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Snow And Ice Emergency Across The South; Widespread Power Outages Across Georgia; Snowmobiler Rescued From Avalanche; Glitz, Glamour At White House State Dinner; Slurry Spill Renews West Virginia Water Worries; Closing Arguments In Loud Music Trial; Ted Cruz Vows Fight Over Debt Ceiling

Aired February 12, 2014 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: But we begin in one of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods with Nick Valencia.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Believe it or not, there are some people that are enjoying this snow day off. Behind our camera position here, there are some kids sledding down the hill. Others aren't as fortunate. Freezing rain has caused a huge issue across the state of Georgia, tens of thousands this morning without power.


VALENCIA (voice-over): As the storm bears down bringing that dangerous mix of snow and ice and wind, officials across Georgia are scrambling to get in place, preparing for a day's long battle to keep the power on.

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

VALENCIA: Officials say once you get passed a quarter inch of ice, power lines are in big trouble. The forecast this time, 3/4 to over an inch of ice.

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: We're not kidding. We're not just crying wolf. It is serious business.

VALENCIA: Inside this storm command center, Georgia power officials are making plans, martialing the troops and even asking for help from other states calling in trucks from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania. Atlanta's big challenge, the bulk of its power lines are above ground and easily taken down by ice and wind. A problem that wasn't rectified in 2000 when half an inch of ice left more than 300,000 people without electricity, some couldn't restore power for weeks. Wind gusts today up to 30 miles per hour combined with thick ice adding to the danger of falling trees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to do all we can to get our focus to the outages and get the power on as quickly as possible.


VALENCIA: Back here to live pictures in Decatur, Georgia, outside of Atlanta. The power lines are a major concern especially with all of these trees around. It is cold, below freezing about 29 degrees. Take a look at this table, Carol, when we got out here, it was clear, but all that freezing rain, it starting to stick and turn into ice that's why officials are warning people to stay inside and especially stay off the roads -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Look at you with your boots. I like those for that little tiny place. Just as a precaution. The worst part is that slushy snow is going to turn to ice and become dangerous. Nick Valencia live in Decatur, Georgia this morning. Let's head to Charlotte, North Carolina where the city is braising for ice and up to a foot of snow. David Mattingly is there. Good morning, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Snow starting to fall just within the last half hour coming down steadily now. They are expecting about 8-10 inches here in downtown Charlotte, maybe a foot or more to the north of the city and ice from here south of the city that will no doubt plunge thousands of people into the cold and dark tonight when the electricity finally goes out.

But right now, you can bet that officials here at the state and local level are paying very close attention to what happened in Atlanta earlier. They have been very proactive in preparing for the storm. You notice just in a little bit of snowfall we've got, we have got a little bit of a dusting here on the sidewalk.

Look at the street. Nothing is sticking to the street right now. That's because for the last two days, city and state crews have been outputting salt solution on the streets. That's 48 hours of preparation for this storm so they could get out in front of this as much as they possibly can. A lot of people staying home today. This is a big financial center, very quiet. Down here in downtown Charlotte, everyone watching the snow and preparing for the worst -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know what's kind of ironic. They are doing a great job in Charlotte, North Carolina. Don't get me wrong. People have probably been ordered to stay off the roads so they can clear the snow. For the next 24 hours, they are still ordering people to stay you have the roads. They wonder why aren't they treating the roads?

MATTINGLY: They are treating the roads just to stay proactive here. They also have snowplows parked strategically along the interstate. We saw them assembling before down. They are going to get out there and start working on the snow and ice. They want to try and keep the roads as open as possible. It is going to get bad tonight. The harder they work now, the more they are going to have to be -- the less they will have to worry about it tonight.

With that ice, there is really nothing you can do about it once it starts to stick. So everyone is being well-prepared, well-warned in advance here to make sure you hunker down, because you are not going to see any relief here probably until sometime this weekend when the temperatures start going back up.

COSTELLO: David Mattingly, thanks so much. I didn't mean to imply they didn't need to remove the stuff from the road. They absolutely do and they are doing a great job. David Mattingly, thanks so much.

Two snowmobilers in two separate states buried by avalanches, the one you are about to see happened in the back country of Utah mountains north of Salt Lake City. These are pictures of Travis' friends digging him from out from under three feet of snow. He was able to stick his hand out of the pile. He was underneath the snow for 5 minutes. Snowmobilers say avalanche vests and snow beacons saved him. The other avalanche was in Colorado. Cody was snowmobiling out of nowhere, a surge of snow threw him off the snowmobile. This shot from his helmet cam.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I honestly felt like I was just literally flying through the air. I felt impact on me and everything. It ended up being literally a freight train that just took me away as fast as I said that, it was done and over with. See it, you can't see anything, you feel your body going through motions and it is done and over with and you are stopped.


