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California Wildfires Turning Deadly; Mystery of Flight 370: Families Demanding Answers; Sterling Refuses NBA Punishment

Aired May 16, 2014 - 04:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: California wildfires turning deadly, destroying more than 10,000 acres. Thousands evacuated, homes going up in flames. The very latest from California, ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Families demanding answers in the search for Flight 370. So, who has the raw satellite data used to shape this investigation and why on earth is it not being released to the public?

ROMANS: Breaking news overnight: Donald Sterling taking the offensive against the NBA. The L.A. Clippers owner banned for life because of racist remarks. Now he's refusing to pay his multimillion dollar fine. The new twist, ahead. We didn't think he'd go quietly.

BERMAN: Yes, this is going to get complicated fast.

ROMANS: It sure is.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

What day is it?

ROMANS: It's Friday!

BERMAN: It's Friday, May 16th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

First up, ferocious fires flaring up all over San Diego County in California. One person has died, dozens of hotspots erupting. Hundreds in ashes, thousands forced to flee. The whipping winds are keeping exhausted firefighters scrambling.

I want you to listen to the voices, the terror in the voices of these men driving through a neighborhood that's just surrounded by flames.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my God!


(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: You can hear it in their voices. You can hear it in the whipping winds. This is just a terrifying situation right now.

Fires have scorched over 10,000 acres. Horrified neighbors calling these conditions just the worst they've ever seen by far.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was really terrifying. I was just thinking about, you know, my dogs at home, how am I going to get home. I was worried about my neighbors, you know, just all the families down here. It was really bad.


BERMAN: Two arson arrests have been made in connection with one of the fires, so we want to get the latest on these blazes now from Ted Rowlands in the fire zone in the community of Carlsbad.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, as firefighters wake up in the next few hours here in San Diego County, they are hoping to have a little bit easier day than they did yesterday. The flames yesterday were just simply incredible. Some of the footage from San Marcos, a fire that really broke out late in the day yesterday, were just absolutely incredible with flames shooting high up into the air with that tornado fire effect.

Incredibly, when you look at that footage, you think to yourself, there had to have been dozens and dozens of homes lost. Incredibly, only two houses right in that area where you see that neighborhood, looks like the fire's just on top of it, only two homes were lost there. A handful of structures in total have been lost. This home, obviously, is a complete loss.

The homeowners were here yesterday. It's just heartbreaking to watch. They came in, and as you can see, there is not much left. They looked around, tried to find mementos, things that were left, and quite frankly, there just isn't much here.

But firefighters have done a fantastic job of mobilizing, working together. You think back to 2003, the San Diego devastating fires there. After that happened, they re-jiggered the entire plan, and this was really a test, and so far, so good. Firefighters have literally saved thousands and thousands of homes.

That said, this firefight continues. Eight total fires, one fatality, which was reported late in the day yesterday, a homeless person who was caught in the fire here in the Carlsbad area. Other than that, no other significant injuries, a handful of structures down, fire still burning, but firefighters hoping to get the upper hand as the sun comes up -- Guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: All right. Ted Rowlands, thanks for that. And the way the fire turned so quickly, the winds just whipping it up. It's been so dry there. It's just the perfect combination, the imperfect combination for the people who live there.

BERMAN: And it's so early in the season.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right, thank for that.

A growing mystery this morning over who has the raw satellite data that was used to determine Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean. The families of the 239 people on board, they have been demanding to see this data for weeks, but now Malaysian officials claim they don't have it.

We get more on this from CNN's Jim Clancy.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The mystery of what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 remains unanswered 70 days after it vanished, but a new controversy may have been discovered. Who has the raw satellite data and why that might or might not matter?

Some family members want to see the raw satellite data in order to check whether the search operation is even in the right place as it tries to find that Boeing 777. Some aviation analysts agree. But the man in charge of the investigation insists he doesn't have it.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: The raw data is with Inmarsat, not with Malaysia, not with Australia, not with MAS. So, if there is any request for this raw data to be made available to the public, it must be made to Inmarsat.

CLANCY: Now, Inmarsat, the company that owns those satellites, insists it's already shared what it has. That information was first shown to the Malaysians in a presentation from a laptop computer, and to this day, as we heard, the Malaysians say they don't have any raw data.

