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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Toxic Train Wreck Anger, Three Killed in Orlando; Blizzard Near Los Angeles? Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2023 - 05:00   ET




JIM STEWART, LIFELONG EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: I don't feel safe in this town now. You took it away from me.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, anger over the toxic train wreck in Ohio, with the transportation secretary due there in a matter of hours.

Plus, a TV reporter covering a story and a 9-year-old are among the dead from a one man shooting spree in Florida.

And a blizzard warning for southern California, that's right, southern California, the first since George Bush was president, not George W. Bush, his father.


ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans. This is EARLY START.

Just hours from now, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg heads to the site of that Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Buttigieg under pressure as residents and critics worry about the toxic chemicals.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw faced some of that head on in a CNN town hall last night.


STEWART: I'm 65 years old, diabetic, hearts disease, everything. Did you shorten my life? I want to retire and enjoy it. How are we going to enjoy it?

You burned me. We were going to sell our house. Our value went poof.

ALAN SHAW, NORFOLK SOUTHERN CEO: Jim, thank you for those comments. But I hear you. I'm terribly sorry that this has happened to this community. What I can do and what I will do is make it right. We'll get the cleanup right. We're going to reimburse the citizens. We're going to invest in the long term health of this community.


ROMANS: CNN's Miguel Marquez has more from East Palestine.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A massive effort under way to clean up creeks and water pulling in and around East Palestine, Ohio.

DIANNA ELCER, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO RESIDENT: It is decimating our businesses.

MARQUEZ: It's dirty, difficult, and slow going work. For those living here building trust that the water and air is safe is slow going as the cleanup itself.

ELCER: It took I think Norfolk Southern three days, four days for us to get a partial list, vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, and benzene residue and combustible liquids. What the hell are combustible liquids? You know, it could be anything.

MARQUEZ: The makings of this disaster appears to have started somewhere between Alliance, Ohio, and the derailment in East Palestine. Surveillance video of the train in Alliance shows no signs of sparks coming from its wheels. There is a detector that would indicate overheat, a so-called hot box detector. It's unclear if it detected any overheat, but in Salem, Ohio, just 13 miles further along, surveillance video clearly shows sparks and bright lights coming from under a rail car at about the halfway point of the train.

There's another hot box detector just down the track from where the surveillance video was taken, but it's not clear if it detected an overheat either.


If it did, both the conductor and dispatcher would have been alerted to a heating issue. The NTSB said shortly before the derailment a wayside detector alerted the crew to a mechanical issue. CNN estimates based on the time stamps of the surveillance videos and distances between towns, the train would have been traveling an average of 49 miles per hour between Alliance and Salem, Ohio, then slowed to an average of 29 miles per hour between Salem and East Palestine. Still not clear why it slowed.

The derailment occurred around 8:55 p.m. shortly after the train passed Market Street in downtown East Palestine.

The EPA now ordering Norfolk Southern to pay for and cleanup the entire disaster zone.

MICHAEL REGAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: They have to put together a work plan that's going to be very prescriptive in terms of all the cleanup, how they'll do it and the radius of that cleanup. They also have to explain to us, you know, how they'll pay for it.

MARQUEZ: All of this as former President Trump visits East Palestine, an area of Ohio where he still enjoys enormous support.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: The community has shown the tough and resilient heart of America and that is what it is. This is really America right here.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So I want to give you a sense of just how difficult it is to clean up this mess after this derailment, this is just one of the creeks right in the middle of East Palestine. There are at least two creeks that run through town that are contaminated. You can see those white sort of material across the creek there, those are filters that they mix the water, they pull it out of the creek, they pump it back in, aerating, pushing all the toxins in the filters. They have been doing that now for days and days.

This is one location of many that they are going to have to deal with here. They are testing the water and the air, so far none of those tests have shown concerns with contamination.


But the state of Ohio, the state of Pennsylvania, the federal government and Norfolk Southern, the railroad, now say that they will be here for years until the mess is cleaned up.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much for that.

