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Thousands Stuck on Interstates; Snowbound Atlanta; Trading Blame; Fed Cuts Stimulus; Cruise Ship Docked

Aired January 29, 2014 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to be back with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We are watching not just one, two big stories today. First being, of course, the weather. Much of the South, including Atlanta, Georgia, totally shut down after this winter storm just absolutely paralyzed the city, including the highways, stranding commuters. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people spent the night in their cars. And many people here, as we are past the 24 hour mark, still on the road.

You see the other picture on the screen. Yep, we're talking cruise ship again today. This one is a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship. It arrived at a port in New Jersey moments ago. Nearly 700 people on that ship affected by norovirus. They are sick, sick. These people are currently going through the multi-hour process of disembarking this cruise. So we'll talk to some people who are sick, who are really ready to go home and who are very frustrated with the cruise ship industry. We'll do that.

But first, this. Twenty-four hours the - we'll call it what it is, a catastrophe gripping Atlanta. It started right around this time yesterday. And it is very much a crisis as we speak. I mean look at this, the pictures tell the story here.

And also keep in mind, folks, the sun is going to set in Atlanta in four hours. And thousands and thousands of people behind the wheels of their cars there still stuck. They are stuck on icy freeways in every direction into and out of Atlanta. Law enforcement officials still are struggling to clear the roads and to reach these people, some of them with their kids in desperate need of assistance. Minute by minute, chances grow that this disaster could enter into a second hellish night and we are now up to five people dead.

At last word, several thousand school kids still haven't seen their parents. Think about that. Many spent the night on schoolhouse floors, gym mats. Other kids' buses didn't get home until after midnight. In addition, you have the untold thousands of people who managed to get off the freeways and seek shelter in churches and in grocery stores and in gas stations. And businesses kind enough to even open their doors to these strangers. Let me just say it again. This is an ongoing crisis. In the words of Atlanta's harried mayor, this is just day one.


MAYOR KASIM REED (D), ATLANTA: I'm not thinking about a grade right now. I'm thinking about getting people out of their cars. What I know is, is that if compare this to 2011, we were not activated until the third day of this - the winter event. So in 2011, the first day was like a play day. The second day was, what's going on? And the third day, you will, you know, members of the community were rightfully frustrated. And we mobilized. We were mobilizing for the first minute here. What we're doing now is, we've got to get people out of their cars and get our interstates cleared up.


BALDWIN: As you have probably heard, there is a lot of blame flying around among various government officials, even weather forecasters on the local level, the national level as to who got it wrong and how. And, trust me, we'll be talking about that.

Michael Holmes is out there for us in Atlanta on the roads. Victor Blackwell on the phone from Atlanta as well. And Chad Myers in a very icy New Orleans.

But first to you, Michael Holmes, just tell me where you are and how bad is it right now?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, well, I - you -- we have been driving along here. Basically I suppose the good news, Brooke, is we are moving. But it's a snail's pace, I can tell you. We're on I-20, which is the major sort of east-west highway below, south of Atlanta, the center of the city. It is crawling here.

I've got to say, it's mainly trucks, mainly these 18-wheelers that have been rolling along here. We have interviewed a truck driver just a little while ago who had been sitting on the side of the road. He's given up. He's headed for (INAUDIBLE), about 70 miles from here. He gave up. He's been there since 4:30 p.m. yesterday.

We just, in the left lane, saw a car empty in the fast lane, just been left there because a lot of people, of course, ran out of gas. So it's still a very desperate situation. It's, what, 2:00 p.m. Eastern now and this is nowhere near cleared up. There's still ice on the roads. The volume of traffic is huge. And, you know, we crawl for a couple of hundred yards and then we stop again and sit for 10 minutes. It's quite an extraordinary situation.

We did, Brooke, speak to one Good Samaritan, and there have been many around Atlanta throughout this. His name is Chris White (ph). Have a listen.


CHRIS WHITE, GOOD SAMARITAN: Well, I just came here and I brought some water and some towels to see if anybody was stranded, to see if any families needed some water. And I actually met some other Samaritans with -- they gave me some gas and they actually gave me some gas to help out some more people, so -

HOLMES: So you're literally walking down the freeway looking for people who have run out of gas? WHITE: Correct. I've found two people, two couples I'm going to bring back to my house and let them warm up a little bit, give them some food.

