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Winter Storm Passed Portions Of The South, Moved Into The Northeast; Tonga Eruption Likely The World's Largest In 30 Years; China Says Tickets For Winter Olympics Will Not Be Sold To General Public Due To COVID-19; Russia Denies There Are Russian Troops In Ukraine; UK National Identified As Texas Synagogue Hostage Taker. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Monday morning to you. Martin Luther King Day. I'm Jim Sciutto. And this morning, hundreds of thousands of households in the southeast and along the east coast are still without power this morning as a major winter storm keeps pushing north bringing heavy snow, ice, strong winds travel heavily impacted all the way from Florida to Maine.

More than 1,300 U.S. flights canceled as of this morning, thousands yesterday as well. Virginia State Police responding to nearly 1,000 traffic crashes and disabled vehicles over the weekend. Two fatalities reported in North Carolina after a vehicle slid off Interstate 95.

Plus, you haven't seen these pictures you want to an underwater volcano, there it is, near Tonga has erupted for the third time now in four days. Those pictures captured on satellite a massive eruption over the weekend. That one there sparked tsunami advisories across the U.S. West Coast.

And in China, major changes now to the Winter Olympics, which are less than three weeks away amid Coronavirus concerns. Tickets will not be sold to the general public but distributed by authorities instead. The country's zero COVID policy has meant stringent restrictions, new lockdowns with Beijing recording its first case, according to its numbers, of the highly transmissible OMA Omicron variant just this past Saturday.

We begin though first with a winter storm wreaking havoc across the eastern United States this morning. CNN's Dianne Gallagher, she's in Charlotte, North Carolina. CNN's Polo Sandoval is live from Pittsburgh. We begin with Polo, this hour. So it's a tough mix, right? Because you got the snow that it melts, then it turns to ice. So tell us what the conditions are like this morning.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the good thing, Jim is that people are mostly heed those warnings by officials to simply stay home, especially since it's a holiday with no school, perhaps no work that simply stay home. But nonetheless, you do see some folks driving out and about and you've seen cars get stuck. You've seen people trekking through the snow.

And, you know, you have millions of Americans affected by the storm right now throughout the Northeast, even parts of the south, which we'll hear from in just a moment. But there is a unique set of circumstances and challenge for the city of Pittsburgh. They were expecting the delivery of about 17 trucks that would assist with snow removal operations. You see their current fleet is aging, according to city officials, and it's really making them struggle to keep up with snow removal operations.

Well, because of supply chain woes due to COVID, those trucks weren't delivered. And that's basically left the city of Pittsburgh, fighting an uphill battle to keep the streets as clear as possible. And you can see it's not very easy. So a lot of these cars are having a tough time getting around with this slush that remains.

And the next wave of the concerns here is going to come in the coming days when overnight temperatures are expected to plummets about one degree later this week. So the fear there is that if a lot of this sort of slushy mess isn't removed off the roads, then you could end up with a very similar situation compared to what we saw just a couple of weeks ago here in the city of Pittsburgh, where many of those side streets were just a frozen mess.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I can ice rink. I've seen it. I felt it. Dianne, so you're in Charlotte, tell us how seriously you're seeing impacts there.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Much like Polo was just talking about we're also seeing in the state of North Carolina the impact of sort of pandemic times due to the fact that the state simply just doesn't have the staffing to get all of the roads in necessarily a timely fashion.

Now look here in Charlotte, you can kind of see they've gotten these main roadways through the center part of the city clear right now. We've seen snow plows coming through this morning. We've seen others the salting the roads to kind of worry about the refreeze because everything is still pretty wet. And I'm going to get any kind of pan down here.

You can see there's a little bit of snow on the top, but overall, it's this thick layer of ice. You can hear it's crunchy right now. It's very hard. It's very slippery. We've seen people slipping trying to walk through here. They're working on trying to get sidewalks cleared, but honestly, right now the priority seems to be those roadways. A lot of the interstates and main roads are clear right now. But if you live in a neighborhood probably can't get out at the moment.