COSTELLO: Cody says he will be much more cautious from now on. He will even take an avalanche safety course. NEWSROOM is back in a minute.


COSTELLO: State dinner ate everything from caviar to cotton candy on. The Obamas hosted a dinner for the French President Francois Hollande who went stag after a recent breakup. President Obama thanked his French counterpart for his service and for the gift of French food.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It is true that we Americans have grown to love all things French, the films, the food, the wine, specially the wine. Most of all, we love our French friends, because we have stood together for our freedom for more than 200 years. Tonight, I again, want to pay tribute to President Hollande for the leadership and personal friendship and courage he has shown on the world stage. Thank you, Francois.


COSTELLO: Some of the big name celebs were Julia Luis Dreyfus and Stephen Colbert who got to seat right by the First Lady Michelle Obama.

Checking other stories this morning at 10 minutes past the hour, new spill in West Virginia has locals worried about their drinking water again. After a cold, slurry spilled six miles in a creek, but unlike the earlier spill in nearby Charleston. It does not contain much, but it does contain the dangerous chemical MCHM, but it does contain a less harmful one.


RANDY HUFFMAN, WEST VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION SECRETARY: Propyline glycol, we don't believe it will have an impact that far away.


COSTELLO: Despite those assurances, local residents are still very concerned. A retired lawyer in rural Tennessee has been killed after a package bomb delivered in the mail to his home exploded. The 74- year-old John Stetzer died. His wife was critically injured. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and ATF are investigating. Neighbors say they are nervous to check their own mailboxes.

The president putting pen to paper on the federal minimum wage signing an executive order that will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Right now, they make $7.25 an hour. It will kick in on January 21st, 2015. It will only apply to new contracts.

Still to come in the NDWSROOM, prosecutors and defense attorneys have one final chance to sway the jury in the loud music murder trial. Will the defendant, Michael Dunn's testimony, change what they decide. Talk to our legal experts next.


COSTELLO: Later this hour, closing arguments are expected to begin in Florida. In the loud music murder trial, Michael Dunn could face life in prison if convicted of the first degree murder of Jordan Davis outside of a Jacksonville gas station in 2012. On the final day of testimony, Dunn took the stand in his own defense telling the jury he told his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer, that he saw a weapon in Davis' SUV that night, but prosecutors brought Rouer right back to the stand to challenge that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you tell her they had a weapon of any kind?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did. What did you tell her?

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

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


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was no mention of a stick?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was no mention of a shotgun? ROUER: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was no mention of a barrel?



COSTELLO: CNN legal analysts, Danny Cevallos and Mark O'Mara join me now. Good morning, Gentleman. I'm good. So Mark, let me start with you. The contradiction there, is that harmful part of this trial?

MARK O'MARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it is. I think Dunn was his own best witness and the fiancee was the state's best witness. They have to convince this jury they should not believe anything that Dunn says. If they don't believe what Dunn says, they can sort of build this question as to whether or not he acted reasonably. We know he didn't act reasonably afterwards by not calling the cops. They need to back that up and say he didn't act reasonably by taking shots.

COSTELLO: Well, Danny, Mark is right. Even when attorneys asked him to explain why he didn't call the police, Dunn couldn't come up with a good answer.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: His flight from the scene is one of the biggest problems Dunn has in this case. He needs to explain it away because that flight is consciousness of guilt. He wants to explain it as if he had fear of safety. The other thing that Dunn has said on the stand is, I didn't believe I did anything wrong. That is problematic. He just shot up the place like it was the OK corral.

He has to believe police are going to want to fill out a couple of forms and take a couple of statements. They don't believe he did anything wrong, I do not believe will resonate with the jury. As Mr. O'Mara has pointed out, he has been well-prepared. You see the word imminent into his testimony whether it comes across well remains to be seen.

COSTELLO: The other thing during his testimony, he seemed to show emotion in strange places. He cried over his dog but he showed no emotion when it came to talking about the man he killed or the teenager he killed.

O'MARA: Yes, he has got to come across to that jury as a reasonable person, acting reasonably that day. When we see him choke up with the dog and we see him choke up with his fiancee, all that is very, very reasonable. It truly is. He comes across as a human. The failing, as you mentioned, was when he doesn't emote having taken the life of a 17-year-old, the traumatic event of being in a shooting. That lack of emotion both suggests coaching and just that he didn't really or wasn't concerned about having to take a life. That's not going to play well with any of those jurors.

