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Iraq Gets U.S. Support; Olympic Security Concerns

Aired January 7, 2014 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Frozen solid. A deadly deep freeze spreading across the country. Many waking up to record low temperatures this morning. This arctic blast being blamed for more than a dozen deaths, so far. This morning, schools, government buildings shut down, thousands traveling by ground, and air are stuck.

They are waiting for relief. Our Indra Petersons out in the extreme New York City cold this morning. She's tracking just how bad it's going to get and when it will turn around.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Oh, that looks awful!

ROMANS: And it will turn around, I promise.


ROMANS (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN (on-camera): And we're so happy you are Christine Romans, the new co-anchor of EARLY START. Great to have you here.

ROMANS: Thank you.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Thirty-one minutes past the hour right now.

And this morning, I should say, we have one word for you -- hide! Pull those covers up and hide! It is cold, epically cold, dangerously cold. It's beyond frigid, beyond bone-chilling, beyond anything we've seen in decades, and frankly, it's beyond reasonable. This cold for this long is almost unprecedented.

Take a look at this map. These are the wind chills in a big part of the country. You're looking at 10 to 55 degrees below zero, and it's dangerous, folks. So far, 15 deaths are blamed on this freezing weather.

ROMANS: Right now, hundreds of passengers are stuck on Amtrak trains in Illinois because of the blowing snow. It's happening just west of Chicago. You got some 500 people sitting on three trains, sitting there now for more than 12 hours. Amtrak says the snow has been blowing and drifting across the tracks, making it impossible to move those trains. Crews are working now to reopen the tracks. I mean, remember, folks, west of Chicago, these are the plains. This is just wide-open space. The trains have power. They have heat. Passengers are being fed, but they are sitting tight for now.

BERMAN: I would not want to be sitting in that train, even with food and heat.

Many customers of JetBlue Airways not happy this morning after the airline canceled hundreds of flights on Monday out of the New York Area and Boston as well. They did it because of the weather and because they say their crews needed rest. The airline is promising to be back in full operation later today.

Thousands of other flights on other airlines were also canceled because of the weather, and so far, today, coming up, nearly 2,000 flights grounded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if anyone actually knows where any of the lines go, like, or what they're for. Everyone just kind of gets -- and there's no one, like, out here answering questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sitting on my plane, and then there was an announcement that it was canceled. So, then I had to get off, and then, I went back with them and I've been stuck here for two days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've actually been kind of worried, because the way this line is, I don't even want to know what security's going to be like.


ROMANS: Much of western New York under a state of emergency with heavy snow, extreme cold hitting that region. The Buffalo area facing three feet of snow. But it's the wind chills that are really brutal here, 40 below. The governor's even shut down parts of the New York State thruway because of the danger.

BERMAN: Just yesterday, temperatures in New York City were above 50 degrees. It was warm, melted the snow quickly, but then, the snow mixed with ice is being blamed for this fire not far from radio city music hall. An electrical transformer burst into flames in a manhole. Hundreds had to be evacuated from the office building above this. A lot of problems with this weather.

ROMANS: You know, in Minnesota, they've shut down the schools, the entire state, shut down the schools, temperatures dipping to 40 below in the city of Brimson, 30 below at the airport in Duluth. Wind chills of 60 below zero reported in several parts of the state.

BERMAN: And this can be so dangerous.

A deadly crash in Missouri has left a one-year-old boy dead. State highway patrol says the boy's mother lost control of her car, skidded, and hit a snowplow head on. Troopers are saying that the boy was not properly restrained in the car.

ROMANS: Heartbreaking.

Very tough to get around downtown Columbus, Ohio. A huge water main break there. Look at that! Crews have been working in subzero conditions overnight hoping to have water service restored this morning. People in homes and offices in that immediate area have been advised they should boil their water until further notice.

BERMAN: All right. You want to hear one more?

ROMANS: One more.

