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Deadly Tiger Attack in San Francisco Zoo; Panama Plane Crash Kills Michael Klein and Daughter; Dems Strategy: Iowa or New Hampshire; Warren Buffett's New Investment

Aired December 26, 2007 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: One man was mauled to death, two more critically wounded. Police say the tiger somehow escaped from its cage just after the zoo had closed. The big cat stole its way over and near the zoo's cafe where it began stalking victims. It had already killed one man and was mauling another as police arrived on the scene. When it lunged toward them, they shot it dead. And it's not the first time that this tiger has showed its killer instincts.
CNN's Dan Simon is live at the San Francisco Zoo for us this morning. Good morning, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Zoo officials at a total loss to explain how that tiger could have gotten out of its enclosure. This is an enclosure that is surrounded by a 15-foot moat and a 20-foot wall. In fact, one zoo official saying that it literally would have had to leap over its own exhibit. This happened just after 5 p.m., about an hour from the time the zoo was about to have closed.

The tiger first attacked a man outside of its exhibit. That man was found dead on the spot. He is about 20 years old. The tiger then went about 300 yards toward the cafe, the outdoor cafe here at the zoo. It attacked two more men, both about 20 years old. When officers arrived at the scene, the tiger was still in attack mode.

It was about to continue attacking one of those two victims, that's when officers grabbed their weapons. The tiger then made an aggressive approach toward the officers. That's when the officers opened fire, killing the tiger, of course, the zoo is closed today. Everybody in total disbelief how something like this could happen, John. Take a look.


LT. KEN SMITH, SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT: The zoo was then lockdown. It's now turned over to the police department right now. Our guys have gone in and swept the location to make sure we don't have any victims.


SIMON: The two victims who survived, of course, were rushed to the hospital. They are in serious but stable condition. When they arrived at the hospital, they were talking and alert, a very good sign. We're told that they could be released from the hospital sometime today, John, but of course, so many questions about how something like this could occur.

ROBERTS: And, Dan, we mentioned at the top of this, that this is not the first time that they have had a problem with that tiger, Tatiana. What happened last year?

SIMON: A year ago, almost to the day, John, this same tiger attacked a trainer during a public feeding demonstration. At the time, zoo officials made the decision not to euthanize the animal. We're told that they actually fortified the cage where that tiger is kept. Of course, there is going to be a lot of second-guessing about the decision not to put down that animal, John.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes. And I'm sure a lot of investigation as to how it could have broken out of the cage as well. Dan Simon for us this morning live outside of the San Francisco Zoo. Dan, thanks very much. We'll hear from you a little bit later on this morning.

Right now, let's go back up to New York, and Alina has got more of this morning's news. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Good morning, John. We're getting word this morning of an incredible tale of survival. A 13-year-old girl from southern California somehow survived a plane crash that killed her friend, her friend's father and the pilot. Now, the plane went down in Panama as it flew over the Chiriqui Volcano on Sunday, but weather hampered rescue efforts and only found the wreckage last night.

Now, 37-year-old Michael Klein, a hedge fund manager, his 13- year-old daughter, Talia, were killed. But rescuers say Talia's friend, Francesca Lewis, amazingly survived. Kara Finnstrom live in Santa Barbara, California, in front of the girls' school with the latest. Kara, good morning.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. Well, this community clinging this morning to what appears to be a miracle in the midst of tragedy. Authorities now confirming that 13-year-old Francesca Lewis, who attended the school right behind me, was the only survivor of this plane crash in Panama, killed on board her friend, Talia Klein, who also attended the school, Talia's father and the Panamanian pilot.

Now, the Kleins and Francesca were vacationing when this plane, a small Cessna, went down on Sunday. Rescue cruisers had been searching for it, combing the mountain's terrain ever since they found that plane yesterday on Christmas day. Just about a half hour ago, we got word that Francesca has now been moved, is in the process of being moved to a hospital and that is good news because for awhile, they were actually having to create a shelter on the side of the slope of the volcano because this crash site was just too difficult to reach.

We're told that Francesca suffers from multiple traumas as well as hypothermia, but we don't know what her condition is. Rescuers not releasing that at this point. Now, the Kleins and Francesca were staying at a private resort on a private island owned by the Kleins. They were headed to a volcano when this plane went down. As you mentioned, Klein is a hedge fund manager. He's very well known in this area. His colleagues call him brilliant. He actually skipped high school and graduated from college at the age of 17. So this morning, this community mourning the loss of Michael Klein and his daughter Talia, and they're eagerly awaiting word on the fate of this 13-year-old girl who is the only survivor of the crash -- Alina.

CHO: Kara Finnstrom, a lot of people are going to be wondering in the coming days, of course, exactly how she survived. Really an amazing tale and we'll be watching for her progress. Kara Finnstrom live in Santa Barbara, thank you -- John.

