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Pro-Russian Separatists Refuse to Leave Ukraine; Pushback Against Putin; Drone Kills AQIY Suspects; South Korean Ferry Disaster; Next Two Days "Critical" in Jet Search

Aired April 19, 2014 - 07:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: We've got new information on the divers who are going to be going back into the murky waters of the Yellow Sea looking for survivors of South Korea's ferry catastrophe.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, so far, they are only finding more bodies. The official death toll has risen this morning. It now sits at 32. More than 270 people are still missing three days after the ferry capsized. Now, a lot of those missing are high school students, as you know, who were on a field trip at the time.

BLACKWELL: The vice principal who organized the trip and was rescued from the ship apparently hanged himself in grief. The passenger's families are giving DNA samples to help identify anyone found.

Now, the captain was among the 174 people who were rescued. He and other two members have been arrested. They face charges this morning.

PAUL: But as many as 40 dive attempts are planned today to try to get back inside that ferry and find more of these bodies.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks. She is in Jindo, South Korea, where many of the families have gathered.

Paula, I understand you got a firsthand look those search operations today. What did you see?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Victor. We were on a boat earlier. We got about 300 feet away from the area where this ferry had sunk. There were two large inflatables on the surface of the water. Without those, you simply would not have known that there was a 6,800-ton ferry beneath the water.

It was very difficult to see anything. There was nothing visible of the ferry. The visibility through the water was impossible. It's incredibly murky, looking from the top. And we understand from divers, it's also very challenging from the bottom.

Now, looking around me as I was there, there were at least 120 vessels around ranging from the very large national warships to the very small local fishing vessels, everybody trying to help if they think there's a chance of finding survivors under the surface. Now, we do know that divers did manage to get into the third flood today. We do also know that the death toll has risen because they have got into a new area. But, certainly, overnight, they are going to continue to try and get into those areas they haven't got to yet. This is the fourth night now since that ferry sank.

PAUL: Paula, can you talk to us about the charges it captain and other crew members are facing and the fact the captain was not at the helm when it happened, does that dilute his liability in any way?

HANCOCKS: Well, he wasn't at the helm. He wasn't even in the steering room, we are hearing from the police. The fact was that the third mate was at the helm.

Now, we do know that he's facing five charges, at this point. Among them, negligence, abandoning the boat and causing bodily injury. If he's found guilty of all five of these charges, then he faces anything between five years up to life imprisonment.

And as for the thirst mate, this is a woman that will be charged with negligence that led to the ship's sinking and causing injuries leading to death. So, basically, they are both being charged, which is not a surprise to anybody. Both of them managing to get off the ship. And, of course, many are criticizing the captain to be one of the first rescued, one of the first to get off the ship.

The captain, traditionally, should always be one of the last to get off the ship, making sure the passengers are safe.

BLACKWELL: Paula, one does not have to be a parent to sympathize with those parents who are waiting for the last information in the search, having put their children on this boat for a fun trip with friends. Can you paint a picture for us of where they are, what they are feeling and their response to this search?

HANCOCKS: It is just a heart breaking scene here at the harbor. You have dozens of relatives, dozens of parents. And overnight, they sit by the side of the water and look out behind me. You can see, it's black, they can't see anything.

They are 12 miles away from where that ferry sank. They are looking out to the water, wondering if their child is going to come back to them. It is an absolutely devastating time for them. It is a really heart breaking event to have happened.

But it is the fact, also, that it is taking so long for them to get word about their children. The heart break and the frustration is turning to anger in many, many occasions. They simply don't think they are getting the information quickly enough. They don't think that the security and the safety officials are managing to get inside the boat quickly enough.

As I said, this is the fourth night they are waiting here, just up the road and also inside an auditorium being briefed screaming questions at them. One woman down here just last night, screaming over and over, "Are they alive or dead?" Just the basic question could not be answered at this point.

BLACKWELL: We know that they are planning at least 40 dive attempts today to try to bring back those inside the ferry.

Paula Hancocks for us in Jindo, South Korea -- thank you.

And now to the other big story, the search for Malaysia Airline Flight 370.

We've just learned in the past few hours that the underwater drone that's been scanning the sea floor should be complete with its work in about a week. It's much sooner than many experts predicted.

PAUL: Malaysia's acting transport minister also said the next two days could be crucial in the hunt for the wide-bodied jet. We know that today, 11 military planes and 12 jets are scouring a 20,000 square mile search zone.