BERMAN: A roof collapse in Saginaw, Michigan, is being blamed on the heavy snow there. It happened at a K-Mart. A big section of the roof giving way during the overnight hours on Monday. Luckily, the only employee inside at the time was not hurt.

ROMANS: All right. Indra Petersons live in the cold, frigid New York, keeping an eye out for us on the forecast. Until now, I thought polar vortex was a movie by Tom Hanks about a train, but actually, it's not. It's what we're facing right now. Hi, Indra.


INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Yes, lucky us. We are definitely talking about this polar vortex, this cold air that has sagged southward, where it should be in the poles. That's where we want to keep it, but unfortunately, today, the last several days, it's kind of already sagged into the midsection of the country and today has spread into the northeast. Now, today the difference is, I don't know if you can tell, that wind is just howling.

You can see some of the signs here shaking behind me. Our satellite truck is shaking. Look at the trees if you can. Hard to tell, but we're talking about 40-mile-per-hour winds with temperatures that are good 10, 15 degrees below zero right now. It is hard for me to put into words, because I was just in 20 below just a few days ago. This feels to me ten times worse.

We know wind chill accounts for the arctic air mass and the winds combined, but when it is just blowing at you full force like this, the chill is unbearable. My fingers are freezing in seconds. My face, it hurts. My eyes are burning. That's what people are going to be dealing with as they go out into the city today.

Now, keep in mind, these winds are so strong that over the lakes, they're going to be talking about heavy snow today, just lake-effect snow, one to three feet off of Erie, well, as much as five feet off of Ontario today, a blizzard warning for low visibility. Thanks to the combination of the wind and that snow out there. And this cold air is not just here in the northeast, it's threatened all the way into the south today, so temperature differences.

Keep in mind, New York City was about 60 degrees warmer yesterday. It's about 30 degrees cooler also into the southeast today, but the worst of the worst we know is still out in Minnesota, particularly, dangerous situation still in effect for them where there, those wind chills or temperatures there below good 50 below zero.

So, this is about 10, 15 below zero. I cannot even imagine. The only difference I can tell you there, though, the winds are generally calm. It really is that wind blowing in your face that makes it so difficult out here this morning.

ROMANS: And you know, in Minnesota and parts of the Midwest and great plains, they know cold weather. I mean, this is extreme cold. They know cold weather. That's why they canceled all the schools. They don't want to deal with all of that people being outside. So, I think precaution -- caution is the word of the day and so many governors are looking at that right now.

BERMAN: Yes, please be smart out there. Thank you, Indra.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: Warm up, please. All right. Thirty-seven minutes after the hour right now.


BERMAN (voice-over): Unemployment benefits are back on the Senate agenda today after lawmakers put off a planned procedural vote on a bill that would extend benefits to more than a million Americans. Now, many senators could not get to Washington because of all this weather that we're talking about.

Still, it's not even clear that enough votes were there to get it past the 60-vote hurdle. Democrats in the White House are pushing for the measure, which would resume sending checks for three months to families who had their benefits cut off last month.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That would give immediate relief to these families and remove the fear that I think now many of them face, not knowing if and when they'll ever get those benefits back. And it would allow for time for further discussions about how to move forward for the rest of 2014.


BERMAN: Yes. Some Republicans say Democrats are trying to force through the bill without a full debate and that the economy is now recovered enough that the extended benefits are no longer necessary.

ROMANS (voice-over): Congressman Trey Radel heading back to Washington this week amid an ethics investigation into his admitted possession of cocaine. The Florida Republican has now hired a top D.C. ethics lawyer to represent him. Radel pleaded guilty back in November to cocaine charges, has been on a leave of absence ever since, including his time in rehab. He has pledged to rebuild the trust of voters. BERMAN: A lot going on around the world right now. I want to go to Iraq and the really new or at least renewed fight that threatens to send that country back into chaos or further into chaos, depending on how you look at it. The country's prime minister says that they are battling an al Qaeda-linked militants in Fallujah, and Vice President Biden has talked with Nouri al-Maliki, promising U.S. support, but there are real questions over Maliki's motives and whether this fight is actually about terrorism.


