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Southeast A Mess Due To Crippling Winter Storm; Progress On Syria Chemical Weapons Deal?; All Flights At Raleigh Airport Canceled; Debacle On The Roads In North Carolina; Drivers Abandoning Cars In North Carolina

Aired February 12, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: When we come back, we'll continue to follow this breaking news story and the massive storm barreling up the East Coast. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're continuing our National Lead. We're following the breaking news out of Raleigh, North Carolina, where that deadly snowstorm is causing a major rush hour traffic jam. People are abandoning their cars in Raleigh as conditions become impassable on the highways. The pictures there are all too reminiscent of the ones we saw from Atlanta two weeks ago.

Let's get to meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center. Chad, these images out of Raleigh and the surrounding area are crazy. Remind us what exactly the forecast was.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I went back just right now, I went back to see did somebody bust, did the computers do badly? No. A half inch of snow by 1:00 p.m. That happened. Four inches with sleet by 7:00 p.m. That's happening now. And then three-quarters of an inch of ice on top of that later tonight.

So it was an exactly great forecast, but it's the same issue Atlanta had two weeks ago. The snow started in the middle of the day. People out, there oh, I can handle this, I can do this. Let's do one more thing. Let's go get something else. And then all of a sudden, everybody's caught out because the roads stop -- literally I've seen some of these pictures out of the traffic cams and people are doing two on the highways. That's it. And it takes hours and hours and hours to get home. The same thing we went through here in Atlanta less than two weeks ago.

TAPPER: And Chad, what's the lesson for people up the coast, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Newark, New Jersey. Do they need to get home instead of making the mistake that people in Raleigh did?

MYERS: Hopefully now it's closing time. Hopefully people are getting out of town. But here's Richmond, Virginia. So you get out toward Short Pump in the West End, already snowing, down at the south side, you are seeing snow. Probably a good half inch there down from Fredericksburg, you'll see more snow. D.C. still probably an hour away or so before you get southern suburbs. But D.C. is a very tricky forecast, and I've been trying to tweet this out the past couple hours because along the shore, Eastern Shore and all to Annapolis, probably 2 to 4 inches. You get out toward Greenbelt, probably five to seven. Right through the city, seven to 10. Reston, Virginia, probably 12 because of how much warm air is going to wrap into the forecast right in D.C. The same story is going to happen in Philadelphia, the same story is going to happen in New York: the farther you are inland, the more snow you're going to get.

So tomorrow in D.C., you have to plan accordingly. It's a good idea to not go anywhere or, Jake, did you bring your little blowup pillow and your mattress so you can sleep at the bureau tonight, because that's probably what you'll need to do.

TAPPER: I have them on me at all times.


TAPPER: Chad Myers, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining us on the phone right now, we have hotel manager Milton Hamilton from the Holiday Inn Express in Raleigh, North Carolina. He's right off the interstate.

Milton, tell me what you're seeing there and whether or not the hotel is already booked from people just giving up.

MILTON HAMILTON, MANAGER, HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS IN RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA (on the phone): That is correct. We're having people that are just pulling on the side of the road, abandoning their cars and they're walking to our property. We're now at full capacity, and so are our competitors. People need to stay put and not try to venture out in this weather. Some people may end up having to stay at work, but it's best to be at work and not on these highways.

TAPPER: How many rooms do you normally have booked in a time like this as opposed to today when you're at full capacity?

HAMILTON: Well, typically we are at full capacity during the week just because we're a corporate hotel. But most of our corporate guests have canceled reservations so we were expecting to be slower, but we just got slammed with all these people coming in from all different directions who can't make it home or to wherever they're traveling to.

TAPPER: And what are they telling you about their experience on the road?

HAMILTON: They're saying it's terrible. One guy said it took him about two hours just to get about 10 miles, and that's when he finally just gave up and pulled over. Said there are accidents all up and down the interstate. And I hear parts of Interstate 40 that have been blocked off because there have been so many accidents.

TAPPER: Let me bring in Chad Myers from our Severe Weather Center. He wants to ask you a question also, Milton. CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Milton, what do you do with your employees? Do you send them out and say try to get home? Or do you have rooms for them? Are they going to sleep in the hotel? Because now all of a sudden, all of this help staff is stuck where they thought they weren't going to be just a couple hours ago.

HAMILTON: We listen and we follow behind the forecast and we prepare. We have a team of staff members that are going to stay on property, and those are the only people we requested to come in to work today were the people that would stay overnight. We asked them to start coming in this morning to try to arrive by 9:00 or 10:00 before the weather happened.

TAPPER: All right. Milton Hamilton, Chad Myers, thanks so much.

We're going to take a quick break. We're not going to go away from this story. We'll bring you more on this breaking news, the storm that is slamming North Carolina right now and continuing to still move very quickly up the East Coast. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're following the breaking news out of Raleigh, North Carolina where that deadly snowstorm is causing a huge rush hour traffic jam. People are abandoning their cars in the snow in Raleigh and the surrounding area, just like people did during that debacle back until Atlanta two weeks ago.

