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CNN NEWSROOM

Highway Slammed, Commuters Stranded; Trapped In Atlanta Traffic For Hours; President Obama Creates Retirement Plan; Huge Security Measures For The Super Bowls

Aired January 29, 2014 - 14:30   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bottom of the hour. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We have shown you pictures and videos of the catastrophe that has been the winter storm in the south. But I want you to take a look at this picture because Home Depot, just think about being one of these people. Home Depot opened 26 doors both in Georgia and Alabama for people who were stuck.

Either been on highways or ran out of gas, walked to a Home Depot, couldn't quite get home because the roads were so impassable. Many sought refuge in different parts of Home Depot stores and to be honest, these people are some of the luckier ones because some people didn't even make it out of their cars last night. We have some of their stories coming up for you here.

It is a nightmare. No one saw it coming apparently. Thousands of people in parts of Georgia and Alabama are trapped in their cars on icy, treacherous roads after this winter storm that hit the region a little over 24 hours ago. In Atlanta specifically, the situation is especially bad. The trouble began when you had schools and businesses and government agencies just like this like somebody blew a whistle and everyone said go home. You had all the traffic on the roads as the snow started falling.

That created the gridlock on the highways, the primary and the secondary streets. I mean, you see, pictures for miles on major streets and highways. People were trapped including all kinds of school buses filled with kids with no food or no bathrooms. Many drivers ran out of gas and abandoned their cars altogether to seek shelter.

Nick Valencia is outside the World Headquarters there in Atlanta with more on the social media angle of this story because that's the thing, Nick. I mean, I've heard about this snowed out Atlanta Facebook page. It was like and it's still like this virtual bulletin board for people who need help.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly it. It seems like everyone here in Atlanta, Brooke, myself included and so many of other colleagues have a story about being stuck in traffic, bearing these icy road conditions. If there is any upside to this, if there is any good story line in this event that happened in Atlanta yesterday, it's a southern hospitality we are seeing and this Facebook page created yesterday afternoon going from just about 100 people snowed out Atlanta to now over 40,000 people.

This is a bulletin board like you are saying where people are putting up their pleas for help. One person I want to share his story. His name is Ronnie and he is stuck on I-285 and the 75 north ramp there on the interstate. He's a diabetic, Brooke, and hasn't eaten in hours. His friend posted on his behalf asking for help.

Now on the flip side, we are also seeing good Samaritans taking in strangers and sheltering strangers in their home and giving them food and water. One woman took in ten people last night. She said she was walking people from the interstate to her home. That's a picture right there last night posted earlier this morning. This was a dramatic situation for a lot of people who couldn't get home last night.

You were talking about earlier one woman gave birth in her car there in Sandy Springs in a suburb here just outside of Atlanta. You know, I was stuck in it for about four hours going six miles, you know, some of our colleagues in 12 hours. One woman I spoke to earlier, she is still stuck out there, Brooke, 21 hours and counting, and she is still stuck.

We are getting reaction on Twitter especially from this report that Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal were at an awards luncheon yesterday. Mayor Kasim Reed receiving a Georgian of the Year award that's really causing quite a stir. I want to share with you some of that reaction being shared with me on my Twitter page.

One person saying, "Kasim Reed said it's better because we have all this equipment and salts. Well, what's worse is because it happened with all the equipment and the salt supply." A lot of people were referring to the 2011 snow-pocalypse. You were here for that as well.

Kasim Reed when he was on our air earlier, he said it's not as bad this time around, but so many people that we talk to they beg to differ. When you are hearing stories about motorists leaving their cars on the highways and leaving cars behind and walking the miles that they do need to get home.

As you know and as we have been reporting all morning long and all afternoon, a big part of the problem was the lack of coordination, lack of preparation on the city's part. People and businesses are closing and schools are closing, and everyone hitting the street, an estimated 1 million people on Atlanta roads at the same time -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: A lot of fingers going around pointing at different people. We talked about the governor and the mayor at the top of the hour. Nick Valencia, thank you. But really I think we just have to stay too with the story, which is that we are still in it and that there so many people still stranded as we could be going into day two, three, four.

Believe it or not, it was worse for some people because next you will hear from a woman talk about spending so much time in a car trapped, 16 hours trying to get home. Keep in mind, this woman I'm about to talk to is eight months pregnant. Stay with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: I tell you it's not difficult to keep finding these stories of people who have been trapped and stuck in the snow and the ice and their cars. Here's another example, Katie Horne is her name. She is eight months pregnant and left to go home right around 1:00 yesterday. Six hours later, she got to a highway ramp and then she stayed there for nine hours. So total time is 16 hours in her car. No food or water.