BERMAN (on-camera): Want to get the latest now from Nic Robertson, who's in the region. What's the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that the White House is going to accelerate the sale of military supplies to Iraq based on this outbreak of violence. Those supplies will include hell fire missiles, potentially, as well as additional hell fires being sent, but the picture today, it's as murky as it has been. Who precisely controls Fallujah right now?

Is it the tribes or is it mostly al Qaeda? Is it a mix of the two? What does that mix look like? But there's an indication today of an escalation of what is essentially a Sunni versus Shia conflict, sectarian conflict, because the Shia minority feels that the -- the Sunni minority feels that the Shia majority in the government aren't giving them a fair shake.

And in the Sunni town of Tikrit, the hometown of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, today We have reports, unconfirmed reports so far, of attacks on government buildings, of deaths, of a curfew being in place, and if that is proven to be correct, that is an indication, therefore, of this Sunni/Shia escalation in violence continuing to ramp up, John.

BERMAN: For those who know the geography of Iraq, if it has moved to Tikrit, this unrest there, that would be a big shift in the geographic center of the struggling and an escalation, to be sure. Nic Robertson in the region for us, thank you so much.

ROMANS (on-camera): A deal could be in the works between prosecutors and an Indian diplomat arrested in New York. Court filings show the U.S. attorney and a lawyer for Davani Cabrugati (ph) had significant discussions in recent weeks about resolving this case. The prosecutors say she has not responded to the most recent offer. Cabrugati was publicly arrested in December on charges she fraudulently obtained a visa for a housekeeper.

That led to a diplomatic outcry from India, which called her treatment at the hands of U.S. officials outrageous.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up for us, terror watch one month ahead of the Olympic games. This morning, a massive security operation is being launched. We're live with what's being done to keep people safe.

Plus, concussion problems plaguing former NFL players in the NFL. Now, could football be ready to offer up a big payout?


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Today marks just one month ago before the winter Olympics in Sochi in Russia, but security concerns not going away. Two terror attacks just before New Year's left dozens dead only a few hundred miles from Sochi, and there are real questions this morning if the Russian government will be able to keep these games safe. Diana Magnay is in Moscow this morning. Diana, what's the latest?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, today, the surveillance zone, sort of restricted area around the widest Sochi region goes into force, so no vehicles that aren't registered except for emergency vehicles and except for the intelligence -- the vehicles used by intelligence can go into that zone. You'll be very strictly monitored as you go in and out.

There's very heavy surveillance that will be carried out in the area on athletes, journalists, members of the Olympic committee. All the data that you receive and send on public Wi-Fi will be monitored and kept. There are drones in the air. There's going to be sonar technology in the backseat. So, the operation there is going to be very, very high-tech and pretty secure. You can be sure that President Putin does not want his pet project messed up either, by, for example, gay rights activists or by terrorists.

And so, there'll be no stones left unturned and no expenses spared on security. And when I spoke to someone just yesterday, John, who lives in a village quite near Sochi, he said it's crawling with FSB officers, you know, intelligence officers. I'm not worried about security around Sochi. but as we saw from Volgograd and the bombings there, there are vulnerabilities further away in the region and terrorists can strike elsewhere and still overshadow the games, John.

BERMAN: And just one month to go. All right. Diana Magnay in Moscow. We will be following this every day until the Olympics. Appreciate it, Diana.

ROMANS: The Supreme Court has stepped into the gay marriage debate in Utah, issuing a stay --


ROMANS (voice-over): -- that halts marriages for now in Utah while the state appeals a lower court ruling that a ban on same-sex nuptials was unconstitutional. Utah had asked two courts to stop the marriages from happening. Both said no, and the Supreme Court hasn't revealed its reasoning for taking this step. But with hundreds of Utah couples having already been married, many are wondering, are there unions still legal now?


