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Powerful Earthquake Hits Chile; Mystery of Flight 370; Criminal Investigation Ongoing; Families Wait for Information; Peace Efforts Close to Collapse; Ukraine Aid Package Passes

Aired April 2, 2014 - 04:00   ET


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 moving east. Ships and aircraft scouring the Southern Indian Ocean looking for any sign of the vanished jetliner.

Malaysia's prime minister arriving in Australia to be briefed on the search in just hours as police release new details on the criminal investigation into why the plane may have vanished.

We have live team coverage on all the angles and latest breaking developments.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: But first, more breaking news this morning. The death toll rising after a huge earthquake rocks Chile. A tsunami warning sends thousands and thousands of people evacuating from their homes. A live report just ahead.

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

FEYERICK: And good morning, everyone. I'm Deborah Feyerick. It is Wednesday, April 2nd. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with the breaking news off the Pacific Coast of South America. An 8.2 earthquake hitting the waters off Chile, causing major evacuations and at least five deaths.

You can hear the sirens. Many scrambled to leave their homes as sirens did sound in the northern part of the country. There were at least 20 significant aftershocks. And Chilean officials say there are road collapses and power out in many areas.

Reporter Martin Arostegui is live in Chile with the latest and joins us on the phone -- Martin.


FEYERICK: So what is happening there? What are you seeing?

AROSTEGUI: Well, it seems to be good news, Deborah. The crisis, the earthquake or the impact from the earthquake appears to have just subsided and there have been no major casualties and no major damage. There are five dead. Two of them apparently are from heart attacks. The electricity has been cut off to the city of Iquique and Arica, which were the hardest hit by the -- by the shocks from the earthquake, which actually just -- which was actually offshore.

It was several -- it was several miles off the coast, which is the reason that the damage and casualties are limited. And what everybody was fearing during the night was a tsunami, possible tsunami, and a tsunami warning was in effect until just about an hour ago, but that appears to have subsided. The tsunami warning has been lifted and people are right now going home.

FEYERICK: Is there any sense about how much damage there was to any of the buildings? We know in Haiti, so many things just simply collapsed. What is the situation there in terms of structures?

AROSTEGUI: There were, yes, some buildings -- I mean, you know, we have to talk in relative terms. I mean, don't forget, Chile had a devastating earthquake about four years ago, which caused hundreds of casualties and practically destroyed an entire city. So you know, compared to that, although there has been quite a bit of damage, it's really -- you know, it's not as -- nowhere near as significant as last time.

But yes, there was damage. Some buildings, I think, did collapse. In fact I think at least one or two of the casualties were caused by falling debris.

There were electricity blackouts. I think some substations sustained considerable damage and I don't believe they've been fully restored to two or three, Iquique and a couple of other towns. And I believe there was also fire related to an electric -- to a collapse or destruction of some electrical power facility.



AROSTEGUI: But in total, Deborah, I have to say that the -- you know, compared -- certainly compared to the last time, this time the earthquake hasn't been anywhere near as destructive.

What I think stands out, though, is that this may not be the end. I mean, there have been -- there have been a series of -- violent earth movements throughout the northern half of Chile, from Santiago up to the border with Peru, and past into Peru.

Now for several weeks, and in fact, a lot of seismologists and geologists have been speculating that this sort of -- it was (INAUDIBLE) towards something major, as to whether this was as bad as it gets or whether there's something worse is yet to come, we don't know, but --

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And clearly, it's going to be interesting to see what happens when officials are able to evaluate all the areas during daylight as well to see how much more significant damage there is.

Martin Arostegui, thank you so much. We really appreciate your insights on that earthquake. Thank you. ROMANS: Let's turn now to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now up to 10 planes, nine ships scouring the Indian Ocean trying to find the jet, a jet missing for 26 days. Time is running out to find the black boxes, those data recorders, before they stop pinging.

In just a few hours, Malaysia's prime minister is set to arrive in Perth to meet with Australian leaders and see these search efforts firsthand.

Let's get the very latest from Atika Shubert, she's live in Perth.