BLACKWELL: Miguel Marquez is at the base of the operations in Perth, Australia.

Miguel, explain for us why today and tomorrow are this crucial, this critical juncture, why they are so important in this search.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, those are the words of the Malaysian defense minister. I think both the Malaysians and the Australians are saying the same thing that the next coming days, I think perhaps the next two days is a little too specific.

But the Bluefin-21 is down for the seventh search now. It will continue to go down for 16 hours, come back up and continue the searches in an area they believe is the most likely to contain some wreckage of MH370. That could be over the next couple days, it could be over the next week. They believe they will have that complete area mapped.

Why he's saying the next two days are important may just be a figure of speech -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: So, Miguel, the Malaysian transport minister we know echoed today what the Australians said earlier in the week, that if the search doesn't yield anything in the next few days, they have to, quote, "regroup and reconsider." Do we know what that translates to? Do they basically start over?

MARQUEZ: Well, look, it's a large area where they got all these pings from, where they are searching now is where they have the strongest ping and was the most likely area where they believed flight MH370 went down. If they don't find it in this immediate area where they are searching now, they will have to go back to the drawing board literally and figure out the next area they have to search -- Victor, Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right. Miguel there for us in Perth, Australia -- Miguel, thank you.

PAUL: The passengers get taken off a Delta jet. I don't know if you heard about this. And they are questioned by the FBI. Can you imagine if that was you? What they found that prompted this scare. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: A bomb threat written on a note prompted a security screening after Delta flight landed in Denver. The plane with 157 people on board landed safely yesterday afternoon.

PAUL: The FBI questioned passengers we understand at a remote airport location and then allowed the majority of them to go on their way. We do not know if they are holding anybody, but their verbiage was, the majority of them have been allowed to go.

BLACKWELL: We'll continue to look into that.

OK. So, abandoning his boat, negligence, not seeking rescue from other ships. Those are just some of the charges that the ferry captain in South Korea is facing.

PAUL: Now, if he's convicted, he could go to prison for life.

Jack Hickey is a maritime trial attorney and he's joining us from Miami this morning.

Jeff, thank you so much for being with us.


PAUL: Hi. Good morning to you.

So, how valid are these charges and how much trouble is he really in, considering the fact he was not at the helm of this ship when it started to take that turn? Does that help him? Does that hurt him that he wasn't there?

HICKEY: Well, you know, it probably hurts him that he wasn't there, if something critical was happening and if that was a critical moment in the navigation of the ship. The fact that the captain is not at the helm is not necessarily a big deal.

I mean, the captain of a vessel does not have to be at the helm 24/7 obviously in a 13 1/2 hour voyage, there should be breaks and rest time. The question is, was it a critical time for him to be there?

The real big question, though, is not whether he was at the helm at the time that the vessel either struck something or made a sharp turn. The real question is, why did he not stay on board and not go down with the ship but supervise until every accounted for passenger was off the vessel? That is a crime under Korean law and that is arguably a violation of international law.

Although, there is no specific, there's no specific provision in the international law that the Safety of Life at Sea Convention that says the captain has to be on the vessel at all times, it's recognized, the captain, you know, he's the master, he or she is the master of the vessel and in charge of all people on the vessel at all times.

If you are in charge of people and in charge of safety, how can you administer safety? How can you supervise the operations if you are not on the vessel?

BLACKWELL: If you're not even there.

You know, another thing, Jack, that I think confused some and angered others was the decision to tell people to stay in place. He says because he thought they were going to be swept away.

How do you rate the validity of that argument?

HICKEY: I don't think that there's any validity to that argument. And that's a good question. You know, this is like the Costa Concordia where there were mixed signals. Signals right away from the bridge. Who knows whether it's from the captain were to stay in place, as it was here, as the message was here.

And you are talking to teenagers, a lot of teenagers here who some of them, a lot of them, most of them, obeyed those instructions. That was, as we see here, that was the wrong message to send. He should have been, the captain should have been, (a), assess the damage immediately and (b), get people to the muster stations. That's why we have these drills, to get people to the stations to muster them or gather them so that they can be put into the lifeboats and safely off the side of the vessel.

PAUL: So, he wasn't at the helm, he left the ship and he gave awful instructions at the end of the day that turn out to be fatal for so many of these families. What's his defense going to be?

