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Snowstorm Slams Northeast; Airport Delays, Some Runways Re- Open; Travel Delays Due to Snow; Late Pope John Paul II Fast-Tracked to Sainthood

Aired December 20, 2009 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM.

Holiday plans get smothered this week under a blanket of snow just days before Christmas. This is what the East Coast is dealing with. The Washington area got up to 23 inches of snow, the largest December accumulation in more than 70 years. Airport runways were up and running this morning in the D.C. area after being closed midday Saturday but D.C. area bus and rails service still not back to normal.

Further north, 10 inches and counting. Some areas in the northeast are reporting more than 20 inches. It's been both disruptive and deadly. Four deaths in Virginia are being blamed on the storm. So where traffic is moving is snarled or stalled. Roads are still treacherous and clogged with thousands of accidents. Let's get a better picture of this winter storm with Bonnie Schneider. She's is the severe weather center.

In some places, they are still seeing the flakes fall.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, that's so true, Fredricka. I want to show you where we have snow right now. For those of in the Boston area, you know that the snow doesn't seem to want to shut off but it will. This nor'easter is winding up. And as you can see here, we are still getting a lot of snow pummeling the coastline of Massachusetts as well as New Hampshire and Maine and actually that's where we have winter weather advisories that persist for this region.

The winds are fierce. In Cape Cod right now, look at this, Hyannis in Massachusetts, all the way to the extreme east, winds are coming in at 37 miles per hour. They have been clocked even higher than that in terms of wind gusts. And we're still checking out advisories in that area. I want to show you where we're watching more wintry weather tonight and that's right here in the coastline of Maine. We have a winter weather advisory until 6:00 tonight.

Check out the conditions in Boston, not too far to the south. We had a whiteout situation. Those big fluffy flakes right there in Boston and you can see that the streets are definitely looking pretty tough to travel in but this is, you know, New England. It's a hardy time out there. So we're used to getting some snow this time of year. But it's definitely tough to travel in because the winds are so strong.

If you look closely at the video, you can see that the snow is almost flowing sideways and that is going to be the name of the game for the coastline of Maine tonight and into other parts of New England. What else are we watching for this evening. Well, we're watching for the potential of power outages. Check this out. Dangerous travel conditions as the nor'easter slowly pulls away off shore.

So it's not over yet. We're also being affected by lots of delays at the airports and of course, travel tonight and tomorrow. I have more on that in just a bit. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much. Let's talk about that. Air travel or not, our Susan Candiotti is at La Guardia Airport in New York. What's happening there, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the runaways have been opened throughout the day, and in fact, the sun is shining but there have been a number of cancellations. As you can see over my shoulder, the lines are gone now in the American Airlines Terminal. They did have a number of flights, a lot of flights canceled. But we are hearing from all of the passengers who are here now that their flights are on schedule.

Again, every airline seems to have had traffic problems or problems getting equipment back in here. And that's because here at the airport they had about seven inches of snow, about 11 inches of snow at JFK Airport. And overall between Saturday and Sunday, 1,200 flights canceled among the various airlines, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK. So many flights that were cancelled, surely some of the other carriers and some of the other terminals, it can't be smooth sailing. Are a lot of people finding that they are being rebooked right away?

CANDIOTTI: Well, we don't know the answers from all of the airlines just yet. We're still waiting to hear from them. But we do know in Delta's case, for example, that they are still in a lot of trouble. We know that a lot of people who had flights, let's say for example, booked tomorrow, won't be able to get home until in some cases until Christmas day. So we're still waiting to get answers from the various airlines about what they're going to do.

But a few hours ago from this morning until about 2:00 in the afternoon here at the American Terminal, for example, the lines were stretched. I mean, you could not even see the booking counter from here and they were snaking all the way around the corner. And then about 2:00 in the afternoon, they seemed to die down. So the question is - how long is it going to take everyone to get back to normal. That we don't know yet.

WHITFIELD: OK. Susan Candiotti at La Guardia Airport. Thanks so much. Appreciate that. We'll let's find out how things are going at Reagan National Airport because as we know runways were closed down for a good portion of yesterday afternoon but earlier this morning, they reopened.

Our Kate Bolduan is there. Is it smooth sailing there or still a few wrinkles?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't say smooth sailing quite yet, Fredricka. You can see really right here what is left behind from that massive storm to hit so much of the east coast. Long lines and long waits. We have video here at Reagan National Airport.

