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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Winter Blast Hits South, Moves Up East Coast; Afghan Government Releases Insurgents Who Killed U.S. Troops; Another Healthy Giraffe Could Be Killed by Zoo; New York Mayor Updates Storm Conditions

Aired February 13, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-NAHCOR: @ THIS HOUR there's snow, snow, and more snow, also, a whole heck of a lot of news.

Hello, there. I'm John Berman. My colleague Michaela Pereira is outside in the snow. We will find her somewhere out there in just a minute. That's right now @ THIS HOUR.

First up, in a season of brutal winter weather, this storm really could be the biggest yet.

The powerful blast of ice and snow that's knocked out parts of the South is attacking the North, roads closed, flights cancelled, power out, a whole lot of people saying here we go again.

Also @ THIS HOUR, a Florida jury is deciding whether Michael Dunn should go to prison for shooting and killing an unarmed teenager.

Dunn said he feared for his life after telling teens in a car to turn down their loud music. He says he saw a gun, but police say no weapon was found inside the car.

Cable giant Comcast is announcing plans to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion. They are the nation's two largest cable companies and rank lowest in satisfaction surveys.

Regulators will look at the merger's impact on consumers.

Now, we should tell you Time Warner Cable is not affiliated with CNN parent Time Warner.

A Wisconsin bus driver is out of a job after a fight with a teenager that was caught on camera. Look at this.

He says it started after he asked the teen for his information after having issues with him in the past. When the teen started punching, the driver fought back, and the bus rolled into parked cars.

The teen is facing assault and other charges. The driver says he just wants his job back.

But the big story up and down the East Coast right now, especially right now at this moment in New York City, is the snow

Right in the middle of it all, Michaela Pereira. Michaela? MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Dave -- hey, Dave -- John, you got any sunscreen, because it's balmy out here.

Not at all, my goodness, do you see this snow coming down? It's crazy, and we've got some winds. The conditions out here are pretty brutal.

We've had a lot of snow come down, and the speed seems to be picking up of the precipitation.

Listen, we've got this covered like nobody else can. CNN has correspondents all over. We've got folks in North Carolina. Dave Mattingly's there. We're got Maria Santana. She's in White Plains, New York. And in Atlanta is Jennifer Gray.

We're going to start with Dave Mattingly, because I know you guys have been dealing with some power outages there.

I know folks are concerned about their crops. They are concerned about their livestock.

What can you tell us @ THIS HOUR, Dave?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We just heard from the governor within the last half hour.

He and state officials are talking a lot about what we saw happening in Raleigh last night with that massive traffic jam. So many people got stuck on the interstates during a big snowstorm.

They're very proud of the fact saying no one had to spend the night out there last night, so no one was left stranded.

But they are having to deal with a lot of abandoned cars today, saying that it's OK for people to come back and pick them up if it's safe. But the way the weather is right now, that's a bit dicey.

They're also talking about how many traffic accidents they've had so far, 1,900 across the state.

So, they've been really busy and they've been repeating the same message they had yesterday, to keep off the roads, because they have the same problem that they had yesterday.

This time yesterday, we were talking about the snowfall. Look what's happening now. This started happening a little bit after dawn today, and it's been pretty steady.

This road was actually cleared when we got up this morning. And now it's covered again.

But they're saying stay off you the roads for your own safety, plus the fact they want you to stay out of the way of all the plows and sand trucks that they have out there to do their job to keep these roads passable.

PEREIRA: All right, so we see the situation there. We're going to move further north from North Carolina. We're going to head to White Plains, New York, about an hour's drive north of Manhattan.

And that's where we have Maria Santana. And I know you are really feeling the brunt of it, a lot of snow where you are.

MARIA SANTANA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are.

Good morning, Michaela. White Plains definitely living up to its name today, the entire area is covered in white. This snow, this heavy snow is coming down hard. It's coming down fast. I'm getting pelted in the face. It's in my eyes.

But I'm just going to step out of the way so you can really see what is happening here behind me, because it's really quite breathtaking right now.