And then there's a concern about the refreeze because this is ice as it melts. You can see the sun coming out and the wind blowing. It's the power outages. Yesterday, there were on 90,000 throughout the state of North Carolina. They've gotten that down to just over 30,000 but they're telling people to be careful, be vigilant about the fact that you may still lose power as the wind continues to blow. You can kind of see it right now. And the ice melts and then refreezes potentially overnight. We could be looking at additional power outages in the next 24 hours here.

SCIUTTO: Dianne Gallagher, Polo Sandoval, thanks so much to both of you.

All right, so if you haven't seen this video from over the weekend, you really do want to. An underwater volcano near the island nation of Tonga has now erupted for the third time in four days.


A massive eruption Saturday spewed ash, gas and steam 12 miles into the air. This is a satellite photo there. It spawns tsunami waves across the Pacific, including on the U.S. West Coast. Meteorologist Jennifer Gray is the CNN Weather Center. So Jennifer, what are we seeing now happening in the region, particularly as we have these follow on eruptions?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Jim is really is remarkable what happened over the weekend with cloud ash, a cloud of ash and steam just shooting into the sky. Now this is going to have some far reaching impacts. The cloud, ash cloud has already reached Australia, and it's going to continue to spread outward. But this is the satellite image of that eruption. And it really is stunning to see on the satellite imagery.

So this was so loud, it was actually heard in Alaska, if you can believe it, or not, almost 6,000 miles away, it also registered across the UK. And also those shockwaves registered a second time in the U.S. if you can see that as well. So this had shockwaves around the world.

We had video come in, look at this, of the ash clouds continuing to erupt near Tonga. This is just unbelievable imagery. Lightning was also initiated within that ash cloud as well. So, as the ash cloud moved to the west, and moved over Queensland on Monday, 63,000 feet in the atmosphere, so it's incredibly high in the atmosphere. But it will take a long time for this ash cloud to disperse because it was such a huge eruption, no current threat to aviation. But of course, that is something that's going to be monitored. And then the ash cloud will just continue to push to the west and spread out all over the Pacific.

So here's a little bit of a timeline. This is a picture from mid- November. You can see the island right there and then started to have little eruptions beginning -- in the beginning of January or December rather. So this is a picture from the beginning of January. And you can see the growth in the island. And then with that massive eruption, the entire caldera just collapsed into the ocean. And that's one of the things that triggered those tsunami waves all across the Pacific that also reached the U.S. coast. A little bit more than three feet high, and portions of California. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Amazing. Amazing to watch that view from space. Just alarming. Jennifer Gray, thanks so much.

GRAY: It really is.

SCIUTTO: The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, they're starting soon, but they're now going to be an invite only event for fans. The Chinese government ditched previous plans to sell tickets to the general public due to a surge of COVID cases there. Attendees will still be required to comply with restrictions before during and after the game. CNN's international correspondent Selina Wang joins me now from Tokyo. So, second Olympics in a row really impacted by the pandemic. I mean, can China maintain its zero COVID policy and still hold these Olympics?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, unfortunately Omicron cases have already been reported in several cities across China and that is the very question and concern is growing that it's zero COVID approach is not as effective against Omicron given how transmissible it is and reports that China's homegrown vaccines are not as effective against the variant.

But still, Jim, we are seeing China try and stamp out every last case with authorities on extremely high alert after Beijing reported its first Omicron case over the weekend and we're seeing extraordinary measures in response. The office where the woman who tested positive worked at, that building lockdown and video circulating of COVID workers bringing pillows and bedding for the workers and employees stuck inside and the woman's travel history was even publicized on state media and extensive detail every place she had been in the past two weeks.

So we're seeing this strategy play out across China, these lockdown, snap lock downs, mass testing, contact tracing, quarantines playing out, for instance, the city of Xi'an and its 13 million people had been under a strict lockdown for weeks. There was even video of thousands of students in full hazmat suits being bussed to quarantine facilities because of a local outbreak. So, this Olympic is going to push that COVID strategy to its absolute limit, Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. Look at those little kids in those outfits to. Selina Wang, thanks so much for covering.

