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Pope Benedict XVI Resigns; Tornado Damage in the South; Historic Snowfall in the North; LAPD Sets $1 Million Reward for Suspect; Jodi Arias' Trial Resumes Today; Carnival Cruise Ship, Dead in the Water; Obama to Deliver State of the Union Address Tomorrow; Clint Romesha Receives Medal of Honor

Aired February 11, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": We'll update you as we got more information out of Wilmington, Delaware. But there you have it, three dead in a courthouse shooting there.

And now to a shocker out of Vatican City. Pope Benedict XVI stepping down. He's going to retire at the end of the month in order to let a younger man take over as pope.

Here is part of the resignation letter. Quote, "I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to be adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I thank you most sincerely for all of the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all of my defects."

Here's the reaction from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and the highest ranking Catholic in the United States.


CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN, ARCHIBISHOP OF NEW YORK: And my appreciation for him, which was already high, is enhanced a bit because with this sense of realism that he has such an esteem for the office of the successor of St. Peter, which is what the pope is, the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, that he says, you know, I may not be up to it now and perhaps I can best serve Jesus and his church and his people by stepping aside.

So, I have to admire him immensely.


BANFIELD: And the cardinal was surprised. Bill Donohue is the Catholic League president. Surprised, a cardinal being surprised by this, finding out via Matt Lauer on a telephone call, I have to ask you, does this sound like there's something up when the most important people to the pope were not informed of this?

BILL DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Well, the only thing I can guess, Ashleigh, is that we've had some leaks from butlers and others in the Vatican and perhaps the pope wanted to make sure, I'm going to play this very close to the vest. It is unusual. There's no question about it. But I agree with Cardinal Dolan. This -- he's to be commended.

After all, we know that his predecessor, John Paul II, wasn't this good health for the last several months and people wondered would it be time for him to step down. He's done the noble thing.

BANFIELD: And you know, of course, people will speculate right away, is this the noble thing, is it truly what he's saying, or is it something more to which you were alluding earlier, there has been so many crises that this pope has had to face during his papacy, the butler who leaked those documents, the book that was written because of it with all the problems, financial problems.

You can't use a credit card right now at the Vatican because the banks are suspicious of money laundering. There are a lot of problems within the Vatican. Do you suspect that could have anything to do with this?

DONOHUE: Well, I think all of that and more, quite frankly. He's 85 years of age. How many world leaders are functioning at the age of 85.

I think he understand what his doctor said, you're not good for trans- Atlantic flights. That alone's got to give you some pause.

BANFIELD: But how has that changed all of a sudden? We've had popes who have got -- our penultimate pope was too old to almost even speak, too sick to almost even speak and yet went to his death still reigning as pope.

DONOHUE: And I think this is better. To give you, quite frankly, from one layman's perspective, I don't think we want to see another instance, as much as we loved pope John Paul II, his last closing month were not good. Let's face it. He looked enfeebled.

And what this pope is saying is that I don't know that I'm up to it any longer. He's a humble man. How many world leaders today who are so egocentric would actually do something of this nature?

BANFIELD: So, why has it taken 600 years, though, I suppose, Mr. Donohue, for someone to come to this logistics realization, the pragmatic realization, I'm not capable, therefore, I must step down? It's the first time in, like I said, six centuries.

DONOHUE: Quite frankly, most popes haven't lived this long to begin with, so I think that's one of the changes there.

But I think that -- listen, Pope John Paul Ii was named at the age of 58. That was unprecedented.

You may see a person chosen now, maybe someone in his 60s. Maybe they are looking for some more longevity.

We all knew that in 2005 that Pope Benedict and his old age already wasn't going to be around for decades and decades. BANFIELD: The fact that the pope tweets is -- I love that. That's really a recent development.

But his last tweet said this, "We must trust in the mighty power of God's mercy. We are all sinners, but his grace transforms us and makes us new."

Am I to read anything into this last tweet about us all being sinners or is this just typical?

DONOHUE: Listen, what did he say about the problem of priestly sexual abuse before he became pope? He said we've got to get rid of the filth. That was the word he used, "got to get rid of the filth" in the Catholic Church of these priests who would dare molest anybody.

So, he was an outspoken man on this. He knows they're all sinners, of course. The pope himself goes to confession. He understands that.

But he also understands most priests are good men and to have their name and their heritage besmirched because of a handful within is not fair either.

BANFIELD: You know, you just enlightened me that the pope goes to confession. I can't imagine the person who listens to the pope's confession, what a remarkable thing.

Bill Donohue from the Catholic League, thank you for taking the time to come in to ...

DONOHUE: Thank you so much, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And we'll be talking more as we look towards the new selection process in the next couple of months.

So, clearly, the story is not over. This is such a surprising resignation. A little later in the hour, we'll have further information about how this came about and what happens next and then the legacy of this pope, as well.

