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Flight 370 Report Out Soon; Historic Flooding in Florida; Rob Ford Takes Leave of Absence; Execution Investigation in Oklahoma

Aired May 1, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning -- in minutes, investigators will finally reveal what they know about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

And right now, the frustrated families of those on board hoping they might get the answers that they've waited so long to get, this as search crews begin a new effort in the southern Indian Ocean, looking for any sign of the vanished jetliner. We're breaking down all the angles for you live this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news here at home. The East Coast under water this morning. Look at this historic flooding burying neighborhoods. Severe storms so dangerous, millions told just to stay home, and the rain isn't over. Indra Petersons tracking what's still to come today.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday. It's May 1st. Happy May, everyone. Five a.m. in the East.

And breaking news right now from Kuala Lumpur, where Malaysian investigators are set to release in just moments their preliminary report into why Flight 370 went missing. Now, this report has been kept secret for weeks. The government keeping it under wraps without really telling us why, but now they are set to make these early findings public.

Will Ripley is live in Kuala Lumpur.

Will, give us the latest.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, the latest is, we keep checking our phones and refreshing our e-mail inboxes to see when this report comes in. We are expecting it any moment now. But consider this -- these families, the media, the world have been waiting literally for weeks now, asking for the details of this report to be released. They haven't been released. It was supposed to be released at a press conference today. That press conference was canceled.

So, now we're being told that this report is going to come to us via e-mail some time around this time. We don't know exactly when, but we're expecting, not expecting any major surprises. We're expecting what was released to the international civil aviation organization a few days ago, which is essentially the nuts and bolts, the facts of this investigation as they are believed to be right now. The plane taking off, turning around, the satellite data showing that the plane most likely took a southern turn towards the Indian Ocean, where investigators believe the flight came to an end in the area where those Australian search teams are now searching around the clock with the Bluefin-21.

One thing that we don't expect to be in the report is this new twist in the case, this Australian company claiming that they have possibly detected wreckage in the Bay of Bengal. We know that the search chief, Angus Houston, is here meeting with Malaysian officials. His office told CNN that, basically, the Malaysians will need to decide what they want to do with this information from that Australian company. We know the two ships from Bangladesh are headed to that area right now to check things out.

But what this report, John, is going to contain is the facts as they have been reported on CNN and other outlets as they stand right now, what they believe happened to the plane.

But really, the biggest question of all, we don't have an answer to, where is this plane? No tangible evidence, nothing nearly eight weeks later.

BERMAN: All right, our thanks to you, Will Ripley in Kuala Lumpur. As we await the release of that report, it could be coming in just minutes. We'll get back to will the minute it comes out.

ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN aviation analyst Jeff Wise.

Jeff, you know, where is the plane and what caused it to disappear? Two questions that will likely not be answered in this report.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, right. I mean, that would be amazing but so unlikely. I mean, I think even if we take all of the information that's available to Malaysian authorities -- obviously, that doesn't add up to finding the plane, because they haven't done it, and it's really starting to seem increasingly unlikely that their current undertaking will.

BERMAN: What, then, Jeff, will you be looking for in this report? Because this report has been highly anticipated by the families, by people who have investigated air disasters before. There will be some facts in there. So, what will be the first things you look for?

WISE: Very first thing we're looking for, and really, the brass ring we want to grab is that Inmarsat data, that famous set of pings that is really our only clue to what ultimately happened to this plane. And if they've put in the full set of data with all the full accuracy that we believe that they have, that could be huge. And also, even better yet would be if they could include the details of how they performed this analysis that they say excludes the northern arc and proves it has to be in the southern ocean.

BERMAN: Sort of open sources so scientists and analysts around the world can get the information, dig in and gain confidence in it.

WISE: Absolutely, that would be amazing.

ROMANS: Do you think it will raise doubts or end doubts, what we find in this report?

WISE: Well, we hope that it's really going to be as forthright and full in its disclosure as it should be. Obviously, one of the big problems of this investigation so far is that the information, the Malaysian authorities have been so stingy in releasing what they know, and that's allowed so many unverified reports to come out.

There's a whole flood of unverified information. If we could just, you know, cut through all that and get right to the truth, that would be great.

