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Snowstorms Hit Parts of U.S. South and Threatens East Coast, Disrupting Travel; Hostage Crisis Plays out Over 11 Hours at Texas Synagogue But Ends with No Deaths. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Brian Kemp in Georgia is pleading with people there to stay off the roads. High winds and sleet across the northern part of that state making driving just a mess. More of the same in North Carolina where the conditions have actually turned deadly. A tractor trailer slid off the highway that killed two people. Multiple tornadoes touched down in southwest Florida. In Lee County, 28 homes were destroyed, dozens more declared unlivable. In South Carolina the National Guard had to be called in to assist stranded drivers. Black ice and snow in the state, they remain a threat into the morning.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: The storm is expected to hit the northeast next. Nearly 3 million people are under high wind warnings including in New York and Boston, and Philadelphia could get some snow. Travel also being disrupted. More than 1,200 flights were canceled today.

BERMAN: CNN has every angle covered. Polo Sandoval on the ground in Pittsburgh, Pete Muntean at Reagan International Airport, and meteorologist Jennifer Gray tracking the storm system from Atlanta. Let's go first to Polo because he's been standing in the middle of the snow all morning. How is now, Polo?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we've seen it come down since yesterday. A couple of pauses overnight, but nonetheless continues to come down. When you look at the National Weather Service snow totals in and around the area here in western Pennsylvania, parts of Ohio, you have some communities that received perhaps half a foot of snow, and the forecast calls for still a couple more inches on top of that.

When it comes to the municipalities and various cities, they really have been working through the night to make sure that these roads remain clear, and this morning on a Monday, it's really not the typical Monday morning rush hour that you might expect on roads and highways. Obviously, the holiday certainly has something to do with that. But nonetheless, there are some folks are out and about right now, but officials are certainly hoping that that is still kept to a minimum.

When it comes to Pittsburgh, city officials have received some criticism about the way that they responded to a recent winter storm, and even the mayor saying that some of that was justified, that that storm revealed areas that need improvement, including plowing operations. And they really have been working around the clock to try to make up for that, because a couple weeks ago during the last snow event, a refreezing event basically made a lot of these side roads just very difficult to pass through, basically just a frozen mess. So what we're seeing today here, John, is certainly an effort to try to make up for that and make these roads as clear as possible. But when you look at this, John, it's clear that it's going to be an uphill bat.

BERMAN: If that freezes it is only going to get worse. Polo, thank you very much.

HUNT: Let's go now to Pete Muntean who is at his post outside Reagan National Airport. Pete, always great to see you. Is anybody getting in or out of the airport DCA today?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Things not so bad here at Reagan National Airport today, Kasi, because the snow has moved through here. But the real issue is as this snow moved up the east coast it hit some of the major hubs for the airline. Just look at the major number from FlightAware, 1,200 flight cancellations so far. Today, will likely see that number go up. More than 3,000 flight cancellations yesterday but the snow hit places that typically do not get snow. The Charlotte airport, for example, which is a major hub for American Airlines, more than 90 percent of all departures there canceled yesterday, about a third of all departures in Charlotte canceled today.

The airline just posted an update, it says it is open and full operations should resume by this afternoon. A bit of good news here for folks, American, United, Delta, Southwest have all posted travel waivers for customers. That means that they can rebook free of charge if they are impacted by this storm. The bad news, though, this is the end of a long holiday weekend, a federal holiday, typically a day when a lot of people come home after the long holiday weekend. Maybe a bit of silver lining, though, the numbers for air travel typically a bit slower this time of year, only about 1.5 million people flying each day, Kasie.

HUNT: Out thoughts with those who are getting stranded throughout this storm. Pete Muntean, thank you.

BERMAN: What now with this storm? Let's get to the Weather Center. Jennifer Gray is there. Jennifer, what are you seeing?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: John, this is basically just moving up the coast. We do have winter weather advisories, winter storm warnings still in effect all across the Appalachians on into interior sections of New England. And you can see from the radar, majority of the snow is west of I-95, that's really the cutoff line between the rain and the snow. The big cities all along the I-95 corridor are really going to see rain, and it is a miserable, cold rain, temperatures in the low to mid-40s. We have a 35 to 40-mile-per-hour wind and rain. And then on the north and west side of that it's pretty much all snow.

