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East Coast Floods; Mystery of Flight 370: New Report; New Trouble for Controversial Toronto Mayor; Separatists Now Control Two Eastern Regions

Aired May 1, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Record rainfall leaving parts of the East under water this morning. Severe storms destroying homes, roads, anything else in their path. Millions -- millions waking up to devastation, and it's not over yet. Indra Petersons tracking today's storms for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning as well. New information in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Investigators just about to release their findings to the public in minutes. So, will the report satisfy the families of the missing who have been waiting for weeks and weeks for answers? And could this new information help crews in the search for the vanished jetliner? We have live team coverage coming up.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you, despite the fact that I was soaking wet about 30 minutes ago.

ROMANS: You dried out.

BERMAN: I did dry out.

Up first, we're going to begin with the awful, awful weather plaguing the eastern part of the country. Heavy rain causing flooding from Florida, all the way up the East Coast. And today's forecast is wet and dangerous for millions and millions of people with even more rain expected.

ROMANS: There's breaking news this morning from Pensacola, Florida, a city hit hard by flooding, and now authorities say the county jail was rocked by an apparent gas explosion overnight. Hundreds of prisoners were in the building at the time. About 100 of them hurt. Others are being moved to other jails. It's not clear if weather, if that flooding was responsible.

And take a look at frightening pictures also from Pensacola.

BERMAN: Wow. Wow.

ROMANS: That part of the Gulf Coast simply slammed. Nearly 2 feet of rain since Sunday.

BERMAN: What a mess.

ROMANS: Washing out roads, breaking water mains, filling homes, leaving residents scrambling for safety.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's trees down. Turn down and you can't go any further and then I get this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water was coming in through our garage and then through the back doors and flowing in out this door.

So, we just have water in the house. We were getting a chair in the attic, didn't know exactly what was going to happen.


ROMANS: Some of them had to be rescued in boats. Water is receding now, but you know what? The cleanup's going to take weeks.

BERMAN: We have breaking news also right now from Maryland, where evacuations are under way in Laurel after a dam started leaking there. Heavy rainfall also blamed for this in Baltimore. That's just a huge sinkhole swallowing up cars.

Fire crews had to evacuate several nearby homes. Luckily, no injuries reported.

I want you to take a look at -- if you want to see what not to do when you see high water on the road. This man right there, he drove into it. He got stuck. That's near Bowie in Maryland. He's said to be OK, but he tried to do this and had to be rescued.

ROMANS: Even in an SUV, a big truck. Look at that.

All right, in Virginia, standing water was the problem on roads over the Potomac in Alexandria. Heavy rain building up and driving creeks right out of their banks, the risk of flooding still very high there this morning. Be careful.

BERMAN: In Delaware, more than four inches fell, causing big lakes right on the street. Some still thought it was OK to drive through, like that person. A very, very bad idea.

ROMANS: You know, I was on my way to work this morning and saw a whole line of cars all stalled out in the standing water on a highway.

Indra Petersons tracking the storm for us this morning.

Is it going anywhere?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is not going anywhere just yet. You know, just to that note, I don't think people realize, more people die from flooding and trying to drive through floodwaters than they do in any other severe weather. It is absolutely dangerous. Please, do not do it this morning, guys.

I know there's definitely a lot of standing water out there and it's not what you want to be doing, especially talking about rainfall amounts that looks like this. I mean, check this out, unbelievable, we're talking 18, almost 19 inches of rain in places like Alabama in through Florida yesterday.

Now, into the Northeast, the numbers weren't as impressive when you just look at the number itself, but let me tell you, if you were here, you felt it. We're talking about very heavy rainfall rates and record daily rainfall records.

New York City, talking about almost 5 inches of rain in just one day. All that has produced a lot of flooding from the Northeast straight down to the Southeast, and still, more rain is on the way. You can currently see it is still even raining at this hour.

You see periods of heavy rain, maybe a little break and then more heavy rain right behind that. That is going to be the situation as we go throughout the day. It does feel a little bit warmer out there this morning. We're behind a warm front.

But eventually, the cold front continues to swing on through. The same front we've been watching for the last several days, that guy is still onshore from the Northeast down to the Southeast, still producing another two to four inches into the Southeast. So, there it is, very easy to see behind the warm front here today. You'll see some warmer temperatures.