BERMAN: Jeff, let's talk about the search today, because the Bluefin- 21 has been at it again after taking a couple days off. The search area, according to the "Wall Street Journal," has now moved. Initially, for the first several trips now, the first, whatever, 17 trips down to the bottom, it was searching one day's set of pings.

There were pings found under water, the sonar detector, over two days. It's been searching the area with the later pings. Now, we understand it's going to go back and search the area of the earlier pings. Is that significant?

WISE: Well, I mean, it just seems like these pings are all that they have. I mean, if the pings -- if it's not correlated with the pings, it could be anywhere. The ocean is huge. And normally, you would never bother to search the bottom of the ocean until you have some indication from the surface that it's actually there, because it's such a slow process.

You know, when you're flying over the surface, you can see for hundreds of miles. Under the water, it's more like a few hundred yards at a time. So, if the pings don't come from the black boxes, then, really, it's a hopeless quest to search the bottom.

ROMANS: You know, I'm almost hesitant to ask this question because so many people have cast doubt on the GeoResonance's claims that they have seen in the Bay of Bengal below 1,000 meters they have found a plane. What do you think of that?

WISE: It seems too good to be true, and the more you look at this company, the less substantial it seems to be. Nobody can really make anything of the technology that can see minerals three miles of ocean. There seems to be no way it could be true.

And the company itself says it's been finding things since 2003, but they didn't even register their Web site until 2011, and they say they found this World War II ship in 2005. But in fact, that ship's never been found.

So, you know, no real, hard information in the website. We're getting a lot of sketchy and really implausible sounding claims about the technology.

So, it seems that this rather kind of rogue outfit somehow managed to get a lot of press attention for something that seems very dubious, frankly.

BERMAN: Jeff Wise, great to have you here this morning. We will get back to this issue the minute the report comes out, and we are expecting it this hour.

ROMANS: Get your analysis of that. Thanks, Jeff.

BERMAN: There is a lot of other news this morning. Much of the East Coast waking up drenched this morning with flooding reported from Florida all the way up here to the Northeast and the worst part yet, this is not over. Your Thursday may be yet another washout.

ROMANS: The Gulf Coast hit the hardest with historic rainfall. Look at this in the Pensacola area, nearly two feet since Sunday, destroying roads, flooding homes.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and John, residents here along Piedmont Road in Pensacola, just south of the airport, tell me that it was the middle of the night when pieces of their road started slopping up on to their front lawn, and that's when they knew things were not going very well in this neighborhood. Several homes took in almost three feet of water along this stretch here. And now that the floodwaters have really started to recede, people are able to get inside their home, start the cleanup process and assess the damage.

Many roadways here in the Pensacola area were heavily damaged by these floodwaters and the massive amount of rain that fell for almost 12 hours here in this region, and it just caused some serious destruction. Scenic highway, a very picturesque roadway on the eastern side of Pensacola, a big, gaping hole washed away. Several cars fell into a crater there. And that happened, and that scene, not to that magnitude, but many roadways were washed away by these floodwaters.

In some neighborhoods we were in, we saw some houses that had taken up to five feet of water, and those waters had already receded. So that was good news, but that cleanup process will take weeks and weeks, and then we'll also see that fixing up many of the roadways that were so severely damaged. That is a process that could take several months.

Christine and John, back to you.


ROMANS: All right, thanks, Ed, for that.

Also breaking overnight from Pensacola, an apparent gas explosion leaving about 100 prisoners and officers hurt at the county jail. The building partially collapsed. Not clear at this point if the weather was responsible, but officials say, John, that the jail did suffer significant flooding.

BERMAN: Evacuations under way right now in Laurel, Maryland, after a dam opened, leaking thousands of gallons of water. I want you to take a look at this nearby in Baltimore. That's a sinkhole that just swallowed up cars. Several nearby homes had to be evacuated. Luckily, amazingly, no injuries were reported.

And I want to take a look at this. This is why everyone says, do not drive through standing water. This man had to be rescued after his SUV got stuck in about 4 feet of water near Bowie, Maryland. He is OK, but as you can see, a mess there. People there had to go in and rescue him.

ROMANS: Yes, if the water's standing, please, do not drive through it.

The same situation on the other side of the Potomac in Virginia. The water wasn't quite as high in Alexandria, near the capital, but the risk of flooding still high this morning.