HOLMES: So, why you doing it?

WHITE: I'm just doing it just to help. So I look on the news and they say they had trouble getting to the people, so I thought I might come out here just to help and lend an extra hand.


HOLMES: Yes, friends and family of mine have told me they've seen some pretty rude drivers in all of this, but they've also seen acts of kindness, like we just saw there from Chris White. He's taking those people back to his house to warm up because they're not going anywhere fast, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Oh, so the headline from you, my friend, is that traffic is moving. I suppose that's a good thing. But think about all the times you get out in your car with, you know, gas at a quarter of a tank, guilty, not thinking you would be stuck like that.


BALDWIN: Michael Holmes, I know you're not going anywhere, so we're going to come back to you here and there just to check on the conditions on the roadways.

Victor Blackwell, let me bring you in, because this is where this story is sort of percolating now, this whole -- this whole blame game. Because we have heard - we at CNN have talked to the mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, you know, basically acknowledging, yes, there was a mistake made and the schools and the government agencies and the businesses all being let out at the exact same time yesterday. So you had like a million people on the roads. But you have the mayor and you have Governor Nathan Deal in the same room right around the time the snow started falling yesterday, Victor Blackwell. Tell me more about that.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, Brooke, we've seen this news conference. It happened this morning. There was also another news conference last night with the mayor, Kasim Reed, of Atlanta and the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal. But they were together earlier in the day. The mayor caught this crisis and I think rightfully so. And I think the people who sat in traffic all day would agree with that.

But I want to go through a couple of tweets that I saw that the mayor and the governor sent out yesterday, starting with 7:20. Mayor Reed tweeted out, "Atlanta, we are ready for the snow." Now, I know, there are a lot of people who would question that. But then, about let's say 90 minutes later, the mayor tweets out, "I am very honored to receive the 2014 Georgian of the Year Award from Georgia Trends magazine today. We have some more work to do - or so much work to do together." Now, that event happened around noon at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Atlanta. And the next tweet is from Governor Nathan Deal and he was there to present Mayor Reed with this Georgian of the Year Award. And I'm going to read what he tweeted. "I was honored to introduce Mayor Kasim Reed as he was named 2014 Georgian of the Year. Congratulations." And his initials there indicating that this was sent out by the governor himself.


BLACKWELL: So, as thousands upon thousands of people were flooding into the roads, you had the mayor of the city, the governor at the Ritz Carlton honoring each other at this event hosted by "Georgia Trend," which is a magazine that considers itself to be the magazine of business politics and economics. So people were struggling outside, but their offices say that the governor and the mayor, they were kept in the loop. They knew what was happening. And at least the governor cleared his schedule after that. But, you know, when we saw them last night at this news conference, that was not the first time these two men were in the room together while people were struggling to find a way home.

BALDWIN: As they say in the world of politics, not great optics -

BLACKWELL: Not at all.

BALDWIN: To have these two leaders in a very fancy hotel right when it was about to hit the fan for everyone in Atlanta yesterday.

Victor Blackwell, stay on that for us. I'm sure we're trying to get some reaction, both from the governor and from the mayor.

And now to Chad Myers, who's normally with me in studio.

And, Chad, we see to New Orleans because of the ice and the cold there, but the story is here. And I want you to respond to specifically what we heard from the governor, from the mayor, that it was the - it was the National Weather Service that just got it wrong and they were following the models from the National Weather Service and that the weather folks just didn't quite predict it right.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST (via telephone): Well, I'll go with this. The forecast was from one to two. It was also my forecast. And we got 2.6. Now, that's not five and it's not eight. It's not a complete bust. And 2.6, it just shouldn't shut down a city like it did yesterday. It's the amount of equipment that Atlanta has to get all this stuff out of the way. Every bridge and every overpass and every uphill grade needed to be salted before it happened. That couldn't happen. It didn't happen. We don't have 1,000 salt trucks in Atlanta because we can't afford to have 1,000 salt trucks. Why would you if you're going to use it -

BALDWIN: And we don't need them most of the time.