We'll return to the story in a moment, but now it's time for our World Lead. Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is the lone American prisoner of war, captured near his base in Afghanistan nearly five years ago. Military officials believe Bergdahl being held in Pakistan by an allied group of militants with ties to the Taliban.

Bergdahl had not been seen for nearly three years until CNN reported last month that the U.S. military had received a proof of life video featuring Bergdahl. Now we have some major new developments on why and how it was obtained. Josh Rogin is here to break the story. He's the senior correspondent for national security and politics for "The Daily Beast." Josh, what have you learned? Why was this proof of life video made? Why was it shot?

JOSH ROGIN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY/POLITICS, "THE DAILY BEAST": What we were able to report today is that the U.S. government requested the proof of life from the Taliban as a precondition to restarting talks over a prisoner swap. The idea here is that the U.S. would get Bowe Bergdahl, and the Taliban would get the release of five senior Taliban commanders currently being held in prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

This is an idea that was negotiated in 2011, but those talks broke town. Now the U.S. is trying to start them again. The added wrinkle this will time is this is linked to the signing of the bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan, because President Karzai wants the Taliban to come to peace talks, and one way to get the Taliban to peace talks is by giving them things like the release of their commanders.

TAPPER: Now we should point out that there has been - and that's no surprise -- no official confirmation on the record about this. And the National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden told you that quote, "We can't discuss all the details of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that we work every day using our military intelligence and diplomatic tools to see Sergeant Bergdahl returned home safely."

As you say, military officials have told you the development is related to outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai trying to get him to sign the bilateral security agreement. How would this encourage him to sign this?

ROGIN: Right. So we should add that President Karzai says a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But what he said recently is that he won't sign the agreement until the peace talks with the Taliban start. He doesn't want to go out as the president who ceded to foreign powers. He wants to go out as the president who made peace.

So he's asking for a number of things. He is asking for the Pakistanis to release senior Taliban leaders. He's releasing his own Taliban people in Afghanistan, and he's asking us to release Taliban commanders in Guantanamo Bay. He thinks these will be carrots that will entice the Taliban to come to the table.

The problem is that according to the Taliban, they don't really want to talk to Karzai right now. They see Karzai's position getting weaker as U.S. forces leave. They see their position getting stronger. They are more likely to wait it out and see what happens after 2014 when most U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan.

TAPPER: Turning quickly to Syria, I just want to ask you about this the organization for the prohibition of chemical weapons told CNN that as of today 11 percent of Syria's chemical weapons are out of Syria. That's certainly an improvement from the 4 percent that were up. But what's your response, still a very small number.

ROGIN: I talked to some U.S. officials today about this and they said they're frustrated with the pace of the removal of weapons from Syria. They believe the regime is slow walking the removal and they see that all the deadlines coming up especially the one in June will be missed.

In addition, James Clapper, the head of this national intelligence, told Congress yesterday that those chemical weapons stockpiles are vulnerable to takeover by extremists in Northern Syria. So this is a very serious problem getting much worse and the longer the regime stalls the longer they stay in power and the larger the risk of these chemical weapons being used against America or its allies increase.

TAPPER: All right, Josh Rogin of the "Daily Beast," again with a scoop for us. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

ROGIN: You bet. TAPPER: Joining us on the phone right now, back to our national lead, North Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, CNN correspondent, David Mattingly. David, we've heard a lot about the disastrous weather in the Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill area where there are people abandoning their cars by the side of the road because traffic is so impassable. What is the weather like in Charlotte? Are they better prepared, the officials there in Charlotte?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIOANAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): The officials here have been very proactive. They saw this storm coming. They were getting salt solution poured on the roads 48 hours before the first snowflake even fell here and it's paying off. The streets are still passable around the city. I was able to drive around a little bit a little while ago and see some of the areas of the interstates.

There are some part where is obviously there are some problems. But for the most part the roads are still passable. I wouldn't call them safe, but they are passable. We're not seeing a great deal of congestion in the central city part here like we are seeing developing at Raleigh where you have lines of traffic just gridlocked on some of the major highways there.

We actually talked to an official with the Department of Transportation who says they are now trying to get plows and salt trucks to those stranded motorists on those highways around Raleigh, but that equipment is also having a difficult time navigating through the gridlock.

So on the surface it's sounding somewhat like with what we saw in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, that they were caught a bit by surprise by the suddenness of the storm, and now we're hoping that these people do not have to end up spending the night on the expressway like the people in Atlanta did.

TAPPER: Chad Myers at the Severe Weather Center, David, went back and looked at the forecast and the forecast for the Raleigh-Durham area was exactly as it ended up being. It just was that even though the officials had salted the roads and prepared, lots of people went to work today. Thankfully the schools are closed so no school children or school buses are stuck at school. Was that different in Charlotte, North Carolina? Did people not go to work there?

MATTINGLY: We saw some people coming to work here. Of course, this is a big banking town, normally very busy downtown during the day. It was very light with people coming into work this morning and most left at noon today, and that's about the time we saw the heavy snowfall coming down. It came down hard and fast in about an hour or so. The city streets were completely covered over.