HICKEY: Well, his defense is going to be that, you know, gee, there was nothing I could have done at the helm of the vessel. And again, that doesn't really bother me, the fact that the captain is not at the helm, unless, of course, again, unless it was a critical factor like Exxon Valdez.

You know, the Exxon Valdez was leaving the port and navigating through a very narrow channel, arguably, Hazelwood, Captain Hazelwood, in that situation should have been at the helm and he wasn't.

But other than that, a very critical time in the navigation of the vessel, I don't think that's a big deal, necessarily. So, that's one defense there.

As far as the -- you know, I wasn't on the vessel the whole time when the passengers were getting off is practically indefensible. Frankly, it's indefensible and under Korean law is a crime. So, that's indefensible.

PAUL: All right. Jack, thank you so much for walking us through what all this means. We appreciate you being with us.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Jack.

HICKEY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, the hunt for Flight 370 is, as we know, and officials said, is far from over. So, if they do not find anything in the current search area, will investigators look in other parts of the Indian Ocean?


PAUL: Oh, what a close call. Watch this. Residents in southern Mexico after a powerful 7.2 earthquake struck the state of Guerrero. The quake hit yesterday morning at 9:30, was felt as far as Mexico City, which is 170 miles away from the quake's epicenter. Nobody was injured thankfully. And officials say, because the quake occurred at a shallow depth, damage was minimal.

BLACKWELL: This morning, 11 military planes, 12 ships, they are scouring the air and sea in hopes of finding debris from Flight 370. And Malaysian authorities say the underwater drone should finish searching the ocean floor within a week.

PAUL: So far, there's been no sign of the missing plane and no signals from the pinger for sometime at this point. So, that leaves investigators to believe that the flight data recorder batteries have most likely already run out.

Let's bring in former naval oceanographer Van Gurley, and former FBI agent, Foria Younis.

Thank you both so much for being with us.

Van, I want to start with you. Boy, this Bluefin device is giving us, apparently, they say some of the crispest, clearest pictures we have seen in a part of the ocean we have never explored before. This is unprecedented.

What do you think is the most significant thing we can find from this search, besides the plane?

VAN GURLEY, FORMER NAVAL OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, Christi, as you were saying, this is a part of the ocean we have never explored, at least to my knowledge. It's way off the beaten path. It's sort of in one of the primary areas.

And the Bluefin sonar should perform exceptionally at that bottom, sort of seeing what's down there. It will be interesting to see exactly what they are seeing, is it just flat bottom? Is there a rubble? Is there something that would be of interest to a geologist?

So, those are -- those are things that are probably for later study. The real focus, still, is finding the debris field in the area where they are targeting right now. And hopefully, they get some object of interest here soon so they can begin to happen out -- one -- well, first so they can, you know, sort of put finality for the families in what the answer is on where this flight went to, and then, two, begin the recovery operation.

BLACKWELL: So, Foria, we're in six weeks now into this. Not as much as a carry on or seatbelt or anything from this plane.

What's your degree of confidence in the ability to find something, some debris, considering the activity of this part of the ocean? FORIA YOUNIS, FOMER FBI AGENT: Yes. Good morning, Victor.

I do think it's just a matter of time. They will find something. It may take months. It may take even longer than months.

But the effort -- this international effort is a good, strong effort. There's a lot of countries helping out. Some of the most modern technology we have used in hunting for anything underwater.

And I think it's a matter of time. Right now, there is almost little investigative leads as to what caused this or who caused this, if it was, you know, an intentional act. But I think this continuous effort of looking for anything under water will give us the investigative evidence that they need so that the families can find some level of comfort as to what happened and we can also find out what happened so it doesn't happen again.

PAUL: OK. So, Van, let's say that the bluefin does find the black boxes. What happens at that point?

GURLEY: So, the lead they are waiting on is to find what they would call an object of interest, which is a return on the sonar that says, hey, there's something unusual, something manmade at the bottom where we wouldn't expect it.

They will then do two things. They will begin to use that, to sort of doing what's called an expanding square or circle search to map out what's the extent of the debris field and they will also go back in with high resolution cameras and take optical pictures, much closer, so you can see exactly what you're looking at.

That will map out the debris field and tell investigators where it is.

But -- and this is an important but -- the Bluefin by itself cannot pick anything up. They have to get additional equipment, the ROVs we have talked about, to go down with manipulator arms and actually start to pick up the objects like the black box and things the investigators will need to determine what happened on that airplane.