I was joking with my producer on our way up here that we could be at a resort, a ski resort in Vermont right now and we would probably seeing the same thing.

But, of course, looks can be very deceiving. Authorities are saying, of course, the conditions on the roads are pretty hazardous. For the most part, people are staying indoors, which is a good thing.

Local police report a couple of spinouts already on the roads, fortunately no major accidents, no serious injuries have been associated with those.

The plows we have seen them out in full force. They're expected to get anywhere from 10 to 14 inches up here. Already five inches have fallen.

And when we spoke to the commissioner of public works this morning, he said things are going OK, but it's like dying by a thousand cuts, because they've seen so much snow up here that it's really hard to keep up.

As soon as the plows come by, the snow just piles back on up, Michaela/

PEREIRA: That's the thing Maria. It seems as though all of us on the Eastern Seaboard are definitely feeling like we've just recouped from the last storm, and another comes along. And it seems as though as each one is worse than the other.

Look, I haven't had the chance to meet you face to face. And this is how we meet in the snow from afar, but that's OK.

Great job for us Maria.

SANTANA: Thank you.

PEREIRA: We're going to head now to Atlanta, because we know this is a very different scenario than what they were dealing with before because they had advanced warning and heeded the preparation warnings.

Folks have really heeded the call to stay at home where they can, to stay off the roads.

Jennifer Gray is going to join us now with a little bit of an overview and also an idea of how things are looking there in Atlanta.

Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Michaela, it is good news in Atlanta, because things are better this go around.

People definitely stayed off you the roads. You have to remember this hit in the middle of the night, so when we woke up, saw the blanket of white across Atlanta, people definitely stayed home. So we didn't have the catastrophe we had last go around.

But I want to show you these snow totals. Look at that, 15 inches in Virginia, 11 inches D.C. Philly picked up almost nine. And New York, Central Park, eight.

Here's the storm system now. We're seeing the snow moving into Boston, New York, still coming down for you.

It is pretty much ended in D.C. You're going to get warm air pulling in, so you should start to transition to rain as we go through the afternoon.

But that winter threat still in place. We have that winter storm warning currently in place all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, the Northeast.

And let's time this out for you, because here goes the low. Thursday, 8:00 tonight, you can see a little bit of change over to rain right along the coast, still getting heavy snow in interior sections.

Then it pushes off. By Friday morning, we should be much, much better in the Northeast. By 11:00 Friday morning, all of us should be dry.

But, Michaela, it was insane. We had some areas getting up to four inches of snow an hour, some areas experiencing blizzard-like conditions.

PEREIRA: Look, it's one of the situations depending on where you are and what kind of precipitation is coming down. It's fun, and it's beautiful and it sure is pretty, but you do not want to be out in it.

You certainly don't want to be out in it on the roads, especially down in Atlanta where they're dealing with ice. No point, so let's just not even try and force the issue.

Jennifer Gray, Dave Mattingly, Maria Santana, you all have been great. We're going to touch base with you throughout the show to see how things are shaping up where you are

John Berman, got a bit of a bone to pick with you. I heard rumor that whoever was ahead in the medal count in Sochi got to choose who got to go outside. Really? Really?

BERMAN: I actually think the U.S. just slipped ahead of Canada, finally, in the medal count.

PEREIRA: That's what I'm saying.

BERMAN: You said this storm is kind of fun. Wicked fun, it's wicked fun for me right now, this storm. And here I've got all kinds of fun things to do.

No, Michaela, my question for you is this. If you don't have to be outside because your bosses who sit right over there sent you outside, are people trying to get out and work and do things?

PEREIRA: It's surprising. There's a few people that I see just taking a stroll, because the fact is we're right here on Columbus Circle. Central Park is behind me, and it's beautiful.

Unfortunately, the way the buildings are lining up and the way the wind comes, you get like this. It's like the polar vortex came right here. You can see the snow coming sideways across our lens.

But behind us, it's quite beautiful if you're dressed for it. That's the key.

BERMAN: And you look beautiful standing amidst all that beauty.

