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Historic Snow and Ice Storm Hits South; Man Survives Avalanche; Loud Music Murder Trial Wrapping Up; Olympic Gold Count and Big Surprises in Sochi

Aired February 12, 2014 - 09:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM on ice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no way you can deal with ice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the ice. It's the ice.

COSTELLO: A fast-moving paralyzing storm forecasters calling it catastrophic.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: We're not kidding. We're not just crying wolf.

COSTELLO: In what could be the worst ice storm to hit the south in 10 years, power outages that could last for a week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be a challenge for all of us.

COSTELLO: Also, avalanche danger. Amazing video, a snowmobiler swept away and carried 100 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt like I was just literally flying through the air.

COSTELLO: Avalanches in Colorado, Oregon and Utah. An emergency situation and a dire warning to skiers this morning.

Plus another chemical spill in West Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can smell an odor.

COSTELLO: Creeks turning black. The pipe break in the same area as the spill last month. People there fed up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't believe half of what they say.

COSTELLO: And glamour, glitz and the White House state dinner. Stephen Colbert, Bradley Cooper, Mary J. --

MARY J. BLIGE, SINGER: My last name is French.

COSTELLO: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

For millions of Americans, especially in the south, a brutal mix of ice and snow sweeps in bolstered by words just as chilling -- historic, catastrophic and very unpredictable. The screaming headlines speaks volumes, bracing for the worst. Flights are cancelled. More than 54,000 homes and businesses have already lost power. And officials warn those power outages could be widespread and last for days.


COSTELLO (voice-over): More than 50 salt trucks converged on to a truck stop in Augusta, Georgia, overnight, the area facing a potentially catastrophic winter storm slamming the southeast stretching from Texas to the eastern seaboard. Freezing rain causing what may be the worst ice storm in a decade, forcing Georgia and Virginia into states of emergency.

DEAL: There's no doubt that this is one of Mother Nature's worst kinds of storms that can be inflicted on the south.

COSTELLO: Up to an inch of ice could make travel treacherous in some areas. The National Guard on the move preparing to rescue anyone sliding off the road.

PFC. DARIAN DAVIS, GEORGIA NATIONAL GUARD: I'm going to go out there on the highways and patrol and make sure all of our citizens are OK.

COSTELLO: Sleet, ice and snow suspending some Amtrak trains and cancelling thousands of flights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't even expect this.

COSTELLO: At Atlanta's airport Delta employees actually had to sleep in planes because there aren't enough hotel rooms. In North Carolina a truck crashed into the guardrail as the popular I-95 corridor is becoming a dangerous icy roadway. The potentially catastrophic ice accumulations already pummeled Texas on Monday, riddling roadways with accidents.

A firefighter after stopping to check on one spun car died when another driver lost control on the icy bridge. Knocking him off the overpass on to the ramp below. For much of the southeast, temperatures will continue to be below freezing for another 24 hours. Officials are bracing for the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wherever you are, you need to plan on staying there for a while.


COSTELLO: Sadly that is true. CNN is covering this storm like no other network can. Indra Petersons is tracking this storm from CNN's Weather Center, David Mattingly is in Charlotte, North Carolina, George Howell is outside in Atlanta.

But we begin with Nick Valencia. He's in one of Atlanta's oldest neighborhood and the reason you're there, icy trees.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, icy trees, freezing temperatures about 28 degrees right now. Freezing rain, it's been picking up all morning long.

Carol, I want to give you a sense of just how cold it was here overnight. This isn't a trash bag. It's a child's coat that was left here on this elementary school where we're going to life from completely frozen. You can probably snap that thing in half if you tried. But come on back here. I want to show you something as well.

This is how big of an issue the freezing rain has been. Starting to accumulate ice on this table. When we got here about 5:00 a.m. this morning there was nothing on this table. The roads were clear. The roads were nice to drive on.

That's not the case right now. In Decatur, just outside of Atlanta, if you are good at making snowmen, which I'm not really. I'm from Los Angeles, Carol. I don't know how to play with this stuff here. But if you could -- if you could make a snowman you could make one with the ice that's accumulated here all across the city.