Well, unvaccinated adults in Austria have just weeks to avoid hefty fines for refusing shots. The Austrian health ministry says it will begin a phased approach towards imposing $685 fines in February, anyone 18 and older living who is not vaccinated after March 15 will face those fines.

The fines can be handed down up to four times a year through January 2024. There are some exemptions for pregnant women, people who have recently recovered from COVID and people who face certain health risks from vaccination.


Still ahead, a CNN exclusive inside the Russian strategy around Ukraine. We're going to hear from President Vladimir Putin's personal spokesperson on just how much time they're giving negotiations. Are they taking them seriously? That's coming up next. Plus, two more people are detained in the UK connected to the 11-hour hostage situation at tech -- at a Texas synagogue this weekend. What we're learning about the hostage taker who was killed by police as well as his possible motive.

And right now more than 100 people march in Washington DC remembering Martin Luther King Jr. on this Martin Luther King Day. Activists are pushing for voting rights legislation to honor his legacy but getting something passed appears less and less likely when a more on that, coming up.



SCIUTTO: The Biden administration says it is still working out to determine who was behind the recent cyber-attack against Ukraine. According to the AFP, Ukrainian officials are now saying they have evidence Russia was involved. Here with me now to discuss the ongoing threat from Russia to Ukraine CNN host Fareed Zakaria. He spoke exclusively with a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, who claimed somehow that Russia is not rattling the saber here have a listen to what he said.


DMITRY PESKOV, SPOKESMAN FOR PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: There are no Russian troops of Donbas some spokesperson to Kremlin and officially can tell you that there are no Russian troops on Donbas under Ukrainian soil. But there are Russian troops on the territory of the Russian Federation next to Ukrainian borders. And we find it necessary to keep those troops there in front of the very tense situation and very unfriendly environment created by various training of NATO.


SCIUTTO: Fareed Zakaria joins us now. And Fareed, to hear him there claiming, I suppose you can claim there are no official Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. But everyone knows. The U.S. has credible intelligence that these are Russian backed forces Russian weapons and have been for a number of years here. When you spoke to him, you heard statements like that. And you also see the broader statements from the Kremlin about just what they're demanding in exchange for backing off here. Do you see a path to agreement? Or do you see a rationalization for war?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: I see a very narrow path for agreement. You know, Churchill was once asked about Stalin, does he wants war. And Churchill said, No, he wants the fruits of war. In other words, he wants what he could -- what he could get, where he to fight a war and win it without having to fight the war.

And what Vladimir Putin wants is a guarantee that Ukraine will never become a member of NATO. From Putin's point of view, from the kind of Russian nationalist point of view, NATO has been taking advantage of Russia's weakness, taking advantage of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and encroaching steadily closer and closer, and that Ukraine is the kind of the final straw because Ukraine is part of not the old Soviet sphere of influence, but the oldest still Russian sphere of influence going back two 300 years.

So, that's what he wants. The problem is, the United States and where the West in general has felt that NATO must be open to countries that wish to ally with it, in some way or the other. Ukraine isn't likely to become a member of NATO anytime soon. But Biden can't, in principle, rule that out, you see.


ZAKARIA: So that's where there's a narrow path where there is the reality that Ukraine is not likely to become a member anytime soon. You need a consensus, you need 30 votes. But can Biden say that publicly?


ZAKARIA: Can you in today's world say anything privately and it stays private? Probably not.

SCIUTTO: The thing is, you describe Russia's intentions there. Russia is and it's already proven itself willing to violate the borders of sovereign countries to achieve what it wants, it invaded Ukraine prior. Now controls territory in Ukraine. It's done the same in Georgia.

The U.S. has made clear its sanctions that it intends to impose if Russia further invades Ukraine now. Based on your conversation with Peskov and other reporting you've done, are those threats working? Are they deterring Russian action, the way the Biden administration's hopes they are? Or has Russia sort of priced in that it's willing to accept these costs?

ZAKARIA: It's tough to say but I'd say that the -- they're having more of an effect than one might have imagined. The West is more united than I think the Kremlin expected. This has been forever since the beginning of its Ukrainian invasion and intervention going back several years. I think they thought the Europeans would crumble at the sanctions wouldn't hold.