Now, one of the questions we're going to ask going ahead, Michaela, is, kids in school here in New York, they did not cancel school.

A lot of people are outraged about this. We'll talk about that in a little bit.

But, first ahead @ THIS HOUR, they killed American troops, why the "Get Out of Jail Free" pass?

We'll look at the Afghan prisoner release that has the outraged the U.S. military, U.S. officials and a lot of U.S. citizens. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: U.S. officials are seething this morning, our veterans are flabbergasted, and many voters are left wondering, what's the point in Afghanistan?

This is what set them off. Sixty-five prisoners are free, 65 men the U.S. calls insurgents, who attacked and killed American soldiers, targeted U.S. allies and generally destabilized the country that U.S. troops have been fighting in to stabilize in the longest war in U.S. history.

The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai set them free. This is probably creating the highest level of tension between these two governments to date. So, let's talk about this. Retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff joins us from Washington. She served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And our military analyst, retired General James "Spider" Marks is with us from Virginia.

Gunnery Sergeant Duff, let me start with you. More than 2,100 troops have been killed in Afghanistan, almost 20,000 wounded there.

To you, where you're sitting right now, does this feel like a slap in the face?

GUNNERY SERGEANT JESSIE JANE DUFF, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RETIRED): This is blatantly a disgusting measure.

We agreed to release these to the Afghan government with the condition that they would not release them without our consent. They were supposed to hold them on trial. We passed over the evidence. And what did they do? They said there wasn't enough evidence.

We have 32 American and ally troops, additionally 23 Afghan peacekeepers that are killed, another 17 that are directly associated with roadside bombs.

So, what are we looking at? Americans dead, so they can go back on the battlefield and turn around and kill our forces that are still there today? This is appalling.

BERMAN: So, "Spider," this comes after Afghan President Hamid Karzai refuses to sign, apparently, a pact about the future of forces in Afghanistan. So you have that. You have this prison release.

So, what should the U.S. do about this?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John, clearly this is a critical issue for the administration.

The outrage that we hear right now is coming from the Department of Defense and from our military forces and senior folks that are in- theater, still.

What we need to see right now is our president picking up the phone and engaging with President Karzai and letting him know in absolute terms that this is unacceptable. The United States has a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, and we've demonstrated that over the past decade. And we look forward to a future relationship. But activities like this, unilateral decisions like this that clearly go beyond outrageous -- this is almost a criminal act in itself -- needs to be addressed by our president. I think that's the next step.

Right now it's being handled by sub alterns (ph), by those within the administration. This is a critical issue; it needs to go to the top.

BERMAN: But if Hamid Karzai doesn't respond, doesn't do what the president asks, Spider, then what?

MARKS: Well, the president clearly has a credibility issue here. If the United States is fully interested, invested in Afghanistan going forward and we need to establish a status of forces agreement. That's what it is. It's a sofa that allows us to have a presence and to conduct activities within Afghanistan that gets the support of the Afghan government, we can move forward. If not, then we need to depart immediately. We don't need to drag this thing out. We need to bring it down, and we need to get out of the country. This is going off the rails real quick.

BERMAN: Gunnery Sergeant Duff, I see you nodding your head there. Does this represent a failure of U.S. policy?

DUFF: Oh, my goodness, yes.

BERMAN: Hamid Karzai is there because of us, so should this have been dealt with before rather than letting it get to this point?

DUFF: This is ridiculous. It's already off the rails. Karzai's already snubbed his nose at us. He's not going to sign that security agreement. We're not going to have one.

And basically, all of those deaths are in vein. Three hundred and sixty billion taxpayer dollars, basically. Our blood is in their sand. Karzai has basically said, "Yes, I know you defeated the Taliban in 2002." We pushed them out. They're back now. They're roaring and screaming. We've got al Qaeda present. And what is Karzai doing? Sitting back and enjoying the fact that he's snubbing his nose at this country, our dedication, our blood on their soil.