To Florida now, a Florida TV reporter and a 9-year-old girl among three dead in a series of shootings in Orlando. The Spectrum News 13 reporter was shot while covering the first killing of a woman in her 20s. A news photographer was also shot and is in critical condition. Their co-workers are shaken but still doing their jobs.


ASHER WILDMAN, SPECTRUM NEWS 13 REPORTER: We're doing the best we can, as it hits us. It is not just emotion for a colleague. But as a parent, to say a 9-year-old has lost their life -- not good.


ROMANS: A mother and her 9-year-old daughter were targeted at a third shooting scene later. A 19-year-old man with a long rap sheet is now charged with murder.


JOHN MINA, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF: Nobody in our community, not a mother, not a 9-year-old, and certainly, not news professionals should become the victim of gun violence in our community. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Officials don't know why the suspect allegedly targeted the journalists or that mother and daughter.

All right. Extreme weather across the country this morning with a powerful winter storm knocking out power to hundreds of thousands across the upper Midwest. This is video just in from Minnesota. Department of transportation showing us what it is like to be behind the wheel there. Snowfall records broken in places like Portland, Salt Lake City, seeing over 15 inches. And an incredibly rare blizzard warning for the mountains in Los Angeles County, first since 1989. That's right, blizzard in L.A. County.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is in the weather center.

Chad, 100 degree temperature swing with this coast to coast extreme weather.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It was 98 degrees in McAllen, Texas, it was below in Montana. More record highs across the east coast today, more record lows across the west. Billings not below zero. Minot, the same story.

Now, the snow and ice for the Midwest and Great Lakes, pretty much done. Still some snow here across Minneapolis, up in the UP of Michigan, and then still some ice and snow across Upstate New York and into northern New England. But for the most part the ice storm has already happened. It has already come down.

Winter storm warnings are still in effect, the next storm system coming out of L.A. and more snow coming down, but it is the ice that was so significant for Ann Arbor. Over half an inch on all the trees. Power lines are down, over 600,000 customers without power, multiply that by two, three, four people in every house, you are talking over a couple million people right now without power.

And yes, there is the blizzard warning. Ventura, L.A. counties, it is the snow that has already come down, more snow coming and the winds will be 50 to 70 miles per hour. Not L.A. proper, but the mountains go up pretty high to the north of L.A. and that is where all the snow will be. We'll take the snow here across parts of the Rockies because all of that will eventually melt and get into Lake Mead and they will use it for drinking water the rest of the year.

ROMANS: All right. Chad Myers, what a storm. All right. Thank you so much.

Vladimir Putin a short time ago promising to strengthen Russia's ability to launch nuclear missiles from land, sea and air. He made that vow on Defender of the Fatherland Day celebrating Russia's military.

CNN's Clare Sebastian live in London this morning.

What was President Putin's message -- who was it aimed at? CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, Defender of the

Fatherland Day, an annual holiday in Russia to honor veteran soldiers and men in general. He delivered these prepared remarks I think targeting soldiers and veterans, but the population in general most likely. And it is interesting because we've heard all this before. Russia is beefing up its forces and paying particular attention he said to its nuclear triad.

We know that Russia is doing this, we know in fact for decades they have been modernizing their Soviet-era nuclear weapons. But coming off the back of the past few days, where we're seeing Russia suspends its participation in the new START treaty with the U.S., and we've seen U.S. officials tell us that they launched an ICBM test earlier this week, that that test failed. All of that paints a picture of Russia increasing its rhetoric ahead of this anniversary and doing so at a time when we're seeing these unwavering messages of support from the West to Ukraine, President Biden's visit to Ukraine.


All of that showing that so far the nuclear rhetoric has not proved a deterrent when it comes to Western support for Ukraine. Russia though still wanting to show it has that leverage.

ROMANS: All right. Clare Sebastian for us in London, thank you, Clare.

And in the meantime U.S. warning China against deepening military ties with Russia. Officials have told CNN there are signs Beijing wants to, quote, creep up to the line of providing weapons also known as lethal aid to Moscow.


SABRINA SINGH, DEPUTY PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We haven't seen them give lethal aid to Russia at this time for the war, but they haven't also taken that off the table. And so we have been consistent from here and I believe Secretary Blinken also met with his counterpart in Germany last week. We reinforced there that again, there will be consequences for China should this partnership with Russia further deepen.