MYERS: You're not going to use the thing once every 1,000 days. This is a once in every three-year event. And so you would have 1,000 trucks parked for three years to use for one day? I get it. But the fault here is that schools weren't closed before this happened. This happened -- it started around noon. Why would you send kids to school at 8:00 and then send them home in the middle of the day, in the middle of this.

If you rang a bell in Atlanta and said, go home now at any hour during the day, you're going to get a three-hour rush hour easy. If it's raining, it's a six hour rush hour. If it's snowing, it's a 12 hour rush hour, and that's what we had yesterday. People crashed and they could move and those stuck cars just got abandoned. And they are still there. Those abandoned cars are still there. People walked home -- miles to get home.

BALDWIN: That's my next -- that was my next question to you and then I'll let you go. But it's the fact that we are now past that 24-hour mark and you have all of these cars still on the road. Guys, get in my ear and tell me if this is a live picture. No. OK. So this is actually tape. But I know that we've seen pictures earlier where you still have so, Chad, as you point out, stranded cars on highways. This will go into day two, will it not, because the sun sets in just a couple hours.

MYERS: Oh, certainly it will. We won't get these cars -- you won't get every single car off the roads for a week. It will take that long to tow every car away, to get every car out of the ditch. The cars that are abandoned, ran out of gas, whatever. My brother-in-law spent the night in a Home Depot. Friends of mine that live in my apartment complex spent 22 hours on 285, that road right there, trying to get off that little steep hill right there to the right. They couldn't get up the hill. It was turned into an absolute nightmare. And that -- this is Atlanta. All around CNN Center is a big bridge. All those bridges s and overpasses were just simply a mess.

And it's ironic. I'm supposed to be on TV with a picture right now, but our satellite truck is iced up on the road. Our generator died because of ice in the fuel line. And we're trying to rent a new generator right now. So you would see me if the weather wasn't so bad here in New Orleans as well. Most of the ice --

BALDWIN: Murphy's law.

MYERS: Yes. Most of the ice is north of us here, but this ice goes from nearly Houston through Alexandria and all across I-10, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, snowing into the Carolinas, North Carolina. It's - this is what we -- I know we focus on Atlanta a lot today, but many others states are in similar problems - have similar problems right now.

BALDWIN: Yes, we'll be talking to a school principal out of Alabama. A similar situation there. It's - certainly this is not just the metro Atlanta area. But, my goodness, it is a mess in Atlanta.

Chad, thank you very much.

MYERS: You're welcome. BALDWIN: We have a lot more to get to, including other stories of people who have been stranded. But beyond looking at this cruise ship that's now docked, full of a lot of sick people, and the wintery weather, we have to talk about the president. The president delivering remarks on retirement at a U.S. Steel plant. This is West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. Let's take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For every single person who's willing to work hard and take responsibility in this country. That's what I'm committed to doing.

Now I've come to U.S. Steel today because I want to talk about the fourth part of that opportunity agenda, making hard work pay off for every single American. Making sure jobs pay good wages, making sure affordable health care is there when you need it, making sure that after a lifetime of hard work, you can retire with some dignity.

Today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. As I said last night, that's wrong. In 2014, it is an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work. They deserve to be able to have a baby without sacrificing a job. Moms and dads deserve to be able to take a day off for a sick kid or a sick parent. We've get to get rid of some of these workplace policies that belong back in the 50s. Back in a "Mad Men," episode, I said. We've got to give every woman the opportunity she deserves because when women succeed, America succeeds. And I'm really proud that there's a woman who is heading up this plant and doing some amazing work. So I was really glad to see that.

But women hold the majority of lower wage jobs. And they're not the only ones who have been stifled by stagnant wages. The truth is, wages and incomes for the average working American haven't gone up. Even though the economy's more productive, even though it's grown over the last two decades, the average person's salary, what they're taking home, their paycheck, it hasn't really grown.

Now, Americans understand, we all understand, some people are going to earn more money than others. And we don't envy anybody who achieves success through their hard work. That's what we want for our kids.