So you can see it wrapping up later this morning. We could get a quick shot of maybe some frozen precipitation for Philadelphia, New York, by the time we get into late morning and into the afternoon, but it's really not going to accumulate into much at all. Most of the higher accumulation will be across interior sections, and then this will quickly wrap up by the time we get into the late evening hours into the overnight.


So here's your forecast, snow, additional forecast accumulation. You can see much higher amounts, well interior, two to four inches all the way up to a foot for portions of the really high elevations. John?

BERMAN: Jennifer Gray, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

HUNT: Let's turn now to the terrifying hostage crisis that played out over 11 hours at a Texas synagogue. Several new developments in the investigation there. Two arrests have been made in connection to the incident, and the FBI has identified a British national as the man who held four people hostage before a rescue team entered the building and he was killed. A live stream of the service reveals just how terrifying the situation was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got these four guys with me. So I don't want to hurt them. OK, are you listening? I don't want you to cry. Listen. I'm going to release these four guys. But then I'm going to go in the yard, and they're going to take, me, all right? I'm going to die at the end of this, all right? Are you listening?


HUNT: The suspect arrived on U.S. soil in December with no prior record. He was not on any government watch lists in the U.S. or the U.K., and miraculously, all four people escaped unharmed.

Joining me now, the director of the American Jewish Committee of Dallas, Joel Schwitzer. Joel, thank you so much for being here with us this morning, although I wish, honestly, that there wasn't a reason for to us need to have this conversation. I want to start just by asking, how is your community doing and feeling in the wake of this?

JOEL SCHWITZER, DIRECTOR, AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE, DALLAS: Kasie, thank you so much for having me. And first and foremost, I want to express how grateful we are that Rabbi Cytron-Walker and the three congregants who were with him were safely reunited with their families through the impeccable work of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials. And it was heartening throughout the 11 or 12 hours the role our inner faith and inner ethnic partners played not just in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area but around the country and even around the world, played in supporting the Jewish community. We heard from our partners in the Muslim community, in the Latino community, a lot of the diplomats that we work with around the world. And it really helped lift our community up during a very challenging time.

HUNT: What do you want to be hearing from political leaders here in the United States of America, in the wake of this, and what does the incident say more broadly about the dangers of anti-Semitism here?

SCHWITZER: Well, for the Jewish community, this is unfortunately not a new normal, as I've heard it referred to on a few newscasts. This is something that's become status quo that we've been dealing with for many years. In fact, last year the American Jewish Committee's annual state of anti-Semitism in America report revealed that 24 percent of Jews indicated that an institution they were affiliated with, be it a synagogue or a Jewish community center or a Hilal, were the target of an anti-Semitic incident, whether graffiti or an attack like this or a threat.

And so from our political leaders, we want them to call it tout when it happens. No matter what side of the political spectrum it comes on, we need to hear people call it out when it comes from the right, when it comes from the left, when it comes from religious extremists who are falsely committing acts of anti-Semitism, falsely in the name of Islam or in other religions. And we also need people like you, like the media to continue to cast a spotlight on it.

There is a vast disparity between perceptions of anti-Semitism among the Jewish community who last year, 90 percent of American Jews saw anti-Semitism as a problem, and the general community where only 60 percent of the general public views anti-Semitism as a problem in the United States today. So we need to hear people call it out, and we also call on Congress to double the amount of funding available for FEMA's non-profit security grant program. Currently nonprofits like Congregation Beth Israel can apply for grants, and there's a total pool of $180 million available for nonprofits to apply for. We'd like to see that increased to $360 million.

And when you look at not just this recent incident but just late last year there was an arson at a synagogue in Austin. Of course, we all remember the fairly recent incidents in Pittsburgh and Poway, and that's only some of the examples of Jewish houses of worship.


It goes beyond just synagogues. So this is something we really need our government to get behind and we need our political leaders to rally behind as well.

HUNT: That's why we're so grateful to hear from you today, Joel Schwitzer. Thanks very much for helping us keep that spotlight where it need to be.

New details in the escalating feud between the governor of Florida and the de facto governor who is in Mar-a-Lago.

And busted, what a nurse who was supposed to be administering the COVID vaccine was caught on camera actually doing.

BERMAN: And Celine Dion cancels her world tour. Hear why.


BERMAN: Tensions hot between former president Donald Trump and Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, that's according to new reporting this morning in the "New York Times." It says "DeSantis, a man that Mr. Trump believes he put on the map has been acting far less like an acolyte and more like a future competitor, Mr. Trump complains. The stock rising fast in the party, the governor has conspicuously refrained from saying he would stand aside if Mr. Trump runs for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.


