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Ten Thousand Acres Torched in California; Flight 370 Controversy; Sterling Refuses NBA Punishment; Search for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls; Second Case of MERS in Netherlands

Aired May 16, 2014 - 04:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: California burning. Ten thousand acres torched, homes destroyed, communities just devastated. This morning, firefighters engaged in a dangerous battle as these flames turned deadly.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Mounting questions but no answers in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Families demanding investigators turn over evidence used to frame their search, but they say they don't have it. The mystery of Flight 370 takes another mysterious turn.

BERMAN: Donald Sterling taking on the NBA, refusing to pay their fine for the racist remarks that got him banned for life. The L.A. Clippers owner could now be launching a new legal fight. We'll have the very latest ahead.

ROMANS: We are still in the early going of that story.

BERMAN: It does seem like that. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Let's start with the big story today, deadly, destructive fires scorching San Diego County. One person this morning is dead, dozens of hotspots erupting without warning overnight. Dozens of new hotspots, homes torched, thousands forced to evacuate. Two suspected arsonists are now in custody.

Listen to the terror in the voices of these men, these men driving through a neighborhood engulfed in flames.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, there it is right there. There it is right there! Holy (EXPLETIVES DELETED)

Oh, my God!

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: You can just hear that ferocious wind. Fires have now scorched over 10,000 acres. Horrified neighbors calling these conditions the worst they've ever seen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pretty much collapsed on the ground. It just seems so surreal. Like, I felt like a bomb hit or something, because everything's completely destroyed. Just so sad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a three-bedroom, four-bath. Everything was in its place. I had everything that I possibly could want. It was absolutely gorgeous, and now it's all gone. All gone. What can I say? It's absolutely all gone, finished.


ROMANS: Just heartbreaking, and dangerous.

Let's get the latest from Ted Rowlands in the fire zone. He is in the community of Carlsbad for us this morning -- Ted.


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)

BERMAN: As the sun does come up, we hope they get the relief they need, as Ted says, as this day moves on.

Thirty-four minutes after the hour right now.

Some other news to tell you about -- a growing mystery this morning over just who has the raw satellite data that was used to determine Malaysia airlines flight 370, determine where it went down in the southern Indian Ocean. The families of the 239 people on board have been demanding to see it for weeks.

But now, Malaysian officials claim they don't have it. What on earth does that mean?

Let's get more 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: A lot of questions to be answered on that today.

Now, the latest on the search for hundreds of kidnapped Nigerian school girls. Officials in Washington say they at this point doubt that these girls will get rescued any time soon, telling Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Nigerian military is too afraid to engage their abductors from the Boko Haram terror group.

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

And what the Senate committee was told, Vlad, is that the Nigerian military just right now doesn't have the capabilities or the capacity to get this job done.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, and it's sort of astounding. In one of the largest, most populous country in Africa, the enormous wealth that is inherent in Nigeria, tons of money coming in from petroleum, this is the reality, that they are not able to fight Boko Haram effectively.

The governor of Borno State telling us that the military is, in fact, outmanned and outgunned when it comes to taking on the terrorists. In fact, we know that Boko Haram, when they come to raze a village or when they come to abduct children, they are usually arriving in armored personnel vehicles. They have rocket-propelled grenade launchers and even antiaircraft weapons.

And so, you're talking about a courageous group of soldiers, but typically, they have one AK-47, one magazine, and you're asking them to take on this very real, this very formidable enemy.

And in addition to that, with what I think the United States, what you heard in the U.S. yesterday, is that this area where these girls are supposedly taken is a very well-fortified Boko Haram stronghold, John. Any kind of rescue operation into that forest could lead to disaster, could lead to the hostages being killed, and certainly would lead to high casualties in the Nigerian military, John.

BERMAN: That was serious concerns among U.S. military officials whether the U.S. even right now would have the capabilities or capacity to pull this off.

Vladimir Duthiers live for us in Abuja, thanks very much.