BLACKWELL: Foria, you mentioned in the last answer this international group, this international force is very strong. But, if the Malaysians will have to regroup and reconsider, as they suggested, if they don't find something, do you think the majority of the countries, not the U.S., not Australia and China because they are in for the long haul, we believe. But the other countries will say you have led us to this point and narrowed it down, now, we have to back out because we just cannot sustain a search at this level.

Do you think that they'll stay with them or leave?

YOUNIS: Yes, the Southeast Asian politics, all the countries have been working with the Malaysians. A lot of these countries have passengers on the plane. So, I think there will be a lot of diplomatic efforts but they'll try to keep the coalition together. Some -- you know, there may be other things, give and take, that takes place. But I think there's a lot of vested interest, the Southeast community, to find this plane. I think they'll continue to work towards trying to find this plane. Some countries may put in a bigger effort. Others may lessen their effort. But I think the Malaysians will do all they can as they should to keep a strong effort to find this plane so they can have some leads as to what caused this.

PAUL: All right. Van Gurley and Foria Younis -- thank you both so much for being with us.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

YOUNIS: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Another part of the world, Ukraine. Now, the tensions there escalating. It is a waiting game for the White House. So, will diplomacy work and how long will it take?

PAUL: Plus, a Dragon heads up with a bunch of supplies. With UPS, FedEx and the mail, well, they don't deliver in space.


PAUL: Mortgage ratings picked up this week. Take a look here.


PAUL: How's the breakfast this morning? Hope it's waking you up.

Welcome back at half past the hour right now, which equates to 7:30, just in case you haven't looked at the clock. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: At least here in the east, 4:30 out west. I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's start with five things you need to know for your new day.

Number one, the death toll rising in the South Korean ferry catastrophe. It's now at 32 with still 270 people missing, most of them, young high school students. It's now evening in South Korea. But divers plan to continue to search more areas of that sunken ferry overnight.

PAUL: Number two, the underwater drone is scanning the sea floor for any trace of Flight 370 should complete its work within a week, which is much sooner than many experts had predicted. Officials say it captured clear and sharp images of previously uncharted territory here.

In the meantime, a top Malaysian official called the next two days a crucial juncture.

BLACKWELL: Number three, the State Department says it needs more time to decide whether to approve the Keystone Pipeline Project and it's delaying the deadline for federal agencies to submit their recommendations on the issue. They want to wait until the Nebraska Supreme Court settles a dispute on the pipeline's proposed route through Nebraska.

PAUL: Number four, funeral services were held for the two victims of Sunday's Jewish community center shooting. Hundreds of mourners packed a church near Kansas City to honor 14-year-old Reat Underwood and his grandfather, William Lewis Corporon. He was taking Reat to the center for a singing competition when they were killed.

A white supremacist is charged with their deaths and the death of a woman outside an assisted living center nearby.

BLACKWELL: Number five, an unmanned Dragon is headed to the International Space Station. This private company, SpaceX, launched it Friday on a Falcon rocket. Now the Dragon is carrying more than two tons of supplies and some science experiments. It's set to dock at the station tomorrow morning.


PAUL: Just days after top diplomats agreed to a deal ordering militants in Ukraine to lay down their arms and vacate seized buildings, pro-Russian separatists are pushing back and they're refusing to leave.

BLACKWELL: Instead, they want the government in Kiev out. Sunlen Serfaty joins us live from the White House.

Sunlen, how is the administration responding to this?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Christi, the White House is really taking a wait-and-see approach to this. Now they are really trying to see if that diplomatic agreement that was reached on Thursday will stick. Of course, that's not the case on the situation on the ground, where it does not seem to be reflecting that.

The president has called, of course, for Russia to prove that they are serious about the agreement. That includes basically reining in these pro-Russian separatists. He has warned that if they won't, the U.S. and their allies will step up with additional pressure. But it's really clear they are not there yet. I want to show the latest from what the State Department is saying.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will say, we are clear-eye about Russia's record of not implementing steps in the past so we will see if they do take steps this time. If they don't take steps, there will be consequences. But I'm not going to put a date on that. We won't know for a couple of days.