Once that cold front slides finally offshore overnight tonight in through tomorrow, we will start to see those temperatures back off a little bit, but still slight showers possible in the forecast. So, that's the Northeast and the Southeast. Definitely want to pay attention to the west coast because it's a different type of problem. They're talking about record heat out there, temperatures extremely high -- 90s, even 100s, triple-digit heat, plus, we're talking about winds anywhere from 40 to 60 miles per hour, in the mountains as high as 100 miles per hour, making fire danger very, very tough.

I mean, the flights can't even get up there to try to fight the fires from the air.

BERMAN: Perilous moments out there. We'll keep an eye on that, for sure.

Indra, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, we're just minutes away from new details on what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Malaysian government finally set to reveal its preliminary report, which they've kept secret for weeks, on what its investigation into the disappearance shows.

Our Will Ripley is live in Kuala Lumpur.

Will, what do you think? Are we expecting any major revelations in this report? WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you said it, John, when you said that this is highly anticipated. These families have been demanding this literally for weeks and weeks. We're now, we believe, just minutes away, although we don't really know for sure.

Things can change quickly here in Kuala Lumpur. There was a press conference that was scheduled for today. That has been canceled. So, now we know we'll be receiving this preliminary report via e-mail, so literally, we are clicking refresh several times a minute to see when this report comes in. As soon as it does, we'll share it with you.

As for what's going to be in the report, John, we're not expecting any major surprises. We know that a few days ago, there was a report submitted to the International Civil Aviation organization, and we think that this report will be similar. We think it's going to lay out the basic facts, the facts that have already been proven and the facts that are assumed based on satellite data and this international team of experts here in Kuala Lumpur, who basically, essentially calculated where they think the plane went after it took that turn and started heading south, skirting radar, you know, potentially dropping in altitude.

There's a lot of unanswered questions that we may have answered in this report, John. We'll just have to wait and see when it comes in.

BERMAN: And, of course, all of this begs the question, Will, if there's no major revelations, as you say, we're probably not expecting any, why on earth did the Malaysian government keep it secret for so long and what finally caused them to release it now?

RIPLEY: That's the question we've been asking. Even Richard Quest asked the Malaysian prime minister, is there something embarrassing in this report? Why has it been held back, in spite of the demands of these families who just want something they can hold in their hand, some sort of report so they can read the facts that we've been talking about, that there's been a lot of speculation about.

And we haven't really gotten a solid answer, other than that they've just been going over the details in it to make sure there's nothing in it that would compromise this investigation. So, once we get the report, I guess that will give us some of the answers, but still a lot of questions. Why did they wait so long?

BERMAN: All right. Will Ripley for us in Kuala Lumpur -- again, we could be minutes away from getting this report. Will will bring it to us the minute he gets his hands on it.

Thanks, will.

ROMANS: So, now to the search for this jet. The search officially in a new phase now.

Just minutes ago, the Bluefin-21 unmanned sub finished its 17th mission, scouring a larger area after turning up nothing in its initial search. As the Australian heading up the hunt is heading to Malaysia to talk with officials about the next steps. Miguel Marquez live in Perth with that part of the story for us.

Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Christine.

Well, it is good news that the Bluefin is back in the water. It took two days off because of bad weather out there, and it sounds like conditions are improving, so we expect that it will get to go down for its 18th mission fairly soon.

It is searching an area north of where it was searching before. It completed an area, a 10-kilometer radius around the second ping that was heard. Now, it's moving north toward where the first ping was picked up. They still believe that this is the best area for them to find anything related to the plane, and they believe this is the most likely area where the plane went down.

They're likely downloading the material from the Bluefin now. We hope to get a readout on whether or not they found anything. Certainly, that would be enormous news if they did. We suspect that even if they did find something with the Bluefin on the side sonar radar, they'd want to refit it with a camera, send it down, take pictures, much like in the Flight 447 Air France situation.

With regard to GeoResonance, this company that says they may have found the plane in the Bay of Bengal, things are pretty much where we left them yesterday. The company is still refusing to allow any investigators or anyone to have a peek at their technology.

The Bangladeshis have sent a couple frigates into the area where they say the plane was, but at this point this far on, it's probably not going to prove very helpful. They would probably have to get a submersible down there to prove whether or not the plane is there or not. That is a very, very difficult thing to do.

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: And a lot of discussion about whether that's a distraction or whether that's just following every single lead.

Miguel, thank you so much.

Families have been demanding more information from investigators. Could this report answer their questions?

David McKenzie is in Beijing. He's going to join us with what the families are saying in just a few minutes, so stay with us for that.

