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Search for Flight 370 Moving East; Death Toll Rising After Chile's Earthquake; Malaysian Police Collected Over 200 Statements in Criminal Investigation; Ukraine Closer to Getting US Support

Aired April 2, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new developments this morning in the search for a missing Malaysian jetliner. That search moving east. The plane vanished without a trace now 26 days ago. Right now, at this moment, ships and aircraft scouring the Southern Indian Ocean. They're looking for any sign of Flight 370. This morning police offering new information on the criminal investigation into why that plane may have crashed.

Frustrated families are herded into a private room by Malaysia's government. What was said there? We have live team coverage, all the latest breaking details.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: And another big breaking story this morning, death toll rising after a massive earthquake just off Chile's coast. Buildings on fire, residents evacuating after tsunami threat. A live report just ahead.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Deborah Feyerick.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour this Wednesday morning.

First let's get to Chile, where the death toll this morning is now at five after a powerful earthquake shook the northern part of the country. That quake measured 8.2. It caused major evacuations and a tsunami warning, a tsunami warning, we can tell you, that has now been canceled. But the damage has been done.

Take a look at some of these pictures. Tens of thousands of people forced from their homes, fires breaking out in some areas and aftershocks late into the night.

CNN's senior Latin American Affairs Editor Rafael Romo has the very latest. He's at the CNN center in Atlanta.

Rafael, Chile, it has been home to some devastating, powerful earthquakes before. 8.2, that is a strong, strong quake, off the coast, also kind of in shallow water, which could make it even feel that much more powerful. What do we know at this hour about the damage?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Well, authorities are waiting for daylight so they can assess the true damage caused by this 8.2 magnitude earthquake. But what I can tell you right now is that it caused a number of different problems. Number one, mudslides that damaged multiple roads. About 900,000 people had to be evacuated from coastal areas, and at this point, many of them are just choosing to spend the night outdoors, out of fear that their buildings, their homes may collapse.

Also a state of emergency and a disaster zone has been declared in three different provinces. And just to put it in perspective, Christine, Chile is part of the so-called ring of fire in the Pacific, an area that is known for a lot of activity for volcanoes and seismic activity. So what's happened or what happened last night is not necessarily out of the ordinary. There was an earthquake back in 2010 that left 500 people dead.

So you can imagine that many people were very nervous, and let's just say a very difficult moment when this earthquake hit, Christine.

ROMANS: What can you tell us about the tsunami warning? We know that it has been called off, but we do know that there were six-foot waves reported. When you have a magnitude 8.2 quake, so shallow off the coast, I mean, those -- that's perfect conditions for tsunami.

ROMO: That's exactly right, and it was the biggest fear for the first few hours after the earthquake, but then authorities said that it was no longer an issue. But just to give you an idea of how difficult the situation was for people overnight, there were more than 20 aftershocks in the first few hours. And as you can imagine, after what happened back in 2010 and after an 8.2 magnitude last night, many people were in shock, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, still frayed nerves this morning, and when light comes up, they'll really be able to really take a look at the damage.

Thank you so much, Rafael Romo, for us this morning in Atlanta.

FEYERICK: Chad Myers has a closer look at this quake, and why, despite all the destruction in Chile, this could have been much, much worse.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: : A very large earthquake just offshore from Chile. In fact, only 62 miles from Iquique here. The wave actually hit Iquique in 20 minutes and in some spots even less than that. We know a wave was generated out into the ocean as well, but most of the energy along the larger part of the wave was right here very close to the epicenter.

The shaking -- in fact, let me look at this here for just a second. The shaking strong to very strong. This yellow, if you go to the shake map of the Southern California earthquake that hit over the weekend, almost the exact same shaking, but that was only a 5.1. But it happened right under Los Angeles or La Habra. That's why it shook so much there in Southern California, where here, the shake was truly offshore.

This was, though, a great quake, 8.0 or more magnitude is a great quake. Let me show you, kind of dive on down to what this means here for us. What this wave could have done is made a large wave progressing away from the shore. The one that hit the shore happened very quickly, but almost 13 to 14 hours to get through Hawaii, if that wave was coming this way. And there is probably a little wave in the ocean anyway.

One way or the other, the warnings, watches, all have been discontinued all along the coast here and even discontinued at this point for Chile because there's just not enough shaking going on anymore.

Now there are aftershocks, and there have been very many aftershocks here, one very close to the shore at 6.2. So that's another. And you could even get earthquakes, aftershocks because it's an 8 point something, 8.2, you get that, you can get a 7.2 aftershock, one full magnitude below, but that's certainly a possibility here as we go on throughout -- even tomorrow and into the next couple of days.

We do know that the waves were generated out here in the ocean because these dark buoys have been pinging or telling us, hey, the waves are going up and down out here, so we'll be watching as the day goes on -- guys.

FEYERICK: Chad Myers, thank you.