Very long lines inside and outside as Washington airports are starting to dig themselves out of this storm and starting to try to get going once again here at Reagan National, the first flight after being shut down overnight. The first flight took off at 12:30 this afternoon. But all of it really testing the patience of so many holiday travelers. Listen here to many of them.


CRYSTAL VELASCO, TRAVELING TO MIAMI: Yes, it's really frustrating that they didn't tell us anything until we got here. Now they're just telling us, oh, stand in line for three hours and then we'll tell you when you get to the front. And so, (INAUDIBLE)

DENNIS KATOLIN, TRAVELING TO ST. LOUIS: Every year there's somebody doing this for several days in a row, like people in front of us and they keep coming back. So we'll be fine. We'll be fine. Everybody is healthy and everybody is safe. So it's not the end of the world but frustrating.


BOLDUAN: Very good attitude to have and something that I've been hearing from a lot of people here after they've seen the reports on our air and just how tough the snow is. They really have come here - many people really kind of trying to be patient and taking it, you know, as they come.

They are going to take a look at the boards. You see everything from cancellations to on time, to delayed. How long are people waiting? I've talked to several people in line, kind of following them through. I've heard waits to check in, to check their bags, to rebook a flight if they've been canceled for maybe one, two, or three times, anything from 1 1/2 to three hours here, Fredricka.

So definitely a high level of frustration. Even though people, I will say that this line is getting a little shorter, even though it is extremely long and they stretch all the way down the terminal depending on the airline but people are starting to get on the flights. We're seeing the planes take off and I guess that's all people can hope for as we are starting to get up against really, really peak holiday travel.

WHITFIELD: And so Kate, I wonder, there were a lot of folks who are stuck in that airport yesterday when's all the runways were shut down, the Metro rail was closed down there at the airport as well, people could not get anywhere. A lot of folks had overnight right there in the plane. Is it your sense that many of them got out early this morning when some of those runways opened?

BOLDUAN: Well, the runways - we know that the one main runway here, that handled about 90 percent of the travel in and out of Washington Reagan National. That is open. That is one that open at 4:30. Over at Dulles, the other Washington, very massive airport. Three of the four runways are open.

So they're definitely getting up to speed but what these folks people here at the airport who really know how these things work, they say it's going to take at least a few days, a couple of few days to get the system back up and running and that's what's really concerning people as they're really trying to get on these flights to get out for the holidays.

WHITFIELD: All right. We wish them the best.

Kate Bolduan, thanks so much. At Reagan National Airport. Thanks so much.

All right. Well, the storm certainly created a few problems in Virginia. In fact, that's where Reagan National is, especially on the roadways though. It was pretty difficult, more than 3,000 crashes. CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf has been out in this storm from the beginning. And he has the latest on some of the road conditions.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm coming to you from an area in northern Virginia, right along parts of I-95 where conditions are pretty good in terms of traffic. The roads here have been treated. And you can see plenty of people going in the north and southbound lanes. So that is certainly some good news.

Even here during the on ramp to the frontage roads, conditions are pretty nice. They are going on the freeway and that is really not the situation, especially in back roads. You still have a lot of areas that have not been plowed. Roads that are still untreated. So you're going to have some issues away from the major interstates.

However, Some of the interstates, especially in places like i-81, you got some backups there. Also, in the Charlottesville area, in the higher elevations, you're going to have some problems there. A few backups and a few fender benders and certainly some tough times.

But there's one thing I want to you notice, too. As these vehicles, like say the semi truck is moving along, you're going to notice it's going to pick up quite a bit of moisture. Now, with temperatures expected tonight to drop below the freezing point again, there's a very good possibility that we could see more icing on these roadways. So that is certainly going to be a big obstacle for a lot of people.

But for the time being, long term, the situation looks pretty good because tomorrow's highs, as well as (INAUDIBLE) are going to be above the freezing point, that should make things a little bit easier for travelers as they try to make their way up and down these roadways to go and visit their families and friends during the holidays. That's the latest we've got from northern Virginia. Let's send it back to you in the studio.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Reynolds. Well, it's very sad news to report coming out of Hollywood. Actress Brittany Murphy is dead. The 32-year-old best known for roles in "Clueless," "Eight Mile" and "Just Married" with former boyfriend Ashton Kutcher. She starred in that movie with him. Well she was pronounced dead at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, just about three hours ago. The cause of death has not been released.