But the real concern as you mentioned those power lines, those downed power lines I'm not sure if you can see behind me here but there is a power line there. Frozen power lines. Already more than 50,000 people without power all throughout the state of Georgia. Majority of that concentrated in Metro Atlanta and believe it or not, Carol, officials saying it could get much worse -- Carol.

COSTELLO: I know. Nick Valencia, thanks so much. Let's head out to Charlotte, North Carolina. Because motorist there Motorists there beware. Officials say if you leave your home now you may not get back there any time soon. Ice and up to a foot of snow expected in North Carolina.

CNN's David Mattingly joins us live from Charlotte to tell us more.

Good morning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. No snow falling in downtown Charlotte right now but that's about to change in a very big way. You can take a look around here. This snow actually fell last night here. But the city is bracing for what they expect to be worst snowfall they've seen in a long time here, about eight to 10 inches here in downtown Charlotte.

To the north of the city possibly a foot of snow. To the south of the city a crippling ice storm that is sure to plunge thousands of people into darkness as those power lines start coming down and everyone very much taking those warnings very seriously. This is a big banking center for the southeast. Normally very busy this time of day. Just a few cars on the road right now this morning. Schools are closed. Most people staying home. Hunkering down for what's coming.

And believe me, Carol, take a good look at these clear streets and these dry sidewalks because 12 hours from now it's going to be a very different story here.

COSTELLO: We'll check back. David Mattingly, reporting live from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Here's a live look at road conditions in metro Atlanta. People are staying off the ice covered roads so far. Look at that. Looks like a ghost town in the entire city of Atlanta. They're definitely heeding the warnings as well they should.

Indra Petersons is here to look at how long this storm will last for so many of us.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and travel delays. What a nightmare, Carol.

Let's talk about the delays. You look at the airports itself, you don't see delays. Why? Because the flights are cancelled. We know that with freezing rain out there. Atlanta, Georgia, over 1600 flights cancelled. Charlotte, North Carolina, over 700. Same thing up toward North Carolina, Raleigh, about 150 flights that's inbound and outbound.

We know the problem. It's this. Sean, our weather producer in Atlanta, sent us this this morning. You were out there. You saw it. The freezing rain is there. The icing is now accumulating and people go who cares, what's a quarter inch, a half an inch of ice? That doesn't sound like much.

Wrong. That is all it takes to bring those power lines down. They weigh 30 times heavier, as much as 500 pounds. That's the concern this ice storm is under way. The second wave of the system we saw starting yesterday that's expected to be even stronger and for that reason historical. That is what the National Weather Service is calling it as now you see that ice making its way into Georgia, even in Southern Carolina.

Yesterday we saw about a quarter of an inch, look at the numbers we're expecting from the second wave. Way above that half an inch threshold. We're seeing it in places potentially as high as an inch of ice. That means catastrophic results. You could have power lines and be without power for a week.

Now also the second wave of this will be the heavy snow. Places like D.C. that haven't seen snow as heavy as this since 10 -- excuse me, four years ago, February 2010, we saw five inches. We could be talking eight, even 10 inches of snow. Remember first it's the ice storm, the second wave overnight, (INAUDIBLE) tomorrow, the snow maker into the northeast -- Carol. COSTELLO: All right. Indra Petersons, thanks for the update, I think.

Two snowmobilers in two separate states buried by avalanches. The one you're about to see happened off the trails in the back country of the Utah Mountains north of Salt Lake City. These are pictures of Travis's friends digging him out from under at least three feet of snow. Luckily Travis was able to stick his handout of the pile of snow. Still he was underneath that pile for a full five minutes. The snowmobilers say avalanche vest and rescue beacons saved Travis.

The other avalanche happened in Gunnison, Colorado. Cody Strong was snowmobiling off trail when out of where a surge of snow threw him off his snowmobile. His shot there from his helmet cam.

Alyssa Chin of affiliate KKTV has more for you.