BERMAN: Some creeks overflowing the banks in Delaware. The water flowed into the streets. Driving there very difficult. More than 4 inches of rain fell in that area throughout the day.

ROMANS: All this rain coming from the same storm system that left 37 people dead across the south. Several of those fatalities in Alabama. That state's governor, Robert Bentley, toured the damage and said he was grateful that the number of lives lost in Alabama wasn't higher, though the damage and destruction very severe.

BERMAN: Our Indra Petersons tracking the storms for us this morning -- Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unbelievable. We're talking about heavy amounts of rain that really fell just since Sunday.

I mean, take a look at this, devastating when you talk about rainfall rates that are as high as five inches per hour. Many places like Pensacola saw over 17 inches of rain. Radar indicated, looks like some places could have seen as much as 22, even 24 inches of rain, unbelievable. And of course, that wasn't the only place it rained. We saw a lot of flooding into the Northeast.

Now, these totals don't look as impressive as what you maybe saw down into the Southeast, but we're still talking about those very heavy rainfall rates. A lot of rain in a short period of time, enough that we broke the daily record. New York City saw about 3.94 inches, Philly, also seeing over 4 inches of rain.

Currently still talking about rain across the area, and unfortunately, we'll still be talking about even more rain into the Northeast and Southeast as we go throughout the day today. It's going to feel a little bit different. We're behind the warm front, so it is warmer out there this morning. But nonetheless, we're still looking at showers, 1 to 2 inches, so not as much as yesterday.

But, still, into the Southeast, we could see anywhere up to four inches of rain as we go throughout the day, especially into the afternoon again as the cold front tries to push through as well.

So, again, this morning warm, looking at those temperatures being a lot better than yesterday into the Northeast, but behind the cold front, you're going to start to see temperatures drop. By tomorrow, you're going to see everything kind of moderate a little bit. Just keep in mind, we're focusing a lot really on to the Northeast and the Southeast.

But out towards the West, we're still talking about record high temperatures and high winds and a lot of fire danger, guys.

ROMANS: Yes, two extremes, right? The two extremes on the two coasts. Thanks, Indra.

A state of emergency after a train carrying thousands of gallons of oil derails and explodes in Virginia. This morning, the cleanup begins. Investigators are just trying to figure out just what went so terribly wrong there.

BERMAN: And then there is this.

ROMANS: Oh, my.

BERMAN: Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, the man who admitted to smoking crack once, overnight he took a sudden leave of absence. We will tell you why, next.


ROMANS: Breaking news overnight, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford taking a leave of absence. The admitted crack smoker has acknowledged he has a substance abuse problem and in a statement says he will have to take a break to get help. This as the "Globe and Mail" newspaper reports that the existence of a new video, allegedly showing him smoking crack-cocaine again, last weekend. Ford is running to try to earn another term as Toronto's mayor, but remember, the city council stripped him of almost all of his powers.

BERMAN: I want to know what people think about this, because this has happened in plain sight of millions and millions of people. So at this point, are we dealing with the tragedy, with a man who needs serious, serious help? Clearly, that is the case. This man needs serious, serious help. But you know, we've all been making jokes about this?

I mean, I don't know. It's unbelievable to see a fall like this in plain sight. So, tweet us, send us messages on Facebook. Dying to know what you think about this.

Other big story to tell you about. In Virginia, cleanup crews are racing to contain the damage after a train carrying crude oil derailed, bursting into flames in downtown Lynchburg. About 50,000 gallons of oil is unaccounted for, and some believed to have spilled into the James river. The city declared a state of emergency. Booms have been set up to try to contain the spill. Luckily, no injuries there reported.

ROMANS: This morning, hundreds of people are being allowed back in their homes in the hills east of Los Angeles. Mandatory evacuation orders lifted near Rancho Cucamonga as high winds shift again after driving this fast-moving brush fire close to homes. Hundreds of firefighters on the scene trying to contain this blaze that grew from 20 acres to 1,000 acres in just hours.

BERMAN: This morning, activists say Oklahoma is not doing enough to figure out just what went wrong during an execution that left a death row inmate, a convicted killer, shaking and talking for 40 minutes after he was supposed to die.