ROBERTS: Just turning 5 minutes after the hour and new this morning. As many as 67 people feared dead from landslides in Indonesia. The main island of Java is the hardest hit after 12 hours of nonstop rain. A rescue effort is underway, but heavy flooding across Indonesia is making it tough to get to victims in the disaster zone.

This disaster comes on the third anniversary of the tsunami disaster. An estimated 230,000 people were killed in 12 countries, across two continents. They were remembered in ceremonies today. The world pledged close to $14 billion in aid. It's been used to build roads, schools and more than 100,000 homes along the coast of Indonesia's Aceh province.

Oh, be careful what you wish for. It was a white Christmas across the Rockies and the plains. Seven inches of snow led to flight delays and cancellations in Denver. United Airlines says it had to cancel 50 flights. But because Christmas is a fairly light travel day, most people were able to hop on other planes.

Rob Marciano is off today. Reynolds Wolf tracking extreme weather at the weather desk in Atlanta. And they set a record yesterday there in Denver.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: They did. They set a record, the heaviest snowfall they recorded since 1900. If you take a look at the numbers, not exactly mind-boggling. Take a look at it anywhere from 5.1 inches in the Denver area, but some place, obviously, a little bit more, others less.

As we go to the weather computer, you can see those numbers. And again, some of the places that got quite a bit more will be Littleton, Colorado, 13.5 inches of snowfall by Colorado. And if you were shoveling now off the front walk yesterday, just over a foot of snowfall. Golden, 9.7, Boulder 5.9 and Denver 5.1.

Now, much of that same system that produced that snowfall is now moving into portions of the upper Midwest. Places like Minneapolis this morning getting a light dusting of snowfall. In fact, we've got a few watches and a few advisories that are in effect through a good part of both Wisconsin, back into -- let's see, Minnesota, even into the corn belt this time, mainly east of Mason City in north of Des Moines at this hour. However, in parts of the southeast, we're seeing something else. Not snow but some heavy rainfall from Danville, southward into Raleigh. On parts of Charlotte and into Columbia, we're going to be dealing with those rain showers. If you're getting a start on your returns today, going back to the store, it is going to be a wet time for you in North Carolina. That is the latest we've got for you.

I'm talking about today. Huge, huge travel day. Let's send it back to you in New York.

CHO: It is. In fact, United canceled hundreds of flights just to make way for today so they'd be in place. So, all right. Reynolds, we'll check back with you later.

WOLF: You bet.

CHO: All right. The nation's retailers taking stock after the Christmas shopping rush. Ali Velshi at the business update desk more on that. And Ali, this Mastercard retail data report is coming out in less than an hour or so, but you've got a preview of it, right?


CHO: What did it say?

VELSHI: You know, the information is largely out there. It's not a big surprise to anybody that the retail holiday sales to this point are up 3.6 percent over last year. Now, for those of you who don't know what that means, it means it's the weakest holiday season in four years. That's the slowest growth in four years for holiday shopping.

Now, the weak categories were women's apparel. That was actually negative, down almost 3 percent. The strong categories are actually luxury goods, were up 7 percent over last year. Electronics didn't do too badly.

But, you know, Alina, there were just no must-have items this year. There were no big single sellers, no new consoles out, people who wanted iPods have already got them, things like that. E-commerce, the biggest day for e-commerce was actually December 13th. Things bought on the Internet were up almost 23 percent over last year. That's to be expected as more and more people have access to high speed Internet.

The implications of this for most of you out there is that there are going to be big sales today. Leafing through the newspaper this morning, you'll see ads that look bigger and earlier than other years. So if you're still looking to buy things, might be a day to do it. As we were talking about, the weather has had some impact on these sales, also the price of gasoline.

Now, we're not done yet so if people decide that they want to take advantage of bigger sales and do some shopping this week, the total for the year might do better. But right now, we are looking at the weakest growth in four years for holiday shopping, Alina. CHO: Apparently, my personal shopping wasn't enough.


VELSHI: It wasn't enough. Even for women's apparel.

CHO: Women's apparel.

VELSHI: They didn't do it.

CHO: All right. Ali Velshi, thanks for that update.


CHO: We'll check back with you later.


CHO: John over to you.

ROBERTS: Here's another story new this morning.

Backlash for a man who sued an 8-year-old boy and his father for a skiing accident. David Pfahler says he and his wife have been subject to an electronic tar and feathering. He decided to sue after colliding with the boy at Beaver Creek, Colorado, the ski area there. The boy's father says his son barely tapped Pfahler's skis, but Pfahler says he had to have surgery to fix his shoulder and collar bone.

Pfahler's attorney says angry callers have been ringing the family home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, day and night and that they have actually e-mailed his boss to demand that he be fired.

Which brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. Should children be legally held responsible for accidentally, stress accidentally, hurting someone? Cast your vote at We'll have the first tally of votes later on this hour.

