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Atlanta Paralyzed by Snow; Southern Hospitality on Display in Storm; Sochi Bombing Suspects Arrested; GDP Grew Last Quarter of 2013; Atlanta Ice Melts, Blame Game Heats Up; Bieber Charged with Assault in Toronto

Aired January 30, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: With the hashtag #lettimplay. And finally the school went back on its decision and Tim is back on the court where he belongs. And the school says it was all just a big misunderstanding. Ad sure it was. Tim says in a tweet, #nicetry. The power of coming together, kids, even at a young age, knowing what the right thing is, and the school finally doing something smart in a controversy. That's why it's the good stuff.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's why we bring it to you.


BOLDUAN: Now we're going to bring you to Carol Costello in the NEWSROOM.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much. Have a great day. NEWSROOM -- see you.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Carol Costello. This morning, the Mason Dixon Line is covered in ice and etched in misery. In Atlanta, this is the challenge of the hour. Most of those cars you see littering interstates like the zombie apocalypse are abandoned.

And, of course, a big obstacle in getting the area up and running. Beginning next hour, the National Guard and state agencies will shuttle those drivers back to their cars.

The impact stretches far across the south. In Alabama, some 10,000 school kids are waking up in their own beds this morning. They spent Tuesday night camping out at school. About 1600 other kids were still stranded overnight.

Alabama's governor, like many elected leaders across the region, says the problem wasn't a lack of preparation but an unpredictable storm.


GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY (R), ALABAMA: No one knew exactly where the line of freezing rain and snow would take place. Unfortunately the predictions were not exactly what we thought they would be. No one has any control over that except the Lord.


COSTELLO: Here's a reminder of just how foreign this rare winter is. One Pensacola motorist, in typical Florida attire, giving fellow drivers a quick lesson in how to drive on ice. Isn't that crazy? For the daring Atlanta area drivers who venture on to the interstates, this is the roadside obstacle course facing them. Cars parked haphazardly, sometimes sticking in the road creating a kind of snow slalom.

That's why officials are urging people to stay home, if they can, so owners can retrieve their cars and snow removal equipment can get its first pass in some of these areas.

With more than a million commuters stuck in traffic, though, sometimes for 10 hours or more, political leaders are bristling at the firestorm of criticism that's now raining down upon them. Atlanta's mayor, a central target, is pushing back at the haunting images of clogged interstates and paralyzed highways.

A clearly frustrated Kasim Reed says his city's staff should not be vilified for failures at the state level.


MAYOR KASIM REED (D), ATLANTA: And I think rather than play the blame game, we have shared responsibility. But I want to state clearly, I don't have jurisdiction to clear interstate highways in the city of Atlanta. I'm responsible for the streets that are in the city of Atlanta. We got our streets cleaned. We kept our hospitals open. We kept our people safe. And the city of Atlanta is running again.


COSTELLO: Well, running may be overstating it for the larger metro region. This morning it's more like lurching.


COSTELLO (voice-over): This morning, highway officials are working to remove the vehicles still abandoned on Atlanta highways. This after a day long stretch of the interstate looked more like a parking lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just look at the map, you can see just it's filled up with red. It is jammed around town.

COSTELLO: Less than three inches of snow and ice fell on Tuesday afternoon, and it led to miles and miles of gridlock and chaos. A twisting traffic jam that even emergency vehicles and snow removal teams had a tough time breaking through. Overturned semis and a burning car left abandoned for hours.

MARI RAMOS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: OK, my car skidded off the road.

COSTELLO: This CNN meteorologist Marie Ramos documented her treacherous journey home.

RAMOS: I'm going to go ahead and get out now because it's pretty scary to stay in here. I'm not alone. There's emergency vehicles behind me, as you can see there. I need help, but they can't help me because there's a serious accident up the road.

COSTELLO: The slick roads causing over 1200 accidents. State troopers tagging these abandoned vehicles to indicate there's no one inside, as tow trucks slowly haul away the mess. The National Guard handing out supplies to people forced to spend the night in their cars. Others, like Don Giddens (ph), ditched his car instead to trek five miles by foot to get home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ice was awful. I must have fallen about five times.