BERMAN: And, of course, breaking overnight -- Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, who's admitted to smoking crack in the past, he finds himself in a new controversy overnight. He has left office, at least temporarily, for alcohol reasons. This may not be the worst of his troubles.

We'll tell you what we're learning new this morning, coming up next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Breaking news overnight: Toronto's mayor is taking a break. Rob Ford saying in a statement overnight he has a substance abuse problem and will take a leave of absence to get help. This as Toronto's "Globe and Mail" newspaper says there's a new video allegedly showing Ford smoking crack-cocaine.

Ford admitted last year to smoking crack, said he has a problem with alcohol. The problem with alcohol is what he admits to and says he has bad judgment when he drinks, and then, hence, the drug use. Right now, he's campaigning for another term in office, despite being stripped of almost all of his powers by Toronto's city council.

BERMAN: A man in serious need of help. Hope he gets it.

This morning, authorities trying to contain a major oil spill in Lynchburg, Virginia, after a train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames. Authorities believe some of the oil may have spilled into the James River, which feeds the water supply for Richmond. Some 50,000 gallons of oil unaccounted for. Booms have now been set up to try to contain that spill.

ROMANS: Firefighters still on the ground this morning in the hills east of Los Angeles where a major wind-driven fire has grown to 1,000 acres near Rancho Cucamonga, but hundreds are allowed back inside their homes this hour with evacuation orders lifted. Voluntary orders are still in effect.

BERMAN: There are calls this morning for big changes in how Oklahoma and many other states execute inmates, this after a convicted murder, Clayton Lockett, was left writhing in pain and talking 40 minutes after being given drugs meant to kill him. The state says one of his veins ruptured and he eventually died of a heart attack. The governor is promising to take a close look at what went wrong.


GOV. MARY FALLIN (R), OKLAHOMA: I expect the review process to be deliberate, to be thorough, and it will be the first step in evaluating our state's execution protocols.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a fundamental standard in this country, that even when the death penalty is justified, it must be carried out humanely, and I think everyone would recognize that this case fell short of that standard.


BERMAN: The governor's put another execution on hold for now, but activists are demanding an independent investigation and autopsy, saying they fear the state will not be transparent. Now, we should say, because a lot of people are weighing in online about this, on Facebook, on Twitter.

Whatever questions this raises about how executions are implemented, there's no question about the severity of the crime this man committed. He was convicted of just heinous, heinous acts.

ROMANS: And victim rights advocates want to point out that, look, the woman, the young woman who he killed, was convicted of murdering, had a very slow, painful, terrifying death, and they point out it's kind of eerie that even in the victim impact statements when this guy was sentenced, many said the death penalty's not good enough for him because he made this woman suffer so badly. Eerie in the end that he suffered, and as a society, we're trying to make sure we do this in the most humane manner possible.

BERMAN: Nevertheless, it does raise all kinds of questions about the implementation of the death penalty.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right, it seems many new Obamacare enrollees are paying their premiums. New data collected by the House Energy and Commerce Committee shows 67 percent of those who signed up for coverage have paid their first monthly premium. Now, the administration isn't tracking that data itself. The committee had to reach out to insurers for the information.

But it needs to be, what, you think 80 percent.

BERMAN: Eighty percent is generally the number they said that they would like to hit, or they were counting on, 67 percent would be lower than they've been talking before for some time. But the White House is not releasing its numbers on how much, how many people they think have signed up or officially paid.

All right. Quarter to the hour right now.

Raising the minimum wage has stalled now in the Senate. Senate Republicans have blocked debate over increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The vote fell along party lines with Republicans arguing a wage hike could cost jobs. Increasing the minimum wage is one of the president's top priorities this midterm election year.

ROMANS: It didn't take much to get there, folks, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average starting the day at a record high, 16,580. It was up about 45 points yesterday, the first record of the year.

Remember, last year was all records. This year has not been. This is the first one. Investors shrugging off the Federal Reserve's announcement it will keep pulling back its bond-buying programs, with the economy slowly recovering, the latest reading of GDP was really ugly. It didn't seem to hurt Wall Street, though.

There was almost stalled growth in the first quarter, pushed down by the bad winter in much of the country. But investors, they think that was a rearview mirror number and that this quarter's going to be better.

BERMAN: It's a record high, just like me.

ROMANS: No, that means nothing, right. Relief could soon be coming to families of those on board missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We're minutes away from receiving new information from investigators on what really happened to that vanished jetliner. We're live in Beijing with that part of the story next.


