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Powerful Earthquake Hits Chile; Search for Flight 370

Aired April 2, 2014 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Break news this morning. The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 moves to the east. Ships and aircraft scouring the Southern Indian Ocean. They're looking for any sign of the vanished jetliner. The search zone has moved to the east.

Malaysia's prime minister arriving in Australia to be briefed on search. That happens in just hours. Police released new details on the criminal investigation into why the plane may have crashed.

We have live team coverage of all of these new angles and the latest breaking development.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: But first more breaking news this morning. Death toll rising after an earthquake rocks Chile. A tsunami warning sent thousands of people evacuating from their homes. A live report coming up just ahead.

Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Deborah Feyerick.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, April 2nd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. And let's begin with the breaking news off the Pacific Coast off of South America.

An 8.2 earthquake, 8.2, hitting the waters off Chile causing major evacuations and at least five deaths.

Many scrambled to leave their homes as sirens sounded 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, he joins us on the phone.

Tell me what's the latest this hour. I know they're waiting for daylight so they can really get a sense of the scope of the damage. You have told us, Martin, that it could have been much worse. But clearly nerves are afraid. This is an area of the country where they have seen devastating and big earthquakes. A lot of nerves afraid.

MARTIN AROSTEGUI, JOURNALIST: Indeed, and you know, despite the aftershocks, despite the ongoing aftershocks, despite the reports of looting, despite the damage, despite the electrical blackouts, people are starting to go home. Mainly because they've lifted the tsunami warning which means that at least the floods that they were fearing are not going to materialize.

But we still don't know the extent of damage done by the earthquake. We know it was a strong earthquake. The fact that it was 100 kilometers offshore, of course alleviates the extent of which it damaged the inland areas but we have yet to see how much actually -- how much actually was damaged.

ROMANS: So we have to look for fires. You mentioned reports of looting. We have to watch for fires, unstable buildings. Clearly, there's a lot of -- a lot of observation and recovery to do once daylight sets in.

AROSTEGUI: Indeed. In fact, the President Bachelet is going to tour the affected areas. She's arriving at Iquique sometime this morning and perhaps going up to Arica. So she will be -- she will get a firsthand impression of the extent to which the earthquake has affected northern Chile.

ROMANS: We're looking at pictures right now where you can see, you know, looks like bottles of shampoo coming off the store shelves and people heading to the exit. This is a part of the country where many people have felt earthquakes before. They know how to get out of a building and they know how to evacuate when there is a tsunami warning.

How -- how -- tell me about the aftershocks and how rough those have been.

AROSTEGUI: Well, they've been rough. I mean -- you have to be -- there have been aftershocks and there were pre-shocks as well. I mean, it seems like there's been a lot of seismic activity in northern Chile recently. And a lot of seismologist and geologists that we have interviews have said that it's been extraordinary the kind of buildup to this -- to this earthquake. So whether we'll continue -- the aftershocks will continue and there'll be more tremors and more (INAUDIBLE) and perhaps another strong earthquake sorted down a few days from now, a few hours from, we really don't know.

ROMANS: All right, Martin Arostegui, thank you so much for joining us.

And again the tsunami warning has been lifted, but they're still just really in the beginning stages to figuring out how much damage has been done. Waiting for sun up. Thank you.

FEYERICK: And now to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now lots of eyes everywhere. From satellites to 10 planes and nine ships, all scouring the Indian Ocean just trying to find that missing jetliner. It has been gone for 26 days. Time now running short to find the black boxes before those pingers simply stop.

In just a few hours Malaysia's prime minister set to arrive in Perth to meet with Australian leaders and also see the search efforts for himself up close. Let's get the very latest from Atika Shubert live to Perth.

And, Atika, the weather seems to be holding today. How are searchers doing?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, the weather is good. That means they're having more time to search, but we haven't had any reports of any potential debris from the plane being sighted. Here at Pearce Air Base it appears that some of the planes may finally be returning. We'll have to wait and see once the crews gets off, what they're reporting, but so far, we haven't had much luck.

Now we haven't heard either from the ships that are in the water. There are about nine ships and they are critical for hauling anything on board. They haven't reported anything either. And it's always discouraging when the day ends like this and there haven't been any sightings, but they're still prepared to go out again tomorrow.