ROMANS: Embattled V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki says he's mad as hell and is not resigning. The retired army general getting hammered by members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. They want answers after a CNN report detailing dozens of patient deaths at the V.A. hospital in Phoenix because of long treatment delays. Shinseki insisting it's too early to be casting blame. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


SHINSEKI: I would include -- yes, them being removed from V.A.


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

BERMAN: The Pentagon releasing its first formal report on sexual harassment in its ranks. The report shows that the military fired or disciplined nearly 500 people over a recent 12-month period and some 13 percent of the complaints involved repeat offenders. The vast majority of cases, the victim was a young, lower-ranking woman, and the offender was a senior enlisted male service member. The report comes months after criticism from Congress and elsewhere over the military's handling of sex assaults and related crimes.

ROMANS: Senate Republicans blocking a bill that would renew expired tax breaks for millions of businesses and individuals. The vote on advancing that will was 53-40, of course, short of the 60 votes need. The GOP move reflects growing anger with majority leader harry Reid, who Republicans say has prevented them from offering amendments to the bill. A similar dispute derailed an energy bill this week.

BERMAN: We know a little bit more now about how much the president is worth. The latest White House financial disclosure revealing the president and first lady had assets valued as high as $7 million in 2013. Most of the president's income came from royalties on his three books and investments from the proceeds. Jointly held treasury notes were the first couple's most valuable ass assets, worth between $1 million and $5 million.

Christine Romans, what is the most remarkable thing about this financial report?

ROMANS: He needs to refinance his morning in Chicago. It's above 5 percent and rates right now are about 4.2 percent. Joe Biden did refinance his home loan. He's down in the 3s, I think.

BERMAN: They are both frequent watchers of EARLY START. So, Mr. Vice president, well done on that. Mr. President, talk to your financial adviser.

ROMANS: All right. Now, to an EARLY START on your money.

Investors in Europe largely on the sidelines this morning watching the European bank Credit Suisse. Reports say they are close to a $5.2 billion settlement with the U.S. Officials looking into whether they helped Americans dodge taxes. Credit Suisse expected to play guilty. And part of that settlement, rare for a major bank to admit guilt, so we're watching Credit Suisse this morning.

Remember the Dow hitting record highs earlier in the week?

BERMAN: Yes, good times.

ROMANS: No, the past two days have been triple-digit losses. We will watch today to see how we close out the week.

BERMAN: OK. Some other big business news and sports news. 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 a $2.5 million fine and that he plans to sue the league because he did nothing wrong. The 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 but has not been able to independently confirm the report. And if you were not up really, really late last night, this may be news to you. The clippers lost. Their season is over. We will have the highlights on that.

ROMANS: But what a season it was.

All right. A deadly virus scare around the world. Warnings posted at airports, health officials on alert and now a new case of MERS has been confirmed. We're live with the details after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

A second case of the deadly MERS virus has been confirmed in the Netherlands, and here in the U.S., 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 this virus more urgent. Five hundred seventy cases of MERS have been identified since 2012 with nearly one-third of them fatal, one-third of them fatal. That's a pretty disturbing fatality rate.

Let's bring in Max Foster live from London.

Tell us about this, Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the problems we've got here, Christine, is that it's very hard to identify MERS early on because it looks a bit like flu. The symptoms start off as quite mild. So, we had this Dutch guy, he was in Saudi Arabia earlier this month. He went to hospital, but he wasn't diagnosed for two weeks, when he got back to the Netherlands.

And the authorities there are trying to track back his footsteps, so they've spoken to everyone that came into contact with him and have discovered that he traveled with a woman, a family member. That's all we know. They shared a room together in Saudi Arabia, and she also has been tested positive.

We do understand that both of them have underlying conditions, which makes them more vulnerable the most to MERS. One of them visited a camel farm where you find a lot of MERS, I'm told, in Saudi Arabia.

So, it's really a case of keeping on top of this. And the world health organization says they are looking at this, they're treating it urgently, but as yet, they don't see it as a public emergency.