CODY STRONG, AVALANCHE SURVIVOR: That was an avalanche. I honestly felt like I was just literally flying through the air like -- and I mean, like I felt like impact on me and everything.

ALYSSA CHIN, KKTV REPORTER: Cody was swept away in an avalanche. He says the snow ripped him off his snowmobile and was taken roughly 100 feet.

STRONG: It ended up being like a -- literally a freight train that just took me away, and as fast as I said that, like it was done and over with. Like, I mean, it was just see it. You can't see anything. You feel like your body going through motions and then it's done and over with. And you're stopped.

CHIN: Once the panic stopped and he saw that all his friends were OK, he took a minute to let everything that happen sink in.

STRONG: We literally survived an avalanche like that was -- that could have been way worse than it was.


COSTELLO: Yes. It could have been. That was Alyssa Chin reporting. Cody says he will be more cautious from now on and will even take an avalanche safety course.

Just when you thought we had reached some bipartisan bliss Senator Ted Cruz reappears as the spoiler. Cruz says he will filibuster a House passed bill to raise the debt ceiling. But Cruz's plan is at odds with his fellow Republicans. They want to avoid a filibuster and any accusations of obstruction that could come with it.

Cruz's vow comes after the measure cleared the House by a narrow vote, less than three dozen Republicans who joined Democrats in passing the measure. House Speaker John Boehner spoke about his party's frustration with the process and President Obama.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Listen, you all know that our members are not crazy about voting to increase the debt ceiling. Our members are also very upset with the president. He won't negotiate. He won't deal with our long term spending problems without us raising taxes. Won't even sit down and discuss these issues.

He's the one driving up the debt and, you know, the question they're asking is why should deal with his debt limit? And so the fact is, we'll let the Democrats put the votes up, we'll put a minimum number of votes up to get it passed.


COSTELLO: And they did and it passed. The nation faces a February 27th deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk a technical default. As I've told you, the bill now goes to the Senate.

The president putting pen to paper on the federal minimum wage today signing an executive order that will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. Right now they make $7.25 an hour. The increase will kick in on January 1st, 2015 and will only apply to new contracts.

But the debt ceiling, minimum wage and other issues all faded to the background at the White House last night where French President Francois Hollande was honored with a state dinner. The first lady donning a Carolina Herrera dress in the colors of black and liberty blue and it has sleeves and everything.

Hollywood celebrities also enjoyed the festivities. Among them Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who attended with her dad, and Bradley Cooper.

CNN's Jim Acosta will have more on the dinner later this hour.

Also to come in the NEWSROOM Michael Dunn answers tough questions on the stand as the jury gets ready to take the case. So did Dunn's testimony help him or hurt him?

Our panel of legal experts weigh in.


COSTELLO: Closing arguments set to begin next hour in the trial of a white man accused of killing a black teenager over loud music. On the final day of testimony Michael Dunn took the stand telling a jury why he had to shoot at Jordan Davis outside of a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station.

Alina Machado has more for you.


MICHAEL DUNN, DEFENDANT: I'm looking out the window and I said, you're not going to kill me, you son of a bitch, and I shot him. ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michael Dunn took the stand in his own defense telling the jury he had no choice but to fire his gun during a confrontation with a group of teenagers over loud music.

DUNN: It was Jordan Davis who kept escalating this to the point where I had no choice, but to defend myself. It was life or death.

MACHADO: 17-year-old Jordan Davis was killed in the 2012 altercation. And on Tuesday, Dunn spent more than three hours on the stand telling the jury about the night of the shooting.

DUNN: I asked for a common courtesy.

MACHADO: His demeanor mostly calm and controlled, but he became emotional several times when talking about his puppy --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what was his name?

DUNN: His name is Charlie.

MACHADO: And when he discussed his fiancee Rhonda Rouer who was with him that night.

DUNN: It wasn't just my life I was worried about. You know?

MACHADO: Dunn says he and Rouer had stopped at this Jacksonville gas station to buy wine after his son's wedding. When they pulled up next to this red SUV, Dunn says he noticed thumping music coming from the vehicle.