I want to move now, though, to the story that has sort of plagued us, but is moving across the country, weather. Thousands of people are now without power. Dozens of people hurt in Mississippi.

And when this massive tornado you're seeing on the left part of your screen ripped through that state, two people ended up in critical condition. And thank the lord despite the pictures you're seeing, no one reported dead thus far.

We're talking widespread damage, though, the governor declaring a state of emergency for four counties. You can see them on your screen. Governor Phil Bryant just holding a news conference moments ago to update the press and the public.

Let's get straight to Victor Blackwell who's on the ground in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

Can you just give me a rundown on the latest of the damage. Given what I see behind you, it's got to be significant.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, well, the damage here is significant. It's sporadic, but significant.

Look at this building here. This is on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

What you hear is that saw in the background as they're clearing the debris, but this building is 100-years-old, one of the five original buildings on this campus, and this is representative of some of the damage we're seeing here.

The most important concern right now is getting people back into their homes. The governor, Phil Bryant, said just a few minutes ago that there were 200 homes damaged, 100 apartments that are now uninhabitable, so they now have to find places for some of these people to go.

They have opened two shelters in and around this city.

BANFIELD: Yeah, I've heard that the public schools are closed in that area, but tell me a little bit about the University of Mississippi and the kind of damage that was sustained there.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, public schools here are closed. The damage here, we're told that about five or six buildings here on this end of the campus were damaged. There are trees that were uprooted that are being cleared up now. You can hear them kind of chopping up some of the branches here.

But most of the campus is fine. And I want to show you just how random the damage is. You see this building. We've shown you this one.

Right over here, this is one of the female dormitories on campus, not damaged at all, did not lose power, fortunately, because there are some students here on campus.

There were students who left campus because Mardi Gras is tomorrow, so classes have been canceled for today and tomorrow. They'll be back in class on Wednesday.

BANFIELD: All right. University of Southern Mississippi, I need to be very careful when I said University of Mississippi. This is University of Southern Mississippi.

Victor Blackwell, thank you for keeping an eye on that for us.

And I also want to just mention this has been such a big weather story for the last four days. That monster nor'easter that we were talking about up until this tornado, that was a nor'easter that dumped more than three feet of snow on parts of the Nor'east.

It may have come and gone, but here are the pictures and the proof. The hardest hit state, Connecticut, believe it or not, still bracing for more. If power outages and dangerous driving conditions weren't enough, freezing rain now expected in parts of that state.

George Howell joins me live now from Hamden, Connecticut, where truly cars were buried. It was a whopping 40 inches of snow. That's a record for a lot of people in that area. The National Weather Service weighing in on that, as well.

Tell me about those drifts and I think I saw you on like a 20-foot tall snow bank earlier morning.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and Ashleigh, we're on one of those snow mounds right now, in fact. This one may be five feet high.

And you find these everywhere. There's just so much snow out here.

You mentioned cars that were covered. There are so many cars and neighborhoods that are still covered in snow, people haven't even gotten around to digging those cars out.

And keep in mind, it has been a rough situation here. Of the nine people who died in accidents related to this storm, five have been in Connecticut, this area really one of the hardest hit.

And what we have right now, Ashleigh, you're getting the rain that's coming down. It's creating a real slushy, nasty situation here on the roads here in Hamden, Connecticut.

And, also, it's above freezing, so that's the good news, no black ice on the roads. It's also starting to compress a lot of these snow mounds like the one that I'm on now. That will help with cleanup, but still just sort of a messy, slushy situation out here, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, I was commuting in this morning, and I get up very, very early as I believe you do, as well, my friend, and I was terrified about the black ice because I know you just mentioned -- I can see the drips in front of your camera, as well, that we're above freezing so a lot is melting.

But, of course, overnight those temperatures dropped precipitously and everything on the ground freezes, effectively making shoveling, concrete and driving skating rings.

HOWELL: It's so dangerous. In fact, you know, I was doing a live shot this morning for "Early Start" and I showed what it was like on the black ice. I mean, we almost fell several times just walking around out here.

The good news again, though, looking at the forecast, looking at the temperatures, it will be above freezing so very likely your commute back into Connecticut will be better than it was driving down into CNN New York this morning.

BANFIELD: So, here's my question for you, Mr. Southerner. Someone told me don't worry about shoveling out your car. The rain will do the job for you.

I believe that's not necessarily the case. Like I said, it does turn the snow into concrete.

But, truly, how long is it looking for everybody who's in that vicinity to get cleared out to the point of functioning well?

HOWELL: Look, this could take days. I spoke with the mayor this morning and he said, a week, maybe, maybe longer than that because it will take time to go in for the neighborhoods and plow the roads out.

They even called in pay-loaders. We're talking construction equipment to come in and scoop a lot of this snow out.