She might be on the road if it weren't for Facebook and a stranger to come to her aid. Katie joins me by phone, and Katie, I want to get to your story in a second, but first, are you home and a-OK?

KATIE HORNE (via telephone): We are home and a-OK. Yes, I am, eight months pregnant and I have my 3-year-old with me for the entire time too.

BALDWIN: My goodness, Katie and your 3-year-old, in a car, 16 hours. Tell me how you got help.

HORNE: So we left the office down south of the city at about 1:00. We are cruising along pretty steadily until we hit the split at 75 and 285. From there that was the spot in which we ended up stuck for about 9 to 10 hours. My friend, DJ, encouraged me to join the Snowed Out Atlanta Facebook group and he really was instrumental in helping me keep my status and locations.

So that strangers might be able to find me and offer us some assistance and that's how Craig was able to locate both me and my son and his car help us maneuver out of traffic and get us back to my husband safely.

BALDWIN: So Craig is a total stranger who you linked up with via Facebook who came to your aid, got the car out of the way so you Ms. Eight months pregnant could go home, am I right?

HORNE: Absolutely. I had never met Craig, never spoken with him before and I will never ever forget Craig and his kindness and also Michelle who started the Facebook group.

BALDWIN: How is your 3-year-old?

HORNE: He's great. He's actually taking a nap right now. It was a long night for him, but he's fine.

BALDWIN: OK, now let me just ask you the question that a lot of people are -- people are very I don't think irked quite does it justice, but that's what we will go to, irked at the city and the mayor of Atlanta and the governor of Georgia for not having folks at least stagger and getting out of schools or work, et cetera, or not really anticipating the storm that we experienced yesterday. Are you irked? Do you place blame on them or do you place blame elsewhere?

HORNE: I don't know necessarily who to place blame on. I mean, I think it was just kind of a perfect storm in a lot of senses. I mean, we all left work at the same time. Atlanta is a pre-congested city in terms of traffic anyway. We have everyone kind of participating in this mass exodus. It's just a recipe for disaster. So hopefully there is going to be a way to go through that more properly next time.

BALDWIN: Next time. Hopefully the next time doesn't happen for a while. Katie Horne, rest up, you and your 3-year-old. Thank you so much for calling in. We appreciate it.

HORNE: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Just getting home here in the south as you heard, that was an ordeal in and of itself, but imagine also being responsible for more than 50 children. We will talk to a principal who held an unplanned slumber party last night at her school.

And we are keeping, of course, an eye on live pictures of the "Explorer of the Seas." The Royal Caribbean cruise that had to come back to port because of all the people getting sick, the biggest sickness that we think is norovirus in quite a while. That's coming up as well. Stay here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All the stories of people in the south who have been stranded, thousands and thousands of people whose everyday lives will have a fight for survivor. Stanley Romph is a postal worker who spent the night in a lawn chair at a convenience store. Stanley, are you with me on the phone?

STANLEY ROMPH, SPENT NIGHT IN A CONVENIENCE STORE (via telephone): Yes, I am. How are you doing today?

BALDWIN: I am doing better than you are, but at least I'm hearing you are home. Is that right?

ROMPH: Yes, I finally made it home about 15 minutes ago.

BALDWIN: OK, so take me back, Stanley. Tell me your story. When did you hop in the car with your snow?

ROMPH: Well, I got in the car around about 8:00 last night. I was going to leave at 2:00. I thought everything would be fine. After I left, I got stuck at 285 near Cascade. I made my way up to the 166 and I got stuck there. It was a race track and I walked about a mile to it and stayed the other night.

BALDWIN: So you left your car on 285, on the highway and walked to the gas station and slept in a lawn chair at the gas station?

ROMPH: Yes.

BALDWIN: Were you alone or were there other people in your similar shoes?

ROMPH: There were two people there when I got there and I got there about 10:30 or 11:00 and about 1:00 people were coming in as well. It was about 10 to 15 people there last night.

BALDWIN: We are looking at video of people on the highways pushing cars and trying to move. Many of them stuck in traffic. What was the sense -- you were I'm sure on the phone with family and friends. Could you believe this was happening?

ROMPH: I was so shocked. I knew that the mayor and the governor had it all planned. They noticed the snow day was coming. They had it once a year. They knew it was coming. They knew they had it all planned and mapped out. So many people were coming and they moved to the side and I won't be in harm's way. This was such a bad ordeal.