DUNN: The body panels of the SUV were rattling. My rearview mirror was shaking. My ear drums are vibrating. It's just ridiculously loud music.

MACHADO: Dunn says he asked the teens to lower it. And at first, they did. But then things turned, quote, "ugly." Dunn testified he saw a barrel of what he believed was a shotgun sticking out of a window in the SUV.

DUNN: After the -- the continued threat of you're dead, bitch, now the door opens and this young man gets out, and as his head clears the window frame, he says, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) going down now.

MACHADO: According to Dunn, he grabbed his gun and started shooting. Nine shots were fired. When Rouer came out of the store and got back in the car, they quickly drove off.

Investigators say they never found a firearm in the SUV. On the stand, Dunn said he told his fiancee the teens had a gun.

JOHN GUY, ASSISTANT STATE PROSECUTOR: And you tell her they had a weapon of any kind?

DUNN: Yes, I did.

GUY: You did? What did you tell her? Tell the jury the term that you used to describe the weapon.

DUNN: I don't know what I said, but I told her that they had a weapon. They threatened my life and they were -- and that he advanced upon me.

MACHADO: But Rouer had a different story.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the defendant ever tell you he saw a gun in that red SUV?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the defendant ever tell you that he saw a weapon of any kind in that SUV?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was no mention of a stick?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was no mention of a shotgun?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no mention of a barrel?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was no mention of a lead pipe.


MACHADO: Dunn also explained to the jury why he did not call police that night.

GUY: That didn't go through your head like maybe I just shot somebody, they pointed a gun at me, I should call the police?

DUNN: You know, you're right. It sounds crazy. And I couldn't tell you what I was thinking when that all this happened. I can just tell you that I didn't do it.

MACHADO: Alina Machado, CNN, Jacksonville, Florida.


COSTELLO: Let's bring in our legal experts right now. Mark O'Mara, Paul Callan and Danny Cevallos.

Welcome to all of you.




COSTELLO: Thanks for being here.

So Danny, did Dunn help his case?

CEVALLOS: Did Dunn make his case? Well, he had to, because this is an unusual self-defense case. It's very different from Zimmerman. He is the only one that can establish his reasonable apprehension of imminent serious bodily harm. There's really no other way he can establish it. So he will either talk himself into prison or into an acquittal.

And I think he didn't go very far in establishing that necessary imminent fear of serious bodily harm. Two big factors. Number one he fired 10 shots. Number two he fled the scene and flight may be considered as consciousness of guilt.

COSTELLO: There was also this. He cried when he talked about his puppy. But he said in killing Jordan Davis it just worked out that way.

How will the jury take that, Paul?

CALLAN: Well, you know, I thought the green sweater was a nice touch, too. Sort of reminiscent of the Menendez brothers. Remember what happened to those guys in prison. And I think you're on to something very, very important. His behavior is so odd for somebody who's fired that many shots and killed a human being that that's I think what's going to do him in in the end.

You know, if he hadn't fled the scene, acted inappropriately and of course having the girlfriend bury him as well just a lot of things seem to be going against him. I think it's going to take a miracle for him to walk.

COSTELLO: And, Mark, Dunn said Davis got out of the car and said something like this is going down, and that's when Dunn supposedly went to his glove box, he removed his weapon from the holster and he started firing.

Does that sound logical?

O'MARA: Not necessarily logical but as you remember what the real standard is, and it's getting lost in this case a little bit. In effect, in order for Dunn to get acquitted he has to put reasonable doubt in the jury's minds as to whether or not he was acting in self- defense. It's sort of that reverse standard. He doesn't have to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt he's innocent. He has to be able to say to that jury, and Strolla has to be able to say that during closing, do you have a doubt that Dunn acted in what he felt was reasonable to save his life?

Because let's not forget, the alternative is Mr. Dunn, for whatever reason, for the first time in his life decided to become a potential mass murderer and just decided to waste one if not four young black males he had never seen before. If they can make that type of dichotomy, although I agree with what was just said, the real issue is, can he put reasonable doubt in the jury's mind as to whether or not he was acting in self-defense?