And now to Australia, where 10 planes and nine ships are out looking again today for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It has now been 26 days since that jet simply disappeared. And in just a few hours, Malaysia's prime minister will arrive in Perth to see the search efforts firsthand. But time is likely running out to locate the so- called black boxes. Their batteries may only have just a few days left.

Let's get the very latest from Atika Shubert live in Perth for us.

And, Atika, so many people looking for this, so many satellites trained on this location. New equipment is being brought in. Still, the biggest frustration for searchers and investigators that you're finding is what?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the biggest frustration is they haven't seen a single piece of debris from the plane. All they really have at this point is an estimated location of where they think the plane went down. Now they can't be 100 percent sure. And now they're following a model which says that if the plane went down here, the debris -- the ocean currents would have taken the debris here, and that's where planes are looking. But so far, they haven't turned up anything.

Now, if they run out of time and they can't find any debris before the battery on that flight data recorder runs out, then that means bringing in sonar equipment. And this is one of the reasons why HMS Tireless, the British nuclear submarine, is being brought in. It's now in the Indian Ocean, it's not in the search area.

But they're hoping to bring it here so if they manage to get some -- even one little piece of debris from the plane, they'll be immediately able to deploy sonars and other high-tech -- other equipment to try and find the wreckage.

FEYERICK: And clearly, Atika, we know that this is a huge search area, but is there any talk that maybe, you know, the submarine and also this Australian ship with the pinger locator, whether those could have been brought in perhaps a little bit earlier? The pinger can be heard from about two nautical miles away. Should they have brought it in sooner?

SHUBERT: I think there's a lot of questions about whether or not days were lost because of the lack of coordination of information. Could they have been looking at a better site sooner? Frankly at this point, we don't know. A lot of this information has come in bits and pieces, and it took a while to put together. So could all of this equipment have been brought in sooner? Possibly.

But at this point, even if -- even with the submarine, even with the towed pinger locator and with the submarine drone that's been brought in by the U.S. Navy, none of those are going to be much use without that piece of debris. So it's really the visual search that's key at this time.

FEYERICK: And what is the morale of investigators and searchers? Is fatigue setting in?

SHUBERT: I think there's no doubt that they're very disappointed, that every day they go out and search, but they still haven't found anything. But you have to keep in mind, these are experienced aviation teams for search and recovery. This is the kind of thing they do all the time.

In fact, just last year there was somebody who was trying to sail around the world and basically ran into trouble about 1,500 kilometers off the coast of western Australia. That's about the same distance the search area is at now, but they were able to find him after many days and bring him back to safety.

So it's the kind of thing they're used to. They say they'll continue to search until they come up with something.

FEYERICK: All right. Atika Shubert for us there in Perth, Australia, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, this morning, police in Malaysia are admitting they are no closer to figuring out just what caused Flight 370 to disappear, no closer, though the criminal probe has now collected nearly 200 statements as part of that criminal investigation.

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

Jim, we've heard a lot from unnamed police sources before, but this time, how significant is it that the leader is putting this on the record now?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is significant that a lot of the things that have been covered in the various newspapers around the world that have leaked out little details, we tend to make a big deal out of a criminal investigation, but what does it mean really?

You know, I've been here 26 days talking with you, John, Deborah, on EARLY START, and I think you have to ask the hard question, what evidence do they have? And I think the answer is not much. They have some statements from all the people that might be involved, the family members of the pilots, they have statements from people who worked on the ground staff and things like that, but how does it relate to what happened inside the cockpit?

And once again, the direct link there is missing. Once again, the hopes for finding anything about what happened on board this flight, unraveling that mystery of Flight 370 appear no closer, because we don't have the raw data. We don't have the flight data recorders.

So it's -- you know, it's a frustrating time. I think it's important that the inspector general's come out and made comments like this. But you know, as he noted, they don't seem to be any closer to really understanding who or why this plane went so far off course -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Clancy live for us this morning in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks, Jim.

FEYERICK: And happening right now, tensions are rising in Ukraine as the West implements new sanctions against Russia. We are live with the fears in Ukraine this morning when we come back.


ROMANS: Good morning again. This morning Ukraine is closer to getting new American support. A new aid package has passed Congress and is awaiting the president's signature, and included in that bill are tighter sanctions on Russia. This at the same time NATO is suspending all cooperation with Russia, all cooperation because of its annexation of Crimea.

Karl Penhaul is live in Kiev this morning.

Karl, what kind of impact might these moves have on the crisis there? The American administration, American officials have all along said they had designed this so that they could continue and ratchet up their retaliation against the Russians, depending on what the Russians were doing, and it looks like they're following through.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, I think just in general terms, Ukrainians do not trust either the United States or Western powers to take a really firm stance against Russia. Several people have told me, they say, you know, the West is waving its finger at Russia while really doing nothing to get Russia to either pull back from the eastern border with Ukraine or to pull out of that Crimea region that Russia annexed earlier this month.