Angus Houston, head of the search operation, says it may be a matter of proprietary information, and the satellite company isn't required to divulge its trade secrets.

Inmarsat shared the conclusions that were reached by a panel of experts who analyzed that raw data. That's not the same as making the raw data public. Family members in China have been the most vocal in their demands for complete transparency. They fear facts are being hidden from them. Would it make any difference?

Australian search coordinator Angus Houston, again, told CNN this, "No, I don't think so. There's been a lot of expertise surrounding their analysis, some of the best expertise in this field and they're all pretty satisfied the analysis withstands scrutiny."

That's reassuring, but it's not going to make the controversy go away. Jim Clancy, CNN.


BERMAN: Now, the latest in the search for hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Officials painting a grim picture when it comes to the prospects of them being rescued, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Nigerian military is too afraid to engage their abductors from the Boko Haram terror group.

I want to bring in Vladimir Duthiers is tracking developments live from Abuja, Nigeria.

And, Vlad, the message that we are getting here in the United States from U.S. military officials is they just don't think the Nigerians are up to this task.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, that does seem to be the case. The Nigerians have always struggled to put down this insurgency. In fact, many of the local residents, including the governor of Borno State himself, has told CNN that the Nigerian military is outmanned and outgunned when it comes to fighting Boko Haram. They typically are facing an adversary that has rocket- propelled grenade launchers, they come in armored personnel vehicles, and they even, we are told, have antiaircraft weapons.

So, when you're talking about a military that is basically going into the field with an AK-47, perhaps one magazine to stem usually something like 200 terrorists that arrive to raze a village, it becomes very challenging to do so. In addition, they do not have the capabilities of fighting a terrorist insurgency. They have plenty of peacekeeping experience. They've been peacekeepers all across the continent of Africa, but when it comes to fighting an insurgency like this, that is why they called the United States, Britain, France and even China to come in and help, John.

BERMAN: And, overnight, there were reports that the rank-and-file troops are rising up against the officers, accusing the officers of skimming off the top, not giving them the weapons and food they need. All in all, it doesn't sound like the effort that will be needed, Vlad, to find these girls fast.

DUTHIERS: Yes. In fact, John, what we know is that there have been vigilante groups that have now formed under the aegis of the military. They're called the Civilian Joint Task Force. And what they have done is, in fact, just the last couple of days repelled an attack by Boko Haram, killing some 200 fighters, according to reports.

And so, people are starting to take these matters into their own hands. They're saying, look, the people that are meant to be responsible for our safety and security are unable to do so. We have to do it ourselves. And so, they've been going into the bush armed with whatever they can get their hands on, sometimes machetes to fight these fighters. And so far, they've had some success in doing so, John.

BERMAN: Extreme bravery in the face of this terror threat.

All right. Vladimir Duthiers in Abuja, thanks for being with us.

Some news from home: V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki says he is mad as hell and is not stepping down. The retired army general, now secretary of the Veterans Affairs Administration, taking a beating from the member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. They are demanding answers following a CNN report that details dozens of patient deaths at the V.A. hospital in Phoenix following long treatment delays. Secretary Shinseki insists it's too early to be casting blame.


ERIC SHINSEKI, V.A. SECRETARY: If any of the allegations are true, they're completely unacceptable to me, to veterans, and I will tell you, the vast majority of dedicated VHA employees who come to work every day to do their best by those veterans. If any are substantiated by the inspector general, we will act.

REPORTER: Have you fired any administrators who were responsible for veterans dying due to delayed care?

SHINSEKI: We have taken action against senior leaders. I would include, yes, them being removed from V.A.


BERMAN: Since November, CNN has uncovered long treatment delays at V.A. facilities across the country and attempts by staffers to cover up these delays.

ROMANS: All right. The Pentagon releasing its first formal report on sexual harassment in the ranks. It shows the military fired or disciplined nearly 500 people over a recent 12-month period, and some 13 percent of the complaints involved repeat offenders.

In the vast majority of the cases, the victim was a young, lower ranking woman, and the offender was a senior enlisted male service member. The report comes after months of criticism from Congress and elsewhere over the military's handling of sex assaults and related crimes.

BERMAN: Partisan gridlock rearing its head again on Capitol Hill with Senate Republicans blocking progress on an $85 million tax package that would have renewed a slew of expired tax breaks. The vote on advancing the bill was 53-40, which is short of the 60 votes needed to move on.