SEAN REYES, UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is precisely the uncertainty we were hoping to avoid by requesting a stay immediately upon the decision of the district court. It's unfortunate that many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo.

JOHN NETTO, UTAH PRIDE CENTER: We consider we're on the right side of history here that, in fact, we're on the right side of love, we're on the right side of the constitution.


ROMANS: The next step in the legal battle should come by the spring when the appeals court hears arguments in the case, and it could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court sometime in the fall or next year.

BERMAN (voice-over): A tough gun law in Chicago that banned almost anyone from giving a gun to anyone else has now been thrown out. A federal judge ruling the law runs afoul of the second Amendment and goes too far in stopping dealers and buyers from making legal purchases. This law prohibited anyone from giving a firearm to anyone else, even family members, except through inheritance, but the judge put his decision on hold pending an appeal.

ROMANS: There's a new lead this morning in the case of a Tennessee woman missing for years now. Shelly Mook (ph) disappeared in 2011. Police found her burned-out car, but they never found her body. Now, authorities are looking at a van owned by a neighbor of her husband. It's not clear what they're looking for exactly or if any evidence has been found already that could clear up what happened to her.


JESSE JULIAN, ORGANIZED VIGILS FOR MISSING PERSONS: I'm hoping that this is going to be one of the breaking leads, and hopefully, can put, you know, serve justice to someone.

LLANA TATE, EXECUTIVE OFFICER: We want to leave, you know, every stone turned over to see what we can find, and this is just one of those things.


ROMANS: Her mother tells CNN affiliate, WZTV, she's hopeful this will finally bring the family some closure about what happened to their daughter.

BERMAN: Six more people indicted in an Atlanta public school test cheating scandal. They've now pleaded guilty. The teachers, administrators, and school staff all admitting to their roles in changing answers or lying to investigators. Dozens of professionals in the Atlanta schools have now been indicted, accused of manipulating test results in order to show student improvement. Most of those who have admitted their guilt will face community service and probation. This is a sweeping scandal.

ROMANS: It really is.

Finding out more this morning about how the NFL will pay out millions to former players as part of a settlement over concussions. Under the agreement filed in federal court, those who played the longest would be eligible for the largest payouts, and medical history would be taken into account as well. The league could wind up paying nearly a billion dollars to settle those claims.


ROMANS (on-camera): All right. Coming up, the intense cold could mean you're soon paying more for everything from oranges to oil, and it also means, wow, you might have to book a flight on a different airline.

BERMAN (on-camera): It also means you're really cold.

ROMANS: Yes. We're going to have details in "Money Time" next.


ROMANS: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START. It's "Money Time." Cold, hard cash.


ROMANS: Like that segue? It is anything but business as usual for companies large and small, thanks to this bone-chilling polar vortex. If you are flying JetBlue, well, maybe you're not flying. JetBlue freezing flights for 17 hours at Boston's Logan Airport, New York's JFK, LaGuardia airports, and Newark. That's the busiest airport in the country. Flights stopped at 5:00 p.m. last night.

JetBlue says it's going to restart operations again at 10:00 this morning. JetBlue blaming the weather and new FAA rules on pilot rest. Curiously, no other airline is blaming FAA rules for that and no other airline is actually shutting down, basically, for two days.

The deep freeze also threatening to interrupt oil drilling and fracking operations of Texas to North Dakota and Canada. Too cold to drill for oil! It has already disrupted a livestock shipments throughout the farm belt. It has curtailed meat production. On the railroads, delays of up to 48 hours on Union Pacific Railroads across Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. They're moving coal in a lot of these places and it's too cold to move.

Farmers in Florida are worried about their fruit and strawberry crops. They're racing to pick the fruit before a freeze hits and cover the plants with cloth or even ice to try to save them. And power companies are asking customers to lower their thermostats or to use generators unless you prepaid for your heating costs, you're likely to see higher energy bills this month.