All right. In Washington, U.S. senators will have a late night, not because of the snow but because of something else. Our Dana Bash is in Washington. Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, the president's top advisor told CNN earlier today health care now in the one yard line, almost a victory for him. But we won't see what will probably be the most health care vote to date until 1:00 a.m. more on that coming up.


WHITFIELD: U.S. Senate democrats have the 60 votes they need for healthcare reform. But what did it take to get those votes. CNN's Dana Bash takes us behind the scenes.


BASH (voice-over): The lone Democratic hold out was in. Senate Democrats finally secured enough votes for health care.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Change is never easy. But change is what is necessary in America today and that's why I intend to vote for (INAUDIBLE) and vote for health care reform.

BASH: Getting moderate Democrat Ben Nelson's support wasn't easy, especially on the issue of abortion. To reassure him that no taxpayer dollars would go for abortion, Democratic leaders struck a deal allowing states to opt out of abortion coverage. And requiring people getting government subsidies to pay for abortion insurance with separate funds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) that money in a very effective manner and make certain that the plans do not - will use federal dollars to fund abortion.

BASH: Abortion was the final sticking point but Democratic leaders made several other delicate compromises to get both moderate and liberal Democrats on board. Instead of a government-run health care option, conservative democrats oppose, the measure sets up for not for profit private plans overseen by a government agency, the Office of Personnel Management to appease liberals angry about no public option.

To compete with private insurers, Democratic leaders strengthened regulation on insurance companies, requiring them to spend 80 to 85 percent of people's premiums on their medical expenses. Not all senators who braved blizzard conditions came to celebrate a breakthrough. Republicans accused Democrats of jamming the bill through while Americans are preoccupied with Christmas.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: You know, playing these kinds of games with the nation's health care. This is an outrage and needs to be called at.

BASH: To slow things down -


BASH: Republicans forced the Democrats' compromise to be read.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To subsection two -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Provided in paragraph two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Section 1301 of this act -

BASH: Out loud, all day long. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Senate Democrats new measure would cost $871 billion over 10 years, slightly more than the original bill and extend health coverage to 30 million people, in part by dramatically expanding Medicaid. That was another obstacle in getting Ben Nelson's support who worried about the long-term burden that would put on state budgets.

So to secure Nelson's vote, Democrats added a sweetener for his home state, the federal government would pay 100 percent of Nebraska's tab for expanding Medicaid indefinitely. We asked the Senate majority leader and he described it this way.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: It's a compromise. We work on different things to get a number of people vote.


WHITFIELD: All right. Congressional correspondent Dana Bash with us now. So when we talk about this 1:00 a.m. vote, Monday morning, essentially tonight, Dana, is this a quick vote or might there be a lot of talk just prior to the vote?

BASH: Well, here is what is going to happen. The Senate has been in since 1:00 p.m. Eastern. They are debating on the Senate floor as we speak this issue of health care and then they are going to go into recess probably at about 11:30 p.m. Eastern tonight and come back just after midnight.

Why is that? Because of procedural reasons. They need to make it as if it is the next calendar day. So then there will be, probably a formal debate from about midnight Eastern to 1:00 a.m. and then the official start time for this vote is supposed to be at 1:01 a.m. Eastern. The senate that is often not always exactly the case but it's certainly, should be close to that and just to show you kind of the import that Democrats see in this vote, they have already asked all senators to be seated at their desk, which almost never happens and that's a formality that is given to votes that are seen as incredibly important.

And certainly for the Democrats, I think of all the months that we have been talking about the votes, certainly that the House final passage, that was very important a couple of months ago. But this is going to be the most important vote at about 1:00 a.m. Eastern to show that Democrats do in fact have the 60 votes they need to break Republicans' attempts to stop this bill and get this final passage which should be sometime later in the week.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dana Bash, thanks so much. You have a long night ahead as do those senators. Thanks so much. Of course, you will too. Viewers at home, if you stay with CNN for the most comprehensive coverage of health care reform.

Our Tom Foreman and Dr. Sanjay Gupta will lead the special coverage along with the best political team on television, our live coverage begins at midnight, taking you right up to the key vote, only on CNN.

