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Much of Southeast Hit by Freezing Rain and Snow; Winter Storm System Now Moving Through Northeast; Australia to Send Humanitarian Aid to Tsunami-Hit Tonga; Colleyville Hostage-Taker Identified as British Citizen; North Korea Launches Two Suspected Ballistic Missiles; U.S. and Its Allies Look to Prevent Russian Invasion. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 04:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London. And just ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you hadn't already, now is the time to get prepared. This storm is a menace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The main message to my fellow Georgians, is just be winter weather aware.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American Airlines rebooked us now four different times for canceled planes. As a result, we've stayed here Saturday night and we will be here again Sunday night and whether we get out or not tomorrow is still up in the air.


SOARES: A brutal winter storm pounds the U.S. as millions prepare to assess the damage. The details from CNN's Weather Center.

Plus, North Korea launches more missiles. It's fourth weapons test in only two weeks. We are live for you this hour in Tokyo.

And the Australian Open is finally underway without tennis star Novak Djokovic. We'll have a live report from Melbourne on what this means for the tournament.

ANNOUNCER: Live from London this is CNN NEWSROOM with Isa Soares.

SOARES: Welcome to the show everyone. It is Monday, January 17. And a brutal winter storm that's been battering much of the southeastern United States with freezing rain and snow is now moving to the northeast. Now, as many as 80 million Americans were under winter weather alerts on Sunday that's stretching really from Georgia -- as you can see there -- to Maine. And the effects of this system could cause problems for days to come. States in Appalachia region are seeing heavy snowfall and high winds.

Parts of North Carolina got as much as a foot of snow. That's about roughly 30 centimeters. That means 25 counties declared a state of emergency. Now downed trees and power lines -- as you can see -- knocked out power to nearly 300,000 customers across the southeast on Sunday. More than 150,000 along the East Coast are still in the dark. Now in Florida this system spawned tornadoes -- as you can see there -- on the west coast which destroyed at least 28 homes and damaged dozens more.

And more than 3,000 flights were canceled on Sunday according to Flight Aware. That's largely due, of course, to this weather. 1,200 more are already canceled for Monday.

Now we have reporters covering the storm in another state. CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which is feeling the effects right now. But first Dianne Gallagher North Carolina where authorities say they've responded to more than 400 vehicle crashes caused by the winter weather.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: The flurries continuing to fall here in Charlotte, North Carolina, but underneath this snow is ice and that is the main concern for authorities in the Carolinas. This ice, this freezing rain, the sleet that was falling throughout the day on Sunday potentially refreezing overnight. Creating difficult conditions for drivers and anybody really trying to travel in the greater Carolinas area. More than 90 percent of the flights out of Charlotte were canceled on Sunday and airlines have said that people need to be patient. It could continue in through the beginning of the week.

Now when it comes to driving, there is a staffing shortage. The state says that it may take longer to get to certain streets to clear them off but they activated the National Guard, they brought in assistance to help with those streets to clear them off. Again, the concern being an overnight freeze making it difficult conditions for people in the morning as well.

That ice also causing power outages across the state of North Carolina. More than 90,000 reported and the state expects that number to go up as ice -- as the heaviness of that ice brings down trees potentially bringing down power lines. They are continuing to encourage people to stay inside and just let the system pass. Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Charlotte, North Carolina.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Long before the first snowflakes started to fall here in Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was urging residents to simply stay home as that storm began to move in that we really began to feel on Sunday afternoon and through the overnight hours. Now, in terms of Pittsburgh, city officials here recognizing that their response to the last major snow event earlier this month, that came up short according to the head of public works. They did not expect or at least anticipate a refreezing event that took place after that snowfall and making many of those side roads basically impassible and just a frozen mess.


So, what they've done -- according to the mayor, in an announcement that he made on Friday, and certainly try to improve their response. And we did see it on Sunday with plow trucks and snow removal equipment out and about on some of the streets, also doing the sidewalks as forecasters here expecting for up to a foot of snow in and around Pittsburgh.

So, now the main concern, obviously, will be on Monday morning. Though it is a holiday. School was not scheduled for the day. There are still those folks who may have to get to work. So, authorities certainly concentrating on those roads and highways as we continue to get through Monday.

Polo Sandoval, CNN, Pittsburgh.


SOARES: Let's get more on all of this. Meteorologist Tyler Mauldin joins me now with the latest on the winter weather conditions. Good morning, Tyler. And this is a pretty brutal as well as dangerous winter storm. We've got rain, we've got ice, snow. Give us a sense of how long, Tyler, this is expected to last here.

TYLER MAULDIN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: So, this is going to continue for probably the next 24 to 36 hours, Isa. Down here across the southeast where the rain fell and then the snow melted, well now we're dealing with temperatures dropping below freezing. So, we are going to be dealing with icing on the roadways down here across the southeast.