I think he was way too coached. It looked that way. People don't use the word imminent and they surely don't mention the word waking nightmare three times unless a lawyer tells him, too. So we'll see how it turns out.

COSTELLO: Danny Cevallos, Paul Callan, and Mark O'Mara, thanks so much for being with me this morning. I appreciate it.

CALLAN: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, shocking results in Sochi. Rachel Nichols is in Russia today with a tie.

Good morning, Rachel.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes -- yes, Carol. We have something that's never happened before at the Olympics. Stay tuned. I'll tell you what it is.


COSTELLO: Big surprises in Sochi. A tie for the gold. And a historic medal for the United States.

Here's the medal count. The United States is currently in sixth place. Germany has the most medals so far. Norway has the most total medals. Germany had the most gold medals. That's what I meant to say.

Missing from the medal count is probably the best known American man in these games. That would be Shaun White. He failed to medal.

CNN's Rachel Nichols joins us from a warm and beautiful Sochi, Russia.

Good morning.

NICHOLS: Yes, Carol. While you guys are all in parkas it topped 61 degrees here today, one of our CNN photojournalists was running around in a pair of shorts. But hey, while it's nice for spectators up in the mountains those temperatures mean they're having to supplement the natural snow with some manufactured snow and also some snow from last winter that they've been keeping in cold storage here for a year.

Now organizers pointing out, hey, at past Winter Olympics they've had to postpone some events by a few days because there's been too much snow. That is certainly not the problem here. They've been able to go ahead with all the competition and hey, what great competition it's been. Take a look.


NICHOLS (voice-over): And it's a tie. For the first time in Olympic history, two athletes are bringing home the gold in Alpine skiing -- Slovenian skier, Tina Maze, and split skier, Dominique Gisin, both clocking in at the exact same time, both now embracing their sweet victory.

In another major surprise, the halfpipe left Shaun White empty handed. The game's most iconic snowboarder coming down hard, in the end falling short of not only his goal of three straight gold medals, but short of the podium.

The 27-year-old was disappointed after coming in fourth, overtaken by a 25-year-old Iouri Podladtchikov or I-pod as he's nicknamed. The charming Swiss snowboarder with Russian roots won with his signature yolo flip proving you do indeed only live once.

While White might be singing the blues on the slope, he now says he's going to channel that energy into his band, Bad Things.

There was a major victory for Team USA on the lose tracks. 27-year- old Erin Hamlin chasing her dreams and grabbing the bronze becoming the first American to ever medal in singles luge.

And in the women's ski jump, while the U.S. didn't clinch a medal, American Sarah Hendrickson soared into history. The 19-year-old becoming the first woman to ever compete in ski jumping at the Olympics.

Meanwhile, in pairs figure skating, the Russians, nicknamed the "Dream Team," took the lead with a short program that left the crowd wanting more, catapulting themselves into the record books.

With the best ever scores for a short program at the cross country venue, Russian skier, Anton Gafarov, taking a nasty spill, but helped by Canadian Coach Justin Wadsworth. The ultimate day of sportsmanship, two countries coming together on the trail, atop the podium, a very Olympic day indeed.


NICHOLS: What a nice, nice moment there. And we've had a few nice moments, the Canadian and women's hockey teams are battling it out right now and the American men which are a bunch of professional NHL players came in to support the American women so that was great.

Unfortunately, we did get some bad news up on the slopes there in the snowboard halfpipe. American 17-year-old Aerial Gold who was actually one of the favored to medal in that event, she had to withdraw from the competition, Carol, because of a hurt wrist.

Can you imagine making it all the way over here and then not being able to compete? That's the news from the halfpipe today.

COSTELLO: No, I cannot imagine. It would be heartbreaking.

What about American speed skater Shani Davis? He's also going for his third straight gold medal.

NICHOLS: Yes, as we speak right now. And Shani is trying to do something that nobody has ever done in speed skating, win an Olympic gold in three straight games. Not even the great Eric Heiden hold that up and he knows there is a big target on his back.