So guess what the Salvation Army found at the bottom of its Santa kettles? It glitters a bit brighter than loose change. We'll show you.


WHITFIELD: A quick look at the top stories right now. Improving weather for the Eastern U.S.. A monster nor'easter is winding down off the Atlantic coast. The storm delivered record or near record amounts of snow from Virginia northward. Four deaths in Virginia are attributed to this storm. And as the snow begins to taper off, travel is starting to pick up again in the northeast.

Can major airports closed due to massive snowfall? And they have begun to reopen today. Hundreds of flights in the region, however were cancelled yesterday due to the weather and you can expect long lines and possible delays as the airports try to resume full flight operation as we head to a very busy holiday travel week, which brings us to our Bonnie Schneider, talk a little bit more about weather and things that we like to put in our chat room.

Just a little moment to take a breather and enjoy some interesting kind of, usually off the map kind of stories that we often don't get to give air time to. Good to see you.

SCHNEIDER: Good to see you. And first we're going to start off with what we've been talking about all day, the big snowstorm.


SCHNEIDER: And your mother probably told you this, I know mine did. Don't go out with wet hair. Well one of our I-reporters Miriam Cintron says that when she went out this morning in New York City, it was so cold that her hair froze.

WHITFIELD: And I wonder, was her hair wet or is it a result of, you know, too much mousse or product in her hair or something like that?

SCHNEIDER: It was 25 degrees this morning. And boy, it was (INAUDIBLE) so definitely possible.

WHITFIELD: She took these images from Manhattan. Can you give us some idea of what you're seeing outside of her unit and oh gosh, New York is just so die hard. That would be you too?


WHITFIELD: Out in the snow, carrying those groceries. Look at that. And even the black car still have to get around as best they can.

Well, it didn't really seem like it was getting around there.

Well, let's talk about the Salvation Army we're used to seeing the kettle outside stores, all the time people drop their change, a couple of bucks but this time, in Colorado, something else, something glimmering.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

WHITFIELD: And gorgeous.

SCHNEIDER: Someone donated a diamond ring, and a spare diamond where hundreds of people pass and make donations everyday. But they never received a diamond before. It's pretty incredible because actually one of them was a faux diamond. But one was real and it was worth between $1,200 and $1,400, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And this will help the needy just like your spare change will. They'll figure out a way to kind of make the transfer. It kind of gets everybody into the holiday spirit, a lot of times the kettles do.


WHITFIELD: But you know, Christmas really is about giving.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. It is a nice gift.

WHITFIELD: It's also about Christmas trees, isn't it?

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

WHITFIELD: Someone who is over the top about Christmas tree decorations.

SCHNEIDER: There's always somebody in the neighborhood that has big decorations. Well, one family in eastern Iowa has 40 Christmas trees in their homes, several are decorate with the story of Christmas. Brandon (INAUDIBLE) loves Christmas and he started decorating as a hobby about 10 years ago. You have to start in early, I guess, November to get it done. WHITFIELD: And we actually started our decorating around early December. I'm sorry, early November. Not because we got 40 trees, we only have one. But you know, we decided to stretch it out this year and enjoy it for more than a month.

SCHNEIDER: And they say that they take theirs the second week of January. I think with that many trees, maybe you should let it go to the end of January.

WHITFIELD: Yes. I wonder if they're real trees. That would be very fragrant in our home, wouldn't it?

SCHNEIDER: It sure would.

WHITFIELD: All right. Fun stuff. All right. Thanks so much, Bonnie. We appreciate it.

Of course, we'll be checking back with you because it's been a monster of a storm.


WHITFIELD: It has delayed a lot of people and often on Sundays, you talk about the airport delays particularly New York. Well, this time, a lot of it has to do with that nasty snow.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. And it's not over yet. We'll talk more about that soon.

WHITFIELD: Yes, but some folks are finding a lot of fun in the snow, and of course, in Manhattan, Central Park and beyond, people are enjoying themselves. Take a look right there. Allan Chernoff is going to be joining us on the lighter side of this snowfall.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the NEWSROOM. Digging out of the big nor'easter, yes, it's a pain but it's also meant for a pretty good excuse for fun, too.

CNN's senior correspondent Allan Chernoff is in Manhattan where folks are taking it all in stride, at least some folks, right?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, you know, I've got a hot commodity over here. A little bit of a snow because here in Manhattan, you know, it doesn't last all that long.