COSTELLO: Danny, closing arguments are about to begin. The lawyers will have one last shot. Is there any way during those closing arguments that defense attorneys can convince the jury that Mr. Dunn felt in danger of his life?

CEVALLOS: Well, for the defense, this is where his being prepared factors in. Because he put in those words imminent and because he said fear and death, now, his attorney can argue that in closing and hopefully for the defense at least, the jury will connect Dunn saying imminent and bodily harm and death with the argument and then ultimately with the jury instructions and hopefully, they can pull off Jedi mind trick and have them think, it is imminent, because he said it was imminent. That's what he testified to. There is consistency. Therefore, self-defense was reasonable. But this is an uphill battle without question.

COSTELLO: We'll see what happens. Danny and Mark, thanks so much for being with me this morning. I appreciate it.

O'MARA: Thank you.

COSTELLO: On Capitol Hill, the fight over the debt ceiling is not over. Ted Cruz, the Republican senator, is vowing to filibuster a measure to lift the limit when it cops to the Senate. The measure barely passed the House where less than three dozen Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to raise the debt ceiling. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, applauded their efforts while taking a swipe at Republicans who would stand in the way of passing that legislation.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: It is encouraging some of my Republican colleagues are gaining their grip on sanity. I believe many of my Republican colleagues would like to be reasonable. I really do believe that. If they weren't so beholden and afraid of their Tea Party overlords.


COSTELLO: Chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joins me now. Why is Chris doing this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he told our own Ted Barrett last night that he simply cannot stand up for the idea of allowing this debt ceiling increase to go through with the simple majority, without having a symbolic fight. Let's be honest here, it is a symbolic fight. The 60-vote threshold is all he is demanding. You are not going to see an all-night filibuster. You are not going to see him standing and using every single trick that he knows to try to stop this. It is pretty clear it is not stoppable.

The problem that Cruz is facing once again within his own party is he has some hard feelings. Here is the reason, Carol. Republican leaders wanted to allow this to go through with a simple majority. The reason is because that could pass with just Democratic votes. All Republicans would be able to vote against it. Now, if there is a 60- vote threshold, they are only 55 Democrats in the Senate. Five republicans are going to have to walk the political plank and vote for an increase in the debt limit, which could very well hurt them and will hurt them within their own party base. Depending on where they are, prompt a primary challenge. This won't hurt Senator Cruz. Does he care? He has made his name as somebody who likes to stand up as a principal? He seems pretty clear in observing his interaction with other senators, which stung a little bit after he got so much backlash from within his Senate Republican ranks after the shutdown that many people blamed him for in the fall. This is sort of putting him back on track to be a skunk at the garden party within the Senate republican caucus.

Republicans that aren't necessarily going to vote for this, they understand like John Boehner did in the House, the Republican Party does not want to be in a position to be blamed for the debt ceiling, for defaulting on the debt. They are going to try to figure out where the five Republicans are. They are not going to be happy about it politically.

COSTELLO: Dana Bash, reporting live from Washington. Thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, snow and ice are building up on roads throughout the southeast and thousands are without power this morning. George Howell is live in Atlanta. Good morning, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Unlike last time when millions were caught off guard on the roads, this time, take a look, hardly anyone on the roads. We are tracking it all here on the roads. We will show you what we find as the CNN NEWSROOM continues.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not kidding or crying wolf.

COSTELLO (voice-over): A potentially catastrophic ice storm pelting the southeast right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is real slushy, not a lot of tracks, real slick.

COSTELLO: It is only going to get worse. Millions of car seats taken off the shelves in what could be the biggest recalls of its kind because kids are getting stuck and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will build things, build families and build dreams.

COSTELLO: Mike Roe taking fire from critics who say he sold out to Wal-Mart by voicing this ad. The TV star is firing back on social media. All coming up in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Checking our top stories at 28 minutes past, we start with something just in from our White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Benjamin Netanyahu will be coming to the United States on March 3rd to visit President Obama at the White House.

The two men will talk about things like Iran and if there is any progress in Palestinian/Israeli negotiations. It should be an interesting meeting because the two men don't have the best of relationships. We'll keep you posted.

Also in the news this morning, Graco is issuing a recall for nearly 4 million car seats, because children can become trapped in them when the buckles won't unlatch. It covers 11 models made between 2009 and 2013. If you have one of these, contact Graco for a free replacement buckle.

A brutal storm pounding the southeast with ice and wet, heavy snow, for much of the region, it could be the worst storm in a decade. A little army of utility repair crews has masked and in Georgia, officials warn the outages will grow more widespread.