BALDWIN: Similar themes echoed here by the president, speaking in Pennsylvania. If you watched the State of the Union last night, again, he's talking about, you know, equal pay for women, raising minimum wage. He was talking about that earlier today in Maryland, and retirement. So, again, pushing forward the economy.

And I do want to add, my colleague, Jake Tapper, will be getting that first interview with the president since the State of the Union. He'll be sitting down with the president of the United States tomorrow. So look for that interview starting "New Day" on Friday morning.

Still to come, much more on the storm that has paralyzed the south. Who's responsible for this? How should it have been handled? We'll talk to some people who have some just insane stories about being stranded without food and water for upwards of 15, 16 hours. Stay tuned for that.

Also, we're watching that cruise ship where almost 700 people got sick. It is pack in port. We will talk to some of the passengers. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: Let's take a quick look the Dow. You look at that, down 200 points here just about an hour 40 until closing bell, because this is important. Just in to CNN, the Federal Reserve announcing it is reducing stimulus spending and you're looking at the market's reaction to that. CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik is live for us at the New York Stock Exchange.

And, Alison, tell me more about this decision from the Fed.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK, so the Fed had its first meeting of the year and it just ended around 2:00. And it came out with basically a statement. In that statement really nothing's changed. No surprises here. Meaning, that $10 billion pullback in stimulus money, which means that those bond purchases will equal $65 billion per month. Not a surprise to Wall Street. Everybody expected it. Yet we're seeing the sell-off accelerate.

And you look deeper into the statement, really no bad news in there except for maybe the housing market -- the recovery in the housing market has slowed. But that's really not a surprise to many people either.

So why is the market selling off? One trader that I talked to puts it this way. He says, at this point, the market's really jonesing (ph) for a correction. He said - he gives it an analogy. He says, why do you trim a rose bush? You trim a rose bush because it will come back bigger and it will come back stronger. So in the same line of thinking, this trader tells me, if the market corrects now, it can come back stronger by the end of the year. So you see sort of looking for excuses to have this sort of correction and then you see this sell-off accelerate for just this day.

Also keep in mind, we are knee deep in the middle of fourth quarter earnings season. Earnings not that great this time around. Boeing shares really weighing down the Dow right now. they're the biggest loser on the Dow. Boeing shares down more than 6 percent. So you've got - you've got all this on Wall Street's plate. A lot of things going on. Nothing really positive. And so you see a big sell-off in the works.

BALDWIN: I suppose to go with the analogy, you still have to watch out for the thorns. I'm sure a lot of people looking at that and taking a big "what's going on."


BALDWIN: Alison Kosik, thank you so much.

KOSIK: Sure.

BALDWIN: Let's move along to the other big story we are watching for you at this hour. Live pictures of the Explorer of the Seas, a vacation cruise, floating paradise or mammoth petri dish? You be the judge of that. Let me tell you about this cruise ship. Because in this case of Royal Caribbean, more than 600 passengers know the answer all too well, being victims of a possible norovirus.

So this has been the dubious distinction of having the ship - I should be specific, having the most widespread outbreak on a cruise in the last 20 years. That's why this is such a big deal. This is according to the Centers for Disease Control. It has just docked a little while ago in New Jersey. Six hundred and twenty-nine passengers and 54 crew members went through -- and I'm sparing you the details -- let's just say they were really sick.


SAL PANTO, JR., EXPLORER OF THE SEAS CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER (via telephone): I think there are a lot of people on the ship - they claim there were 600. I think there could have been as many as 1,000 to - because some people I know didn't even bother going down to the infirmary. They weren't feeling well, so they went to their stateroom. They didn't report it or anything like that. So - and when they were feeling better, they left.


BALDWIN: Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is there in New Jersey.

And, Elizabeth, did I just hear, you saw someone taken off the cruise and put in an ambulance?



COHEN: They actually boarded a stretcher and they came out with an older gentlemen was on the stretcher. They put him in an ambulance and drove away. So, Brooke, these folks who have been on this Caribbean cruise, they're being greeted by freezing cold temperatures and ambulances and EMS workers. You know, folks are really sick. I'm told they can, you know, go to the hospital. There's - they've made it easy for that to happen. And, also, the CDC tells me that they've recommended to Royal Caribbean that they offer up hotel rooms for people who are sick. Not necessarily sick enough to go to the hospital, but who are stick and who need to maybe keep to themselves for a while, just to put it gently.