It's not going to change. Because when we look at the history with Karzai, he has refused to negotiate on the peace agreement. He has not signed anything. And he's essentially saying, "Too bad, so bad. Your efforts, thank you but no thank you." And I'm appalled that this administration has failed up to this point to manage this long before now to a point where we're releasing killers of our forces onto the streets. And watch, we're going to see some of our bases and remaining troops attacked once again.

BERMAN: Well, to be clear, it's not the U.S. that's releasing these prisoners. It is the Afghan government. The U.S. government...

DUFF: No, it's the Afghan government. But they will attack our -- they will attack our people that are still there.

BERMAN: And the U.S. government is clearly very, very upset about this.

DUFF: Yes.

BERMAN: The question is what are they going to do about it now? We can hear the outrage and the anger in your voice. Gunnery Sergeant Duff, Spider Marks. Thanks so much for being with us. We will be talking about Afghanistan a lot in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Ahead for us @THISHOUR, this is hard to believe. Another healthy giraffe may be marked for death in another zoo in Denmark. Could this really be about to happen again? I'll speak to renowned zookeeper Jack Hanna, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Got to say you may not believe you're hearing this. But a Danish zoo this morning might be on the verge of killing a giraffe. That sounds familiar, right?

Just days ago a zoo in Copenhagen killed a healthy giraffe. Then they chopped him up and fed him to the lions while kids watched. All that actually happened. The explanation from zoo officials then and now is that they're euthanizing the animals to prevent inbreeding.

Jack Hanna joins us now by phone from Jacksonville, Florida. He's the host of "Jack Hanna's Into the Wild" and "Jack Hanna's Wild Countdown."

Jack, we should mention that this second zoo says the possibility -- killing the second giraffe is a possibility. It's not definite. Again, it's about space and breeding. But I think a lot of people find the fact that this could happen again, they think it's shocking.

JACK HANNA, ZOOKEEPER (via phone): Well, you just said the word "shocking." But I can go worse beyond that. I've been doing shows all over the world, not just in this country. And most people are saying what you're saying. And now I just heard about this. I drove all night, because the planes are cancelled. I just heard about this, and you can hear from my voice that it's beyond shocking.

Here's the thing. This animal is a hybrid, which means it might have been, I don't know whether it's a Masai breed or I don't know how it was done. But in the wild, giraffes do this type of breeding, and the animals is OK. This is not inbreeding by any means, No. 1.

No. 2 is this animal is put there, you know. And this is zoological. Some people say this is just livestock. This is not livestock. The good lord put livestock here for one reason. And we know what that is, obviously. Although with vegetarians, whoever. The point is, that's it.

The zoos were here today almost like Noah's ark, for example. But again, Noah's ark was here. They say -- they did save all the animals. The zoos today are Noah's ark. That's what we're here for, is to teach the people about -- because of overpopulation, we have problems with animals in the world. All our -- 98 percent of our animals come from other zoos. We have an obligation to our visitor, as well as to those animals mostly, that we give them a good life.

Now, if something happens to an animal -- it's injured or hurt or it can't be alive, that's one thing for euthanization. But you take an animal that's perfectly healthy and come up with the excuse that you can't find room for it? Guess what? I made two phone calls yesterday. Not one but two. Just two of them, and raised over $150,000 to get that other giraffe that's already gone over here. I can say this publicly. I just now heard about this. I've made enough money to bring that to a place. We have 10,000 acre wilds. I'll house not one giraffe; I'll take 20 or 30 giraffes right now if anybody in Europe wants to do this.

Let me tell you something that's not going to be pleasant for you to hear. You won't believe this one. A guy sitting with me yesterday, he goes, "Mr. Hanna" -- I did not say this -- he says, "Is this a Hitler of the animal world, of the zoological world in Europe -- well, not in Europe, I'm sorry, in this country? Is that what this is?"

And I sat there and said, "My gosh, that's terrible what he said." But you know do you hear what I just said? When someone asked me that question, I said, "I don't know. I can't believe what they're doing with perfectly -- animals that are perfectly good. And they say they can't find a home for it." This guy, by the way -- this giraffe, they say, is going to be -- once they hear about it, it's going to be given six months to decide if they can find a home for this giraffe. I've already told you we have found a home for it one of the world's accredited best zoos, at Columbus Zoo.