Good morning, Atika. What can you tell us is happening there today?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the planes continue to search the area. There are 10 in the sky today from seven nations. We are expecting the first few planes to come back. It should be fairly soon. So far, however, no reporting -- reported sightings of any potential debris from the plane, so that is disappointing, but you never know.

We'll wait to see when the pilots come back, see if they have any other news. It has been a good day for weather, so they've had a lot more time to search, which is good. They've been able to cover a lot more ground.

ROMANS: They've moved, Atika, the search area a little to the east?

SHUBERT: It did move to the east, but basically, the reason for that is, you know, they have an estimated location of where the plane might have gone down, but of course, debris -- would have taken -- the currents would have taken the debris around. And so they've already searched the part to the west. Now they're turning their attention to the east, but so far, nothing still.

ROMANS: And what about the fact that Malaysian officials are now going to Perth to sort of see what's happening firsthand with the search? I know it's been coordinated this whole time, but what are we expecting from that?

SHUBERT: Well, basically, what we're expecting is for the Malaysian prime minister to come here to Pearce Air Base, where he'll see the operations under way, how they coordinate all the different flights going out over the course of the day, and he is also expected, of course, to meet with the Australian prime minister as well as meet with Angus Houston, who is now the chief coordinator of the search effort, but also the investigation -- and this is what's interesting, is that Australia is going to be taking on a coordinating role on the investigation, even though legally, Malaysia continues to be responsible for it.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right, Atika Shubert live for us this morning. Thank you.

Of course, those planes and ships are trying to cover hundreds of thousands of miles of open ocean, still looking for any sign of this jet. It may not be the most efficient method of searching, but coupled with pictures from above, experts say it's the best way to find anything in a space of this scale.


GREG CHARVAT, RADAR EXPERT: The most effective sensor for searching a lot of area in a given amount of time is satellite imagery. Satellite imagery is just like a camera in orbit in outer space taking pictures. The next one down from that are the search radars and other sensors on the P-8 Orion. They'll be scanning the waves and human eyes on the P- 8 Orion will be looking at the waves.

But finally, the search radars are good, but I'll tell you what, they scan a decent amount of area, but the least area scanned is sonar. And how sonar works, it's acoustic, it's basically -- imagine speakers under water emitting pings and looking for scattered returns. So the sonar is like -- it's like trying to mobile off a weed whacker, it's going to take the longest amount of time. So they want to go satellite, radar, sonar.


FEYERICK: As for the investigation, it appears that Malaysia is no closer this morning of figuring out just what happened on board Flight 370. The police inspector general saying that overnight said they are conducting a criminal investigation and have taken nearly 200 statements, but he does admit that they may never know the real cause for the plane's disappearance.

Jim Clancy has that part of the story from Kuala Lumpur.

And, Jim, now they're sending in two new ships as well. What are they thinking in terms of this helping in the investigation?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, they want to find out what happened. They are committed. They've told China, they have told the countries, the nations of all of the passengers on board the plane that they are going to do everything humanly possible to sort out the mystery of Flight 370.

They know the world's aviation industry is concerned. They know the nations are concerned about the safety of their citizens. They want to prove that they can handle the job, so they're reacting in that way. As you put it, you know, the inspector general, the police here coming out and saying, yes, it's a criminal investigation, yes, we've interviewed more than 170 people, but no, we don't have a firm idea of what happened inside that cockpit.

Meantime, we've got the families meeting with government officials again, a bit of two points of view on that. It was a three-hour meeting today, some high-level officials, including the director of civil aviation here in Malaysia. He said the meeting went well. He said that he got together with about 28 family members representing some 19 families, and he was able to answer most of their questions.

The families came out and said, well, not all of our questions. Even in three hours, they weren't able to get through all of them, but they said, too, that at least some progress has been made.

These Chinese families have come here to Kuala Lumpur to be closer to where their loved ones left on the night of March 8th and to get some answers. They feel that now they are beginning to see the picture a little bit more clearly. That we've got to say is good -- Deborah.