Alina, it will be interesting to see how that one turns out.

CHO: Yes. Yes. A lot of people I'm sure divided over it. John, thanks.

Other news today. Military families closely divided on the Iraq war, and President Bush, our "Quick Hits" now.

"USA Today" poll shows 55 percent of relatives of service members disapprove of the president's job performance. That's compared to 64 percent of nonmilitary families. Forty-nine percent of military families think the war was a mistake compared to 59 percent of nonmilitary families.

Boston's big dig is finally over. The most complex and most expensive highway project ever will be officially finished at the end of the year. To put things in perspective, this started back in 1991. I was in college back then in Boston. The system of underground highways and tunnels cost nearly $15 billion and took 16 years. Four construction workers died on the big dig and on Monday, the family of a driver killed by a tunnel ceiling collapse was awarded $6 million.

Warren Buffett, one of the world's richest men, decides now is the time to start spending money. Coming up, where he's decided to invest $4.5 billion.

And just over a week until the Iowa caucuses. So why aren't all of the candidates campaigning there? We'll have that store ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. A five alarm fire tops your "Quick Hits" now.

It tore through three homes in the Pittsburg area on Christmas eve. A half dozen people lost their homes, but thankfully nobody was injured. Investigators think a curling iron started that fire.

Another wind warning and fire alert is up now for Southern California today. Wind gusts of more than 100 miles an hour fanned small brush fires and downed trees and power lines. Ten thousand customers across Los Angeles lost power. We're going to watch that situation there. Those pesky Santa Ana winds. Reynolds Wolf will be back later a bit later, but for now we're going to head over to John in Washington -- John.

ROBERTS: You know, one little spark, Alina, can cause huge problems there.

CHO: That's right.

ROBERTS: The presidential candidates are back on the campaign trail today after a day off, and where they go first may tell us what the campaigns think about their chances in Iowa, in January 3rd and New Hampshire five days later.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is following the Democrats live from Des Moines. And did everybody take yesterday off, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, almost all did. They had -- everybody went home except for Chris Dodd, who was actually made Des Moines his home and he actually took his family ice skating here. He brought some of his staff out and had a nice day of Christmas ice skating, but everyone had a down day. No campaign stops. Back on the trail today.

ROBERTS: I guess if this were to be a court case, you could you say that it's now time for closing arguments here in this campaign, and we all remember what happened back in 2004, with John Kerry. These last few days can really make a huge difference.

YELLIN: You said it. I mean, John Kerry broke away the last week and that's what every leader is looking to do this week. Senator Clinton is going to go on the road with a pick your president campaign, talking about not the nomination, but who is going to be the president. So her message, electability and who's ready to "run" or who's ready to take charge from day one.

John Edwards is in New Hampshire today. He, I guess, is looking past Iowa, which is his strongest point of control, and he's thinking if he can do well here, he's got to firm up his support in New Hampshire. He's there today, back tomorrow.

And then, Barack Obama, his message we've heard it all along, change, change, change. But he's taking his tour to the rural areas, where he really needs to shore up his support, John.

ROBERTS: Hey, Jessica, quickly -- big article in the "New York Times" today talking about Hillary Clinton's experience in just exactly how much experience did she get, how much practical experience in her eight years as first lady in the White House. Do people there in Iowa care much about that?

YELLIN: Well, they do because her message is that she is the one who has the experience to get things done in Washington so they care to the extent that that's her part of her essential campaign message. Whether this article makes a difference is up in the air. I mean, the article argues that since she was only first lady, only...


YELLIN: ... she wasn't in on the crucial national security meetings and didn't have as much experience as if she were actually president but everybody knows that. She wasn't president, and she still rates the highest when it comes to experience.

ROBERTS: All right. I know that you're heading back out on the campaign trail. We'll let you get to that. We'll hear from you a little bit later on. Jessica Yellin for us this morning. Jessica, thanks.

On the Republican side, a strange alliance finds opponents John McCain and Mike Huckabee both rooting for each other to defeat Mitt Romney.

CNN's Dana Bash is covering the Republicans. She's also in Des Moines this morning. So I guess, Dana, the question here in these final days is, what is Huckabee going to do to stay on top and what is Mitt Romney going to try to do to unseat him?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mike Huckabee, I can tell you shortly after we're done this morning, John, I'm going to catch up with him. He's going to go peasant hunting. And it's the kind of thing, it's pretty rare for his campaign here.

His campaign at the thrust of it really has been getting out and talking to as many voters as he can to give the message that we've heard now time and time again of somebody who is really authentic, somebody who believes what Iowans believe in terms of social conservative issues, but he's going to do a photo-op, and this something that is unusual for him but the message is going to be the same, that I am like you. I like Iowa Republicans and for the second amendment. I go out and I hunt and enjoy that just like you do. So it's sort of interesting that that's going to be what he's going to do.