SERFATY: Now Secretary of State Kerry spoke on the phone last night with the prime minister of Ukraine and the Russian foreign minister. He called again for implementation of the agreement. And that's including the amnesty part; of course, Ukraine has agreed to give amnesty to any pro-Russian separatist who agrees to lay down their arms and leave those occupied buildings.

That is supposed to take effect today. Secretary Kerry called the next few days, Christi and Victor, very pivotal. Back to you.

PAUL: So Sunlen, let me ask you, what are congressional Republicans saying about all of this?

SERFATY: Well, it's a great question. For the first time, we saw one high-level Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, he's the highest-level ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He called yesterday for the first time for the United States to give lethal aid to the Ukrainian military. Here is what he told CNN's Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD".


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENN.: And I think it's time for us to consider anti-tank weaponry, anti-aircraft weaponry; obviously, Russia is going to far outman them. We understand that.

But we need to make sure that they understand they're going to pay a price if they do come in. And I do think it's time for us to look at doing that.


SERFATY: And many other Republicans in the Congress are calling for the White House to really ramp up the pressure on Russia to start putting additional sanctions in place now, basically to not take that wait-and-see approach. Back to you, Christi.

PAUL: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, appreciate it this morning. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: The question is, what is Russia's end game and is the U.S. doing enough to help solve the crisis? Let's bring in CNN military analyst General Spider Marks and Ambassador Nicholas Burns.

PAUL: Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My pleasure, thanks.


PAUL: Sure.

So according to NATO, there are about 40,000 Russian troops at the Ukraine border. The deal reached in Geneva didn't touch that. It didn't mention those troops.

General Marks, do you think that was a mistake?

GEN. SPIDER MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think Russia certainly has the authority to conduct exercises, which mostly these are. But they really have a really strong strategic message that they are sending not only to Ukraine but the rest of the world that they mean business, that they are in fact over watching events that are taking in Eastern Ukraine and the greater Ukraine itself.

So we certainly need to pay attention to that. I mean, when you go back to 2002 and 2003, the United States and coalition partners created a very large force in Kuwait before we moved into Iraq.

What's dissimilar right now? I don't know there is much of a difference. So it's extremely important that we watch that very, very carefully and send a very strong message to Putin that he shouldn't be provocative. He could back off right now in terms of those exercises and that would lower the tensions, I'm certain.

By and large Ambassador Burns, I want to ask you about what Senator Corker said and Sunlen Serfaty just played that sound bite, suggesting that the international community should supply Ukraine with anti-tank, anti-aircraft weaponry.

What is your thought on shifting from sanctions, from a diplomatic effort to that support?

AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS: Well, sanctions really haven't worked. The sanctions have been very modest so far. They haven't caught the attention of Putin.

The only leverage that we really have here is major sectoral and financial sanctions. If the United States and Europe were to impose those on Russia now, that would drive up the cost to President Putin. That's what he's really worried about. And he's counting on divisions between the Europeans and Americans and they do exist to forestall that.

Military aid in the Ukraine makes sense because we have got to also send a signal to President Putin that we are willing to support the continuation of this Kiev government.

And the other thing that makes sense is deploying some NATO forces into Poland, into Estonia. The administration is planning to do that at a very small level, at the company level.

But still, we have got to push back against Putin, not militarily, but through sanctions and through military assistance to Ukraine, through NATO deployments, to let him know that there's a cost to what he's doing. And right now, he doesn't feel that cost. That's one of the reasons why he's been so aggressive.

PAUL: Ambassador, I want to stick with you for a moment and let's talk about these leaflets that began showing up in Eastern Ukraine, these leaflets that were ordering Jews to register themselves and their property to these pro-Russian militias.

That sent alarm bells up to everybody. It was so disturbing to everyone watching, really, worldwide.

What do you make of what happened there earlier this week and how does that -- and ethnic tensions there, complicated diplomatic solution in this case? BURNS: Well, it's certainly objectionable given the history of what happened to the Jews in Eastern Europe in the 1940s during the Holocaust. The Russian government denies all knowledge of this. And here's where the Russians can't have it both ways. The Russians say they know nothing about these leaflets. They say they don't have any control over these ethnic Russian separatists who are holding the Ukrainian government buildings all throughout Eastern Ukraine.

And right now, we know since the agreement reached with Secretary Kerry on Thursday in Geneva, the Russian government isn't even trying to persuade those ethnic Russians, the armed men from leaving these buildings. So the Russians have to take some responsibility for what's happening because there's an abundance of efforts that the Russian government itself in involved in stimulating, that outbreaks of violence and encouraging these young men to take these buildings.