FEYERICK: Is it -- and Jim, is it because they're coming to terms with the number of days that their loved ones have been missing, or are they getting more information?

You know, there's so much information out there, but that pales in comparison to the information people still don't have, and that is, what exactly happened?

CLANCY: Well, you know, you're exactly right, Deborah, none of us know what happened inside the cockpit. We don't know what, who, why Flight 370 went missing, why it departed so far off course. It was supposed to be in Beijing, ends up halfway around the world in the Southern Indian Ocean and we don't have an answer yet as to why. They're not going to get that until they get the flight data recorders.

Everybody is looking at this as a mystery, hoping, perhaps there's some other piece of evidence that's been overlooked that came out before that plane took off that might yield some clues, but so far, it's not forthcoming and the families, I think they've been told by their own government, you know, you have to brace for the worst. And I think they're beginning to do that, at least somewhat.

Back to you, Deborah.

FEYERICK: All right, Jim Clancy. Thanks so much.

And clearly that search area is still so immense, the size of New Mexico. That's what they're dealing with right now.

Jim, thanks.

Well, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Honolulu meeting with Asian Defense ministers, including his counterpart from Malaysia. Hagel told reporters that the search for the missing jet is a top priority and things will have to change for the future to encourage more cooperation and make searches like this better.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Like any of these tragedies, we don't yet know what happened. There is always lessons to be learned, what could have been done, maybe what should have been done, what needs to be done better, but coordination is a key part of this. How do we bring all of the complement of full assets of nations together to cooperate and connect when you have these disasters?


ROMANS: For the families, this is still a desperate wait for information on their loved ones. Overnight, many in Beijing attended a new government briefing, a briefing that left them with even more questions.

Pauline Chiou is live for us in Beijing this morning.

And, Pauline, you've just spoken with some of those family members.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have, Christine. I spoke with about 10 of them, and they did have access to that news conference that Jim Clancy was talking about in Kuala Lumpur. They had a video link to that conference.

The families here in Beijing were able to ask questions. And the players in this meeting were different, because they got a chance to have contact with the Malaysian and Chinese investigative team. So they had a chance to ask more technical questions. But these relatives said their message is this -- where is the plane? That's their simple question, and they're no closer to finding the answer to that than 26 days ago.

I spoke with several of these relatives. They got very emotional. One man was very angry, and he said, what's bigger, a missile or an airplane? A 3-year-old can answer that question, he said he still believes the Malaysian government is hiding something.

So there is a portion of these relatives, Christine, that do have these conspiracy theories. They believe that something's being hidden from them.

I also spoke with another young woman. Her father is an artist. He is on the plane, and he was in Malaysia for an artist exhibition, and she said, if I've lost my father, I'm so afraid of losing my mother. This whole ordeal has been so difficult for both of us. I just don't want to lose my mother.

And then I spoke with another man who said that this has been psychologically, emotionally torturous. He said it's very difficult for us to speak with you as a group of 10, but the amount of pain we feel inside, you just cannot imagine -- Christine.

ROMANS: No, you just cannot imagine. And these families, Pauline, they're from all parts of China, they're from all over the country. Are most relatives planning to stay in Beijing indefinitely? It has been 26 days, and still the clues are very, very scarce.

CHIOU: Yes, and it's impressive, Christine, when you see the number of relatives that have stayed. There are 350, 400 relatives that have stayed in Beijing. And like you said, they come from all corners of China.

I asked them that question and they said they can't leave until they have answers. One woman said, how could I go home and answer my child when he asks where his father is? I can't go home without an answer. Another woman said, what am I going to tell my in-laws when they ask where -- ROMANS: All right, we've lost Pauline Chiou there, but she has been doing such wonderful work from Beijing, talking to the 350, 400 family members. And she's reported to us before that the other issue here for many of these families is sort of a very culturally defined dignity, that there needs to be dignity in the facts and knowing what happened, and these families don't want to go home without having the dignity for their loved one, and they don't have that quite yet.


