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Searching for Survivors in South Korea; Air, Water Search for Missing Jet; Attackers Go After Ukrainian Base; Flight 370 Families Demand Information

Aired April 17, 2014 - 05:00   ET




BERMAN: Breaking news this morning: searching for survivors after a ferry capsizes off the coast of South Korea. Right now, nine people are dead, but hundreds are still missing. We are live with the very latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. Malaysian officials giving new information on the search for missing Flight 370, this as the Bluefin submarine prepares for its next trip under water. What could it find? We're live with that.

BERMAN: Crisis in Ukraine. Bloody fights in the street as troops try to take down pro-Russian protesters. World leaders blaming Russia for the chaos, but this morning, Vladimir Putin is firing back. We are live with the war of words and whether it will be more than that.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday. It's April 17th, 5:00 a.m. on the nose in the East.

Let's begin this morning in South Korea, where rescue crews right now again trying to find hundreds of people missing in the chilly waters off that country's southern coast. It has now been nearly two days since the ferry they were riding on overturned and sank with nearly 500 passengers on board, and many of them were high school students going to a holiday. Right now, nearly 300 of them are still missing, and we're hearing these horrifying stories of desperate text messages sent by those on board to their parents.

Pauline Chiou is live in Jindo, where families right now are waiting for word from their loved ones.

And, Pauline, about these text messages, we have to be cautious about those reports, don't we?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do. We have seen some of these text messages from parents that we spoke with earlier today, but they did say these are not text messages directed to me, these are text messages that were forwarded to me from someone else, and that person received it from someone else. So, I think we have to be really cautious about that.

I've also been hearing anecdotes from parents, saying that they have heard about text messages from children that actually specifies where they are in the ship. They list the students with them. But again, I caution that we have not actually met someone who says this is a text from my child. And we do know that some social media postings have already been declared as false, so we have to be careful when we talk about this.

Now, I want to update you on the situation of what the families are going through right now. They have just met with South Korea's president, Park Geun-hye, and she met with them a couple of minutes ago, and it was a meeting that was very emotional, where she was meeting them with some organizers of the search-and-rescue operation.

And there was a lot of yelling towards the organizers from the parents, and the president warned the organizers, she said to the organizers, don't just talk to the media, also talk to the parents, and that got a lot of applause. The president also said that she promised to add more people to these rescue teams.

Now, we have been speaking with family members. We heard a very poignant story from one mother. She talked about how she and her daughter just two months ago went to Jeju Island, which is the destination of this ferry. It's a resort island. And when this field trip came up, she encouraged her daughter to go, but her daughter didn't want to.

And listen to how she recounts the story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter said to me, "Mom, I don't want to go there," because I went there again, a time again. So, I said to her, "I think this trip will be very great experience for your school days." So, I'm very regretted. I'm very regretted at that.


CHIOU: So difficult. And then after she talked with us, she also showed us some cell phone video of her daughter dancing and laughing.

So, this is just such a difficult time for this mother and the parents of so many of the students who are still unaccounted for.

And, Christine, take a look at the weather around me, Rain and wind. This is making it very difficult for the search crews. And just to give you an idea of the challenges, there are many civilian divers as well as government divers that are participating, and three civilian divers earlier today actually lost their way during high tide, and they were later rescued by fishing vessels.

So, just take a look at the weather. It is not easy, Christine. ROMANS: Yes, they have to be so careful in the rescue, even as they're trying to move quickly, because it is cold and it has been almost two days.

Pauline Chiou for us this morning in South Korea. Thank you, Pauline.

BERMAN: Now to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and there is breaking news this morning. Malaysia's transportation minister admitting a little over an hour ago that they may have to change their approach to try to find this plane. This as an unmanned underwater vehicle, the Bluefin-21, is ready to head back into the ocean to scan the sea floor again for debris.

Our Miguel Marquez live in Perth with the latest, including these new comments from this key Malaysian official.

Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, John. And he is echoing what the prime minister here in Australia is telling "The Wall Street Journal," saying that if they don't have a sense of where this plane is in a week, they may have to change things up.


HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: There will come a time that we may need to regroup and reconsider. But in any event, the search will always continue. It's just a matter of approach.