So I think that again, there's got to be a stronger pushback by Europe and the United States against what Putin is trying to do.

BLACKWELL: General Marks, I want to read this to you. It's something from a CNN op-ed. It's by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Alison -- that's Graham Allison.

He served during the Clinton administration. Here is a portion of it.

"Fortunately, full-blown civil war in Ukraine still seems unlikely mainly because one side, the Ukrainian government, appears both unable and unwilling to fight. Nonetheless, it's not hard to sketch a scenario in which war is the outcome and from that to envision a further scenario in which the U.S. finds itself drawn into a direct confrontation."

What do you make of that assessment?

MARKS: Well, very unfortunate if that were the outcome. And going back to what Ambassador Burns just indicated, if the United States has declared that activities in Ukraine are in our national interest, in some way, to not only track and to make sure that we can identify but also in a way that we can shape and try to create an outcome that's going to be successful for the European Union, for NATO and the United States.

Then there are many things we have to do to put immediate pressure on Putin. Or the inevitable outcome is Putin has -- retains complete freedom of action and Ukraine through this instigation on Putin's part and you -- the fledgling Ukrainian government's ability to try to counter this.

And again, let's be frank, they have no military ability that can counter what Putin wants to do and what Russian Spetsnaz forces and others are trying to instigate.

So it really is very, very important that the United States understand they have to apply pressure across all elements of power to get some immediate effects so that Putin feels the pressure and understands that we are going to apply influence as broadly and as viciously and as aggressively as we can because this is unacceptable.


MARKS: The precondition is the United States has to say this is in our national interest.

BLACKWELL: So even if the U.S. were to supply this lethal aid, the anti-aircraft and anti-tank, you think that the Ukrainian military is outmanned even if we give that support?

MARKS: Oh, totally. And I would disagree with Senator Corker that that's the right stuff to give. I mean, that's not his bailiwick. Let's ask DOD what they think.

But there is some support militarily that can be provided. We shouldn't be in the business of removing options a priori from the discussion, which is what the administration has done.

BLACKWELL: All right, General Spider Marks, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, thank you both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much.


PAUL: Thank you.

OK, so, take a look outside your window. It might not look like that tomorrow for Easter. Apparently, there's some pretty nasty weather out there.


BLACKWELL: Hopefully that bonnet is waterproof, if people are still wearing them. I don't know. Maybe it's yesteryear.

Also no back seat for the Duchess of Cambridge. "Top Gun" Kate takes control of a fighter jet.




BLACKWELL: Breaking news 15 minutes before the hour now. A suspected U.S. drone strike has killed 15 people, 12 of them Al Qaeda suspects and three civilians. This happened in central Yemen.

PAUL: This is a stronghold of the extremist group Al Qaeda in Yemen and the jihadists were traveling, we understand, in a vehicle and the three civilians passing in another car. Now earlier in the week remember, a chilling video of Al Qaeda fighters meeting in that same region with their leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi surfaced on the Internet. So this is that same area, we understand.

BLACKWELL: All right. We have got Barbara Starr with us. Barbara is on the phone. She's at the -- OK.

Barbara, can you tell us the importance of this, obviously, is that just a few days ago, we saw this meeting, this large meeting, the video and now this strike. There were questions about if U.S. officials even knew anything about that happening. And now, we are getting this news.

What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to both of you. The information just coming in now. So a lot to check on. U.S. officials here in Washington certainly, have not yet commented on this strike. The word all coming out of Yemen.

Now, it is interesting that meeting, that video of about 100 Al Qaeda fighters with their leader in Yemen, that was actually made, it is believed, last month, although it just surfaced and we were the first to show it on broadcast news.

Whether this is tied to that or not, we just simply don't know. What we do know is that the United States and the government of Yemen have been working together, combing through all of their intelligence, trying to keep track of these militants and getting drone strikes against them when they can, when the Yemenis and the U.S. agree to do it.

It's going to take some time, perhaps, to figure out and get confirmation of whom they might have gotten in this strike. They have to get people on the ground, get some type of intelligence or confirmation about who exactly was killed.

But I think the thing that was so compelling about that videotape we all watched is you had maybe 100 Al Qaeda fighters out there, meeting in the open for some length of time and not seeming very concerned that there would be a drone strike against them.

