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One Hundred Million Affected By Winter Storm; President Obama to California; Democrats To Try Forcing Votes

Aired February 14, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Death toll rising as the East Coast digs out from this monster winter storm. This morning, snow's still falling, roads an icy mess, thousands waiting at the airport for their flights to finally get off the ground.

We have live team coverage of just how horrible it is outside right now and what to expect.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is Friday, February 14th. Happy Valentine's Day!


BERMAN: It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin this morning with this monster storm.

ROMANS: Shoveling out for your valentine.

BERMAN: Right. What is more romantic than shoveling snow? And there is a lot of it. This storm affecting millions and millions of people all up and down the East Coast. The problems stretch all the way from the south up to Maine.

Look at this map. Look at these snow totals. There's more snow and more trouble in the forecast.

ROMANS: This morning, if you're planning to travel anywhere on the east coast, be sure to call your airline. More than 1,000 more flights grounded today. That's on top of nearly 7,000 canceled yesterday. Crews racing to clear runways so they can get the planes moving again, and travelers are scrambling to find new flights, some even heading to the airport because they can't reach anyone on the phone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what to do. We were supposed to go to Miami.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kept calling the last two days trying to rebook because I thought this was likely to happen, and they said that there was nothing available to be booked. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took time off from work. I'm going down to San Francisco, Valentine's Day, and it's pretty much over with, you know. I'm being optimistic. Lucky for me, I have travel insurance. So if it doesn't work out, I get my money back, but it's still a big inconvenience, it's a hassle. I wasn't even informed of the cancellation until I was pretty much outside the airport.


BERMAN: Proof that travel insurance can be romantic.

In New Jersey today, the worry more roof collapses like this one in Jersey City. The heavy, wet snow is building up and taking down that maintenance garage building. Wow. Three workers were hurt and authorities actually used dogs to search for victims. Near Atlantic City, the issue is flooding. The storm brought more rain than snow there, meaning streets were just full of water. The flooding could get worse as the temperatures rise and the snow starts to melt.

ROMANS: So, the death toll from this storm now at least 16, including a pregnant woman killed in Brooklyn when she was hit by a snowplow. Her child was delivered by emergency C-section and is now in critical condition.

BERMAN: In Boston, the roads so bad, some were forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to get their cars moving. Got to push a little harder than that, a little harder, a little harder. There you go!

There should be a brief break today from the snow and the rain that fell late into the night. But guess what? It's all going to pick up again.

ROMANS: In Connecticut, state workers are being told to come in late this morning as crews try to clear the roads and move the snow that's piled up. Some cities are actually trucking snow away. They have run out of places to put it!

BERMAN: Welcome to my driveway. Some parts of Maryland were buried under more than two feet of snow. These pictures are from near Baltimore. Even more snow, I can't believe I'm saying this, could be coming tonight, leading to more fears of trees snapping and power lines that could still come down.

ROMANS: The storm has moved on from the Carolinas, but it's still causing problems like this frightening roof collapse at a store in east Charlotte. The roof could not support the weight of all that snow. There were employees inside at the time. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

And talk about dedication, this corrections officer rode his lawnmower the eight miles to get to work at a state jail. The trip took about two hours. That's ingenuity!

BERMAN: That is ingenuity. You say roof, I say roof.

ROMANS: I know. It's a regional difference we have, one of the many. BERMAN: Right now, nearly half a million customers are without power from Arkansas to Maine, most of the customers in Georgia and the Carolinas. Problem is, the areas are just not used to the heavy ice on their power lines and it could be well into next week before the electricity is on for everyone there.

ROMANS: All right. Indra Petersons is live in White Plains, New York, just north of New York City.

Indra, how are things looking for you there this morning?


Yes, we definitely are still seeing some of the light snow out here this morning. We're now on the back side of that system. We're still seeing a little bit of it as the system tries to make its way out, but let's talk about these totals. What an impressive storm that we did see. We talk about places like D.C. seeing about 13 inches of snow, guys.

Four years ago, a system that had five inches was what they were calling impressive. We've almost tripled that system, because that's just D.C. proper itself. Farther west, higher amounts, unbelievable. New York City saw about 9 inches, Boston just several inches, but those are just the big cities.

I want to show you these big totals. Look at this. You're talking about Virginia, places in Maryland seeing over two feet of snow, guys. That is the problem that so many of us are going to be dealing with this morning.

Let's take a look at the radar right now. What are we left with? Remember, we talked about that transition yesterday. A lot of us saw rain, but that was just as the warm air made its way closer to the coastline. You can still see some of that rain in portions of Massachusetts.

But on the back side of this low, as it starts to pool off towards the Northeast, we're still seeing that light snow this morning. When we talk about the timing of all this, don't worry, as we wake up, it will start to kind of lift out of here.