After that, John, he is going to go and he is going to fund raise because that is such a key thing here. We're eight days out and one of the major points of contention, if you will, between the two leaders in the state, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney is whether or not Mike Huckabee can really ride this with the passion and the support that he has. And without the money, he's realizing that he needs to get some money, which is why he's skipping out of the state today. He's going down to Florida to raise money.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, obviously, he's a very wealthy businessman and he is going to try. We don't have any firm information on new ads, on new spending yet, but you can believe it is going to come. This is the final push and if Mitt Romney is going to spend his millions, if you will, more than he already has, it's going to be very, very soon so that's why Mike Huckabee is trying to keep on top by keeping his message out there but realizing he's going to have to compete in the money race as well this next week.

ROBERTS: And McCain, while not looking particularly strong in Iowa certainly starting to look better in New Hampshire, so that one is really turning into a contest as well. Dana Bash for us this morning from Des Moines. Dana, thanks -- Alina.

BASH: Thank you.

CHO: All right. Your "Quick Hits" now.

Urgent talks are under way after two diplomats were told to leave Afghanistan immediately. One is reportedly a high-ranking U.N. official. The other, the acting head of the European Union mission there. The Afghan government said they posed a threat to national security for holding talks with the Taliban. A United Nations spokesman says it's all the result of a misunderstanding.

A potential blow to theme parks from Tokyo to the Las Vegas strip. Egypt has officially copyrighted the Sphinx and the ancient pyramids. An official told the BBC that the money was needed to maintain thousands of ancient sites that bans exact duplicates of the structures and will be enforced worldwide, though, exactly how we're unsure.

Warren Buffett, one of America's most respected investors, here's a deal he can't just pass up and he's plunking $4.5 billion. Find out what he's buying just ahead.

And France's president spending his first Christmas with a new woman, the supermodel he's seeing and where they were spotted, coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Pessimism on peace. Your "Quick Hits" now. A new poll says the majority of Palestinians and Israelis both think the recent talks hosted by the U.S. were a failure. It also showed that more than half of Israelis believe the violence will stop, but only about a third of Palestinians share that opinion. The poll was conducted by the Truman Center at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Leaving home to start a new life. About 40 Iranian Jews are in Israel today after a secretive exodus from Iran, the largest such immigration in nearly 30 years. It was paid for by the Israeli government and evangelical Christians here in the United States. The Jewish community is protected in Iran, but many have complained of increasing discrimination.

Well, who would do more to stop Islamic extremists, including Al Qaeda in Pakistan? Elections are now less than two weeks away for a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is promising to do a better job of cracking down on Islamic militants than the current president, Pervez Musharraf. We'll see if she can make that case over the next couple of weeks -- Alina.

CHO: Thanks, John. France's president had a new woman at his side during a Christmas holiday in Egypt. Cameras spotted President Nicolas Sarkozy holding hands with his supermodel turned singer girlfriend Carla Bruni on the banks of the Nile. She is Mick Jagger's former girlfriend as well. Their appearance came two months after his divorce from his wife of 11 years. Sarkozy is scheduled to begin an official visit to Egypt on Monday when he meets President Hosni Mubarak.

News of a $4.5 billion business deal this morning. Investor Warren Buffett is buying into Marmon Holdings. Now, it's an industrial manufacturer that builds everything from railroad cars to electrical wiring. Marmon is a core business of one of America's richest families. Buffett says this is the biggest deal his Berkshire Hathaway Company has ever made outside the insurance business.

Well, the coolest icicles you'll ever see. Your "Hot Shot" now. Take a look.

Layers of ice are coating the north peer of the St. Joseph's lighthouse in Michigan. Wow, that's really something. It is right on Lake Michigan and right in the middle of an extreme winter storm that, of course, hit over the weekend. Wow! Incredible stuff.

If you've got a "Hot Shot," send it to us. The address Be sure to include your name, where you're from, a little bit about the picture or the video and one more thing, make sure the image is yours and not somebody else's. Back over to you, John.


CHO: Yes.

ROBERTS: It looks like ice station zebra there.

CHO: It certainly looks more like the north pole really.

ROBERTS: Thank goodness. It does.

Alina, you're watching the most news in the morning.

A deadly day at the zoo. A tiger gets out and goes on the attack, one concern killed, two people seriously mauled. What went wrong?

Plus, U.S. troops in Iraq get a special Christmas visitor. The message from America's top commander for them, plus the rest of the day's top stories when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.


CHO: Wow! On this day after Christmas, a beautiful and very dark shot of New York City. Right now, it's 34 degrees with a high of 44. Maybe some showers but I don't think that's going to stop people from getting out to the stores.

Welcome back, everybody. It's Wednesday, December 26th. I'm Alina Cho here in New York. Kiran has the morning off. Good morning, John. Did you have a nice Christmas?