ROMANS: All right. Max Foster, thanks so much for that, Max.

BERMAN: Prosecutors now say ex-NFL star Aaron Hernandez ambushed and shot to death two men in Boston in 2012. He was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder on Thursday in the killings of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado. Hernandez is already in prison on charges he murdered a semi-pro football player in 2013. He's expected to be arraigned on the new counts next week.

ROMANS: Now to another former NFL star due in court today on serious charges. Ex-New Orleans Saint Darren Sharper accused of drugging and sexually assaulting up to nine women in five states. Sharper, who once said he wanted to make the world a safer place for women, is so far charged in Arizona and California, where he's being held without bail. If convicted of all those counts, he faces up to 30 years in prison.

BERMAN: A national tragedy turning to fury in Turkey. Hundreds of miners killed in a devastating explosion. Now people want answers, taking to the streets. How could this happen? What will their government do about it?

We're live with what's happening on the ground right after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Anger building on the streets of Turkey in the wake of this week's tragic mine explosion. Thousands of workers joining a nationwide protest strike while demonstrators clash with security forces, all demanding to know why hundreds of miners had to die.

Let's get the latest from Diana Magnay. She is in Soma, Turkey.

Diana, we understand the mine owner is denying any negligence.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's now three days since the terrible accident which has so far claimed 284 lives. There are still 18 people missing, and the energy minister has just said that that death toll will probably increase to 302, that those 18 missing are dead.

And as you say, the company for the first time has now come out and given a press conference in which they deny any kind of responsibility. They say they are not negligent. But at the same time, they explained a little bit about the layout of the mine. And in mines in modernized countries where you have the top safety gear, you have these refuge chambers where people can go if there are any explosions or a fire. In there you have oxygen supplies and oxygen masks and air refill capabilities.

But here, it appears they were not in existence. The company admitted that they did have a sort of refuge chamber on the upper level, but since everybody now works on the lower level, that has effectively been decommissioned, and they were in the process of building a safety chamber in the lower levels but that it hadn't been finished yet, despite the fact there was 787 workers in that mine at the time of the fire, at the time of the accident.

They said in three or four months' time, that would have been finished, but legally, we're not obliged to build these safety chambers anyway.

So, some pretty astonishing comments from the company who owns this mine, denying any kind of responsibility, whilst at the same time admitting that they had not put in facilities which most countries would consider standard practice if you want to keep your mine safe -- Christine.

ROMANS: With so many men dead, it's just, you know -- it's hard to say it wasn't our fault, you know, with so many people. Now they are literally burying in mass graves these men who were working under ground. Clearly, the investigation will continue.

Thank you so much, Diana Magnay.

BERMAN: Fifty-four minutes after the hour.

A court in Sudan has sentenced a 27-year-old woman to death for converting from Islam to Christianity. Mariam Ibrahim has been ordered to immediately abandon her new faith. She also faces adultery charges for marrying a Christian man. When the judge asked her if she would return to Islam, she answered "I am a Christian." That's when she was slapped with the death penalty. That ruling can be appealed.

ROMANS: My goodness.

BERMAN: All right, thousands of steelworkers in Ukraine taking to the streets of Mariupol, fighting back against pro-Russian militants, reportedly regaining control of their city and reversing Russia's momentum in the eastern part of the country. Overnight, miners and steelworkers deployed in at least five cities where pro-Moscow groups have started taking control.

BERMAN: Really interesting development there. Chaos erupting just all over Brazil, less than a month before the World Cup begins there. Road blocks and demonstrations springing up in Sao Paulo, Rio, and the capital, Brasilia. Protesters are furious about the amount of money being spent to host the soccer tournament while Brazil's economy sags and government services are cut.

These are not pictures that world sporting fans want to see -- again, just a month before the World Cup.

ROMANS: And people there are angry about the money being spent, but then on the other side of it, you've got officials who say we're worried that they're not ready, that they need to do more.

BERMAN: Crazy.

ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues after the break.