You got so much traffic, so many shovelers. So Manhattan, the streets are pretty well cleared out but the surrounding burrows, the surrounding region, we've still got plenty of snow. We got pounded last night. In fact, the area that got the most snow, southern New Jersey, some areas, more than 20 inches and also in Long Island, in fact, up to New York in Suffolk County, 26 inches. That's where the regional National Weather Service officer is. That was a record for them. Out in Hampton Bay, about 23 inches and our producer, Sheila Steffan (ph) was out there. She sent in some great pictures, really a winter wonderland over there, and we also have a wonderful shot of her two dogs, her Alaskan malamutes, Taz and Mali, loving the snow. They are really just gorgeous and they seem to be right at home in that deep blizzard that they had out in Long Island.

Here in New York City, it wasn't quite as intense. The surrounding burrows, Brooklyn got about 14 inches. Here in Manhattan about 10 inches. Central Park, well that's one spot where a lot of people were headed to, after doing the shoveling and of course, lots of people had to shovel out there cars but after doing the shoveling it was to the little slopes at Central Park and lots of wonderful sledding, kids were making tracks earlier this morning.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: I like sledding because I go really fast and it's just fun.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: This is one of the best parts of New York City. Central Park is filled with snow and you can just ski all you want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a great day. Everybody is out here today. You know, that is what is fun about having kids.

CHERNOFF: You know you can't make everyone happy. But what I find is and what I did with my kids this morning in fact, they go from joy to misery. Down the slope it's wonderful, climbing up, they are complaining all the way. But generally a fantastic day, that's just the way you want it. The snow to pound down Saturday night and then Sunday morning get the sleds out.


WHITFIELD: Oh, yeah, that's a lot of fun. And then cap it all off with hot coca or something, right?

Reporter: Any way, you know, it's just a great day. Certainly a fantastic beginning of the wintertime.

WHITFIELD: Glad you and the kids had fun. Thank you so much, Allan Chernoff. Let's get to the pain part of this big snow. A lot of air travelers have been delayed or their flights have been cancelled all together. In New York, let's check in again with our Susan Candiotti and I understand Susan you too are being inconvenienced by it all. Your holiday plans have been kind of put aside a little bit right?

CANDIOTTI: Well, a lot of people are having problems and no one seems to be escaping them. Well a few people have formed long lines here at the LaGuardia Airport and the American Airlines terminal which houses a few airlines and they lasted until about 2:00 and a number of flight cancellations, and we don't know if mainly it is equipment problems or what but leading up to the storm, the airlines canceled 800 flights. There were another 400 canceled on top of that. That's among JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark. Now will things get back on line fairly soon? I don't know. But I can tell you this. We found one poor lady who has been trying to get out since yesterday. Here name is Megan Ruzicka and wait until you hear this story. So you were trying to leave from here starting yesterday?

MEGAN RUZICKA, STRANDED TRAVELER: Yes, I was supposed to fly out yesterday about 5:30 which is kind of when the storm hit a little bit. So my flight got canceled. And so it got postponed. Originally until Christmas, which wasn't really an option because that was about a week away so I flew -- so I was supposed to fly out this morning and then that one got canceled. So hopefully as of right now tomorrow morning keep your fingers crossed but it's been a hassle, so --

CANDIOTTI: So you've been switching airlines back and forth, too.

RUZICKA: A couple of airlines. Yes. Originally I was supposed to fly Frontier and now it's U.S. Airways, all over the place. Cleveland, Indianapolis, North Carolina. So hopefully we'll get to Denver.

CANDIOTTI: A zigzag route to get back there. Does that mean that you'll be spending the night here?

RUZICKA: Yes, it does. It is a little rough, but for me it's easier to stay here and be here in case something changes. I have all of my stuff here. Hopefully we'll be in the air soon.

CANDIOTTI: Understandably so. I don't blame you for sticking around in case something should open up. Well Megan good luck to you.

RUZICKA: Thank you so much.

CANDIOTTI: You're not going to have a comfortable night. Oh, dear. And of course she's not the only one that has situations like this. We are waiting to hear from all the different airlines about when they think things will get back on schedule but so far no word.

Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And did I hear that too Susan, you have to wait now days for a flight that was cancelled as a result of this snow and now you are going to be traveling maybe Christmas day?