So, about 10:00 a.m. or so, should be out of most of New England. But of course, in the northeast, places like Vermont, Connecticut, we're going to be talking about, especially into Maine, still some showers as we go throughout the day. There they could definitely see several more inches. But that's not the big story.

Here's the problem, there is another system out there. It's the last thing anyone wants to hear, guys. First thing, before I say that, I want to tell you we're going to have strong winds out there. Definitely do not want to forget, a lot of blowing snow will be out there, 20, 30-mile-per-hour winds.

There is another system, a clipper expected in the Midwest and Ohio Valley today. This guy's going to slide right to the coastline by tonight, so more snow after midnight tonight in towards the northeast, places like mid-Atlantic, D.C. another several inches on top of what you've already seen. New York City also about 1 to 2 inches of snow expected, lasting, again, after midnight tonight in throughout the day tomorrow, and then finally exiting out of here by Sunday morning.

So, if your question is the snow on the ground expected to stay, I'd say yes, and add a little bit more to it. Definitely not good news on this Valentine's Day.

BERMAN: Nowhere to put it. There is just nowhere left to put it.

All right, Indra, thanks so much. As you said, happy Valentine's Day.

ROMANS: The only people smiling, really, are children. I will just say, they love all this snow.

BERMAN: My kids don't remember what school is!

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: They're like, what's school? And they have vacation next week.

ROMANS: They'll be at it after Fourth of July, too.

BERMAN: All right, the roads in New York really, really bad, covered with this slushy snow, and then when it freezes, it turns to ice. It is just such a mess.

Rosa Flores live here in New York City on the streets.

How bad is it trying to get around this morning, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me just start by saying that I'm getting a lot of moisturizer courtesy of Mother Nature this morning. It is just awful out here, I've got to say. It's cold, it's slushy, the streets are really slushy, so it's really hard to commute this morning.

I want you to take a look behind me, because this is what a lot of commuters are going to be dealing with. They are going to be dealing with a lot of very slushy roads. So, even if you find a cab, which I did not have a lot of luck this morning, you're going to have to cross the streets on this.

The advice: keep your good shoes at home, folks, because there's a lot of slushy mess out here.

Now, the city, of course, is doing its part. They have about 2,300 pieces of equipment out clearing the streets and the roads. I've seen them firsthand, lots of front loaders and plows.

So, they're getting all of that work done, but people are just going to have to be really patient. Christine and John, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Mother Nature on this Valentine's Day is single, and she wants to share all of the misery with all of us. Back to you.

BERMAN: Mother Nature single and will remain so after what she is doing today.

All right, Rosa, appreciate it. Thanks so much.


BERMAN: All right, other news now. New word this morning that the U.S. may be willing to wait a little longer to secure a long-term security agreement with Afghanistan. The White House had been insisting a deal needed to get done by this spring before President Hamid Karzai leaves office.

Now, officials say the Obama administration may be willing to wait for whoever succeeds Karzai to hammer out an agreement. They may have more luck, frankly, a successor.

U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan end in December, but they want to leave troops in place for counterterrorism missions.

ROMANS: John Kerry hopes China can help ease nuclear tensions with North Korea. The secretary of state is in Beijing today after meeting with South Korea's president and foreign minister. He'll be asking Chinese leaders to turn up the pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.

BERMAN: This morning more fallout from Edward Snowden's theft of classified information from the NSA. Three people who worked at the spy agency have now been disciplined.

One civilian employee has resigned, this after giving Snowden a digital key. The former NSA contractor used it to gain access to some of the classified documents. The two others, an active-duty service member and a contractor, have seen their access to the NSA revoked.

ROMANS: President Obama set today to travel to California, visiting Fresno to discuss the drought and then Palm Springs, where he'll meet with Jordan's King Abdullah. The pair likely to talk about the Middle East, including the war in Syria.

The president expected to spend the weekend in the Palm Springs area, far from the snow that is pounding D.C. If you had a choice, Palm Springs over D.C. would work.

BERMAN: Some people remember, King Abdullah was in Washington this week. The two could have hooked up in D.C. near the snow, but instead, chose Palm Springs. Understandable, I suppose.

The House is in recess today ahead of the Presidents' Day holiday, but Democrats are already making plans for how they say they want to try to force a vote to raise the federal minimum wage and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. To do it, they want to use a procedural move called a discharge petition. It requires 218 Congress people to sign on, meaning some Republicans would have to support the measures.

I think there's almost a zero percent chance it will work, but Democrats say they want to keep the pressure on Republicans to try to bring the bills to the floor.