ROBERTS: I did. Yes. From Washington, good morning. I'm John Roberts. And Alina, I cannot figure out why for the life of me people would want to go back to the stores the day after they have just actually completed their Christmas shopping.

CHO: What do you mean? I'll be there.

ROBERTS: Makes no sense to me.

CHO: OK. Well, I'm sorry.

ROBERTS: New this morning. Horror at the San Francisco zoo, a tiger breaks loose and kills a zoo visitor on Christmas day. Police say the animal somehow broke out of its cage just after closing time. They got there as the tiger got his claws on two other visitors.


DR. ERIC ISAACS, SAN FRANCISCO GENERAL HOSPITAL: Two young men were brought to us this evening, both of whom had received multiple lacerations. They are in serious but stable condition. Their wounds are being repaired this evening. They'll stay with us overnight, and we expect them to do fine.


ROBERTS: Still not clear this morning how the tiger escaped, but it is the same cat responsible for mauling its trainer one year ago. The state blamed the zoo for that attack and reportedly fined it $18,000. Who trashed and burned Planned Parenthood clinics in Albuquerque, New Mexico? Investigators say arsonists may be on the loose there after another fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Firefighters say they were called to medical offices in Albuquerque early Christmas morning. The roof was on fire. They quickly put it out. It happened a few hours after the windows were shattered at another office. Those follow a fire weeks ago at another Albuquerque clinic. Federal investigators say two suspects were seen outside of that clinic just before the fire was reported but no arrests have been made. Alina?

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, John.

There are now 15 people confirmed dead after a bridge collapse in Nepal. One day later, rescue teams, soldiers and police are searching for survivors as far as 20 miles downstream. The bridge gave way during a Hindu religious festival with as many as 1,000 people on it at the time. Officials say many swam to safety but dozens are reported missing.

A 13-year-old girl is alive this morning, the only survivor of a small plane crash in panama. Francesca Lewis her name, suffering from multiple injuries and hypothermia. The crash killed her 13-year-old friend, Talia Klein and Klein's father, Michael, a California businessman, well-known in the area. All three had been vacationing on Klein's private island in the country. The Panamanian pilot, Edwin Lasso was also killed. The plane disappeared Sunday but it took awhile to get to the wreckage. Rescuers say harsh weather and dense jungle slowed the search. John?

ROBERTS: Coming up on 32 minutes after the hour.

Turkey dropped bombs on Kurdish hideouts inside Iraq this morning. It is their third cross-border air attack in ten days. Turkish forces are using U.S. intelligence to hit Kurdish separatists operating inside of Iraq. Now casualties reported in today's attack but Turkey claims to have killed more than 150 rebels in air and ground operations.

One of the most remote outposts for U.S. troops in Iraq had a Christmas visitor. General David Petraeus flew in to spend Christmas morning with soldiers stationed just a few miles from the Syrian border. CNN's Harris Whitbeck went along with the general for that visit. He joins us now this morning from Baghdad and Harris, we're seeing a pretty significant reduction in the violence there in the capital city. Violence continues in the surrounding areas, the suicide bombing that we saw in Baiji yesterday that killed at least 25 people a good example of that. How concerned is General Petraeus that the violence continues in other parts of the country, even though Baghdad is becoming calmer?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was the message he had for his troops yesterday, John, after a hard day's travel he went to several outposts in the area here, where other multinational forces are operating. We two messages for his troops, number one, you are doing a very good job so far and number two, there is still a long and hard road ahead. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WHITBECK: It is not often high-ranking generals visit these combat outposts. Many are small and seemingly off the radar screen. As remote as these outposts may be, they are extremely important to the current U.S. military effort because of their proximity to the border with Syria. They're heavily involved in stopping the slow of weapons and smuggled fighters. Petraeus told his troops that type of work and intelligence gathering will be crucial in the weeks and months to come.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, IRAQ MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE: There will be ups and downs. Al Qaeda is a boxer who has been knocked to the canvas but continues to come off the canvas and still has a very powerful right hand, and we'll continue to try to carry out indiscriminate acts of violence.

WHITBECK: Just miles from one of the outposts visited by Petraeus, in the city of Baqubah, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the field of a local leader for a concerned citizen's council. The civilian self-defense group is widely credited with having been a factor with the diminishing level of violence in the country.

PETRAEUS: It reflects the importance that al Qaeda attaches to them. They know if the local population is successful in turning against them and in being able to secure themselves, that the same will happen to them that happened in Anbar province and in a number of Baghdad neighborhoods and belts around Baghdad. Al Qaeda has been pushed farther and farther from Baghdad.

WHITBECK: Petraeus wants to make sure this holiday his troops will remain motivated to continue that fight.