MARQUEZ: Now, to many, this seems a little premature, because the agency that is charged with finding this thing says that they have just really taken the first big, decent bite of the apple in looking at the ocean floor there, the Bluefin-21 down for a full 16-hour go. They're now analyzing the data dumped from that and then will go down again.

Remember, the area they are searching is in the area where those pings were found, and the area they're beginning in is where the strongest ping was heard, an area about 500 or 600 square miles, and that Bluefin-21 can search a very small subset of that 500 or 600 square miles where those pings came from.

So, they believe, a lot of folks here believe that they are searching in the right place. They may need a little luck, but they've certainly had some in hearing those pings to begin with.

The other piece of the puzzle that we are expecting to hear something back on soon is oil that they picked up, or an oily substance that they picked up on the ocean here. That has now been transported from out there all the way back into Perth, and they believe that they will have a very strong chemical fingerprint, if it is from Malaysian Flight 370.

Back to you guys. BERMAN: No doubt, the next few days will be critical.

Miguel Marquez for us live in Perth today. Thanks to Miguel.

As for the families of those who were on board the plane, their anger boiling over. In just a few minutes, we're going to go live to Beijing, where Ivan Watson will have the latest on that. That's coming up.

ROMANS: This morning, eastern Ukraine seems precariously closer to war with attackers overnight going after a Ukrainian military base, a shoot-out leaving three dead and dozens more detained, a day after civilians apparently hijacked Ukrainian military vehicles to try to stop the government's efforts to push pro-Russian militants out of the region.

President Obama's putting the blame on Russia, saying the Kremlin is destabilizing the region, the Kremlin is supporting those militias. The president issuing this warning to Vladimir Putin:


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I've said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences. They're not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians.


ROMANS: So, Putin just said in a marathon question-and-answer session that Russia is only acting to protect its people.

Let's go live to eastern Ukraine and CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, you know, what's the situation on the ground there this morning?

Can you hear me, Phil? What are you seeing around you this morning?

I think Phil is not hearing us right now.

We can tell you, though, that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is in this really interesting -- last year, it was four hours long. It's his annual sort of talk to people on television. He answers all these questions. So far, 2 million questions, most of them actually statements of support for the president and what he's doing in Crimea and Ukraine.

BERMAN: Less questions, more adoration.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right, new information this morning about the man police say brought a rice cooker in a backpack to the anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings. Plus, a fire truck slams into a packed restaurant. The very latest, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. Twelve minutes after the hour.

We want to get back to Phil Black right now. He is live for us in eastern Ukraine with the latest on what's happening on the ground there.

It's been a confusing couple days, quite frankly, because the West, the president of the United States saying this is Russia's fault. Russia saying, no, no, you know, Ukraine, the Ukrainian government is destabilizing.

What are you seeing there?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really chaotic, Christine, indeed.

Let's begin just by talking about this new incident overnight in the southern city of Mariupol, that is where the Ukrainian government says some 300 militants attacked Ukrainian military unit. They say that three of these attackers were killed, 13 injured, dozens arrested. They have not spoken about any Ukrainian military casualties.

But if that's accurate, it's easily the most violent confrontation in this crisis so far. And this is coming into what is supposed to be the third day of the Ukrainian military operation to try and restore government control in this region where pro-Russian militants and protesters have really been consolidating their hold on local government, local administration, setting up road blocks, taking authority away from the central government.

But what we've seen through this operation is really no progress whatsoever. If anything, things have gone backwards. It has been chaotic.

What we've seen on a number of occasions have been Ukrainian military units driving convoys of armored vehicles, being stopped not by militants, but by locals, villagers who don't want them there, who block, then swarm these vehicles, preventing them from advancing, and then putting these soldiers in the humiliating position of having to negotiate their own retreat -- sometimes having to give up their own weapons, sometimes giving up the armored vehicles they're driving as well.

Last night in the city of Slaviansk just down the road, we saw six Ukrainian military armored vehicles really being shown off as trophies by pro-Russian militants.

What all of this means is that the Ukrainian government is not really controlling its military here, because that military does not want to use force against its own people. That means the Ukrainian government's authority on this region remains very weak, and that puts the government in a very weak position going into these four-party talks in Geneva today between the United States, Europe, Ukraine and Russia, which is supposed to somehow thrash out a solution to this crisis.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMAN: Peaceful solution to this crisis, indeed.

All right. Phil Black -- thank you for that, Phil.