COSTELLO: Fifty Atlanta school children finally slept in their beds last night after being forced to spend a bitterly cold Tuesday stranded on their school buses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was scared that I wouldn't see my mom until, like, 7:00 a.m.

COSTELLO: Others hunkered down, spending the night at school. The perfect storm in a southern state crippled by a lack of preparation to prevent such chaos.


COSTELLO: Now the worst of circumstances seem to bring out the best in people throughout the storm and its aftermath. Good old fashioned southern hospitality was certainly on display.

CNN's Nick Valencia live outside the CNN center in Atlanta.

Hi, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Carol, you're right. Yesterday, the country's ninth largest metro area looked more like a parking lot. Thousands of motorists stranded. No food, no water, no shelter.

But like you said, Carol, thankfully for them they live in a city with a little southern hospitality.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Hours seeming like eternity, for thousands of Atlanta motorists trapped in their cars. Major stores like Home Depot and Kroger staying open to shelter stranded passengers. The National Guard handing out meals and blankets.

CAPT. DARRELL GRIFFIN, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: We've got the meals ready to eat. Just basic nutrition. It's what your soldiers are eating now in Afghanistan. VALENCIA: But it was the everyday people who immediately banded together to help those in need. Robin and Greg Jacobs housed 22 kids stranded at the local elementary school.

GREG JACOBS, HOSTED 22 SCHOOL CHILDREN: There was just a lot of kindness outside, you know, not just in our home but just everywhere on the streets, people were trying to help everybody.

VALENCIA: Social media exploded with stories of other Atlantans springing into action, pulling out stuck motorists and clearing ice.

LORENZO JACKSON, ATLANTA RESIDENT: Me and my wife wanted to just come out and see if we could help push people up or, you know, just do whatever we could do to help.

VALENCIA: This man, throwing chains under tires to help cars gain traction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to do what you can to help.

VALENCIA: And these Good Samaritans equipped with a cooler strapped to a sled, handing out food and water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just trying to help out. You know, my wife was stuck in five hours and we thought that was bad. And woke up this morning and realized people are here 24 hours.

VALENCIA: The never-ending gridlock led hundreds to abandon their cars.

For Nick Anderson and his pregnant wife Amy, walking wasn't an option when she suddenly went into labor.

AMY ANDERSON, GAVE BIRTH IN TRAFFIC JAM: We can't (INAUDIBLE) anymore. And that's when I knew, the contractions had gotten so strong.

VALENCIA: An officer on his way to a traffic accident saw the couple on the side of the road.

TIM SHEFFIELD, SANDY SPRINGS OFFICER: I walked over to him, and I said, are you all broke down? I saw that he was on the phone. And he said no, actually, we're having a baby.

VALENCIA: Equipped with a first aid kit while Nick was on the phone with the 911 operator, the three delivered a beautiful baby girl named Grace in the midst of massive chaos and frustration.


VALENCIA: Nick, Amy and baby Grace, they're doing just fine. They eventually made it to the hospital with the help of that officer. Now all three are home happy and safe.

And it's these random acts of kindness, Carol, that really made a big difference in that mess that was Atlanta yesterday -- Carol. COSTELLO: And we're going to have the police officer in the 10:00 a.m. Eastern hour of NEWSROOM to talk about how he helped deliver that baby, baby Grace.


VALENCIA: What a wonderful story. You know? What a wonderful story. They'll be telling that for decades, I'm sure.

COSTELLO: You're right about that.

Nick Valencia, many thanks. We're also going to talk to another Good Samaritan who went to rescue stranded drivers in his jeep. He was armed with coffee, blankets and a bottle of bourbon. He should have some good stories for us this morning.

All right on to other news. Russian officials have two terrorism suspects in custody who may be connected to the bombings there last month. And today police have identified the suicide bomber who attacked a train station in Volgograd. That bombing killed 18 people in December, as well as the suicide bomber who blew up this trolley the next day, killing 16 people.