CANDIOTTI: Well Delta is having a lot of problems and they could get you out but not until Christmas day so you are left to either wait or scramble to find another airline and obviously a more expensive way to get home.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Well, I know the family will still be glad to see you no matter when you get there. Same with Megan, too. All right. Thanks so much, Susan Candiotti appreciate that. Kate Bolduan is at another airport where there is a lot of frustrated travelers. Although they are keeping their chins up. She is at Reagan National Airport. Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fredricka, well we moved outside to show you the perspective out here, it's a beautiful day with a lot of snow. However, that's not exactly what people wanting to be talk about when they are trying to get into the airport and get out. Almost 16 1/2 inches fell here at Reagan National Airport. That's definitely not a record for the snow fall across the east coast that just happened overnight. But it is a record here at Regan National for a single December day, what did that effectively do?

Well that shut down this airport that shut down the runway overnight and it just reopened with the first flight going at 12:30 this afternoon. People have been here over night, all morning, really very long lines and we have some video of it, long lines and long waits for people both inside and out side trying to make it up to the ticket counter.

Just before I walked out here I heard someone, one of the airlines get on the overhead speakers and said, please if you are rebooking try to call reservations, the ticket agents they are trying to do as much as they can. But it is really so many people trying to rebook. I talked to people in line and they've said they've had a wait of between an hour and a half to three hours trying to make it up to the ticket counter. Clearly a frustration for so many people. Listen to one person here.


JAMES HACKETT, TRAVELING TO ST. LOUIS: I called the American Airlines number and got a recorded message, flight was OK. I got into the building, got in line and ten minutes later it said on the board that the flight was delayed until 9:00 and then it said it was delayed to 10:00 and then the lady came around and said anything that was scheduled before 10:00, was canceled entirely.


BOLDUAN: So now here at Regan National Airport some good news. They will take anything that we can get right Fredricka, at this point. One runway is opened. This is the main runway that handles about 90 percent of the air traffic in and out of Regan National. They are making progress there so that is very good.

Dulles International Airport, another very big airport in the Washington area, they have three of four runways opened, the very main runways open. So they are making progress. But as we are hearing from pretty much any airport it's going to be potentially days before they really are caught up and they are back up to speed getting people out and in on their way this holiday season.

WHITFIELD: Pack that patience when you head to the airport. Thank you so much. BOLDUAN: There's a reason, Fredricka it really is.

WHITFIELD: It really is.

BOLDUAN: That's so true.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much. Hang in there. Reagan National Airport.

All right. Well the push to make Pope John Paul II a Saint. Already and why it's coupled with possible saint hood for another more controversial pope. Our Vatican analyst explains.



The late Pope John Paul II is apparently being fast tracked for sainthood. Pope Benedict the 16th has signed a decree to officially recognizing his predecessor's heroic virtues and he's not the only late pope moving closer to the holy title. Let's bring in our senior Vatican analyst John Allen who is joining us from Denver, he is also a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, at the "Independent Newspaper." Good to see you John.


WHITFIELD: So what is with the big rush? I mean Pope John II died in 2005, and now Pope Benedict says that he needs to be deattified (ph). Why?

ALLEN: Well you know Fredricka, I mean saint hood is in theory is supposed to be the most Democratic process in the Catholic Church. It starts with a popular sense that a particular figure was a St. and then the church comes in after the fact to ratify it. In this case, the evidence for that popular sense around John Paul II is pretty strong.

I mean you'll remember those dramatic scenes back in April 2005 when the Pope died in St. Peters Square, that crowd chanting meaning St. Hood now. I think because of that Benedict the 16th decided to wave the normal five-year waiting period between when someone dies and the process can begin and decided you know since the handwriting seems like it is on the wall anyway lets get this over with.

WHITFIELD: Isn't there a miracle that's usually associated with a pope who is on track to be a Saint?

ALLEN: Yes, saint hood is a three step process; I mean first you have the person who lived a saintly life. We now have that for John Paul the II. Then you need one miracle to get through the edification, that is the enthrallment stage and then you need another miracle to get to canalization. In the case of John Paul the II there are plenty of miracle reports out there. Including, one that the Vatican has taken a very close look at, a French nun who two years ago said she was cured from Parkinson disease by virtue of praying to the late Pope.