FEYERICK: When the investigators come and sort of brief everybody, is there sort of -- do they feel discouraged or are they still sort of upbeat even though this -- the area they're searching is just so immense?

SHUBERT: I think it's clear that they're always discouraged when they come back and haven't found anything, but these are very experienced aviation search and recovery teams. So they're used to this. They're used to going out every day.

I think what's unusual here is the sheer size of the area that they're looking at. Yesterday, they described it as an area the size of Ireland. This is absolutely massive and it's really just an estimate. It's where we believe the plane went down with satellite, radar and other data, but frankly we do not know if we've been looking in the right place.

FEYERICK: What about the fact that they did bring in two new vessels? One is a nuclear submarine. They also brought in a ship to locate that pinger. Is that really just for protective measures? Right now do they have nothing to lose and they're just going to put everything into the water to see if they can perhaps find something, anything?

SHUBERT: Yes. It's a little bit of both to be honest. In the ideal world, they will be able to find some debris, just even one piece of the plane to confirm that in fact the plane did go down in that area. And then they can deploy the towed pinger locater, the TPL 25, to try and sweep the area and tried to pick up that signal from the black box. If that doesn't work, then there are also a number of sonar options.

And this is where HM Tireless, the British nuclear powered submarine, comes in. It can try and use its sonar scans to sort of map the ocean floor. There's also the Bluefin, which is basically a sort of submarine drone. Very small but it can sort of swim under water, and use its own radar and sonar detectors to fund anything unusual. But until a piece of debris is found, it's very difficult to use those other pieces of equipment.

FEYERICK: Yes. And even once they do find the debris, they still have to then find the wreckage. As we know with Air France flight, the wreckage was spread out over eight miles. So -- but at least it's something better than what they've got right now.

ROMANS: Yes. All right.

As for the investigation, it appears Malaysia is no closer this morning to figure out just what happened on board that flight. The police's inspector general saying overnight they are conducting a criminal investigation and they've now taken nearly 200 statements. But he admits they may never know the real cause for the plane's disappearance.

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

You know, Jim, police considering a number of possibilities including food poisoning.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. They're not ruling anything out at this stage. They're making that very clear. They have pursued many theories trying to either prove them or disapprove them. That's been the nature of all of this because they have so little to go on, they have to open up the range of options as wide as they possibly can to try to understand from the little evidence that they have from Flight 370.

They have to try to understand what may have what happened, who might have been behind it, what might have been their motives. They've been exploring all of that but they are not coming up with any solid evidence that they can share with us at least about the course of this investigation.

Those are some of the same questions that the families had. They met again with authorities here in Kuala Lumpur today for three long hours. They came away saying progress had been made, that many of the questions had been asked and answered by Malaysian authorities. That alone is some progress.

The families were expected to stay here to hold more meetings. But as a civil aviation chief said, they were trying their best to reassure the families. But it's often been said in the past, they don't have the answer to the one question they want -- why did Flight 370 go so far off its pre-planned course to Beijing and end up half a world away?

A very frustrating time for everyone here. Evidence, hard evidence so difficult to come by -- Christine.

ROMANS: Which is why they have to follow every lead and they have to also, you know, try to imagine what could have happened on that flight.

So a criminal probe, a lot of people hear criminal probe, they immediately think, oh, they know something bad and criminal happened on that flight. They have to start a criminal probe at the very beginning, right? They're trying to find out if there was something foul here.

CLANCY: Exactly. Trying to prove that there might be a motive here. That's about all that they can do. They cannot reach inside the cockpit and know what happened there. They know that it was intentionally maneuvered. That goes without saying. But at the same time, they have to know why, they have to know who. They've gone through the passenger list time and time again and come up empty. No one with any links to terrorism.

The crew has been investigated fully. The flight simulator that the captain had in his home has been examined. And there's yet no hard evidence. A very frustrating time adding only to the mystery of Flight 370 -- Christine.

ROMANS: Our Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur.

And also we should point out that Malaysia Airlines tightening security. There are no one -- except for the pilots will be allowed -- pilots will be allowed inside those cockpits from now on. So tightening security as well.