WHITBECK: Besides relying on the work that his troops do on the ground, General Petraeus is banking on the work done by local citizen groups, organized in what is called a concerned citizens groups which are taking a lead in some neighborhoods and gathering intelligence and actually fighting insurgents, who might be trying to stage attacks in their own neighborhood. John?

ROBERTS: Harris, it's certainly good news that the level of violence in some parts of Iraq has gone down but there seems to be little political progress toward reconciliation. Does General Petraeus have any hope that things on the political front may start to gather a little bit of steam early next year?

WHITBECK: He does, and he says that the, we're, that progress is going to be seen and where it's most crucial is the at local government levels. He says that in several areas, particularly the outside of Baghdad, there has been made, great progress has been made in getting local authorities not only talking to each other but also talking to and getting responses from the central government here.

ROBERTS: Harris Whitbeck for us this morning from Baghdad, Harris, thanks for that. Great report with General Petraeus on the field. Alina?

CHO: Thanks, John. 35 minutes after the hour. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business." Welcome back.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back, Merry Christmas.

CHO: Merry Christmas. After a couple of days in sunny Miami, good to have you back. I know you're talking about the major U.S. banks, really feeling the crunch of the mortgage crisis.


CHO: Foreign investors are coming in saying what, we see a deal?

VELSHI: This is the interesting thing for our viewers to consider in that had this has been the year where the investment banks and banks in the U.S. have taken a big hit because of the credit crunch. Most U.S. investors are trying to play away from that. Look at the big investments in the major banks by funds from other countries. We just talked earlier this week about Merrill Lynch getting a $4.4 billion investment with a Singapore-based financial firm. Within the last month we've seen a $5 billion investment in Morgan Stanley, a billion-dollar investment in Bear Stearns, from Chinese funds and $7.5 billion investment from Abu Dhabi for a big stake in Citigroup.

CHO: What do they know that we don't know?

VELSHI: The U.S. dollar makes all of these investments a lot cheaper. There's a sense you get a bit of a discount with the depressed share prices but the second one might be useful for our viewers to look at. You take a 50,000-foot view of the investment world, a lot of the companies are solid, good companies. In the long- term while they may have made very big mistake this is year will likely be there. We'll invest and have mergers and acquisitions and new businesses and they're saying these companies are well-positioned to do that not just in the United States but around the world. Always a good clue to see where the big deals are being made. Some people will look at this in terms of other countries investing too much in American companies but take it as a clue that maybe there's something there.

CHO: You're saying the banks are still blue chips.

VELSHI: Even though they look beaten up they are still blue chips. I'm going to come back talking about spending all morning.

CHO: That's good because it's the day after Christmas. A lot of people will be out there shopping. All right. Ali, thanks. John, back over to you in D.C.

ROBERTS: We know somebody who spent a little bit of a coin over Christmas, Christmas with the commander in chief. What did President Bush get the first lady for the holiday? Find out coming up.

And a teenager killed, another man's freedom was at stake. Was a juror pushed into making a decision by the judge and by his peers? The legal brief, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: 20 minutes to the top of the hour. A lot of people in southern California on edge this morning. That's because another wind and fire warning will be going out today. Gusts of more than 100 miles an hour were reported yesterday. It fanned small brush fires knocking out electricity to tens of thousands of homes across Los Angeles. Thankfully any large wildfires were avoided.

Reynolds Wolf in the CNN weather center tracking extreme weather in California. What's it looking like today?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It looks a little better today but yesterday, John, you really nailed it talking about the extreme winds. Take a look what we have behind me. Places like Whittaker Peak, well beyond hurricane-force winds. All of the gusts from Montecito Hills, Camp Nine, all of these beyond hurricane force, incredibly strong gusts. Certainly not expecting the same situation today.

What we may expect today, seeing a huge travel day are a lot of delays that could stretch across much of the country. We'll look in parts of the northeast; we may have some backups in a few spots like New York, 15 to 30 minutes. Same story not just in places like JFK but also La Guardia. In Washington, D.C. look for about 15 to 30- minute delay. In the Midwest it's a mixed bag.

Some places like in Pittsburgh you want to tune the issues but Philadelphia, 30 minutes at the gate. Back into Chicago looks much better there, nothing that we anticipate this time for St. Louis either but Minneapolis-St. Paul could see up to an hour of a delay due to the snowfall we anticipate during the morning hours. As you head farther to the south to the gulf coast, a combination of rain, sleet and maybe snow back into parts of Oklahoma. We could see backups in places like Javier Airport and Bush Airport in Houston. Memphis you may have some delay there is and also into the Big Easy of New Orleans. Out west it looks like fairly calm conditions in a few places like phoenix but still handling much of the west coast, delays San Francisco southward to the L.A. basin. That is a look at your forecast. We send it back to you in New York with more.

CHO: Reynolds, thank you very much.