BERMAN: All right to markets now. Stock markets overseas mixed today. Japan closing with a loss of 1.5 percent. Ouch. Other markets, though, in Asia closing slightly higher.

At this moment in Europe, you've got stock markets digesting better- than-expected data on eurozone growth in that region. Data just came out. Stocks slightly higher across Europe, showing growth, and that's an important thing in the eurozone because we've been talking recessions in many of these countries.

Very little movement in premarket trading in the U.S. stock market so far this morning. Stocks gained a little bit on Thursday.

But you know what? Trading has been very light, and a lot of folks are saying, you know, the focus has been on this winter storm blanketing the East Coast. You've had Washington shut down, you know, shut down the testimony from the new Fed chief. So, really not a lot going on.

Stocks, surprisingly little reaction yesterday to a worse-than- expected report on retail sales for January. I mean, I expect trading to be pretty quiet here again this morning.

BERMAN: There's been breaking news overnight. Before I get to the breaking news, I do want to tell you, we'll talk about this a little later in the show, but the best story today. Valentine's Day, big problems with Valentine's Day because the flowers aren't able to get where they need to go because of the bad weather and travel issues up and down the East Coast.

So, you know, sorry, honey. Just saying. I'm just saying, just want to get out there. It's the weather.

ROMANS: Can't wait to see what you come up with next. So, what's your plan B?

BERMAN: It's the weather.

Eleven minutes after the hour.

And again, as I said, there was breaking news overnight. A new ruling in the ongoing battle over same-sex marriage. What one Virginia judge decided late last night and what comes next.

ROMANS: And could soda be as dangerous as smoking? The new push to label your favorite drink, label it like a pack of cigarettes, next.


ROMANS: Breaking overnight, a federal judge in Virginia has thrown out that state's ban on same-sex marriages. The judge writing that the state cannot justify denying gay couples the right to marry any more than it can justify banning interracial marriage five decades ago.

The decision the second in a southern state after a ruling in Kentucky, but it was stayed pending appeal. The state attorney general is no longer defending the law. Now, it's unclear who might be able to appeal that ruling.

BERMAN: What does seem clear is that all these cases state by state will end up in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court will sooner or later take up the definitive issue of whether same-sex marriage should be allowed everywhere in the country. That should be decided sooner or later by that court.

All right. New developments in the death of a couple at their home in Tennessee after a bomb went off. Their son-in-law, Richard Parker, has now been indicted for their murder. He lived in a house behind John and Mary Ann Stetser (ph) with their daughter. Police are not discussing the motive but say the bomb was placed at the home, not delivered through the mail or shipping service as originally thought.


JEFF FULTON, SPECIAL AGENT, ATF: We still have a lot of the bomb debris at our laboratory and we are still investigating any possibilities that anybody else may be involved, although we're confident we have the person who was involved in this. We still want to close out some loose ends and then try to determine if there's any chance anybody else was involved.


BERMAN: Parker is now being held on $1 million bond. Court records show a previous conviction in an arson case, though he served no jail time.

ROMANS: All right. In just a few hours, a Florida jury resumes deliberations in the trial of this man, Michael Dunn. He's accused of murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument over loud music. On its first full day of deliberations, the jury made several requests, including to see again surveillance video from the gas station where the shooting took place.

Dunn's lawyer calls waiting for the verdict the hardest part of this case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's in good spirits. He's holding up. I can tell you, from day one, his attitude has been we have the truth, we have the law, it will prevail. And now, it's in the jury's hands and I have to respect that.


ROMANS: Dunn insists he was acting in self-defense when he fired his gun at four teenagers in an SUV. Prosecutors say Dunn picked up his gun out of anger.

BERMAN: A lot of people thought the jury would reach a quick decision in this case. The fact it did not makes people wonder whether it might be a hung jury.

A health warning this morning in northern California. Students at the University of California-Berkeley has been diagnosed with measles, and officials are concerned he may have infected others, including classmates and BART commuters. They say he spent time on campus and on trains for three days. He likely contracted the illness on a trip overseas.

ROMANS: California could soon be moving beyond calorie counts for sugary drinks. A state lawmaker now proposing putting health warnings on cans, bottles and drink dispensers, saying beverages with added sugar can lead to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. The California Medical Association supports the law. The drink industry doesn't, says it's misleading to blame health problems on sugary drinks.

All right, Under Armour isn't going to like this.

BERMAN: I think this is the most interesting story out there right now. U.S. speed skaters, some of them are wondering whether their slow performance at winter games so far may be because of their uniforms.