Meantime, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Honolulu meeting with Asian Defense ministers including his counterpart from Malaysia. Hagel told reporters 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: All right. So the weather, always so important. Every day as these planes and ships are out there, scouring the search zone.

Let's ask Indra Petersons how the weather is going today for the search -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It seems to be kind of an unstable environment. Everyday kind of better or worse the day before. At least today, it looks like things are going to be improving. So a hint of a good sign there. You can actually see the satellite. They had some activity and visibility issues, even some higher wage, I think to a storm kind of in the region.

But you can see that is now exiting the area. Not to say that there's definitely but things are improving. That's the big takeaway here. What are we looking at? Well, as it go forward in time you can see generally speaking things get better. Yes, we still have some clouds in the area. Visibility can be poor at times. But again, much better than we have seen as far as what we're looking out for rain. Still Showers some will be possible. So at times, the visibility can go down again.

But generally speaking we talk about winds, that's one of the biggest concerns in the area because it correlates to those wave heights and you can see really a go forward in time. Those winds really start to back off. You can the greens which correlates to those higher winds Kind of moving out of the region. So that's that big takeaway there. Things generally improving here. But of course always a small window in this region.

Those type places narrows the moving closer to their winter, those timeframes are going to be shorter and shorter moving forward moving into their winter.

ROMANS: Of course. All right, Indra. Thanks Indra Petersons.

FEYERICK: And we will follow the latest on the search for Flight 370 all morning long. But first the investigation widening into General Motors and the problem with ignition switches that has been connected into the depths of more than a dozen people. Today its CEO faces Congress again. What we're expected to learn, ahead.

ROMANS: In a shocking confession this morning from America's top intelligence official, has the NSA been spying on you. Reading the contents of your e-mail. That's next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. It is round two today for General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Appearing again on Capitol Hill. This time before a Senate committee. This is a day after answering questions from House lawmakers about the recall of millions of cars for faulty ignition switches. Problems with those sandwiches now connected to at least 13 deaths.

Now Mary Barra, the new CEO, apologized again but offered no explanation for why it took that 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.


ROMANS: She has moved for an internal investigation. She's cooperating with government authorities. Also she's named a -- I guess a safety czar and has now hired noted attorney Kenneth Feinberg who handled the September 11th payout to help GM decide how to compensate victims. It's the first time GM has acknowledged that it may pay damages in those cases. FEYERICK: And new scrutiny this morning on government snooping. The nation's top intelligence official admitting they searched the content of Americans' e-mails and other communications in an effort to collect intel on foreign terrorists. Well, until now criticism has largely focused on the bulk phone data collection. Now critics say this exposes a loophole in surveillance law allowing the government to search and eavesdrop on citizens without a warrant.

ROMANS: All right. The Obama administration celebrated a win yesterday. 7.1 million Americans signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. And the president said the law -- that means the law is here to stay. The Republicans say the victory lap was premature.

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, worked on crafting on health care reform. He's been working on health care reform all the way back to 1990. I asked him yesterday if he counts this as a political win.


ROMANS: Want to do a victory lap? Seven million enrollment?

RAHM EMANUEL, CHICAGO MAYOR: No, I think -- I think the president -- here's what you can say. Three years running, the big cost factor associated with health care which used to run three times inflation, has three years running been in line with inflation, which is a huge benefit to people's families and businesses' bottom line.

ROMANS: Right.

EMANUEL: Second, is if you have a young person coming out of college, they can stay on the family health care plan.

ROMANS: Until 26.

EMANUEL: Big advantage. You have a preexisting condition in your family or anybody that prohibited you from getting health care, you can now -- cannot be denied health care and you will never hit the cap. So on those four points, it has already made immeasurable difference. Is it all the way where it needs to be, I think the answer -- the short answer to that is no, and the president would tell you that.

ROMANS: So no victory lap, but it wasn't the disaster they said?

EMANUEL: First of all, if we try to give a victory lap, you guys would steal it.


ROMANS: You guys meaning us in the press who many supporters of Obamacare say were too critical, too critical of the glitches and the slow-going for enrollment from the get-go.