The Republican move reflects growing anger that they have, Republican members of the Senate have with the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, who Republicans say has prevented them from offering amendments to this bill.

ROMANS: Full disclosure. The Obamas were flush in 2013, the White House releasing financial information which shows the president and first lady had assets valued as high as $7 million last year. Now, most of President Obama's income came from royalties on his three books and investments from the proceeds. Jointly held treasury notes are the first couple's most valuable assets, worth between $1 million and $5 million.

Interesting, his book revenue was less than the year before, so he's not making as much off the books as he was before. And I was really interested to see in those disclosures that he's got a mortgage rate on his house in Chicago that's too high! Mr. President, you need to refinance your mortgage!

BERMAN: It's over 5 percent.

ROMANS: It is.

BERMAN: No one has a morning over 5 percent anymore, Mr. President.

ROMANS: The first family does.

And, you know, what's interesting, Joe Biden refinanced his house.

BERMAN: I read the same thing and that popped out at me. You have to be kidding me! Interesting.

ROMANS: We're such old suburban homeowners to notice the interest rate.

BERMAN: Eleven minutes after the hour right now.

Donald Sterling not going down without a fight. According to "Sports Illustrated," the banned Los Angeles Clippers owner has told the NBA he will not pay, he will not pay a $2.5 million fine and that he plans to sue the league because he says he did nothing wrong.

Now, this news was reportedly delivered in a letter from sterling's new attorney, prominent antitrust litigator Maxwell Blecher. CNN has reached out to the NBA and Sterling and has not been able to independently confirm the report. By the way, the Los Angeles Clippers, their season is over. They lost.

ROMANS: Yes, that's true.

All right. A deadly virus spreading. Another case of MERS is confirmed. We are going to break down the very latest developments what you need to know about this after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

Some disturbing health news to report right now. A second case of the deadly MERS virus has been confirmed in the Netherlands.

And here in the United States, where there are also two confirmed cases, health care workers in Florida who came in contact with an infected Saudi resident, they have tested negative. This as the World Health Organization issues a new warning calling the spread of the virus more urgent.

Fifty-seventy cases of MERS have been identified since 2012 with nearly one-third of them fatal. That is a very high fatality rate.

I want to bring in Max Foster live from London.

Max, what can you tell us about these new cases?

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are now two cases. The first case was a 70-year-old man. He was in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of May, hospitalized on the first of may in Medina, but he wasn't diagnosed until two weeks later when he was back in the Netherlands, which really illustrates part of the problem here.

It's very hard to identify early on. Initially, it looks a bit like flu symptoms, and that's one of the problems, it takes so long to diagnose. Now, they've gone through all of the people he came in touch with and identified a woman, a family member, that's all we know, but she traveled with him, shared a room with him in Saudi Arabia, and she has tested positive as well, and they're being kept in separate hospitals in solitary confinement so they don't spread this disease any more.

We know that one of them -- we don't know which one -- went to a camel farm in Saudi Arabia and it's one-hump camels that have the most exposure to this disease. So, they're trying to track their steps back, but at the moment, all they know is they have two cases in the Netherlands, two cases in Europe.

BERMAN: They're piecing this together, this worldwide investigation, tracing where these people went who they came in contact with. You want to be very, very careful because the fatality rate here is so high.

Max Foster, great to have you with us on EARLY START. Really appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez indicted on two new counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors say he ambushed and shot to death two men in 2012 after an encounter at a Boston nightclub. Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado were shot in their car, as they shot waiting at a red light. Fernandez, who already faces murder charges for the 2013 killing of semi-pro football player, is expected to be arraigned on the new counts next week.

BERMAN: Today in California, another ex-NFL star is due in court. Former New Orleans Saint Darren Sharper is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting up to nine women in five states. He's formally charged in both Arizona and California, where he is being held without the possibility of bail since February. Sharper, who once spoke out about making the world safer for women, he could face up to 30 years in prison.

ROMANS: Today in Arkansas, marriage licenses are again being issued to same-sex couples after a circuit court judge struck down a rule barring county clerks from issuing them. Last week, the same judge invalidated a state ban on gay marriage which was upheld by the state Supreme Court. The new ruling now paves the way for gay couples to get married. The state attorney general says he plans to appeal.