Joe Carter here with that in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, there was a lot of pub going into the Olympics about these high-tech uniforms. Under Armour actually teamed up with Lockheed Martin to make these high-tech suits, but according to a report in the "Wall Street Journal," some of the people close to the U.S. speed skating team say that their struggles so far are being blamed on these high-tech unis. They say the vents on the back of the suits designed to let the heat out are instead letting air inside the suit and creating drag, sort of like a parachute or a sail, if you will.

Reps from Under Armour say the company has received nothing but positive feedback about the suits. Well, so far, Team USA has zero medals in speed skating. Shani Davis was favored to win, but he finished eighth. Heather Robinson was favored to win, but she finished seventh. Now both of those speed skaters have one more shot at a medal this weekend.

Now, our hockey team is off to a great start. Yesterday, they won 7-1 against Slovakia. Team USA scored six goals in the second period alone. This is exactly the kind of performance that the U.S. men need in preparation for their clash with Russia on Saturday afternoon.

Now, the winner of that game, USA/Russia, will almost certainly earn a top spot in their grouping and put themselves in a much stronger position heading into elimination play next week. This is a story that's trending on this morning. Swedish skier Henrik Harlaut, known for wearing pants way too big for his tiny frame -- well, he let it all hang out, literally. He crashed in the slopestyle course and showed the world his underpants.

He said afterward, though, don't worry, because he always wears spenders, so he knows that his pants can only fall down so far.

Well, America's hope for gold in the men's figure skating took a big hit yesterday. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott crashed hard. He did get up and finish his routine to the delight of the crowd, but now all eyes are on Jason Brown. Jason Brown is the dynamic newcomer, and he has a chance for bronze. His river dance free skate program is so popular, the video has 3.7 million views on YouTube.

And here's your latest medal count. Norway leads the charge with 13 total medals. The USA tied for second with the Netherlands with 12 medals, guys.

So, that is your "Bleacher Report"/Olympic update, and a happy Valentine's Day to both of you in New York. Stay warm.

BERMAN: Thank you so much, Joe Carter. We always feel the love from you. Appreciate it.

CARTER: Wore the pink for you today, guys. Heart's coming through the screen.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, guys -- the Blade Runner accused of killing his girlfriend in a fit of rage. A year later, Oscar Pistorius finally breaking his silence. We're live with what he had to say.


BERMAN: It was a year ago today that Oscar Pistorius went from Olympic competitor to accused murder after shooting his longtime girlfriend at his home in south Africa. He claims it was all a tragic accident. And this morning we are hearing from him and getting a new look at the couple in what were fairly happier times.

Robyn Curnow is live in Johannesburg.

And, Robyn, you have these new pictures of Pistorius and his girlfriend. What are they show? When were they taking?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just remember, Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius only dated for months before the shooting, so this was quite a new relationship.

And you can see in the photographs they're very intimate, they're very personal, taken on holiday. One of them, you can see they're standing in front of the sea. In all of these photographs, they're hugging, they're touching. She's sitting on his lap in a kitchen in one of them.

So, they really paint a portrait of a couple very much together. Remember, Oscar Pistorius has maintained all along they were very much in love and that it was an accident that he shot her. Police, of course, is saying that it was murder.

But I think what is key about these photographs, which were given to CNN by a source close to Oscar Pistorius, I think even though they don't prove his innocence or his guilt, I think they give a clearer indication of the status of their relationship in the weeks before she was killed, and they clearly paint a picture of a couple who shared experiences and who seemed to be quite intimate with each other and happy with each other.

BERMAN: As you said, they were given to CNN by the Pistorius team, clearly meant to show an image of this couple in love.

What is Oscar Pistorius saying in general this morning?

CURNOW: Well, just remember, in the year since the shooting, Oscar Pistorius has not spoken, and he's issued one or two very terse statements through his team, essentially. But today, he tweeted a link to his Web site, and on that Web site was quite a heartfelt, remorseful statement. I'm going to read some of it to you, because it's quite powerful, essentially the first time we're really hearing from him since the shooting.

He said, "No words can adequately capture my feelings about this devastating accident that caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved and continues to love Reeva." He continues, "The pain and sadness, especially for Reeva's parents, family and friends consumes me with sorrow. And the loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day I will carry with me for the rest of my life."

So, he's obviously trying to reach out to those who love her, say sorry. And of course, the trauma of that day is going to be replayed over and over again. He's expected to face that murder charge. The trial starts on third of March.

So, we'll definitely also get more indications from both his team and the state on exactly what happened that fateful Valentine's Day.

BERMAN: All right. Just weeks away now for that trial. Robyn Curnow, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. The big story in the states, snowing on the East Coast, but not for long. This monster winter storm has paralyzed parts of the country for days is finally ending, until a clipper comes through and dumps more snow on us! I'm going to tell you what to expect and why you shouldn't put your snow shovel away, right after the break.