But one thing we're finding, Ashleigh, in these neighborhoods, when you talk to people, it's neighbors helping neighbors, people doing it themselves, like Javier Rodriguez, listen to what he had for say.


JAVIER RODRIGUEZ, TEACHER, HAMDEN HIGH SCHOOL: This is definitely the worst we've seen. I know three years ago it was bad, but not in one storm like this.

I'm kind of getting crazy over here in the house. I'd actually rather be at school for once.


HOWELL: That's the thing, you know. People who have been trapped in their homes for 72 hours, yeah, you might go a little stir crazy.

So, the good news is we are getting some rain. It's not the freezing rain that we saw this morning. It is rain. It's compressing a lot of these snow mounds and making for slush on the roads.

You know, really the biggest problem I think you'll find here, at least today, will be flooding as this snow melts.

BANFIELD: George Howell, as your friend and as a mother of two boys, you put your hat on young man if you get these snow assignments.

HOWELL: Got it.

BANFIELD: George Howell, joining us live from Hamden, Connecticut, not far from where I live. Thank you, sir. Appreciate that.

$1 million, that is the award that the Los Angeles police are offering for the capture of Christopher Dorner, the fired Los Angeles policeman who is accused of killing three people, including an L.A. cop. A massive manhunt, now in its second week.

L.A.'s police chief saying that he's reopening the case that led to Dorner's firing back in 2007. We're going to talk more about this with our legal experts later in the program.

The trial of Jodi Arias resumes today. With the 32-year-old testifying for three days last week on the stand, she revealed some very sordid details about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, who she is accused of brutally murdering.

We are live streaming that trial on as she gets ready to take the stand yet again.

In Texas, thousands of people expected at a memorial service today for Chris Kyle. You may remember he's the former Navy SEAL and Iraq war veteran who was shot to death at a shooting range.

Eddie Ray Routh, another Iraq vet, is charged with killing Kyle as well as Kyle's friend earlier this month.

Some terrifying moments aboard a cruise ship, fire knocking out the engine and stopping that boat from being able to move. They are adrift, 4,000 people in the Gulf of Mexico. We've got a live report next.


BANFIELD: For more than 4,000 people aboard a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico, a dream vacation is not a dream; it's a nightmare instead. A fire erupted in the engine room yesterday as this ship, the Carnival Triumph, was just off the Yucatan peninsula and heading back to Galveston, Texas. And then, boom, out go the engines.

So the fire was put out. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But it is not fun being on a boat even as beautiful as the Carnival Triumph when it's literally dead in the water.

Our Sandra Endo has been monitoring the developments. So when fires take out engines, they also take out power oftentimes, which means they take out air conditioning in very hot temperatures. What are they doing about all these passengers on the ship?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly an uncomfortable situation for a lot of the passengers on board, Ashleigh. We just got off the phone with the Coast Guard commander on the scene, who tells us they are closely monitoring the Carnival ship that adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Right now, there are no details on what caused the fire last night, but the Triumph is waiting for two tugboats, which are expected to get here this afternoon, to tow the vessel to the closest port, which is Progresso, Mexico.

Now, the Triumph, as you mentioned, it was on a four day voyage from Galveston to Cozumel, but the fire broke out during its journey back to Texas. Luckily, no injuries reported, and right now the cruise ship is positioned around 140 months off the Yucatan Peninsula and is drifting two miles an hour to the northeast. The Coast Guard says it's in constant contact with the crew on board.


VOICE OF CMDR. GREG MAGEE, U.S. COAST GUARD: Right now we're monitoring the situation. We've been in constant communication with the master of the Triumph. Right now they have everything under control. They're not requesting any assistance at this time. But we're standing by to provide it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ENDO: A Carnival spokesperson said emergency generators are up and running and people on board do have ample food and water and even more provisions were transferred last night on to the triumph from one of its sister ships and more are expected to arrive this afternoon. And the Coast Guard says a passenger on board who does need medical assistance will be transferred off the ship this afternoon.

Now, the biggest inconvenience for all these passengers, toilets. They are only operational in the front half of the vessel. Listen to the husband of one of the passengers.


BRENT HUTT, HUSBAND OF STRANDED PASSENGER (via telephone): She was crying and stuff and said they had no power, they had no running water, they had no way to use the bathroom. If they would tell you the truth, it would not be so bad.


ENDO: So clearly an unfortunate situation for so many of those passengers. We're told once they get to Progresso, Mexico, they will be flown back to the United States, of course on the Carnival's dime, and they will be refunded for their cruise ship.

BANFIELD: I hate to smile because, listen, I know you said no injuries, Sandy, but when you have 4200 people in a really small space that's nice and hot and the toilets aren't working very well, you might get some injuries. Did you already tell me this? How long is it going to take for them to get towed to shore? How long do they have to endure this?