He helped convict a black man of killing a white teenager during a racially charged confrontation on the man's doorstep but now a juror says he was pressured by the judge and ridiculed by fellow jurors before he caved. AMERICAN MORNING's legal contributor Sunny Hostin joins me now with our legal brief this morning. This juror says he and another juror, an elderly woman as she's been described, were essentially bullied and pressured, bullied into reaching a guilty verdict. You know, is this enough for an appeal?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: It depends on who did the bullying. I will tell you, jurors are asked to go into the jury room and really battle it out, different opinions, different points of view, review the evidence. We want our jurors to do that. We don't want our judges to bully our juries into verdicts. There is something called an Allen charge, which means when there's a deadlocked jury, the judge says please continue deliberating. It happens all the time. The lawyers usually really determine what that Allen charge is going to be.

CHO: There's a difference between saying go back into the jury room and deliberate and this. At least one report is saying that the same juror who is speaking out now said the judge told the jury that a mistrial would leave the next jury with a bigger burden and the families with more pain and suffering.

HOSTIN: That's right.

CHO: If this indeed was said could the judge be in trouble in.

HOSTIN: Alina, that, I think is going to be the determining factor. I don't think the judge is going to be in trouble but the question whether or not the court of appeals is going to send it back because of this and I think that's a possibility. Judges have broad discretion in saying go back there, try again but this judge may have gone a little bit too far. That judge's discretion is not unfettered. I think it could be grounds for an appeal.

CHO: Quickly, some had suggested if this man felt the way he did and that the man was innocent he should have held his ground or stayed quiet. So how often does this happen?

HOSTIN: It happens often. I was a juror. I've seen it on both sides of the table. I've been in front of juries and I've gone and spoken to juries afterwards and been a juror. There's a lot of remorse that goes on and that sort of thing. We can all sort of discuss he should have done this and that. Every jury situation is different and I think it's wonderful that he's speaking out and saying this is what happened, because now we get that great bird's-eye view into the jury room.

CHO: It will be interesting to see how this appeals process goes. Sunny Hostin, our legal contributor, thanks. Back over to you, John.

ROBERTS: Alina, thanks.

Race to the finish line in Iowa, that tops your political ticker this morning. Eight days left until the critical Iowa caucuses. Senator Hillary Clinton kicks off her big challenges, real solutions, time to pick a president tour. She's hitting the road along with her husband, Bill Clinton. Senator Barack Obama kicks off a rural bus tour through Iowa with a town hall meeting in Mason City today. Rudy Giuliani begins a three day campaign swing through Florida. He's slipping in the polls in the early primary states but he still holds a lead in Florida, what he calls his firewall. The latest Quinnipiac College poll shows him with a seven heaven point lead over Mike Huckabee there.

The White House says President Bush gave his wife, Laura, a new purse and silver tray for Christmas. Mrs. Bush got her husband a new coat and warming soles for his mountain bike shoes. Daughters got some items for their apartment.

You can find all the day's news around the clock at Alina?

CHO: Happening right now, astronauts aboard the space station are about to open up their Christmas presents this morning. A Russian re-supply module docked with the outpost a little more than three hours ago and the crew is now opening the capsule. They got some hats, too, besides the usual necessities like oxygen, food and fuel. Crews on the ground stuffed gifts inside, including some music and some videos from family members.

Caught on tape, a van slams into the side of a Florida convenience store just minutes after the owner leaves. Four different cameras captured the crash. We've got the video coming up.

And a shaking cell phone video taken on the morning of the Virginia Tech massacre gave us an up close view of the tragedy. Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, our Internet correspondent Veronica De La Cruz explains how that video also changed the way we gather news here at CNN.


CHO: If you're just joining us, here's a look at what's making headlines ten minutes before the top of the hour. Horror at the San Francisco Zoo, a tiger breaks loose and kills a patron Christmas day. Police say the animal somehow got out of its cage. Nobody knows exactly how. The tiger got his claws on two other visitors, seriously wounding them. Police eventually shot the tiger dead. It is the same cat responsible for attacking its trainer one year ago, almost exactly a year ago. We'll have a live update at the top of the hour.

Two days after a plane crash in Panama, rescuers say there is a survivor, a 13-year-old girl from southern California. Francesca Lewis is her name. She is suffering from multiple injuries and hypothermia. The crash killed her 13-year-old friend, Talia Klein and her father, Michael and the Panamanian pilot. The wreckage was found on Sunday.

Three years since the tsunami; an estimated 230,000 people killed in 12 countries across two continents. They were remembered in ceremonies today. The world pledged close to $14 billion in aid. That money has been used to build roads, schools and more than 100,000 homes along the coast of Indonesia's Aceh province.