So, maybe there's been new intelligence since that video was shot that has allowed the U.S. to go after some of these people.

PAUL: OK. Have we -- when do you think we may hear reaction to this strike, reaction from Capitol Hill or from the White House?

STARR: You typically, because these are so sensitive, both because it is either going to be the Pentagon or the CIA that carried out the strike, so it's going to be a classified intelligence operation. You typically don't see a lot of very specific public reaction from the administration.

We are checking with our sources around Washington this morning, urgently seeing what guidance we can get about all of this. But, as you are reporting, the ministry, defense ministry officials in Yemen are saying it did happen, that they did kill a number of militants. Now, they have to figure out exactly who they might have killed.

PAUL: All right. Barbara Starr, we so appreciate you getting on the phone with us at this early hour this morning. Thank you. STARR: Sure thing.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll continue our coverage of this breaking news throughout the morning.

Suspected U.S. drone strike has killed 15 people, 12 of them Al Qaeda suspects, three civilians; that happened in central Yemen.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you. We have a stormy, stormy start in South Florida this morning. I want to show you some live pictures in Miami. I believe that camera is in Coconut Grove. That is my old stomping grounds there. They are having a very wet, wet start to the day.

There is actually a tornado watch in effect for all of South Florida until 10 o'clock this morning. So hold tight, South Florida. The rain will be moving out in the next couple of hours. Then you will have a much better afternoon.

These showers pushing right offshore from Homestead all the way to Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and even into Palm Beach and even looking for a couple of water spouts in the waters offshore there this morning. So things will improve. That expires at 10 o'clock this morning.

By noon or 1 o'clock, expect the weather to improve dramatically. We are going to be still dealing with the rain across the Carolinas over the next one or two days. Easter weekend looks a washout especially if you're spending it on the Outer Banks. We will see anywhere from 3 to 4 inches of rain across the Outer Banks as we go through the next 48 hours.

By Sunday evening, this should be pushing offshore and then we should have a better forecast for the early start of the week. So look at these rain amounts. More than 4 inches, almost 5 inches of rain possibly for the Outer Banks. We will see 0.25 inch in Charleston and about the same in Charlotte.

Atlanta, it's pretty much over for us. It rained all day yesterday. And now we will continue to see off-and-on showers as we go through the early part of today. By this afternoon, things should improve quite a bit.

Here is the big picture for your Easter Sunday. Looking good in the Northeast; the Deep South we could see some spotty showers in the West and that Plains, also the Rockies, we are going to have a possibility of severe weather for West Texas as we go through Sunday afternoon. So be watching that tomorrow as well.

BLACKWELL: All right. Jennifer Gray is reporting for us.

Jennifer, thank you so much. The hundreds of parents are waiting right now to hear what happened to their children. In our next hour of NEW DAY, we will have the latest on the search in South Korea, the Yellow Sea there, after this ferry catastrophe. The search for hundreds of people, many of them young high school students. It is happening right now.



PAUL: Well, an avalanche that hit Mt. Everest is now blamed for 13 deaths. All of those killed were Sherpas who act as guides for the mostly foreign climbers there. Rescue teams are searching for three people who are still missing. But the disaster marks the single deadliest accident at the world's highest peak. The Sherpas and climbers had been setting ropes and preparing camps, apparently, when that avalanche hit.

The man accused of shooting at drivers on Kansas City highways over the last six weeks is being held on a $1 million cash bond. Twenty- seven-year-old Mohammed Pedro Whitaker (ph) is charged with 18 felony counts. Court documents say he would fire a .38 caliber pistol from his car and then speed away.

A huge break came from someone found a box of ammo beside the road and police say Whitaker's (ph) fingerprints were on the box.

PAUL: A 19-year-old accused of urinating in Portland's water supply said, look, I didn't do it. Dallas Swanner (ph) says he relieved himself against a wall, not into the reservoir. I'm trying to clean this up for you, people, as best I can.

Regardless, the city ended up flushing away 38 million gallons of water. Now he, by the way, was cited. But he could face criminal charges and two other teens were cited for trespassing. Just that reminder. You think you are a teenager and you know what you are doing. Nope.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Don't do that.

PAUL: We all have been there. Not there, but we have been teenagers, is what I'm saying. That's what I'm saying. Family people, work with me.

Thank you so much for starting your morning with us.

BLACKWELL: Your new day starts right now.