Meanwhile, from northeast Georgia all the way up into Maine we are looking at millions on our winter weather alerts as the system jets off to the northeast. Notice that the Carolinas are now drying out. We're also seeing a little bit of snowfall on the back side beginning to wrap around and also, we have severe weather that was dealt with in Maryland. Now just heavy rainfall moving into New York City. The really heavy snowfall across Pennsylvania, the state of New York, Ohio and that's going to continue to wrap around and push up to the north as you can see going through the rest of today.

It is going to be a little dicey at times across the mid-Atlantic and the northeast today. And then once we get into Tuesday, that's when it jets out. How much snowfall are we going to see up here? Well, notice the pinks here, that could be up to 12 to 18 inches of snowfall in the higher elevations. The consensus would be about 5 to 6 inches up here across the Ohio River Valley, portions of the mid-Atlantic going on into the northeast.

Here are snowfall totals within the last 48 hours. Boone, it's North Carolina picked up more than a foot. Spartanburg, South Carolina, about 8 inches. And a lot of people across the Carolinas going into the mid-Atlantic states. So, accumulations like that. We also have wind advisories in effect up the East Coast. So that's

just going to add insult to injury, Isa. Because we've got the saturated ground. We've got the ice. All it takes is that wind and that can take down some trees which can then cause more in the way of power outages.

SOARES: Yes, just another element. Stay warm. Stay safe. Tyler do stay with us. I want to get your thoughts on this story that were also keeping a close eye on.

Australia and New Zealand are working to get emergency relief aid to Tonga after tsunami waves devastated parts of the country just over the weekend. Now, these new images, I want to show you, the flood waters from the waves inundated homes as well as coastal areas. There is very limited if any information coming from some of Tonga's islands.

Now, the disaster started when this nearby volcano erupted on Saturday. Clouds of ash have blanketed regions for miles, injury some recovery efforts. Australia and New Zealand have sent reconnaissance flights early on Monday.

Let's go back to Tyler. And Tyler, of course, as we mentioned, communication has severed so it's really hard to get a sense of the devastation. And we are expecting the pictures from the surveillance flights in the next 24 hours or so. But what are the biggest concerns here?

MAULDIN: So, what we're looking at, Isa, -- and you can see this on the satellite image behind me -- the eruption from Saturday, it was massive. It's one of the largest eruptions in hundreds of years here in Tonga. With that comes the chance for more in the way of smaller little eruptions and seismic activity with this. And that's what we're seeing.

So, we're seeing more in the way of small-scale activity which will continue for the foreseeable future and then also with this big plume of ash, it's moving to the west and it's now over Australia. It moved over Queensland on Monday, roughly 42,000, 63,000 feet up in the air. It going to lead to some beautiful sunrises and sunsets in Australia but it could also hinder the air quality as well. And those that have, you know, sensitive respiratory symptoms may be dealing with that because of that ash cloud moving over.

The ring of fire right here includes Tonga, the Tonga Trench. So, it's no surprised that we're dealing with this activity.


Again, as I said, that first eruption on Saturday, Isa, was so massive that we're going to continue to see small scale activity in the foreseeable future.

It also created that tsunami. That tsunami caused damage -- as we've shown you. It caused small scale tsunami-type waves here across California. What happened there with that is that way deep down, Isa, under the water we had landslides. And the cold air collapsed. That's what created that tsunami. We're not looking at anything like that with these small-scale -- the small-scale activity that's ongoing right now, but it's something that we certainly, have to watch.

SOARES: Indeed, and of course, with the ash cloud not just the air quality but also the fear that it could contaminate water supplies for so many. Tyler Mauldin there for us. Thanks very much, Tyler, great to see you.

Now, for the fourth time in a month, North Korea appears to have tested more missiles. We'll have the latest in a live report from Tokyo. That is straight ahead.

Plus, Saturday's hostage standoff at a Texas synagogue is being investigated in the United States and here in the U.K. What we are learning about two teens detained in England. That is coming up.


SOARES: Now Saturday's hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue is being investigated in the U.S. and here in the U.K. after news the attacker was British. Malik Faisal Akram was killed by an FBI rescue team sent to save the hostage in Colleyville, Texas. Now, counterterrorism police think Greater Manchester, England say two teens have been detained in the case. The synagogue was live streaming its worship service when the hostage taking began. Audio from that livestream caught part of the terrifying audio. Have a listen.


MALIK FAISAL AKRAM: (INAUDIBLE) I've got these four guys with me, yeah? So, I don't want to hurt them, yeah? OK, are you listening? I don't want you to cry. Listen! I'm going to release these four guys (INAUDIBLE). But then I'm going to go in the yard, yeah? (INAUDIBLE) I'm going to die at the end of this, all right? Are you listening? I'm going to die! OK? So don't cry over me. (INAUDIBLE).