BERMAN: Medical marijuana could soon come to Minnesota. State lawmakers are starting a compromised deal to legalize the drug in oil, pill and vapor form, but it explicitly bans smoking it. Eight medical conditions would qualify for treatment, including cancer, glaucoma and AIDS. Opponents fear it is a step towards legalizing recreational use. Governor Mark Dayton says he plans to sign the legislation.

ROMANS: All right. More trouble and recalls for General Motors. The automaker announcing a recall of another 2.7 million cars and trucks. The total recalls this year, 11 million recalled vehicles. Now, the latest batch includes the Corvette, the Silverado, Malibu and some Cadillac models. G.M. waited for man a decade to issue an earlier recall over faulty ignition switches leading to 13 deaths and is now the target of regulatory and criminal investigations.

BERMAN: So, express lanes could soon be coming to the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission is voting to advance rules to let Internet providers charge companies for faster web traffic. This proposal would ban providers from blocking or slowing down Web sites. Still, the effect is pretty clear here. Critics call it an affront to net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic is equal.

It's open now for 120 days of public comment. A final vote is expected later this year.

ROMANS: This is going to open up some really big fights. I mean, think about it, do you want express lanes and slow lanes on the internet or should everyone be allowed to drive where they want?

BERMAN: It's about, you know, companies like Netflix who use like 30 percent of the bandwidth out there. They want a fast track to your home and your TV set.

ROMANS: Who's going to pay for it?

BERMAN: We are! Who do you think is going to pay for it?

ROMANS: We always do.

Jay-z, Beyonce and Solange Knowles breaking their silence on this, infamous now hotel elevator video fight. They have released a statement to the "Associated Press" concerning the leaked security footage that shows Beyonce's sister attacking jay z in the elevator. The trio says, "Families have problems and we're no different." The statement says Jay-Z and Solange have apologized to each other and are moving forward as a united family. Still not known what triggered the fight.

BERMAN: The long national nightmare is over. Solange and Jay-Z have apologized to each other. We are all safe once again.

All right, millions waking up this morning to the threat of severe storms. Look at that, tornadoes, flooding and rain that just never seemed to stop. There's damage already, and we will tell you where the storms are heading, next.


BERMAN: It is going to rain and rain and rain and rain today. A very wet day on tap for much of the Northeast. Flash flooding from the western Carolinas to western Pennsylvania, flight delays possible. I might even suggest probable, from New York to Washington, D.C.

ROMANS: Yes, check ahead of time. Take a look at the violent storm that rocked Miami. Look at this.

BERMAN: Wow! >

ROMANS: This was yesterday, the winds so fierce, they sent this dumpster sliding across a parking lot into an SUV. Flooding, downed power lines reported all over Miami. A weak tornado uprooting trees and doing some damage near Miami International Airport.

Listen to a witness describe the chaos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This car or that car was off, you know, they were tilting back and forth, and it was pretty scary. There was an airplane in the air, and it sounded like it was about to, you know, fall. We were just trying to get to a small room.


BERMAN: Let's get an early look at how things will be today, besides the rain, rain and more rain.

Jennifer Gray has a look at the forecast.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Christine, much of the country will be quiet for today, aside from some showers across the Ohio Valley. We'll see a couple of showers in the Rockies as well. Still sunny and hot in southern California, hot in the Southeast as well as temperatures start to moderate just a little bit after that cold front.

Temperatures in the 80s down in South Florida. Mild, though, for Atlanta, 71 degrees, 71 in Memphis as well. Los Angeles even trying to cool off a little bit, 84 degrees but still very warm in southern California.

Sunny and dry conditions will remain that way there for tomorrow as well. It will be pretty dry for the Southeast, aside from just a couple of stray showers. Could see some showers making their way into the Northeast, though, by Saturday afternoon, so we'll be watching for those.

Temperatures, in the meantime, for tomorrow will be around 75 in Atlanta, 71 in D.C., 76 in New York City -- John and Christine.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Jennifer Gray for that. Really the big weather story in this country right now is California wildfires.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: They're spreading. They're turning deadly this morning. Look at these pictures. Thousands of people told to get out, leave everything behind. We're breaking down the latest after the break.