Remember, Volgograd is a major transportation hub, a few hundred miles northeast of the site of the Winter Olympics.

CNN's Phil Black is live in Moscow to tell us more.

Hi, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. Yes, so they've identified two men they say were the actual men who blew themselves up in each of those instances you've just shown at the train station, on the trolley bus, killing 34 people.

Now three weeks after that attack, there was a video posted on a well- known jihadi Web site featuring two men who claimed to be getting ready to go out and carry out those attacks, strapping on their suicide vests. They said those are the guys behind it. And these are the people that also said there would be more attacks in Russia in the lead-up to the Sochi games and the Sochi games itself.

Now while Russian authorities say they've identified two men, they will not say if the two men featured in that video are the two names, the two people that we are talking about. But one of those men in that video says his name is Suleman. The names released by Russian authorities today also indicate that one of the men was Suleman.

So a likely link there. Russian police say they've also detained two men who they say helped these men carry out the attacks. Two brothers who are accused of helping the men travel to Volgograd from Dagestan.

Dagestan is that hot bed of Islamist insurgency and terrorism that exists in Russia, that is very much the focus of what is perceived to be the ongoing threat in the lead-up to these coming Sochi Winter Olympics -- Carol. COSTELLO: Phil Black, reporting live from Moscow this morning. Thank you.

Also this just in to us. A new report shows the U.S. economy grew in the final three months of 2013. And that could lay the groundwork for stronger growth this year. At least we hope so.

Alison Kosik knows more than I do, though. She's at the New York Stock Exchange to tell us more.

Good morning.


So the question is, did the economy look good as we close the book on 2013? Yes, it looked pretty good. The U.S. economy grew at a 3.2 percent rate. This is from the months from October through December.

And it's always nice to get perspective so we'd like to kind of look back to 2011. Here's how it looked. 3.2 percent is actually one of the stronger readings for the last quarter, even though it's down from the third quarter. Now Wall Street seems to like it. We are seeing Dow futures up 90 points.

So what the heck is GDP? GDP is one of the biggest reports or at least one of the biggest reports that we get. It's sort of like the economy's report card.

Now at this particular report, Carol, everybody was kind of curious how that 16-day government shutdown in October impacted growth, and you know what? It looks like it wasn't too dramatic. Apparently reducing this figure by about .3 percentage points. So without the shutdown, GDP would have been more. Sure. It would have been 3.5 percent instead of 3.2 percent.

Then we'd like to look at what drove the growth. Consumers spent more. Exports went up. There was also stronger business investment, and that's good stuff because it showed businesses in America have got more confidence in the economy because they're handing out -- handing out their cash.

But the overall number you looked at, it was dragged down a bit by a decline in federal government spending.

Here's the bad news. When you look at 2013 overall, the economy grew at only a 1.9 percent rate compared to 2.8 percent in the prior year. That's lousy. But because there was that pickup in momentum in the second half of last year, some economists say that this could be a good sign of things to come if that momentum continues into this year -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I hope it does.

Alison Kosik, many thanks to you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, in and around Atlanta, the paralyzing snow and ice beginning to melt. And the blame game -- well, it's heating up.

Here's CNN's Victor Blackwell.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, the mayor is pointing at the state and the school districts. The governor is pointing at the National Weather Service and meteorologists. People who live here in Atlanta are pointing at the mayor and the governor.

So coming up in just a few moments on day three, day three of this mess, why the state has issued a civil emergency warning here in the Atlanta metro area.


COSTELLO: A live picture of the streets here in Atlanta. As you can see, things are coming back to normal. Still pretty chilly outside, there's some ice on the roads, but that started to clear out.

But keep in mind, seven degrees outside. But also keep in mind, in just about 48 hours, it's going to be 60 degrees. Crazy weather we're having here, and then the rest of the country because -- you know what I'm saying.

As Atlanta lurches back to life today, though, millions of angry residents want to know how a few inches of snow paralyzed one of the largest cities in the country. For many of those who were stranded, the blame lies squarely with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

This is some editorial cartoon of the two politicians blissfully making snow angels as the city ground to halt. That's in today's "Atlanta Journal Constitution. It only reinforces the public image that these two politicians did not respond to the crisis quickly enough.