WHITFIELD: And what about the Pope because perhaps I guess he is the more controversial figure where there have been a lot critics who say that he didn't do enough to help stop the holocaust and those critics are saying, should he really be on track for St. Hood?

ALLEN: Yes. I mean I sort of called this the Vatican's two for one strategy. The idea is that when you are going to move the Pope along the path of St. Hood, you sort of bundle him with another more popular Pope, hoping that negative reaction to the first is overwhelmed by positive reaction to the second. And yesterday that's exactly what happened. The Vatican announced these decrees of early virtue for John Paul and Pius XII together and you're absolutely right Pius XII is a controversial figure in Catholic Jewish relations, some say that during the second World War he did everything possible to save Jews and others in what were obviously very difficult circumstances but others say when the chips were down he didn't do enough.

And for that reason he is a devise of figure. I think what the Vatican is hoping here is that by connecting him to John Paul who of course is remembered as for revolutionizing Catholic Jewish relations people will draw the conclusion that moving Pius XII along they are not trying to make some kind of negative statement about that relationship.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. So when would we see this kind theorization take place?

ALLEN: Well, with Pius XII I'm not sure, with John Paul II I think all signs are this could happen very quickly. The rumors in Rome, it could happen in October of next year.

WHITFIELD: Sometimes quick is relative.

ALLEN: It's a relative term with the Vatican. That is right, they think in centuries.

WHITFIELD: Right. All right. John Allen thanks so much. We appreciate that, very fascinating stuff.

All right. A look at our top stories right now. We'll look at that and much of the east coast is digging out from under the season's first major snow storm. Winter storm warnings have been canceled as of now and airports are reopening and they are jammed with people hoping to get that next flight out but many of those flights, well, they still have been canceled.

And the pressure is on for U.S. Senate, Democrats trying to get a healthcare reform bill passed before Christmas, the Senate is in session right now and today's debate will be followed by crucial vote scheduled for Monday, 1:00 a.m. Eastern. CNN's live coverage begins tonight or tomorrow morning, which ever way you want to look at it midnight Eastern.

The U.S. government has transferred a dozen Gitmo detainees to their home countries. The Justice Department says four were sent to Afghanistan and two to the Somalia Land region and six to Yemen. That leaves just under 200 detainees at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Tons of interesting videos are up loaded to youtube and other social networking sites all time, of course no one gets to see all of them so we found some of the best for you, hand picked by other own Josh Levs. Is that right hand picked by you?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I've got a good producer. Top video on People were clicking on it like crazy, you get fun videos and now we've got some more. There's one that I left off on yesterday and it's the story of this guy who went away for a few days, and gave his apartment key to his friend and his friend gift wrapped his entire apartment. Look at that. They went through every single piece of food. Literally every single contents of his refrigerator. His girlfriend was in on the prank. She actually was there when he got home from his break so she could catch his reaction.

WHITFIELD: I want to know how long did that take and how much wrapping paper did they go through?

LEVS: Talking about the economy, some stores got very lucky selling gift wrap that day. And I assume it took at least a whole day.

WHITFIELD: At least. The clock on the wall looks like it was gift wrapped. Come on. Once we get to the refrigerator and all of those items have been gift wrapped?

LEVS: It's astounding, isn't it?

We've got this commercial out there that a lot of people are seeing. Some people say it's cute and some people say it's too cutesy. I'm going to show you this ad.


LEVS: Some people say it's too over the top. The blogs have gone wild over this.


(UNIDENTIFED FEMALE): One two, three, four, not going to wear it anymore.


LEVS: They actually go through every single move.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh.

LEVS: Yes. The first time it hit me, I don't think it is me, I think it's purely hilarious.

WHITFIELD: They all have to be part of some young cheerleaders group because they are just too good. LEVS: I just figured it was Hollywood auditioning.

WHITFIELD: I guess it could have been that. All right. Josh very fun, you are coming back with more stuff.

LEVS: Yes. I will give you a little piece. The world's tiniest snowman, I'm going to show it to you, it is microscopic, and it says something. Very important too, about the future of medicine, you are going to see it right here.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to THE NEWSROOM. Of course with all that snow out there you can expect to see a lot of families making snowmen, but you never seen a snow man like this. And I'm not talking about Josh Levs; take us now to that unbelievable snow man. A very tiny one, right?