The magic words, Trump has said to several associates and advisers.

Joining us now CNN political analyst and "New York Times" national political correspondent who co-wrote that report with Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Martin.

Jonathan, great to see you. Thanks for coming in this morning. This feud seems very real and not so much below the surface anymore.

JONATHAN MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think Florida is a large state, but apparently it's not big enough to contain both Ron DeSantis and winter resident, Donald Trump, John.

You've got your two figures here who have a similar brand of politics, both kind of delight in triggering the Democrats and trying to trigger the media and both obviously ambitious, and Trump does feel like, John -- and by the way, rightfully, so I covered this primary 2018 that were it not for his intervention, you know, just over three years ago in the primary in Florida, that Ron DeSantis would not be governor today.

And so I think he does feel a level of sort of almost political ownership over DeSantis in a way that he doesn't over all future competitors.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: So, J. Martin, one of the things that I'm trying to wrap my head around is what DeSantis is thinking as he goes about this, and the fact that he is even seeming to criticize the Trump administration from the right on their COVID policies.

I mean, we all watched candidate after candidate after candidate just get smacked down by Donald Trump in 2016. What's the calculation for DeSantis's team about how to avoid that fate?

MARTIN: I don't know if there is a calculation right now, because I'm not sure it is that thought out. But look, like a lot of Republicans, I think Ron DeSantis is somebody who does not want to keep ceding the political future to Donald Trump and the whims of Donald Trump. He obviously, would like to consider running himself, either in '24 or in '28, whichever is more politically realistic. And so I think he is looking for a space and yes, remarkably, you

know, because President Trump was President when the vaccine was created, and because he does feel a sense of sort of paternity over the vaccine, he, I think, is more obliged to trumpet the vaccine than a lot of people in the party.

You're not going to hear, you know, Ron DeSantis, or some other conservative governor, you know, perhaps Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz out there singing the praises of the vaccine. They're more likely to focus on the perceived excesses of the mandates of the lockdowns, et cetera.

But I think Trump does feel some pride about the vaccine. So, he is talking about the vaccine and in a way that at this point, guys, you just don't hear that from a lot of Republicans.

BERMAN: No, look, I think what DeSantis is doing at least observing it from the outside is positioning himself and wondering, can we do this without Trump? And he wants to create the space where he can and you're seeing it, I think, among other Republicans as well, I think not insignificantly, Jonathan.

Glenn Youngkin, the new governor of Virginia, the Commonwealth there, what he did, his first days in office, signing executive orders, saying that schools can't have mask mandates.

Listen to the way he's talking about this.


GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA): Now, if there is one thing that hopefully everybody heard in November is it is time to listen to parents. So over the course of this week, I hope they will listen to parents, because we will use every resource within the Governor's authority to explore what we can do and will do in order to make sure that parents' rights are protected.


BERMAN: Governor Youngkin looking for this fight and looking to make it public.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I was struck by the contrast between his inauguration address and his first executive orders, the latter of which was much more aimed at national conservatives, it struck me.

And John, you know, there is an old saying and reporting about, you know, don't watch what they say, watch where they go, watch their feet, and I think in the case of both Youngkin and DeSantis, if you watch their feet, where do they go? They're both ubiquitous on FOX News.

I think this is part of the reason why Trump has sort of bridled guys at this. This is because he sort of showing up on FOX in a way that trump you still. I think that does -- that does matter on the right.

And similarly, guys, you know, Glenn Youngkin's first interview after he became Governor in November, was on FOX. His first interview after being sworn in as Governor this past weekend was on FOX. Those things I think, do point to larger ambitions when you're the Governor of a state dealing with traditional state issues and you're actively trying to appear on a national conservative network.


BERMAN: you know, who didn't cover Donald Trump's rally this weekend? FOX.

MARTIN: FOX News. And this is the stuff that gets to him, I think, John is, especially with DeSantis, turn on "FOX and Friends" there is DeSantis. You look around at some big swanky fundraiser in Palm Beach, there is DeSantis.

And I think he is showing up in the kind of spaces that Trump used to dominate and those things do get the Trump.

HUNT: Very much under his skin.

BERMAN: Jonathan Martin, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.

MARTIN: Thanks, guys. Take care.