Right now there is a general sentiment among Ukrainians that Crimea has been lost and nothing that the West can do will force Russia to pull out of there. And in fact, earlier this week, we saw the Russian prime minister in the Crimea region, offering a lot of incentives to the people there. So there's a sense that Crimea has been lost, and now the Ukrainians are looking at what Western powers will get to do to get Russia to pull back its troops from that eastern border, and they don't think that is going to be much at all.

Also as well, don't forget that Russia also has a lot of economic measures in its arsenal that could affect Ukraine. Already Russia has said that it is ending a subsidy in natural gas that is key for heating here in Ukraine as well as other things, and there's going to be around a 40 percent price rise in natural gas prices. That is going to hit the pockets of ordinary Ukrainians.

And yes, the Western powers, the IMF has offered multibillion dollar loans to Ukraine, but the government has to put in a whole series of austerity measures to get access to those loans. That is also going to hit Ukrainians in the pocket. There are going to be tax rises, there are going to be public sector job losses. So right now the ordinary people here are looking around and feeling very alone -- Christine.

ROMANS: Anticorruption measures, we should point out, that's also contingent on some of that aid. So the view from Ukraine is that an aid package from Washington and tighter sanctions in that aid package from Washington won't help.

PENHAUL: Really not. There's not much optimism. And if you go right up to the border region as well, well, they have more pressing concerns, and that is the fact that they still believe, despite news that possibly the Russians are pulling back a battalion from that border region, they still believe there that an invasion by the Russians could come any day.

We've just come back from that area, and we saw Ukrainian military vehicles pulling up to the border, digging in, camouflaging themselves in strategic positions. And again, the soldiers there say if the Russians do come, we believe it will be a very uneven fight. The Russian military is very powerful, but we have to do our bit, we have to stand our ground -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Karl Penhaul for us this morning in Kiev. Thank you, Karl.

FEYERICK: And right now a desperate search to find the wreckage of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Crews are moving east with just a few days left before the batteries on the flight data recorders, well, they're going to run out.

We're live with the very latest this morning on the other side.


ROMANS: All right, developing this morning, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is now shifting east. Ten planes, nine ships, scouring an area about 926 miles from Perth, Australia. But with this plane now missing for 26 days, police in Malaysia are admitting they may never know just what happened on board.

Joining us now from London is former British Airlines pilot Alastair Rosenschein. He's an aviation consultant.

And let's start, I think, sir, with the fact that this zone has moved to the east. Very frustrating because we have been looking around this ocean, and even have not found any wreckage. Is it logical that this search zone is going to keep moving because wreckage, I guess, and debris -- well, debris is different than wreckage. Debris will be moving and I guess you've got to find the debris before you can pinpoint where the plane went down.

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER BRITISH AIRWAYS PILOT: Good morning, Christine and Deb. Yes, you're quite right that the debris will move. I mean, I've spoken to an oceanographer, who showed me that depending on which day the aircraft goes down, the debris will go in different directions. And he had the model placed on several days. So it was quite -- you know, it's going to be a very difficult task to pinpoint whether it should be further to the east or further to the west.

I, you know, it's a guess, really, but they have to narrow it down because the Indian Ocean's so large.

FEYERICK: Yes, we talk about this as a criminal investigation now. Usually with investigators, they start with the worst-case scenario, that is, there's something criminal that happened, and then they work their way backwards, that oh, perhaps it was a mechanical failure. But does that give the families a little bit of false hope that, oh, if they're calling it a criminal investigation, then clearly, something criminal must have happened on board that plane, as opposed to mechanical or some sort of malfunction?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, if it's a criminal case, one normally looks for motive or incentive. There doesn't appear to be anything here. I mean, I'm not -- I remain unconvinced that it is a criminal act, but it could be. But as I say, unconvinced. It does fit very much with double pilot incapacitation. There have been previous cases like this, where the aircraft will fly on until it runs out of fuel.

I mean, it kind of ticks those boxes. But you know, there is a motive for claiming that it is a criminal investigation. In a way, it's a get-out-of-jail free card for the Malaysians and for other interested parties. But you know, we can't know for sure until we get those boxes back, the flight deck recorder and cockpit voice recorder. That is absolutely key.

ROMANS: Of course, if we get those boxes back in another three weeks, what kind of valuable information is on them? We won't be able to find them, maybe, after another few days.

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, you're quite right. I mean, clearly, they haven't disappeared. They are somewhere, but it's a huge ocean. And if they have -- if they don't see any floating debris, then they don't even know where to start. Find the floating debris and then you've still got a sort of 500-kilometer search area, but at least you can -- you know, you can backtrack it based on forecasts of currents and drift and eddies in the ocean to give you -- to narrow it down a bit.

But it really is an onerous task and I'm not absolutely convinced they're ever going to find these boxes.

FEYERICK: All right, Alastair Rosenschein. Thank you so much for your insights. Interesting as always. Thank you.

ROMANS: More news and top headlines, including the very latest on that huge earthquake in Chile. That's right after the break.