BALDWIN: Not get on an airplane and infect others. I didn't even think about that.

COHEN: Exactly. Right. Exactly. BALDWIN: So then what's happening right now in the cruise ship behind you? Have you seen any other passengers disembark or not quite yet?

COHEN: Yes, passengers have been getting off. You know, this whole disembarkation process takes like three hours. I mean it's more than 3,000 people getting off a ship, having to go through customs. And, of course, in this situation, having to go through medical personnel and getting asked about how they're feeling and all of those kinds of things. So it does take quite a while.

Several passengers just walked by me and I said, how was the cruise? And he said, best cruise of my life. I lost five pounds. I asked him how he lost those five pounds. He didn't answer. But he said he had a great time.

BALDWIN: I don't think we want to know maybe. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Yes, I don't want to know.

BALDWIN: Thank you. You know, and speaking of those passengers here - speaking of the passengers, we have Joseph Angelillo.

Joseph, are you with me on the phone?


BALDWIN: All right, Joseph, first of all, are you one of the unfortunate soles who got sick?

ANGELILLO: Yes, my wife and I both. We are - we were confined for three days in our cabin.

BALDWIN: Keeping in mind, some people are eating lunch, Joseph, can you tell me how sick you guys got?

ANGELILLO: We couldn't eat anything. We -- that was the last thing we wanted to look at. We had both ends going. It was terrible, terrible, terrible.

BALDWIN: Where are you right now? Are you still on board that cruise?

ANGELILLO: Right now I'm outside on the deck. I'm looking out at the dock here and I see some of your cameras who are, I guess, interviewing people or whatever.

BALDWIN: Yes, we're - we're out there.

ANGELILLO: But we just kept going with lunch. We had our lunch. We were able to eat, thank God, so we're doing better. We're 90 percent better. We just want to get home.

BALDWIN: So does 90 -- I can't blame you. Does 90 percent mean you get to get off that cruise and get on a plane or a train or a car and finally get home, or do you need to stay put in New Jersey for a little while and get better? ANGELILLO: No, I live in New Jersey and we came with AAA and they're supposed to have a bus for us to take us back to Hamilton. That's what we're waiting for to depart from the ship. But I don't know how your (ph) - I don't know if we're going to get off the way we're supposed to. There's just rumors going around (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: I -- I think they will let you off. I think it just takes a little while, this whole process, Joseph. And take me back, though, when the worst of the worst of it. Because this is, you know, apparently the worst outbreak of what they think is norovirus in a number of years. What was happening on the cruise? What were fellow passengers, even members of the crew were sick. What were they - what were they saying?

ANGELILLO: Yes. Well, entertainers were sick. They canceled some shows because they couldn't perform. And I've had people that I know were sick did not go to the infirmary because they didn't want to be confined to their room. And that's happened a lot from what I'm hearing with different people, but, like I said, we were confined for three days. We had room service, which was atrocious. We couldn't get anything in our room. I had to sneak out of our room to come up and get some crackers and ginger ale and stuff for us to drink. So, it was atrocious. They tried to do whatever they could do, but once you feel like we were feeling, it just - it wasn't worth it. I doubt if I'll be back.

BALDWIN: Oh. Oh. And so many people I know, you know, saving up and taking these few vacation days they have for this cruise that was. Will you -- final question, Joseph, will you take another cruise? Do you have faith?



ANGELILLO: At this point I am saying no. And they're giving us a credit for the days that we spent in our cabin free to take another cruise and they're going to charge us half price for the next cruise, but I doubt if I'll ever see the inside of another ship again, while it's in the ocean, put it that way.

BALDWIN: Joseph Angelillo, we wish you and your wife well. Thank you so much for taking the few minutes. I hope you all are able to get home soon. Thank you.

Now to this. When you head into work or school in the morning, you never think you're not going to make it home. That's exactly what happened to thousands of people last night. We will hear their stories, their treacherous winter weather stories coming up next.