SOARES: Our international security editor Nick Paton Walsh has more on what we're learning.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Malik Faisal Akram from Blackburn, in the north of England, according to Greater Manchester Police in a statement echoing what we'd it heard from U.S. officials earlier. He is a U.K. national. And a lot of focus, of course, since the beginning according to U.S. authorities about what information U.K. officials can supply to them.

Now we've also heard from his family posting on a Facebook page called the Blackburn Muslim Community in the town where he hails from. They've spoken in a statement of their absolute devastation of the loss of their brother. Also talking about how they wholeheartedly apologize towards the victims of this hostage crisis. They also say how they believe he had mental health issues and say how

they as a family were in touch with the police during these hostage negotiations. The U.K. government's Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has condemned what she called an act of terror and an act of antisemitism. And the work, of course, now begins or probably began at the beginning of this crisis between U.S. and U.K. officials to look at things like communications, travel history. To work out whether this was a lone figure acting on their own or part of some wider plot and whether any elements of that plot may still be a threat around.

I have to say listening to the coherence of Akram in that recording of him in the synagogue and all the suggestions about how sophisticated or unsophisticated frankly this plot was that may point investigators towards what his family has suggested that there could be mental health issues here.

But certainly, all efforts now being put in by U.K. and U.S. officials to work together to get to the bottom of this. And I understand from our colleague Josh Campbell that U.S. and U.K. officials at this state aren't seeing many traces of Akram in their databases in terms of somebody there already had on their radar.

But even President Joe Biden unclear -- it was on certainly Sunday afternoon -- about what the motivation may have been here. That is going to be key to working out precisely how those horrifying scenes in Texas occurred.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.


SOARES: Now, South Korea says the latest missile tests from North Korea are very regrettable actions. Seoul held an emergency security meeting a short time ago after Pyongyang tested two more suspected ballistic missiles. Now, South Korea's military said the projectiles were launched from somewhere near Pyongyang's international airport, early Monday local time into the sea to the east.

CNN's Blake Essig joins me now live from Tokyo. And Blake, what more do we know about today's launch. Because it's been a pretty busy 2022, I think it's fair to say, for missile launches already.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Isa, absolutely. It's been a very busy start to 2022 for North Korea's missile program. Four tests carried out so far in just the first few weeks of this year compared to only a handful of tests in all of 2021.

Now, based on the estimated maximum altitude and distance the missiles traveled earlier today, Japanese and South Korean officials both believe that North Korea has test fired two short range ballistic missiles. Both landed in the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula just outside of Japan's exclusive economic zone.

And while alarming, this recent flurry of tests from North Korea shouldn't exactly come as a surprise. Because North Korea historically doesn't make empty threats. And these recent threats all come just a few weeks after North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, promised to further strengthen his country's military capability during a speech closing out its five-day party meeting.


Now, before today's test the last missile launch was carried out less than a week ago and took place just a few hours after North Korea's foreign ministry released a statement expressing frustration over new sanctions imposed by the United States. The statement said that the U.S. -- if the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance North Korea will be forced to take stronger and certain reactions to it. Essentially suggesting that the missile test was carried out to protest the sanctions.

Now to this point the Biden administration has taken a more subdued approach to dealing with North Korea, compared to previous administrations. And according to analysts, North Korea is pretty low on the Biden administration's list of priorities at the moment. That's no secret to North Korea. And that may be a point that North Korea is trying to draw attention to themselves with the recent missile launches -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, that would explain why we're seeing more and more. Isn't it? Blake Essig for us in Tokyo. I know you keep on top that. Thanks very much, Blake.

Now as mentioned, this is the fourth time that -- this month in fact that North Korea has tested missiles. CNN spoke with Bruce Klingner, the former CIA deputy division chief for Korea. And he said frequent launches this time of year are significant. Have a listen.


BRUCE KLINGNER, FORMER U.S. CIA DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF FOR KOREA: It's unusual that they're doing so many in January because usually they don't do missile testing during the winter. So, I think it's just they're upping the game on expanding and refining their missile arsenal. So far, they've been doing short and medium-range missile testing and development of new systems in the last several years. They haven't done a long-range including ICBM tests for the last several years and they likely know it would lead to new U.N. resolutions or stronger enforcement of sanctions. So, they may be going through a to- do list of the shorter and medium range missiles before they go through what would be, you know, much more provocative and more likely to generate a stronger international response.


Thanks to Bruce Klingner there.