Victor Blackwell is in Atlanta with the continuing fallout.

Good morning, Victor.


I don't know if you can see it from there, but the footprint in this snow here along the I-75, I-85 interchange in Atlanta, they're from people who decided to hike it home after sitting in traffic for 12, 14, 16 hours for some people. I can see a couple of vehicles just a few yards from here.

Well, the state issued a civil emergency to allow the roads to clear, to get people back to their vehicles. That's happening as the politicians played the blame game.


BLACKWELL (voice-over): The blame game between government officials is in full swing.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: We have been confronted with an unexpected storm.

MAYOR KASIM REED (D), ATLANTA, GA: There's no one who's doing any better job than we're doing in the city of Atlanta.

BLACKWELL: More than 1,200 accidents on road, commuters trapped in unimaginable gridlock. Cars abandoned. Children stranded in schools overnight.

Georgia's Governor Nathan Deal blamed the forecast for not being prepared.

DEAL: The National Weather Service had continually had their modeling showing that the city of Atlanta would not be the primary area where the storm would hit.

BLACKWELL: Meteorologists say, not so. CNN's Chad Myers and other local meteorologists --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could see accumulations of one to two inches.

BLACKWELL: -- predicted that two inches of snow would fall in Atlanta on Tuesday morning.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: For Atlanta, it is a devastating two inches of snow that will literally shut down the city.

BLACKWELL: Outraged Georgia residents are blaming the governor and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for bringing the city to its knees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I expected that Georgia would be more prepared since 2010, we had the same ice on the read, but I've noticed that there's -- I haven't seen any salt trucks, no DOT, no police, nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is the government's job to make sure that their citizens are safe.

BLACKWELL: So what did they know and when? A winter storm watch was issued early Monday morning, upgraded to a warning by early Tuesday. A full eight hours before snow started to fall.

DEAL: There's not anybody in this room that could have predicted the degree and the magnitude of the problem that developed.

BLACKWELL: Quite possibly the biggest mistake was not closing Atlanta area schools on Tuesday morning.

Governor Deal also waited until 5:00 p.m. to declare a state of emergency, long after other states had done so. Roadways quickly clogged up with thousands of drivers trying to head home at the same time.

But who's to blame?

REED: We have shared responsibility. But I want to state clearly, I don't have jurisdiction to clear interstate highways in the city of Atlanta. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: State officials and the mayor, they declared early Tuesday morning before the snow started, they were ready for the storm. But when things got really bad just afternoon on Tuesday, where were they? They were both at the Ritz-Carlton with other business, political, and economic sector leaders.

Look at this tweet sent out by Governor Nathan Deal. He tweets, "I was honored to introduce Mayor Kasim Reed, named the 2014 Georgian of the Year. Congratulations." And he signed it ND. He was there at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Atlanta as tens of thousands of people were rushing home.

We use the word "rush", but they weren't moving too quickly -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You got that right, Victor. Thanks so much.

And by the way, we have extended an invitation for Governor Nathan Deal to be on CNN repeatedly, and each time, our requests have been denied. But the invitation still stands, Governor.

Stranded cars and dangerous conditions, scenes like that across Atlanta and the South, all too familiar to our next guest. He was the man in charge of the recovery efforts following hurricane Katrina. Retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore joins me now.

Good morning.


COSTELLO: Thanks for being here. You know, Atlanta isn't alone. Alabama had massive problems, too. And to be fair, new cities don't exactly have massive public transit systems like New York and D.C.

Is it really our dependence on cars that caused a bit of this problem?

HONORE: Yes, they're talking about red roads, Carol. Twice a day in Atlanta the roads go red, meaning you can't move for a period of time -- early in the morning and late in the evening. I mean, you experience that. I lived in Atlanta for six years, so it does have a transportation problem.