BERMAN: Jack, let me ask this. You know, the fact that it happened once, I think, shocked a lot of people.

I'm sorry, Jack. Jack Hanna, thank you so much for being with us right now. We will continue this discussion. But right now here in New York City, the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, giving a news conference about yet another snowstorm hitting at this hour.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: ... proceeded since the early morning hours today will continue into the evening and overnight. And so we wanted everyone working together from the beginning on a coordinated response.

A lot of the folks here have worked very hard these last six weeks and a lot of the folks that they supervise have very, very worked hard out in the field. So it's been a winter of very long nights and 12-hour shifts for a lot of these folks on a regular basis. And I want to thank them. It is not easy. And they have continued in a very selfless manner to address these problems.

And I want to tell you the effort it takes to keep our streets clear and to deal with all of the challenges that come up as a result of these storms is herculean. And I hope people in this city take a moment to recognize all the work done by sanitation and then how all of our first responders deal with challenges, regardless of the winter conditions thrown at them. I want to thank them all for the consistency of their work.

And all the leaders of our effort at city hall, starting with our first deputy mayor, Tony Shorris. I want to thank them for continuing to create strong coordination and communication between all of the agencies.

Well, this storm, as with every storm is particular. We, in each case, we see different attributes. This one came with a particular set of challenges. We started to get some heavy, wet snow falling overnight. Accumulation, depending on the part of the city -- there's big variations depending on not only borough but parts of the boroughs. We had accumulation of roughly five to eight inches by the end of the morning rush hour. And that was heavier and faster than the weather service had predicted last night.

And again I want to emphasize, we work in constant partnership with the National Weather Service. Want to thank them for that. They know, as we know, that storms can slow down; storms can speed up. You can have greater accumulation than expected. You can have less accumulation than expected. We all have heard the reports last week of what would happen this last weekend. Thank God last weekend was quite small in the scheme of things.

But this storm sped up. This storm had more accumulation than was expected late last night. And we ended up with more snow on the ground during the morning rush hour than the original projections had suggested.

By the end of tonight, we expect, depending on what part of the city, we expect between 10 and 14 inches total of snow. But that will be affected to some extent by the other types of precipitation that we'll get. There will be a mix of rain, freezing rain and sleet, depending on time of the day and depending on part of the city you're in.

So we expect, starting in the early afternoon, a switch over from snow to other types of precipitation that might reduce the amount of snow on the ground in some places if it does warm up a little more. And the temperatures have been hovering around the low 30s. So we might get rain on enough of a level to reduce some of the snow. But that's not certain. We also could get a lot of freezing rain and ice, and sleet.

We all know that when we get a lot of snow during rush hour, literally in the heart of rush hour, it creates particular difficulties. And we all know that the best situation is when the sanitation department has the freedom to really get out there and hit hard and make an impact. And they certainly did that in the early morning hours. But then the rush hour created a challenge for them.

We want to constantly urge if you don't need to be in your car, don't use your car. I know this is a refrain a lot of people in this room have heard many times. I ask you to keep telling people in the city how urgent it is to stay out of their cars to the maximum extent possible for their own safety and also to facilitate the ongoing clean-up work of the sanitation department.

OEM's operation center has been up and running since 10 p.m. last night. Sanitation started its efforts in the early morning hours in great mass, great impact from the early morning hours.

We have been telling people, again, not only to stay off the roads but, if they have to get somewhere, to always choose the option of mass transit. Because that, again, will facilitate the cleanups.

There are some service delays and adjustments with the MTA. They are relatively limited so far. So the good news is MTA is running largely on schedule, and the various lines are running well, by and large. There's a few exceptions, which we can have our MTA representative discuss. But the simple message to all New Yorkers is, mass transit is your best option. If you want specific information about specific routes, call MTA -- I mean, excuse me, use MTA.info. Use their Web site to verify what's going on with each route.