This morning, a Boston area arts student set to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after a bomb scare near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Police arrested Kevin Edson, also known as Kayvon Edson, for carrying a rice cooker in his backpack, carrying that on the anniversary of the marathon attacks. He was dressed in black. You can see him there detonating that.

He was screaming "Boston strong" when police stopped him. Prosecutors say he told police it was a performance and that the art student suffers from bipolar disorder. Edson's being held on $100,000 bond.

BERMAN: Awful timing.

Some restrictions may be listed on boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as he awaits trial on charges that he was responsible for the deaths of three people at the marathon and an MIT police officer during the manhunt afterwards. A federal judge ruling the accused terrorist should be allowed to see autopsy photos. The judge is considering allowing Tsarnaev to meet with his sister outside the earshot of investigators.

ROMANS: Nearly one month after the ground gave way northeast of Seattle, the death toll from a catastrophic landslide still rising. Two more bodies have been recovered, pushing the official figure to 39, up to six people still missing. Search teams have combed through hundreds of acres of muck for more than three weeks now. Scientists say unusually high rainfall and a weak hillside contributed to that slide.

BERMAN: One person in critical condition this morning after this dramatic crash near Los Angeles. Two fire trucks collided at an intersection, sending one barreling into a restaurant. More than a dozen people, including several firefighters, were hurt. Fire officials say both trucks were racing to a house fire at the time, the cause of the accident still under investigation.

ROMANS: Global stocks basically flat right now. We have three days of gains in the U.S. investors watching everything from rising tension in Ukraine to corporate earnings.

One stock we're watching today, Google. Earnings yesterday disappointed investors because of mobile. Google may be winning the smartphone wars with its Android software, but its primary business is still search, and search engines survive on ads.

With more people searching on phones and tablets, Google has to sell more mobile ads, which costs less than their web equivalent, meaning -- Google's ad revenue dropped 9 percent. The stock fell 3 percent after hours. It's down more than 5 percent in the past month. One of the tech stocks getting hit in the past month during the tech sell- off, so, watch for tech to be maybe a drag on the market today.

BERMAN: So, I went on a little road trip for a few days.

ROMANS: I know!

BERMAN: I get back to the house and there's snow!

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: There is snow on the lawn.

ROMANS: Sorry.

BERMAN: What is going on here, Indra Petersons, and will it stop?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and you know what? The snow is gone. That's the good news, but the cold temperatures? We broke records yesterday. It is one thing when you're breaking records in places like, I don't know, Wisconsin, Michigan in the morning hours, but when you talk about as far south as Louisiana and Florida yesterday morning, you know it was cold.

And yes, it is still cold. In fact, we still have freeze warnings and frost advisories out there. Not as bad as yesterday, and the good news is we are going to be recovering. It's going to take some time, but we will get there, most importantly, by the weekend.

What are we looking at? One of the systems already moving out, kind of seeing leftover showers in the upper Midwest.

We'll really start watching the second system, pulling up that moisture in from the gulf and then kind of spreading into the Southeast. That's the concern here, because heavy amounts of rain are expected.

Tallahassee could see about 4 inches, Atlanta over 2 1/2 inches. So, that's going to be the concern over the next several days. But once it kicks out of here, which it will before Easter weekend, we're going to be talking about temperatures rebounding.

So, not so bad. A huge change in the forecast -- instead of showers on the weekend for the northeast for Easter Sunday, things are improving, not to mention temperatures back where they should be and dry.

Look at this. Look at the entire northeastern seaboard. Looking beautiful here on the eastern seaboard, then maybe some showers around Kansas City. Yes, Pacific Northwest, some showers for Easter and maybe towards Dallas.

But overall, most people, average temperatures, dry.

Are you happy now, Berman?

BERMAN: I'm happy. I'm happier.

ROMANS: I feel much better.

PETERSONS: You're welcome.

ROMANS: I do not want to have parkas for the Easter egg hunt.

PETERSONS: Yes. It's a huge change.

BERMAN: Although there are more pockets.

ROMANS: That is true.

BERMAN: Thinking like a 7-year-old.

PETERSONS: Talking kid is a not good.

ROMANS: The egg hunt is a very good lesson in capitalism, by the way. You eat what you kill. Get it out there. You get as many eggs as you can.

All right, we'll talk about that later. Thanks, Indra.