BERMAN: So just in, who will not be able to get tickets to the Winter Olympics as China deals with the rise of omicron just three weeks ahead of the games?

HUNT: Plus, why is the U.S. telling its Olympic athletes to bring burner phones to China?



HUNT: Welcome back.

In Beijing, a single case of the highly transmissible omicron coronavirus variant sparking an immediate lockdown and mass testing. It comes just three weeks before the Chinese capital is set to host the Winter Olympics and just announced moments ago, China says that tickets will not be sold to the general public.

CNN's David Culver live in Beijing with more. David, what is the latest?


So what does that mean? Tickets are going to be sold to the general public here. If you turn on the TV and you watch some of the big events like the opening ceremonies, perhaps some of the major competitions, you're not going to see anyone in the stands. No chance.

There will be people in the stands, you're going to see them filling in no doubt, but these are individuals who are going to be part of a distributed group that's approved by authorities here. We're hearing a lot of them have to go through pretty strict COVID protocols, which we're used to here, but it ties along with what's been going on in recent weeks, and that is a surge in cases, outbreaks across China and most recently, what we have experienced here.

And Kasie, you pointed out, one single case that has really changed the lives for many right here within the capital city. Take a look at what we saw as we went about.


CULVER (voice over): Omicron breaching Beijing's borders, a single case putting the Winter Olympics host city on high alert.

China's zero COVID policy making no exceptions.

In the capital city, targeted lockdowns immediately activated along with strict contact tracing, Chinese health officials publicized the infected person's recent travel history starting with their home.

We drove by the Beijing community where the woman diagnosed with omicron lives. Remember, health authorities say all of this sparked by just one case, at least for now.

CULVER (on camera): Here we go. You can see here, this is one of the entrances and exits, it is gated off. They've put these big blue barriers to keep folks from going in and out.

CULVER (voice over): The woman's neighbors allowed some fresh air, but confined to the complex, their trash piling up waiting for specially designated disposal teams to truck it out. Many nearby businesses closed.

The woman lives a 15-minute drive from the Olympic Park.

CULVER (on camera): Not only where she lives that health authorities have it locked down, but also where the woman works, which happens to be in a bank inside this building.

So out front, you can see they've got these blue tent setup, where a lot of times they'll do testing and processing before they can finally declare it safe enough to reopen.

CULVER (voice over): But if you think it's just a bunch of empty offices, look closer. COVID control staff carting in big boxes. Inside them, can you read that? Pillows, betting people have actually been locked down at work and these supplies might make their stay a bit more comfortable for what could be days of testing.

Omicron not only in Beijing, cases also surfacing in several other Chinese cities including Shanghai. Social media showing snap lockdowns trapping shoppers at one store.

Outside this mall, a person posting that this woman was emotional wanting to hold the child who was staring back at her from behind the glass. Although it is unclear when the woman and child were reunited, officials kept them all closed for two days as they tested those inside, performing a deep clean before reopening.

Sounds extreme, but most online voicing their support for the strict containment efforts.

Less than three weeks until the Olympics and recent outbreaks had 20 million people sealed in their homes; others, bused to centralized quarantine.

State media showing these makeshift encampments built within days. Mass testing is a constant.

Back in Beijing, I hopped in line for my regularly scheduled COVID test.

CULVER (on camera): That's number 97. Done.

CULVER (voice over): But if you think the heavy measures have brought life here to a halt, most who are not traveling might say otherwise.

On Sunday, crowds flocking to this popular Beijing Lake, frozen just in time for the Winter Games, families enjoying the chill and seemingly confident officials will keep COVID in check.


CULVER (on camera): Let me take you back to that one omicron case right here in Beijing. How did it get here?

Well, the woman who has contracted it, according to health officials hadn't done any traveling. It's now been revealed according to help authorities here that it's very possible that she got it from a package that she ordered internationally from Canada, they say.

Now we should point out, health experts around the world have pushed back on the suggestion that this virus has been transmitted surfaces of things. They say, it is more likely that it's through the air.

Nonetheless, it's been something that has been pushed heavily here by Chinese health authorities that it's possible, it is an imported threat and that is something that plays into the narrative, Kasie and John that this virus came from outside and is continuing to cause issues here to the point where even those of us who are foreigners are often questioned how long we've been in the country, and when I tell them I've been here nonstop since before the pandemic started they're a bit more relieved.