ROBERTS: CNN's I-report has been around for a little more than a year now but it reached a milestone this past spring. Veronica De La Cruz now is here with a look at the story that changed our I-report forever. Good morning.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Good morning to you. April 16th this year, the day when a gunman decided to wreak havoc on the campus of Virginia Tech. The most crucial video didn't come from our reporters or local affiliates. Instead, it came from a student who decided to capture the event as they unfolded with his cell phone.


DE LA CRUZ: This Virginia graduate student Jamal Albarghouti, says he thought he was safe when he took out his camera and began filming. He didn't realize how close he was to the shooter who would eventually take 32 lives before taking his own.

JAMAL ALBARGHOUTI, I-REPORTER: I never thought this such a thing would happen in front of me here in Blacksburg. I knew this is something way more serious. It was then when I decided to use my camera.

DE LA CRUZ: He also had no idea how great an impact it would have on CNN and its viewers. It not only helped convey the enormity of the tragedy but changed the way we perceive and present the news. Jamal Albarghouti was able to get a hold of some pictures for us with his cell phone. You know it now to be called the I-report. Let's take a look.



DE LA CRUZ: CNN launched I-report in August of 2006, but it was this video and the images sent the day of the Virginia Tech massacre that helped establish I-report as a legitimate news gathering tool, a chance to see and hear things unedited in almost real time. On the Virginia Tech story, CNN received about 420 I-reports submissions. Within 24 hours of the shooting.


DE LA CRUZ: Now CNN I-report has received more than 81,000 submissions from more than 185 countries. You send us your photos and videos on everything from wildfires to political protests and we look forward to more in the New Year.

ROBERTS: It really is an incredible tool but I remember on the day and the ensuing days afterwards the most powerful image for me was actually a mental image, the description of emergency personnel as they were taking away the bodies of the young people who were killed in that hall, their cell phones were ringing as their parents were trying to get in touch with them. It still brings a tear to the eye just thinking about that.

DE LA CRUZ: I'm sure.

ROBERTS: Veronica, thanks very much.

CHO: A lot ahead. He didn't live to see Christmas but still got his Christmas cards out in the mail. Find out how a message from heaven coming up.

And a convenience store not in a very convenient position for one driver. Take a look at that. We'll tell you how close the store's owner was being in the car's path, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: We're glad you're with us. Imagine getting a Christmas card from heaven. A man who died in October still managed to get his holiday greetings out. Here's how. He died in Oregon at age 88 but he made a deal with his barber, prepaid cards to send out after he died. The barber sent 34 hand-written cards that had the return address "heaven" on them.

Police in Florida are looking for the driver of a van that slammed into a convenience store minutes after the owner left. Four surveillance cameras captured the van crashing into the side of the express food store in Ft. Lauderdale. Look at that crash. It happened early yesterday morning, a mere five minutes after the owner went home. The crash sent shelves and merchandise flying, causing about $25,000 in damage. The owner spent Christmas day mopping it up.

SAM ALQADI, STORE OWNER: I'm lucky. I now want to find the guy who did it. I look at the camera, maybe he's a drunk or something.

CHO: All right, there's one theory. The driver appeared to be going the wrong way down the road. The crash happened just a mile and a half from the county sheriff's office. Over to you, John.

ROBERTS: One lucky fellow.

A Pennsylvania man who was suing an 8-year-old boy says he and his wife are now the targets of public ridicule and harassment. David Pfahler sued after he and a child collided on the ski slopes outside of Denver. He had to undergo surgery after the accident, even though the man says his son barely tapped Pfahler' skis.

That brings us to today's Quick Vote question. Should children be legally held responsible for accidentally hurting someone? Cast your vote at Let's take an early look at our results. So far, 28 percent of you say yes they should be held legally responsible but an overwhelming 72 percent of you say no. We'll continue to tally your votes throughout the morning and bring you a final look just before 9:00 eastern time.

You're watching the most news in the morning and what does Bing know anyways? How a white Christmas almost ruined the holidays for travelers across the mid section of the nation.

And back to the campaign trail. The Iowa race so close and the vote only eight days away, why aren't all of the leading candidates campaigning there? Two live reports from the campaign trail just ahead.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

On the loose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The zoo did lockdown.

ROBERTS: This mornings, questions about how a Siberian tiger escapes at the zoo.

Miracle survivor. A plane crash in Panama kills a father and daughter, but somehow her friend made it out alive.

Plus, happy returns? Shoppers head back out while new sales numbers come in. Where this retail season stacks up on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning. Thanks very much for joining us on this day, when much of America gets back to work, Wednesday, the 26th of December. I'm John Roberts in Washington.

CHO: And shopping, too, John. I'll be shopping later, you won't. I'm Alina Cho in New York. Good morning everybody. Kiran Chetry has the morning off.

ROBERTS: We begin in San Francisco. A shocking end to Christmas day at the San Francisco Zoo. A Siberian tiger somehow escaped from its cage after the zoo closed. It had already killed one man and was mauling another when police arrived.