But it also has a security problem from the state as well as the city and being able to respond to these weather disasters like this snowstorm and like tornados that can come through the area. They have a problem and they've got to fix it. The first step towards fixing it is admitting they've got a problem. Atlanta and the state of Georgia, both of them inside the same ten-block area, need to have a joint command and control center.

COSTELLO: Well, it does make you wonder, there could be another big weather event, that's for sure. But what if something happens like a terrorist attack and the state and the city have to come together?

HONORE: Absolutely. They will be exchanging business cards at the scene of the event, something we never want to do. They have to create a capacity.

So when people come to Atlanta, they're not looking over their shoulder wondering if they're going to be able to leave Atlanta when they arrive there. This is a world class city. As I said, I lived there for six years and will be back next Sunday. I look forward to coming to Atlanta.

But the infrastructure for security, the state and the city must come together and form a joint center as well as give the authority to the mayor of Atlanta to run that city and inside that perimeter for emergency response and preparedness.

COSTELLO: Well, hopefully there were lots of lessons learned this time around.

General Russel Honore, thank you so much for your insight. We appreciate it.

Still to come, you know we have to talk about Justin Bieber because he's getting very, very familiar with the inside of police stations these days.

Jason Carroll following Bieber's latest arrest in Toronto.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, it's not just court dates Bieber has to worry about. It's also a lot more dealing with the law. He's now facing a -- he's now dealing with an assault charge here in Toronto. I'm going to got the very latest for you coming up.


COSTELLO: Justin Bieber is becoming very familiar with the booking process of police stations. He turned himself into Toronto police and was officially charged with assaulting a local limo driver a month ago. This was a week after he was arrested in Miami Beach for DUI and driving on an expired license.

And before all of that, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department raided Bieber's $6 million mansion, looking for evidence in his alleged role in an egging incident at his neighbor's house that caused nearly $20,000 worth of damage. Whew.

Jason Carroll live in Toronto to tell us more.

Good morning, Jason.

CARROLL: Good morning to you, Carol.

Right now, it's pretty calm outside the hotel where Justin Bieber checked into his room last night. Much different story from what we saw last night outside that police station where a huge crowd gathered to watch Justin Bieber deal with his latest brush with the law.


CARROLL (voice-over): One week, two countries, two arrests. Justin Bieber in trouble with the law again.

Turning himself into Toronto police Wednesday night amidst a crush of paparazzi and screaming fans. The pop star, facing an assault charge in connection with a hitting of a limousine driver several times in the back of the head last month.

Bieber's lawyer, telling CNN, "Our position is that Mr. Bieber is innocent." Bieber himself seemingly unfazed by the negative publicity.

JUSTIN BIEBER, POP STAR: What's up, guys? Justin here.

CARROLL: Posting this video to Instagram just minutes before his arrival at the police station Wednesday night. The superstar now facing potential legal battles in three jurisdictions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Bieber, you are charged with the following --

CARROLL: In Miami, Bieber's lawyer has filed a not guilty plea to charges of DUI, resisting arrest and driving with an expired license after he was arrested last week for alleged drag racing.

Meanwhile, detectives in Los Angeles say that are tightening up their case against Bieber in the alleged egging attack of his neighbor's home, with prosecutors expected to announce as early as next week if Bieber will face felony vandalism charges.

Is Bieber out of control? Some legal analysts say the outrage over his behavior has been blown out of proportion.

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know that he's out of control. He's a 19- year-old kid with more money that he knows what to do with.

CARROLL: His detractors have had enough of his antics, with over 100,000 people signing an online petition calling for the Canadian teen to be deported from the United States.

How will Bieber behave going forward is unclear. His fans say they're confident he can handle whatever comes his way. "Confident" just happens to be the title from a song from his latest video released just yesterday.


CAROLL: And Bieber released after just about two hours in custody. That misdemeanor assault charge is basically a misdemeanor charge. So if he's convicted, he faces very little, if any jail time. His next court date here in Toronto, March 10th -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jason Carroll reporting live for us this morning. Thanks so much.

Still ahead, new details in the target hacking. How stolen passwords and log-ins -- well, actually, we may have a clue in what started it all. We'll be right back.