In fact, Angela Merkel kept the Europeans together. This ratcheting up of sanctions would be substantial.


It would possibly cut Russia out of the international payment system SWIFT, which would be a big deal. But, you know, at the end of the day sanctions to the best of my knowledge have never really deterred a country that is determined to go to war. Russia is a big domestic economy. They have built up $600 billion of foreign exchange reserves. The world needs their gas. So it's not a very powerful threat. But it does seem to have re, you know, the cost benefit analysis is one where they're thinking twice.

SCIUTTO: There are a number of possibilities that U.S. intelligence assessments raise, ranging from a full scale invasion attempt to take over the entire country, but also to things in the less dramatic end of the spectrum, perhaps a further incursion in the eastern Ukraine where there are already Russian backed forces today.

Do you as you look at this, and I'm not asking you to look at a crystal ball, but to look at more likely scenarios see something short of a full scale invasion as a more likely outcome today than it might have been?

ZAKARIA: Yes, very much. So I think a full scale invasion is highly unlikely. And if you listened to Peskov in that interviewed me, he almost ruled it out. He said, we're not talking about military intervention. We're not talking about an invasion. My guess is, and obviously it's a guess, what they will do, what the Kremlin will do is foment some kind of crisis in eastern Ukraine. As you point out, they're effective Russian troops there. They are they don't wear Russian uniforms, but they listen to the Kremlin. They follow orders from Moscow.

So those guys will create some kind of a crisis. The Ukrainian government will feel forced to go into somehow stabilize the situation. That will be what the Russians, what Moscow would claim is the, quote unquote, attack, and they have to then react respond, counter attack, that's the word Peskov used.

So the idea is create a crisis, force the Ukrainian government at first, then you go in, in the guise of rescuing Russian nationals or something like that. And the key here is not for Russia to enter -- even enter Ukraine. The key is to bleed the Ukrainian government, to bleed it off resources, money, energy, and keep Ukraine in a kind of permanently crippled position.


ZAKARIA: But what Putin is trying to show Ukraine as with that, without having good, friendly subservient relations with me, you Ukraine will always be, you know, in trouble, in crisis on the verge of collapse, and he can keep that pressure up without an actual form of invasion.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And subservient being the key word there. Fareed Zakaria, fascinating, revealing interview. Thanks so much.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure, Jim.

SCIUTTO" Still had this hour, President Biden calls the hostage situation at a Texas synagogue and act of terror. What we are learning about the man who held those people hostage for hours, coming up.



SCIUTTO: Officials in the UK have now arrested two teenagers in connection to the terrifying 11-hour hostage crisis that played out in a Texas synagogue this weekend. This is we were learning the identity now of the suspect, 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram. The FBI says he held four people hostage until a rescue team entered the building and killed him. They are calling this now confirming terrorism related act that deliberately targeted the Jewish community.

We're joined now by former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd. Phil, good to have you on this morning. You've dealt with a lot of cases like this given your intelligence background with the FBI. What do you believe his intentions were with this attack? What was he looking to accomplish here?

PHIL MUDD, FMR. CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Well, it's not just what I believe, it's what he said. The reports coming out in the day after, the days after the event where that he went in and talking about during the conversations with the FBI, with negotiators, talking about not wanting to come out alive.

Now initially, you might look at that and say he was suicidal. That's not what I think, Jim. If you look at this one line of argument would be that he went in thinking that he was dying for the fate, that he thought he would be a martyr for the cause for this sort of cult figure Aafia Siddiqui.

So I think he went in thinking that he wouldn't come out alive but thinking that he was bearing witness to the fate, that's not suicide in his mind. That's martyrdom.

SCIUTTO: When you see him calling on the name of Aafia Siddiqui, what's the significance of that because she is has become an icon for jihadist around the world. Why? And why is that significant?

MUDD: Significant because, I mean, she -- she's been in jail for a long time. I remember when she was picked up. That's a long time ago. After that, I think because of the fact that she's a female. She has a unique background in terms of the sciences. She spent a long time in major U.S. universities. That's a background that you just don't see in the world that I used to work and that is the counterterrorism world.