Heroin addiction now claims more lives in some American communities than violent crimes or car crashes. That's according to top U.S. law enforcement officials meeting in Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder said a recent surge in heroin availability and a spike in purity is a national problem which, quote, "kind of sneaked up on us." The seizure of heroin increased 87 percent between 2009 and 2013.

BERMAN: All right, so, tests due back today on the water supply in Portland, Oregon, after the city had to dump some 38 million gallons of water because a 19-year-old urinated in a public reservoir. Water from the reservoir goes directly to homes and officials say there is no way to treat it, so they got rid of the water as a precaution. The teen and two others with him were cited by police and could face additional charges and also the wrath of Christine Romans.

ROMANS: What was your line?

BERMAN: I said you're in big trouble, pal. Get it?

You made me say it. I said it off camera, but you made me say it on camera.

ROMANS: Because it was clever.

BERMAN: All right.

ROMANS: But I can't believe there was surveillance video of them doing that.

BERMAN: It seems like a really bad idea.

ROMANS: It's a very bad idea.

All right, breaking news -- oh, well, that's not breaking news, actually. Oh, Portland, 38 million gallons of water.

OK. We're also talking about the slow, painstaking search for Flight 370. Malaysian officials this morning admitting they may have to make changes in their approach as families of those on board say investigators are keeping them in the dark. We are live, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

This morning, the families of the passengers on board Flight 370 say they've had it, a day after many stormed out of a briefing in Beijing, calling Malaysian authorities liars. The families have now put out a list of 26 questions -- 26 questions they want answered now, questions about where the investigation stands and just why the Australians are so convinced they know the rough location of where the jet went down.

James Wood is the brother of Philip Wood. He's the only American adult on Flight 370. He says all they want is the truth.


JAMES WOOD, BROTHER OF PHILIP WOOD: Anger is my main motivator right now. I don't think that's too weird to say that, either. But I'm trying to direct that anger into something productive and useful, and I think that's why we're actually headed in this direction of asking these questions and trying to use the anger and channel that energy into something that is actually going to get us some answers and some truth to everything.


ROMANS: Ivan Watson's live in Beijing for us this morning.

Many of the families of those on board Flight 370 have been gathering there where Ivan is for weeks now.

Ivan, do they feel the same way that James Wood feels?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. I mean, this same kind of anger and frustration, which is vented against kind of midlevel Malaysian officials who meet with them day after day in the hotel behind me.

The Malaysian government sounding very much on the defensive as a government spokesman briefed journalists in the Malaysian capital today and said it's not fair, really, the criticism that Malaysia is coming under from the families of the 153 Chinese nationals who were aboard that missing flight, that government official also insisting that the Malaysian authorities are treating the Chinese better, they're taking care of them better.

They are housing them at a number of hotels here in Beijing and also pledging to send a high-level technical delegation to meet with these families some time next week.

As you mentioned, these Chinese families have put their own very technical questions to the Malaysian authorities. They want details about this plane. For example, who made the black box on the plane? What's the serial number of the black box?

How many emergency transponders were on the plane? Where were they located exactly? What megahertz were they broadcasting at?

These are the kind of questions that the families' committee here submitted to Malaysian authorities on Monday. And yesterday, Malaysian authorities were not able to answer any of these questions, and that prompted an angry walkout from a failed video conference with Malaysian authorities. It prompted a lot of abuse against the mid- ranking Malaysian officials who later tried to brief the families on Wednesday.

And believe it or not, Christine, today, Thursday, a Malaysian diplomat, a representative from the Malaysian embassy here in Beijing, didn't even bother to come out and meet more than 100 family members at the daily briefing, instead asking a Malaysian Airlines official to read a statement, a written statement from the Malaysian embassy.

So, that gives you a sense of how antagonistic the relations have become between these desperate families, who have been waiting now more than 40 days for news of their loved ones, and these beleaguered, and sometimes it appears very ill-informed, Malaysian officials -- Christine.

ROMANS: So many families, it's just the boiling point of those frustrations. They feel disrespected and they feel lied to, and they want those questions answered.

Ivan Watson. Thanks, Ivan, in Beijing for us this morning.

BERMAN: We do have more breaking news this morning. A frantic search for hundreds of teenagers missing after their ferry suddenly sank. We'll have the very latest next.