BALDWIN: Stanley, on the issue of the governor and the mayor having this thing mapped out, let me play some sound. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR KASIM REED, ATLANTA: You ought to be fair with the interview. The Atlanta public school system calls and the school systems independently call when they are close. So what we did was communicate and immediately I said that I thought it was a mistake for business, government, and the schools to announce those closures, which cause people to flow into the streets and created a major traffic jam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So that was Mayor Kasim Reed talking to my colleague, Carol Costello, earlier this morning, Stanley. But to your point about the mayor and the governor having it mapped out, sleeping in a lawn chair in a gas station, do you feel like they should take some of the blame?

ROMPH: Most definitely. Most definitely they should take the blame. They should have mapped this out a long time ago and salted the highways and everything. They are planning for this ordeal.

BALDWIN: This cannot happen again. Stanley Romph, I'm glad you are home and OK. Thank you for calling in. We appreciate you very much. Quick break, back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We have live pictures out of New Jersey. This is the Royal Caribbean's "Explorer of the Seas" and we have another cruise ship story for you today. This time this is a cruise ship that had to turn around a number of days into the vacation for 3,000 people because of what they believe is the norovirus.

We have a crew standing by on this dock, standing to talk to a number of the passengers who are just incredibly frustrated. Elizabeth Cohen is standing by as well. So we will tell you that story in just a minute.

Now to this -- President Obama is not waiting to act on the agenda laid out in his state of the union address from last night. He just signed a presidential memorandum directing Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to allow workers to start their own retirement savings accounts. He is calling it "My RA."

He talked about this last night in the speech during his state of the union. The president said it's the new savings bond. President Obama said the plan would guarantee a decent return with no risk and the White House says the money earned will be tax-free. Quick break, back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We are a couple days away from Super Bowl Sunday and we know it's a worldwide spectacle. It also makes it a potential target for terrorists. CNN's Alexandra Field has an inside look at how the biggest game of the year is shaping up as the biggest test ever for law enforcement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HARTNETT, FORMER NYPD INTELLIGENCE COMMANDER: I would say arguably this is the biggest security challenge the city has ever faced.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ed Hartnett, a former NYPD Intelligence commander has overseen some of the most high profile and high security moments in New York City's history. He said the NYPD's latest mission, securing Super Bowl Boulevard, a 13-block stretched in the middle of Manhattan could be even tougher. Harnett thinks of it as New Year's Eve going on for days with all the same challenges.

Those challenges magnified now Hartnett said following threats made on the Olympic Games in Sochi.

HARTNETT: If you're called before 9/11, allow the so-called chatter was about a big event that would probably happen in Europe and actually the event deadly happened here. I think law enforcement officials are mindful of that.

FIELD: A hundred law enforcement agencies are bringing in manpower and resources to keep Super Bowl 48 safe. On Monday, the task force deployed officers to a New Jersey home less than 20 miles away from Metlife Stadium where the game will be played. One man was arrested after a bomb squad found homemade explosive devices and guns. Officials say they found no link to terrorism or the Super Bowl.

(on camera): There has been a lot of planning. There's been a lot of preparation, but what's so keeping you up at night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing.

FIELD (voice-over): Lt. Col. Ed Cetnar of the New Jersey State Police took us inside the Super Bowl's command center in a secret location where vast network of cameras are monitored around the clock.

LT. COL. ED CETNAR, NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE: In my career in 27 years, this is the largest event that the New Jersey State Police is undertaking and the Super Bowl is not a holiday, but it's an American tradition. This is huge. FIELD: Super Bowl 48 has its own unique challenges. There will be events in both New Jersey and New York. There are four nearby airports where air traffic will have to stop at times. Several event venues stick close to water for that reason and authorities studied the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, which launched from the water.

CETNAR: We have been looking at our vulnerability sites and making sure that when the 80,000 folks come in to celebrate the Super bowl, every contingency is covered.

FIELD: Alexandra Field, CNN, East Rutherford, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: Back to the wintry mess, the icy gridlock is testing drivers' patience. Some people have been on the roads since they left work yesterday afternoon. We are talking more than 24 hours ago now. Our affiliate in Atlanta, WXIA, reports people were making U-turns on the interstate, just trying to move along.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few cars are using this space we are standing in right now to do a U-turn of sorts to go against traffic. This is not the contra flow. It's sort of a makeshift maneuver to turn around on the interstate and loop off until they get to the off-ramp. It's gotten a couple dozen cars out of here. There hundreds to see the long line of vehicles. These people were -- some of these people left work at 6:00 and watched the sunset and sunrise from this spot. We will show you why. Take a look at the ice. You can really tell here on the strip. That's a half inch thick of ice. It is slick and when people drive on it and do the maneuvers, it is very dicey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We continue on. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. A busy day here in the newsroom. Two stories we are watching. On the left of your screen, live pictures out of New Jersey. This cruise ship just docked there this afternoon. The trip was cut short after 700 people got very, very ill.