We've already had several passes or at least in the area where I am, several passes by snow plows, but now it seems the traffic has thinned out greatly and if there are still people here in this town they will probably have a much more difficult time getting home as the sun's gone down, it's getting colder and the snow is switching to sleet. TAPPER: All right, the advice we're getting from city officials in the Raleigh-Durham area is to stay where you are, whether it's at at work or restaurant or a bar, stay there, do not try to drive home. Do not seek public transportation. The buses in the Raleigh-Durham area are also stuck in this weather.

David Mattingly is on the phone in North Carolina. We'll stay with this breaking news story. North Carolina of course brought to a standstill by this deadly winter storm. Stay with us. We'll be right back after this break.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're following some breaking news out of the Raleigh, North Carolina, area. You're looking at pictures from WRAL where that deadly snow storm is causing a huge rush hour traffic jam. People are abandoning their cars in the snow in the Raleigh area just like people did during that nightmare in Atlanta two weeks ago.

Joining us on the phone right is John Verdejo. He got out of the nasty traffic in Raleigh. John, what did you see? Were there a lot of accidents?

JOHN VERDEJO (via telephone): There were. There were tons of fender benders, people abandoning their vehicles, tractor-trailers unable to get up hills and just spinning their wheels, not able to go anywhere.

TAPPER: How were you able to get home?

VERDEJO: Patience and a warm cup of coffee. It normally takes 20 minutes from work to my house took at and hour and a half, hour and 45 minutes.

TAPPER: People were abandoning their cars I take it?

VERDEJO: Literally. Yes. Literally, just abandoning them at the street, at intersection, and just walking, just walking.

TAPPER: We spoke earlier today, John, to Dan Howe. He is the assistant city manager of Raleigh. He said that the residents of the Raleigh area had been warned that the snowstorm was coming. The schools had been closed. Roads had been salted. But people still went out to work anyway and then only left work after it started snowing and that's the problem. Is that accurate? Were you warned that today was going to be bad and you should avoid the roads?

VERDEJO: Yes, definitely, definitely. We knew it was coming in two, three days out. But as soon as the first snowfall hit the ground, it was an exodus to the street. Everyone wanted to go home. Luckily the schools were closed. So it was just a matter of people trying to get home from work.

TAPPER: Thankfully the Raleigh area joined -- closed the schools.

VERDEJO: Yesterday. TAPPER: Ahead of time. John Verdejo, thanks so much. We are so glad that you're OK. Joining us on the phone right now First Sergeant Jeff Gordon. He is the public information officer for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. Sir, how bad are things out there?

FIRST SERGEANT JEFF GORDON, PIO, NORTH CAROLINA STATE HIGHWAY PATROL (via telephone): Well, the roads especially in the Raleigh-Durham area are in pretty bad shape right now. Basically what we saw here is we've been promoting this storm for probably the past three days. And here in the Raleigh-Durham area we could see precipitation this morning and probably around 12:00 when the snow started to fall, and as a result we had a large influx of people that have commuted into work and various other locations and then trying to leave. As a result we had vehicles that would get stuck on the highway.

TAPPER: First Sergeant, how strongly did the city advised businesses not to open today?

GORDON: We've been basically educating the public on the dangers of this system. As you may or may not know, this system was actually a two-punch system. We had a low that came through approximately one to two days and this is the second low that came through. So we've been promoting this and educating people to be on their Ps and Qs and take this weather seriously. We had some know impacts in the western part of the state and yesterday in the evening we had a great impact in what we call the sand hill region, which is around the coastal areas.

And just as forecasts predicted, this storm did form and it did drop precipitation. So all the officials did what they were supposed to do, the schools did what they were supposed to do and this is a matter of increment weather. But we all worked feverishly as we can to expedite for these people who work on the highways.

TAPPER: First Sergeant Gordon, one last question, I know that the advice for people who are at work or restaurants or stores is do not get into your car, do not get on the road. What is your advice for people who are stuck in that horrific traffic?

GORDON: Well, the first thing you can do -- and most people have smartphones. I would suggest people contact their loved ones and emergency officials to let them know where they're at. The other thing is you want to preserve your gas. One suggestion is basically to run your engine for approximately 15 minutes and then turn it off. That way you can save your fuel. And then of course always roll down your window a little bit to keep air flowing in and out and just sit tight.

We don't suggest people get out and venture on the roadways, which could possibly result in a fatality or injury if you get on the highway. We're taking this very seriously. We're working just as hard as we can to get these people off the roadways and we'll continue that. We ask for patience and understanding as we go through the next 24 hours.

TAPPER: All right, First Sergeant Jeff Gordon with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. We thank you so much. I want to stay on the phones here because we had the mayor from North Carolina on the line with us, Mayor Nat Robertson. Mayor, what did you do to prepare your city for this?

MAYOR NAT ROBERTSON, NORTH CAROLINA (via telephone): Hi, Jake. Good afternoon. Yesterday at 3:00, we declared a state of emergency, which basically opens us up for any type of state or federal aid in case things really get bad. But you know we put out a fair amount of salt --