMENT: Their front door was like this and then they had a window right here and the goat is right here, hitting the front door. And so you can see the telltale signs, sort of peeking out the blinds, but they never came to the door. We had to communicate with them through dispatch.

ROMANS (voice-over): All right, the goat then went after the cops and tried to use those famous horns there to break into their cruisers. Everyone is OK and the goat is back with its owner.

CABRERA: That is one determined goat!

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Coming up, changes to a popular breakfast food. What Cheerios is going to start doing differently, next.

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CABRERA: Welcome back to EARLY START. CNN's breaking news coverage of the monster storm that is pounding the Northeast right now; 100 million people are feeling the impact of this first winter storm of 2014.

Now if you have plans to fly specifically in or out of the Northeast today, you're likely grounded. Over 10,000 flights have already been cancelled or delayed in the past 24 hours and Long Islanders are looking at a long day of shoveling and plowing ahead. Close to a foot of snow falling in New York's eastern suburbs and forcing the governor to even shut down the Long Island Expressway overnight.

Let's get a live look at Boston this morning. Really feeling the brunt of the storm. A foot of snow or more has buried parts of Boston. It's 4 degrees. The wind chill there this morning makes it feel like 20 below. Hello, winter.

ROMANS: Now let's get a look at your business headlines in "Money Time." After the best year in stocks since 1997 you had a great year in your 401(k) last year.

But 2014 starts out with a dud. The Dow lost 135 points on Thursday and Nasdaq and S&P also fell. It was the first time markets started the year on a down note since 2008. We've got some early predictions for how this year will go from analysts surveyed by CNNMoney.com. In short, analysts on average predict a year-end target of 1,962 on the S&P 500 and 17,502 on the Dow.

A childhood favorite is going back to basics. Under pressure from consumer groups, General Mills says it will stop using genetically modified ingredients to make Cheerios. Consumer activists have voiced concerns over GMOs, genetically modified organisms, saying they are less safe although there's very little scientific data to back that up.

But consumers have been really, really pushing to get GMO-free foods. General Mills says it has no plans to phase out genetically modified ingredients in its other cereals, but its original Cheerios, it changed the corn starch -- changed the sugars. And so that will be GMO -- you'll start to see that rolling out in your grocery stores.

CABRERA: I wonder if it will change the way it tastes?

ROMANS: We will see.

CABRERA: We will see.

Well, other news we're following this morning, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is recovering after hurting his neck in a fall. In fact, he fractured his vertebrae in his Washington State home. He is 70 years old now. He is resting after being treated at two different hospitals; he is expected to make a full recovery.

Gates led the Pentagon during parts of both the Bush and Obama administrations.

ROMANS: A safety alert about crude oil shipped from North Dakota and Montana. The Department of Transportation says it has a lower flash point than traditional oils, making it much more flammable.

The warning comes after a string of recent explosions, the latest in North Carolina on Monday. The region has seen an oil boom of late, companies relying chiefly on trains for transport. In July 47 people died in a derailment in Quebec. So a lot of people are watching how this oil is moved in the United States and what the potential dangers are.

CABRERA: Utah's battle over same-sex marriage heads to the Supreme Court. The high court could act as early as today on the state's request to put gay marriages on hold.

The state appealing to the high court after a district court in Utah struck down the state's ban, saying it violated federal guarantees of equal protection. Ever since that decision came down, Utah's clerks' offices have been flooded with gay couples looking to get marriage licenses.

ROMANS: A former banker suspected of faking his own death appeared in a Georgia courtroom Thursday. A federal complaint says Aubrey Lee Price -- there he is -- falsified documents to conceal more than $20 million in investor losses.

He vanished in 2012 reportedly leaving behind a suicide note. He was declared legally dead about a year ago. Police picked him up Tuesday after a routine traffic stop. Price could face 30 years in prison. He is due back in court on Monday.

CABRERA: If you found that was bizarre story, listen to this. We have a tweet from Ben and Jerry's, the ice cream company weighing in now on the newly opened marijuana stores in Colorado. You can see a lone pint of Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz ice cream there in the freezer with the caption, "We are hearing reports of stores selling out of Ben and Jerry's in Colorado. What's up with that?" Apparently they think the state is suffering from a severe case of the munchies.

ROMANS: All right. That's what (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: If you're coming up -- if you're hitting the roads this morning, look, you're going to have to be careful. We will show you some pictures of what's going on out there. We're also going to show you what happened to our Richard Quest when he hopped in a car in snowbound New York City.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: Welcome back to EARLY START. The snow on the streets of New York City creating a nightmare for commuters, but city employees say they are working around the clock to try to make sure those roadways are clear and safe for drivers. It's the first big task for the newly minted mayor, Bill de Blasio.

CNN's Richard Quest takes us for a ride through the snow-covered streets of Manhattan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: This is Fifth Avenue in New York. The snow has been falling for many hours. Having had a gradual start, now the accumulations are really starting to build up.

The city has deployed 1,700 snowplows but they had to wait until there was 2 inches of snow on the ground before they could go about their business.

Overall, the city is working two shifts of 12 hours each to make sure there's around the clock coverage in ensuring not just Manhattan but also the outer boroughs, too, get cleared. Too many people remember 2010 when the city failed to clean the streets after a snowfall.

For Mayor Bill de Blasio, this is his first big challenge, having only just taken office. Perhaps somewhat unfairly, but maybe he'll be judged in the early days on how he clears the snow -- Richard Quest, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: We have breaking coverage of the nor'easter. EARLY START continues right now.

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ROMANS: All right. That dangerous nor'easter slamming the Northeast. Up to a foot of snow could fall as blizzard conditions wreak havoc and it's so cold in some places, exposed skin could freeze in 15 minutes.

CABRERA: Travel nightmare. Roads are closed and more than 2,000 flights cancelled because from the storm. We have what you need to know to help where you need to be.

ROMANS: Incredible rescue. A man plucked from the ice in Chicago after he fell into Lake Michigan. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans for you this Friday morning.

CABRERA: And I'm Ana Cabrera. John Berman is hosting NEW DAY. It is brutally cold. It's snowy. It's windy this morning. But hey, at least it's Friday, right? January 3rd, it's now 5:00 am in the east and right off the top, let's get to that breaking news.

A beast of a winter storm battering the Northeast right now; 100 million people are in its path. Driving snow and fierce winds forcing the governors of New Jersey and New York to declare a state of emergency.

This storm is enormous. Parts of New York State and New England will be digging out from well over a foot of snow later today. In fact, 21 inches already reported in Boxford, Massachusetts.

Much of the region also facing extreme cold with sustained winds of 30 miles an hour or more and wind chills below zero.

Air travel is a nightmare. Thousands of flights cancelled or delayed and highways impassible. Many of them shut down so plows can do their job. And blizzard conditions from the Big Apple all the way to Maine. CNN has the first winter storm of 2014 covered like --