ROMANS: Just heartbreaking. OK, we're going to follow the latest on the search for Flight 370 all morning long. But first, the investigation widening into General Motors and that manufacturing glitch that's killed more than a dozen people. Today, its CEO faces Congress again. What we're expecting to learn, ahead.

FEYERICK: And a shocking confession from America's top intelligence official. Has the NSA been spying on you -- next.


FEYERICK: It's round two today for General Motors CEO Mary Barra, appearing again on Capitol Hill, this time before a Senate committee, a day after answering questions from House lawmakers about the recall of millions of cars for faulty ignition switches. Problems with those switches are now connected to at least 13 deaths.

Barra apologized again but offered no explanation for why it took the company 10 years to call for repairs.


MARY BARRA, GM CEO: Today's GM will do the right thing. That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.


FEYERICK: GM has now hired noted attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who handled the September 11th payouts, to help decide how to compensate victims. It's the first time GM has acknowledged that it may pay damages in these cases.

ROMANS: New scrutiny this morning for government snooping. The nation's top intelligence official admitting the NSA searched the content of Americans' e-mails, the content and other communications in an effort to collect intel on foreign terrorists.

Until now, criticism has largely focused on bulk phone data collection. Now critics say this exposes a loophole in surveillance law, allowing the government to search and eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant.

FEYERICK: And it's being called a major victory for Obamacare. A last-minute surge pushing enrollments to 7.1 million as the deadline hit on Monday night. It's far better than what the administration expected just a few weeks ago. President Obama says that it shows that the law is working, and even though the deadline has now passed, some are being allowed to continue with applications if they experienced technical problems.

ROMANS: Today the president heads to Michigan to push one of his top priorities, raising the minimum wage. He's going to speak to students at the University of Michigan this afternoon, calling on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. After that, the president heads to Chicago for two Democratic Party fundraisers.

All right, Middle East peace talks on life support this morning. Secretary of State John Kerry abruptly canceling his meeting with the Palestinians. We are live with the moves that could have derailed peace with Israel, next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back. Twenty-four minutes past the hour. This morning, it appears the Middle East peace process is on the verge of falling apart once again. Secretary of State John Kerry has now canceled, cancelled his planned trip back to the region today after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas defied the U.S. and Israel and took steps toward seeking further international recognition for a Palestinian state.

Despite Kerry's latest overtures towards both sides, including offering to release a spy, Jonathan Pollard, just to get the talks moving again.

Ben Wedeman live in Jerusalem with the latest.

Ben, why did Kerry cancel this trip?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand, Christine, that it really has a lot to do with frustration over the entire process. I think the secretary was taken a bit by surprise by this announcement that the Palestinian Authority would apply for membership in 15 international organizations and also by the leaks that were coming out of here yesterday morning that a deal was in the works.

I think that you have to keep in mind that the secretary, 70 years old, is getting exhausted from a process that has gone on now for nine months and yielded very little. Now originally last summer, he set a deadline, a nine-month period for during which this framework agreement was supposed to be worked out.

That deadline is on the 29th of April, and you won't find too many people here, either on the Palestinian side or the Israeli side, who will tell you that that deadline is likely to be met -- Christine.

ROMANS: And the Jonathan Pollard wrinkle, so interesting. For 27 years this has been a point of contention between the U.S. and Israel, and now seemingly at play in the peace talks. WEDEMAN: Yes, because this is a bargaining chip that the Americans have to lure the Israelis into making more concessions, but there's a lot of resistance within the U.S. intelligence community, but also here in Israel there is a feeling that they don't want Pollard to be sort of a bargaining chip that would result in the release of prisoners, Palestinian prisoners that many Israelis say have blood on their hands.

In fact, yesterday, we spoke to the Israeli deputy defense minister, who says he will resign if this deal goes ahead, if Pollard is released in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners -- Christine.

ROMANS: Exhausting and yielding very little progress. That is the bottom line on the talks at this point.

Ben Wedeman, thank you so much, Ben.

FEYERICK: And breaking news this morning, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 moves east as police investigating a criminal case in the vanished jetliner release some new information. Live team coverage, next.