Meantime, stocks around the world this morning, they're up slightly this morning. Futures in the U.S. pointing to a higher open. Back in record territory the S&P 500 at an all-time high yesterday. Good-bye March, hello April. We'll take that performance over March any day.

FEYERICK: No question. And today, President Obama heads to Michigan to push one of his top priorities, raising the minimum wage. He'll speak to students at the University of Michigan this afternoon calling on Congress to increase the federal minimum to $10.10 an hour. After that the president heads to Chicago for two Democratic Party fundraisers.

ROMANS: The House Budget Committee today takes up Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan. A plan he says will raise no taxes and balance the budget within 10 years. In part by changing Medicare to a voucher system, slashing food stamps and repealing big part of Obamacare.

The budget is not expected to become law and it's all but certain to be rejected by the Senate if it gets that far, but it is a marker in the road. It is a -- you know, budgets are always a sign of your ideological, you know, philosophies. And that's exactly where you are there with the Paul Ryan budget.

FEYERICK: Moving ahead. Well, this morning, crews will be back out digging through the devastating mudslide northwest of Seattle looking for the 20 people that are still missing. More than a week after the ground suddenly and remarkably gave way. The death toll is now up to 28. Fire crews say they have so far moved slowly because the mud and muck is like quick sand. In some places more than 70 feet deep, unlike anything they've ever seen before.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the hill didn't just slide away and that's what you're seeing. The bottom blew out with an incredible amount of energy, came across this debris field and pushed all of this material. And came with it, you have houses, walls of homes here. All of this has been pushed into this area. And then the top, it looks almost like a moonscape fell down on top of it.


FEYERICK: And the other concern, this huge amount of contaminants that have leaked into the debris including raw sewage, propane, gas and oil. One positive, good weather in recent days is actually helping to dry out the mud and that is making it a lot easier for those rescuers to dig.

ROMANS: All right. Middle East peace talks on life support this morning. Secretary of State John Kerry he cancels, abruptly cancels his meeting with the Palestinians. We're live with the reasons behind his sudden move. That's next.


FEYERICK: And this morning, it appears that the Middle East peace process is on the verge of falling apart yet again. Secretary of State John Kerry who's now canceled his planned trip back to the region -- that was supposed to happen today -- after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas defied the U.S. and Israel and took steps towards seeking further international recognition for a Palestinian state, something the U.S. and Israel don't want.

Well, that's despite Kerry's latest overtures towards both sides including offering a release of a spy, Jonathan Pollard. And that was an attempt to get the talks moving again.

Ben Wedeman is live in Jerusalem with the latest.

Ben, the fact that Kerry is cancelling his trip, does that signify that perhaps this is now in free fall, there's a collapse?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't call it a collapse, Deb, quite yet. There's still some time to go before we can really write the end of this story. What we have however is a severe impasse.

Last night the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, went on Palestinian TV live and declared that he would be signing a document to authorize the Palestinian Authority to join 15 international organizations. The Israelis and the Americans had made it clear they don't want the Palestinians to do that.

Now the Palestinians are frustrated because they were expecting this fourth prisoner release to occur. But the Israelis are hesitating and of course they want to see the release of Jonathan Pollard.

Now Secretary Kerry had announced yesterday that he would be coming here today. But late last night, he changed his mind. Now clearly the Americans very frustrated by all of this. Secretary Kerry has really invested a lot of time and effort to get these talks moving again. And I think his late-night cancellation may signal that he is starting to lose his patience -- Deb.

FEYERICK: And very, very quickly, Ben, yes or no, was the offer of Jonathan Pollard on the table something to appease the Israelis because they didn't feel they were getting anything out of the potential peace talks? Just quickly.

WEDEMAN: Well, I think it was a lure to get them to go ahead with this prisoner release on which the Palestinians have been quite insistent. But even among the Israelis, there's a very broad range of opinion. Yesterday, we spoke with the deputy defense minister here who said that in exchange for the release of prisoners he said have blood on their hands, he doesn't want Pollard to be release. And we're hearing news from the United States itself that Jonathan Pollard doesn't like this deal and declined the opportunity to appear before a parole board -- Deb.

FEYERICK: All right. Ben Wedeman for us, thank you so much.

And breaking news this morning, a deadly earthquake rocking the coast of Chile. A live report next.