Now, bendable TV. A bendable TV, the latest, greatest thing in technology at the consumer electronics show. That does not bend.


ROMANS: That does not bend. This is in Vegas and this is from Samsung. It can go from a flat-screen to curve with a touch of a button. Samsung says consumers might want to watch movies on the curved screen. They might want to watch other things on the flat. The curved mode, according to Samsung, provides even more life-like picture quality and depth.

Because think about it, when you look at something in real life, you're not looking at it flat, you're looking at it kind of curved, right? Samsung says you'll be able to buy this TV this year. No word yet on the price.

BERMAN: I'm thinking they're going to charge more for the bendable TVs. I'm thinking they're looking for ways to charge more for these TVs in general.

ROMANS: I don't have a price point yet, but I do know that is all the buzz in Vegas where it is not freezing, and the consumer electronics show is going on.

BERMAN: Do you want your TV to bend? I hadn't quite thought of that. Please, tweet us @EARLYSTARTCNN. We'd appreciate it.s

Coming up for us next, the family of a brain-dead 13-year-old speaking out about their fears now that the girl has been move from a hospital. We'll give you the latest on this story coming up next.


BERMAN: Somewhat notorious. A former elementary school teacher is back in the news this morning. Mary Kay Letourneau was arrested Monday in Washington State for driving on a suspended license. Now, you may recall, she served seven years for raping a 12-year-old student. She was 34 at the time. The pair later married. They have two children. Letourneau is doing court for a bail hearing this afternoon.

ROMANS: Out of a juvenile prison this morning, a former Steubenville high school football player convicted last year of raping a 16-year- old girl. The family of Malik Richman (ph) says he is now a, quote, "better person." Two students were convicted in the case which rocked that small Ohio city. It ignited a nationwide debate. The second player, Trenton Mace (ph), serving a two-year sentence for rape.

BERMAN: A lawyer for the family of Jahi McMath says the 13-year-old brain dead girl is in very bad shape. She was transferred to an Oakland hospital to a care facility on Sunday night. And a lawyer says the family plans to sue the hospital for not feeding her after she was declared brain dead.

The family is not saying where her body was taken, but they now indicated she traveled by ground, which does suggest she's probably still in California. They say she is now receiving intravenous antibiotics and supplements while she remains on a ventilator.

Coming up on "NEW DAY," we'll have more on the controversy over Jahi McMath, including why her family says they're now afraid for their lives.

ROMANS: All right. Much more on that coming up. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is extremely cold.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Deadly freeze. Dangerously low temperatures hit the east coast. Half the country waking up to record lows. Crops down south in danger. The toll mounting. This Amtrak train frozen in its tracks. We talk to a passenger live.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "NEW DAY" exclusive, Dennis Rodman live from North Korea one-on-one in facing tough question as he prepares for an exhibition game there. Why is he supporting the dangerous dictator?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What a game? An amazing finish overnight. Florida State's stunning come from behind victory to give them the college championship. Just how they do it?

CUOMO: Your "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.


CUOMO: Good morning. Good morning. What a morning we're having here. Welcome to "NEW DAY."

BOLDUAN: Good morning.

CUOMO: It is Tuesday, January 7th. Happening right now, 180 million Americans waking up on the cold side of history literally. The most dangerous deep freeze in decades already being blamed for 15 deaths. So, it's not just about the numbers of the temperature itself. Take a look at the scene. This is Buffalo. A state of emergency there, vaporizing from snow covered roads as they brace for three to five feet of snow tomorrow. Not inches. Wind chill 40 below.

Take a look at the map. These are the numbers that tell the story of what people must live through. Chilly temperatures understatement of the year. Feels like 50 below in Duluth, Minnesota, 28 below, Binghamton, New York bone-chilling negative nine. Here in the Apple, that's what we're dealing with relative, pretty good. You're going to fly today or you're in the airport watching right now, a cold reality.