LEVS: Yes. This is unlike anything you have ever seen. Let's watch this video. We are zooming in to a three dimensional object, it is not a drawing, and there you are going to see an actual little tiny object shaped like a snow man. I want you to know what you are seeing. This thing is one-fifth the width of a human hair made from two tiny beads and it's an actual three-dimensional object it comes from the National Physical Laboratory, getting a lot of traffic on line.

The Website of this lab says it's one of the leading science and research facility. When you read about what they are doing here, you learn terms like electron microscopic stigmatism and nano manipulation which was used to make this. What we are seeing here though and what is so interesting about this is this lab did something very clever. They decided to create this image for the holidays to draw attention to nano technology which is the future of everything around us. It's the future of technology, it is the way computers are going, and it is the future of medicine.

This little, tiny instrument, better designed to have such precision, that they can actually do that. And if we go to this Website, you can see more close up, it is Frosty the snow man, it's three dimensional, it's very interesting, this is the future of technology, medicine, computers, your cell phone, your TV, all going in this direction.

WHITFIELD: I am fascinated by at least two things there, OK; yes the snowman and the technology to actually see that snowman. But then I want to know the story behind building that tiny little snowman because it was two tin beads you said.

LEVS: Two little tiny tin beads and what they have in this laboratory are basically these tiny little instruments that operate with such precision you can only see what the instruments are even doing when you magnify them that many times. And that is what is creating this technology and that is what you can play with.

Oh,, it is on my facebook and twitter, JoshLevs.cnn, and all the videos we've seen and the snowman. Let us know what you think and send us your links we will share some right here on the show.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much Josh, appreciate that. It has been very fun. And very frustrating for a lot of people who are traveling, especially in and out of places like this, this is an airport, LaGuardia Airport, has been a mess for awhile but now I understand I guess travelers can start to feel pretty optimistic because their planes will actually get off and running those runways.

And I think we have another live shot, oh that is beautiful, that is Manhattan and that is Central Park, a lot of folks have used that as a playground today with all that snow. Our Bonnie Schneider will be along to give us an idea of what more in the northeast to expect.


WHITFIELD: Oh, a little snow, even if it's nine inches deep doesn't stop those hardy New Yorkers. You are looking at Columbus Circle right there, it's beautiful in Manhattan. Along with other cities along the northeast got quite the dumping of snow over the past 24 hours. Our own resident New Yorker, Bonnie Schneider a little dousing of snow doesn't stop her either.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Now I'm on the Atlantian, Fred where we do get snow occasionally but not like that.

WHITFIELD: Do you call yourself an Atlantan?

SCHNEIDER: Why not? I live here now right? OK, a New Yorker at heart.

WHITFIELD: Die hard New Yorker all the way.

SCHNEIDER: Atlantan at present. All right. We're going to show you for those of you that are stuck anywhere, you're not alone. I have some good news. There are a lot of planes that are actually up in the air right now, 5500 of them, in fact, take a look at flight explorer and yes many flights have been able to get out and get going across the country. Of course, we do have a lot of delays though with exceptions to that, you can see that some of the delays are pretty long still, well over two hours into New York and New Jersey, also, Philadelphia 4 hours and 45-minute, a lot of cancellations as well. And in Boston 45 minute delays. So still tough going on this Sunday evening for those of you that are looking to get out.

And speaking of tonight, I want to show you what you need to be concerned with as we go into the overnight hours. Watch out for blowing snow, power outages due to strong winds particularly in northern New England and dangerous travel conditions. If that is not enough, we are tracking yet so more advisories from a different weather system, imagine you get all of this snow, two feet of snow in West Virginia and areas further to the north and parts of Virginia, a new system coming in will clip the area with other couple of inches of snow. So now a winter weather advisory goes for parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, and southern sections of Ohio until tomorrow morning. So we're not over yet. Winter begins tomorrow Fred and it sure does feel that way. WHITFIELD: It certainly does. All right. Thank you so much Bonnie Schneider appreciates that.


WHITFIELD: I'll be back in one hour from now and give you an update on this massive winter storm. And of course the travel delays that come along with it also.

Breaking news out of Los Angeles, actress Brittany Murphy has died. Fresh details in our 6:00 pm Eastern hour. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Fareed Zakaria at "GPS" starts right now.