Now the U.S. and a number of its allies are growing increasingly alarmed about Russia and the growing threat of war with Ukraine. Russia has been amassing troops along the border with its western neighbor. Russian forces are to the south in Crimea which Russia invaded and annexed, if you remember, back in 2014. And U.S. intelligence warns Moscow may be trying to justify a new attack with a false flag operation. And the next war could be fought on the ground and in cyberspace. Some in the Ukrainian government blame Russia for recent cyber-attacks on government websites. CNN's Fareed Zakaria had an exclusive discussion with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov who denied any involvement.


DMITRY PESKOV, PRESS SECRETARY FOR RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Well, the proof was presented and we consider it a continuation of another unproved accusation of Russia. So, we are nearly accustomed to the fact that Ukrainians are blaming everything on Russia, even their bad weather in their country.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: But the timing does receive unusual. I mean, right at the time when these talks seem to not be going anywhere, the Russian government has suggested that they would take some military and technical actions against Ukraine if the talks didn't go well. Is it just a total coincidence that somehow hackers from somewhere decided to target Ukrainian government offices?

PESKOV: You know, it's very dangerous coincidence. They're extremely dangerous.


SOARES: For more on this growing standoff, CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Moscow this hour. And Fred, look, tensions clearly continuing to grow despite what Fareed said yesterday, that the meetings that we saw last week, where U.S., NATO and Russia, now we've got Ukraine blaming Russia for its cyberattacks. Peskov there saying they're not behind it. They don't know anything about it. What more do we know? What is Ukraine saying here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Ukrainians are saying that they have some indications that it might have been, you know, actors from Russia or possibly from Belarus who are behind this cyberattack. The Russians obviously deny that. We just heard that from Dmitry Peskov.

But I also, think that in the greater scheme of things, that seems to be one of the more minor issues right now considering the tensions that we see down there near the Ukrainian border. But also, in general, of course, between Russia and the U.S. and its NATO allies.

And I think one of the other things that we heard in that interview of Fareed -- really very good interview with Dmitry Peskov -- was that Dmitry Peskov in that interview said he's not sure whether or not there can be an agreement between Russia and the U.S. as far of those security talks are concerned. But he says right now, the U.S. and Russia are, as he put it, on completely different tracks. And he said that he finds that very disturbing.

So, it certainly seems that right now everything looking -- is looking more towards more confrontation rather than less confrontation. And we've heard some things from the Russians about the things that they want from NATO and from the U.S. [04:25:00]

They say they want written security guarantees. They want NATO not to enlarge any further. They don't want Ukraine to become a member ever of NATO. And they say that threatens their security. Of course, not because of Ukraine itself, but because of NATO weapons that they believe could be inside Ukraine then.

And the Russians themselves have said that their answer could be military technical. And one of the things that the deputy foreign minister said last week, was that he couldn't rule out even putting Russian nuclear weapons in Latin American countries. Now it's quite interesting because a few minutes ago there was another call with Dmitry Peskov. And there he said, keep in mind, those are sovereign nations. So, he sort of poured some cold water on that. But certainly, right now things are looking more like tension rather than de- escalation as the week starts -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, and I think they're on different -- they have different views right from the beginning. Isn't it? With no breakthrough after those three days of meetings. Fred Pleitgen for us in Moscow. Good to see you, Fred, thanks very much.

Now, it is clear Vladimir Putin doesn't want NATO to expand -- as Fred was just saying there -- but a former top diplomat suggested it goes deeper than that. And the Russian president is actually obsessed with his western neighbor. Former U.S. Ambassador Bill Taylor spoke earlier to CNN. Have a listen.


WILLIAM TAYLOR, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: I think President Putin does have an obsession with Ukraine. He has other concerns that he certainly doesn't much like NATO. Would like to kind of drive wedges among the various fissures that he can try to find in NATO and in the West and in the United States and Europe.

But it really is focused on Ukraine. He wants to be sure Ukraine doesn't join NATO. Ukraine has every right to apply to NATO. Ukraine's a sovereign country. Mr. Putin doesn't agree with that. Mr. Putin thinks that Ukraine is not a sovereign country. Mr. Putin has said that he thinks Ukraine is really just part of Russia. And so, moving into Russia, invading Ukraine from Russia is consistent with that view. So, I think he is really focused on Ukraine.


SOARES: Taylor also said he is not convinced President Putin will invade Ukraine. But if he does, the costs for Russia, he says, will be very high. Of course, we'll stay on top of this story.

Coming up right here on CNN NEWSROOM. Djokovic deported. The tennis star forced to leave Australia just hours before the first major tournament of the year begins. Where things go from here. Just ahead, we're live in Melbourne. Plus, a controversial new COVID measure has passed the French

Parliament. We'll find out what happens next. A live report for you from Paris. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.