ROMANS: We are just moments away from seeing for ourselves just what Malaysian officials believe happened to Flight 370 -- a preliminary report due out at any moment now for those who had loved ones on the flight, it could answer a lot of questions or leave them with even more.

David McKenzie is with the families in Beijing.

David, what are the families saying? How important do they think this report is to see at this hour?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they just don't know, Christine, and certainly, they're jaded after weeks of waiting, stuck in this hotel behind me. What they want really is closure, some kind of concrete information that can give them a solid answer, and they haven't got that, of course. None of us have.

So, in the essence of closure, they want as much information as they can get. And in recent days, they've been asking very technical questions of the Malaysian technical team here in Beijing to try and kind of unpack the details of the raw data that led to the decision to say that this plane went down in the southern ocean.

You know, one family member, interestingly, said -- well, if this data is so good, why did they not find the plane after weeks of searching with all manner of technology? So, there's a lot of skepticism, a lot of frustration, and certainly, a very heavy police presence here in Beijing.

Our cameras, in fact, not allowed inside, but from what I've learned, there's many police in that room, and also, they expect to be briefed by the Malaysian airline authority -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. David McKenzie in Beijing -- of course, when we get that report, we will go through it and bring that to everyone live. Thank you, David.

BERMAN: All right, happening right now, have pro-Russian militants officially taken over eastern Ukraine? Is this a done deal? You will be shocked to hear who is saying it just might be. We'll take you there live, next.


BERMAN: "Help us," that is the word this morning from Ukraine's acting president, who says security forces likely cannot stop pro- Russian separatists who have now taken over two provinces near the Russian border. He says all his government can do now is try to stop the violence from spreading -- stunning words from the Ukrainian leader.

Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is live in Slaviansk, Ukraine.

Nick, again, this is coming from the leader of Ukraine, who says that his own troops now can do nothing to stop pro-Russian separatists, so, what's the reaction on the ground there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to some degree, things have carried on as always with pro-Russian militants having the momentum, clearly, in the towns they've seized in the past two days. There's no sign of them stopping. They seem to be moving to their own timetable.

The Ukrainian security forces, as we've seen, are in evidence around where I'm standing, and they moved in against one checkpoint that we saw just yesterday, but they only got about 15 meters away from it. Very few shots, if any, were fired, and they turned around. So, we're not clear what their agenda is here. They are very limited in what they actually do in this, what should be week two, almost, of the so- called anti-terror operation here.

But the question I think people are asking themselves is why did Oleksander Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine, make such the bold statement, saying we are effectively helpless? While the put the blame on the security forces here, saying they're out of control, they weren't doing their job properly. He fired a number of key officials.

He put the army on a full state of readiness, saying the Russians were ready to invade, and I think a lot of that is posturing ahead of the May 25th presidential elections. He knows much of the country cannot be reclaimed through force, partly because of the Russian forces across the border ready to intervene if he tries to do that, but he also has to explain to the rest of Ukraine why it's going disastrously here.

All eyes on the new self-described administration here in the Donetsk people's republic. What do we want? Do they want a referendum on May 11th, like they've signaled for a number of days here? Do they want negotiations to establish some federal status within Ukraine?

That's still not clear. We're waiting to hear that, because frankly, at this point, it looks unlikely that the Ukrainian military is going to have the will or even the firepower to move in here and change what's happening on the ground. And, of course, also, we have in the last 24 hours seen better equipped Russian militants popping up in around Slaviansk.

Back to you, John.

BERMAN: And maybe Ukraine's leader says he's lost control of the East, maybe because it's simply obvious that it's true.

Nick Paton Walsh in Slaviansk, in Ukraine this morning. Great to see you. ROMANS: Ballot counting under way this morning in Iraq after parliamentary elections there called mostly a success, with only limited violence reported across the country. Some 12 million people -- that's about 60 percent of registered voters -- turned out to cast their votes in the first major election since U.S. troops left three years ago. An exit poll seems to show Nouri al Maliki's party as the front-runners to retain power, election results expected in about 30 days.

BERMAN: This morning, the death toll has risen again as divers retrieve bodies from on board the capsized South Korean ferry. Today, one more body was removed, raising the death toll to 213, 89 people are still missing. This as the coast guard is warning they may not be able to recover every missing body because of the conditions on that ship, which sank two weeks ago.

ROMANS: And the cell phone calls from the kids to their parents were in the background, you can hear, "stay where you are, it's safer if you stay where you are," just chilling. Those families, really feel for them.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.