Convicted murderer Clayton Lockett was injected with lethal drugs when one of his veins is said to have ruptured. It left him writhing in full view of the witnesses there before he eventually did die of a heart attack.

Now, there is another execution that had been scheduled. That is on hold in Oklahoma. And the governor there is pledging to figure out what happened.


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: Now, activists in an independent investigation and autopsy fear the state will not be transparent. They also want to know just where the state did buy the lethal injection drugs, something that state law keeps secret.

ROMANS: A lot of folks this morning are talking about the victim in this case and also in the case of the man whose execution was delayed, pointing out that there's been so much discussion about maybe this was a botched execution, but what about those 40 minutes plus that the young woman who was murdered, she suffered?

And even in the victim impact statements, so interesting that someone noted that the death penalty would be too good for this criminal because he had prolonged the murder of this woman for so long. Eerie, eerie. I mean, it's just an eerie detail to the story.

BERMAN: Whatever questions this raises about executions and how they're carried out, it is a separate issue from the heinous nature of the crimes that these two men were convicted for.

ROMANS: All right. New details this morning about the status of Obamacare. 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, 67 percent. Now, the administration's not releasing its figures. Many say the program actually needs 80 percent payment to remain solvent.

BERMAN: Senate Republicans blocked a debate on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. The wage hike has become a top election issue for Democrats who pushed for the vote, this as President Obama urged supporters to put pressure on Republicans with pretty much a party-line vote. It was 54-42 with Republicans arguing that the rate hike would cost jobs.

ROMANS: London stocks trading higher. The rest of Europe is closed for May Day. Asia closed mixed. Here on Wall Street, futures pointing to a higher open after a record close for the Dow yesterday. The Dow's first record close this year. The last high close was the last day of last year.

You can thank the Fed for this rally. The central bank gave a vote of confidence to investors that the economy is improving, even after news yesterday that the U.S. economy grew just 0.1 percent in the first quarter. That's essentially stalling. We're calling it the frozen quarter, frozen the quarter, not the movie.

BERMAN: Let it go?

ROMANS: Meantime, a big deal may be brewing in TV land. Reports this morning say AT&T looking to buy DirecTV. The combined company would have about 26 million users, just shy of the 30 million users Comcast would have if its deal to buy time Warner goes through, Time Warner Cable. AT&T declined to comment to CNN.

BERMAN: Glad you brought up May Day. How do you celebrate?

ROMANS: By coming to work and sitting next to you.

BERMAN: That is some party!

All right, 20 minutes after the hour.

Frustrated families of those on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, they are set to receive new information from investigators. The world set to receive new information from investigators as this report finally might be released within minutes, which could detail what investigators know about why that flight went down. We're live in Beijing with the families and what they want to hear, next.


ROMANS: We are waiting this morning for a preliminary report to be released any moment now on the disappearance of Flight 370. Malaysian officials making public their early findings of what happened to this jet that's been missing now for nearly two months.

Families aboard that flight, they have been demanding to see this report for weeks. And again, we are waiting for it at any moment.

David McKenzie with those families in Beijing.

What are the families saying this morning, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're saying they want any information they can get to get some clarity on this terrible situation, Christine, that they've found themselves in these past almost two months.

You know, I was here the very day that plane disappeared here on the spot. The family members were in shock, brought to this hotel behind me, and they've been stuck there ever since. They are going to have the beginning of this briefing, they say, in the next ten minutes or so, from Malaysian Airlines authority. We don't know if that will go beyond the scope of this initial report that they've been asking for.

But in recent days, they've had very specific, technical questions. They questioned the findings of Inmarsat, the satellite company, saying that the plane went down in the southern ocean. And, of course, it's human nature to cling on to some kind of hope.

But with Australian authorities saying that it could be at least eight months until they find some kind of wreckage, if they find it, the question now is, what are these family members going to do? And they are worried for the next few weeks that they'll potentially be asked to leave this location -- Christine.

ROMANS: So, waiting for new information, but still very, very concerned about what happens next.

David McKenzie with the families this morning for us in Beijing -- thanks, David.

BERMAN: As we said, we could be minutes away from the release of this report, so stay with us. We will bring that to you the minute it happens. We'll have much more on the breaking news as the official investigation -- the preliminary report becomes public after weeks and weeks of waiting. Live, team coverage, next.