ROMANS: CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is in Hong Kong for us this morning.

Kristie, so why are the Pentagon officials escalating their warnings now?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONHDENT: Christine, it is because Chin and Russia relationship is strengthening, so much so that Wang Yi told Vladimir Putin that their relationship is, quote, rock solid as he wrapped up his visit to Moscow. He met with the Russian president and foreign minister and head of the Security Council and he paved the way for a possible summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. That according to "The Wall Street Journal" could take place in April or May.

On Wednesday, the Russian leader Vladimir Putin said that the relationship with China was reaching new milestones. And wanting to double town on that that sentiment, they said it stands the test of the changes in the international climate. It is mature, it is resilient, it is rock solid.

And it is also under a lot of scrutiny right now. That's why on Wednesday, we heard from the Pentagon spokeswoman saying that they are warning China of consequences if China proceeds with giving lethal support to Russia during this campaign in Ukraine.

China has repeatedly pushed back and countered those allegations, but the fact is ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, China and Russia have been moving closer together economically through the purchases of Russian energy, even more transactions taking place inside Russia. Large scale military drills taking place, one taking place right now this week. And also politically, Russia -- China refuses to condemn the Russia invasion as we near the one year anniversary of it.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kristie Lu Stout, thank you.

Ukraine is bracing for a potential surge in Russian attacks. And security measures have been tightened across the country with public offices and businesses working remotely and police now intensifying patrols.

CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us live from Ukraine.

Melissa, what are you seeing on the ground? I know that they are limiting exposure to post offices and humanitarian aid drop-off points, trying to minimize big gatherings of people.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORERSPONDENT: That is it, preparing for the worse as they hope for the best. It is unclear what capabilities the Russian side has at this stage to mount any significant increase in their actions. But Ukrainians have been warning that there could be some symbolic attack to mark the one year anniversary that falls tomorrow.

What we're seeing in areas around Kherson and also around half Kharkiv, increased preparedness in case of that kind of action. So people from today and through until Saturday being encouraged to stay at home and protect themselves. But it is around Bakhmut and Donetsk that the fear is the most intense because of course what we've been seeing are intense shelling that continues.

Ukrainian authorities convinced that the aim of the Russian side will be to try and take a whole of the Donbas by the end of March to show that they have achieved some of its objectives that it set out just over a year ago.

But what we're also seeing is continued support from the Western alliance this morning in the visit of the Spanish prime minister who vowed to stay on the Ukrainian side until peace has been restored. I think it is important to note that these visits, the American president and Spanish prime minister, they are provocation and also function as something of a shield, Christine.

ROMANS: Thank you so much, Melissa, from Kyiv.

This programming note, Fareed Zakaria host top Biden national security officials for a CNN town hall "Russia's Invasion of Ukraine: One Year Later".


That's live tonight at 9:00 on CNN.

Just ahead five people killed when a small plane plunged to the ground in Little Rock. What went wrong?

Plus, a mysterious metal ball that washed up on a beach in Japan.

And more intense questioning at the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was his demeanor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was devastated. I mean, he was crying. He was --



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Alex Murdaugh could testify in his own defense today. A final decision on whether he takes the stand will be made ahead of court this morning. Wednesday the judge declined to issue a ruling to limit the scope of the cross-examination if he took the witness box.

CNN's Randi Kaye has the very latest for us from South Carolina.


JIM GRIFFIN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: What was his demeanor?

MARK BALL, FORMER COLLEAGUE OF ALEX MURDAUGH: He was devastated. I mean, he was crying. I mean, just -- just beside himself.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alex Murdaugh's longtime friend and fellow law partner, Mark Ball, testifying for the defense and revealing how Murdaugh appeared to him soon after the murders. He also helped shore up that the defense's theme that the crime scene investigation was sloppy. He described what he saw in the feed room where Paul Murdaugh was killed after, he says, investigators had finished processing that scene. BALL: Looking around down around the floor and all that, it just -- there was a piece of Paul's skull about the size of a baseball laying there.