ENDO: Well, they'll probably get to Progreso, Mexico, on Wednesday, so it's going to be a little while, yes, to get towed over there and then fly back to the United States. So clearly it's going to be a little bit more of an ordeal. They were expected to be back in Texas today. So not so comfortable situation.

BANFIELD: That wife is going to get back to her husband and say I'm sorry I decided I needed a trip away from you. Sandra Endo, monitoring this for us live, thank you very much. And CNN is of course going to keep you updated on all of the efforts to get those stranded passengers off of the Carnival Triumph and safely to dry land.


BANFIELD: OK, get your popcorn ready to pop, because tomorrow night is the big State of the Union speech and we've got it covered from end to end here at CNN.

But there's one thing that other networks may not be doing that we have been doing. One of the special guests who is attending the State of the Union with the First Lady is a man by the name of Clint Romesha.

If you don't know his name, you should, because he is a true American hero. He is tougher, stronger, and way more brave than I'll bet anyone you know. He's one of only four surviving soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be awarded with the distinguished Medal of Honor, and he's getting that medal today. Here's why.

Back in October of 2009, Romesha and about 52 other troops were stationed at a military outpost in Eastern Afghanistan. Just look at your screen and look at what they were enduring. They came under an intense attack from hundreds of Taliban fighters. Those fighters ran right through the camp while they were still in it. Roughly half of those troops were either killed or injured while trying to fight off the Taliban. Half of those American troops.

But it could have been so much worse if Clint Romesha hadn't gone above and beyond to rescue, to protect and to even try to retrieve the bodies of his comrades who did not survive.

CNN anchor and chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper joins me now. Jake, I know that you've got a great relationship with Romesha. You've been to his home now in North Dakota where he now works in the oil field. And watching you interview him, it was absolutely gripping. I think because he doesn't have the bravado of someone I would expect should after being what he's been through.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He's a very modest, very humble guy. He spends a lot of time talking about -- and I've known him now, as you say, for a long time. I've known him since 2010 when I started writing a book about the battle at Compound Outpost Keating.

He talks about the buddies that served under him, and how brave they were. He talks about the eight men who did not make it out of that camp alive because of that devastating attack by the Taliban. We also talked about what it was like when he finally got that phone call from President Obama one day.


CLINTON ROMESHA, FMR. STAFF SGT. U.S. ARMY: When I picked up the phone on the unavailable number that popped up and the secretary was on the other line, she asked me if this is Clint Romesha and I confirmed yes and she told me that President Obama would like for talk to you. At that point, you're just sitting there going, OK? I'm just Clint Romesha. This is weird.

TAPPER: Are you uncomfortable receiving the Medal of Honor?

ROMESHA: I was doing a job. And I know that there are so many great soldiers out there that would have stepped into my shoe and done the same thing. I just feel that I just did a job.


TAPPER: And Ashleigh, that is exactly what he's like in private as well. I've known Clint Romesha now since 2010 and that's how he speaks. He's a man of unbelievable humility and modesty, somebody very uncomfortable being thrust into the limelight. And yet he knows this is a special event, not the just for him, but for all of the soldiers with Black Night Troop 361-Cav, and also for the families, especially those parents and wives and children of those troops who did not make it home. Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And so, Jake, as I watched you ask him questions about the details of that attack, he struggles to keep it together when talking about the guys -- not necessarily the strategies. He's crystal clear on what he wanted to do and why he made decisions that he did. But he starts talking about the guys in first person, it's really hard to watch. Is it just that he can't go back there, he can't be in that moment anymore, that that was 2009 and this is now?

TAPPER: He's pretty healthy as these guys go. As the 44 who survived, there was one guy who later on overdosed. He had really bad PTSD. He's pretty good, Clint Romesha, at dealing with his war memories. And he talks about them. He was emotional in the interview, I think, mainly because he and I have been friends and have been talking about this battle now for years.

But one of the things that haunts him is the fact that friends of his did not make it out alive, specifically Sergeant Justin Gallegos, who he tried to save. And Clint Romesha is very, very tough on himself and he knows he is. He talks about the guys that he was not able to save, not necessarily the ones that he was able to save, and that still haunts him, yes.

BANFIELD: And just seeing him so committed to getting the bodies, despite the danger, getting the bodies so that the Taliban wouldn't get the bodies of his friends. It was just an awesome documentary and it's a great story and a great book, Jake Tapper. So congratulations on doing some really good work. Thank you.

And also you can see the Medal of Honor ceremony right here live on CNN. It gets underway at 1:45 p.m. Eastern this afternoon.

And then also coming up after the break, another story. We're going to take you to the funeral of the most lethal sniper in U.S. history: Chris Kyle, a man cut down, murdered at a gun range, by a fellow veteran.