GRIFFIN: Did that upset you?

BALL: It did very much. I mean, it just really infuriated me. It is kind of like walking across the grave. You just -- it is one of those things you just don't do.

KAYE: Still, this defense witness also offered testimony that could help the prosecution. During cross-examination, Ball identified Alex Murdaugh's voice on the recording taken at the dog kennels around the time of the murders.

CREIGHTON WATERS, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE PROSECUTOR: Any doubt in your mind that Alex Murdaugh, Maggie and Paul were on that kennel video at 8:44 p.m. on June 7, 2021?

BALL: None.

WATERS: No doubt in your mind?

BALL: No doubt.

KAYE: He also told the jury that Murdaugh had repeatedly told him he wasn't at the kennels earlier in the night.

WATERS: And now, you know that's not true from seeing the kennel video, right?

BALL: I do.

WATERS: And that wasn't the only time he told you that either, is it?

BALL: No, at least three times.

WATERS: At least three times.

KAYE: Ball also revealed that Murdaugh had a couple different versions about how he allegedly checked his family after he said he found them dead.

WATERS: In his conversations with you, did he ever change his story about who he checked first at the scene supposedly?

BALL: The first time I remember, he checked Maggie first and then went to Paul. And then I heard him say at one point that it was Paul, then it was Maggie.

KAYE: This cell phone forensics expert also testified for the defense. He analyzed the state's data and timeline from the night of the murders. One key finding from him, Maggie Murdaugh's phone didn't appear to be motion activated around the time the state has suggested Alex Murdaugh may have tossed it from his moving car. PHILLIP BARBER, ASSOCIATE WITH RICHARD HARPOOTLIAN: Can you tell us how much motion would be required for the screen to come on, on a phone?


BARBER: In the times that Alex Murdaugh's car was passing, the screen never came on?

STURGIS: That's correct. The database indicated it was off.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Walterboro, South Carolina.


ROMANS: All right. Quick hits being a across America now.

Five people are dead after a small plane crashed after takeoff, they were responding to an explosion at a metal plant in Ohio.

A man convicted of killing rapper Nipsey Hussle was sentenced to at least 60 years in prison.

Pentagon releasing a pilot selfie taken as he flew above the Chinese spy balloon before it was shot down almost three weeks ago. Officials say the U2 spy plane was tracking the balloon's progress.

All right. Just hours from now, Harvey Weinstein will learn his fate.

And chilling moments behind the murderer of a teacher in France.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

President Putin has tried to sell his attack on Ukraine to the Russian people as a crusade that required sacrifices.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen takes a closer look at the sentiment inside Russia as the one year anniversary of the invasion approaches.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russian leader Vladimir Putin rallying his nation for a tough battle. At a massive event in Moscow, Putin's message to the crowd, Russian troops in Ukraine are fighting for Russia's survival.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There is a battle going on for our historical battles, for our people. It is led by the same courageous fighters who are standing here. They fight heroically, courageously, bravely. We are proud of them. Three cheers in their honor. PLEITGEN: The concert in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on the eve of the

one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine with Putin himself leading the rallying call.

For those attending, patriotism is the main message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I adore Vladimir Vladimirovich. I'm prepared to support him with everything I've got.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The whole of Europe and the West is helping Ukraine. So, of course, it's taking a long time. But we will demilitarize Europe and U.S., too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My understanding is we are fighting for our interest there. Regrettably, it is not us who decide what those interests are.

PLEITGEN: Russian forces have made little progress on the battlefield in recent months with both Russia and Ukraine sustaining heavy losses.

As the U.S. believes Russia might be turning to China for military supplies, Putin reaffirming his commitment to relations with Beijing in a meeting with China's top diplomat Wang Yi.

PUTIN (through translator): Russian/Chinese relations are developing just as we planned in previous years. Everything is moving forward, developing, and we are reaching new milestones.

PLEITGEN: China has brushed off the U.S.'s concerns that Beijing might be contemplating supplying arms to the Kremlin's war effort, taking a swipe at the Biden administration.