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Man Swallowed by Sinkhole; SpaceX Flight Thruster Issues; Speaker Boehner Live from the Stakeout; Obama Meets with Congressional Leaders

Aired March 1, 2013 - 11:00   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Or go to Ask Tom and we will do the best we can. It's going to be a long day.

CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": You'll do a terrific job. Thank you so much, Tom Foreman. We appreciate it.

I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me today. I do appreciate it.

"CNN Newsroom" continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.


And, hello, everyone. Nice to have you with me today.

Let's begin here. Some disasters we can prevent. Others give us some kind of warning that they're on the way. And then there is the kind of nightmare that we're following this hour in Brandon, Florida just east of Tampa. And I do mean a nightmare.

A sinkhole opened up beneath a man's bedroom while the man was in bed last night. His panicked screams were the last anyone has heard from him and, today, he is presumed dead.

We can't actually see the sinkhole because it is literally under the house and probably far bigger and far wider and even deeper than the opening through which Jeffrey Bush fell.

Jeffrey's brother even tried to jump in and save him, but then himself had to be rescued by the police. This morning, he spoke with our affiliate, WTFS.


JEREMY BUSH, SINKHOLE VICTIM'S BROTHER: I have a second job. I went to work, came home at 10:00. And ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you hear?

BUSH: I -- well, we left and came back, and I knocked on his door, told him that we wasn't working today. So, he said OK and everything. And I went in my room.

I heard a loud crash like a car coming through the house, and I heard my brother screaming.

So, I ran back there, and tried going inside his room, but my old lady turned the late on and all I seen was this big hole, real big hole, and all I seen was his mattress. And, basically, like that was it. That's all I seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You tried jumping in after him?

BUSH: Yes, I jumped in the hole and was trying to dig him out. I couldn't find him. I heard -- I thought I could hear him hollering for me to help him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's the last you saw of him. Did you see any last part of him before ...

BUSH: I didn't see any part of him when I went in there. All I seen was his bed.

And I told my father-in-law to grab a shovel, so I just started digging and I just started digging and started digging and started digging.

And the cops showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor was still falling in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you were still at risk, as well.

Now your entire family is out here in support. Why -- you guys are out -- why are you out here in support?

BUSH: Just to keep closure, I guess, make sure he's not dead, make -- see if he's alive. But I know in my heart he's dead, but I just want to be here for him because I love him. It was my brother, man.


BANFIELD: I want to take you straight out live to the house where you can see workers have been assembling not only tape to keep people away, but without question, have been trying to figure out some manner in which they can continue to search for this victim.

Our John Zarrella is as close to that sinkhole as anyone else is being allowed to get and he joins me now by telephone.

What is the circumstance right now and what about neighbors? And I'm just going to warn our viewers, again, this is a live picture from our affiliate so you'll see reporters sort of walking back and forth in the foreground, but we want to keep an eye on the house, as well.

John, update us.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yeah, Ashleigh, you know, it's -- you look at this house. It's a pale blue house with a little bit darker blue trim and an American flag out front. And it is unquestionably impossible to imagine that there's not much of anything on the inside. It fell down into this sinkhole. But what we are seeing now are members of an engineering team from Bracken Engineering and they are rolling, literally, with ground- penetrating radar, taking measurements, trying to figure out how far that sinkhole extends, if it extends into the yards, the neighbor's houses on either side.

I can see now the ground-penetrating radar device coming literally right up to the corner of the street by the mail box.

There are dozens of people standing around on the side of the house here.

We were told that the owner of house had just come here. He apparently does that live in that house, that someone else was living in that house, Jerry Bush and Jeff Bush. But he's been talking to the media, as well.

Now, the engineering firm is trying to figure out if this hole which measured, you know -- it is still growing.

BANFIELD: And I think that's really the biggest question here, John, as we continue to look at this live picture.

I don't know what the structural circumstance is with this home or, God forbid, those homes next door. They look like they're all very close.

What are the neighbors being told and, at the same time, is anyone even able to get into the house at this point to look for Mr. Bush?

ZARRELLA (via telephone): No, not since they were pulled out last night because it was being structurally unsafe to be in there.

Now, I can't say for sure whether any fire officials or any of these engineering teams have spent much time inside the house around the back since we got here. We've not seen anyone, of course, walking in.

There are some members of the Hillsborough special ops team now that I can see moving into -- I don't know if they're moving into position or what they're doing, but they're coming over with some equipment themselves.

And, presumably, they may be going into to try and, if it's deemed safe by the engineering team, safe enough that they can get in there, stable enough, that is, the ground, then perhaps they'll go in.

I think there's some sound that we have with one of the members of Bracken Engineering talking about what they're trying to do.


BILL BRACKEN, BRACKEN ENGINEERING: The hole has actually taken up most of the inside of the house.

The hole itself is 20 feet, 20-to-30 feet in diameter. It's completely contained within the footprint of the house, and the depth is, at last we saw, 20 feet, although we know it's been increasing.

It started in the bedroom and has been expanding outward and is taking the house with it as it opens up.


ZARRELLA (via telephone): So, that's the situation. You know, Ashleigh, when you look at it, it's just incredible because it started in the house, it's still contained within the house, and you don't see, at least looking at the house from the front side, any evidence that there is this massive gaping chasm on the inside.

BANFIELD: Do they -- I mean, this is crazy, but it just doesn't look like that is possible, what that engineer Washington outlining in terms of the footprint of the house, could be the entire sinkhole.

Are they expecting that this house is actually going to collapse into it?

ZARRELLA (via telephone): No, I mean, they said that, certainly, which is one of the great concerns about having anyone inside there, that as this hole if it in fact continues to expand, that the house very easily could all of a sudden just completely collapse and go down into the hole.

I see someone right now with a sledgehammer drilling some spikes into the ground. They have a flat piece of board that they have laying on the ground outside the front of the house, as well.

Hard to say exactly what their plan is with that, but perhaps they're trying to make some sort of a stable walkway that they can with that plywood that they can walk in or walk across.

I'd hate to speculate on what they're doing, but I'm just trying to describe to the viewers what I can see from my vantage point.

And they're also marking with stakes. You know how people mark a property line when your house is sold or ...

BANFIELD: Yeah, we're seeing it just off to the right of house, John. I think that's the worker we're seeing way off to the right.

ZARRELLA (via telephone): You probably can see those markers there, yeah. Yeah, they're using these markers and -- yeah, go ahead, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: I just wanted to ask you. I know that you're in Florida and you know a fair bit about Florida.

We seem to hear a lot about this happening in Florida, but we've also heard about different sinkholes. For instance in Texas, there's been signature sinkhole activity as well as Washington state we've seen incidents before.

You can see some of the video on our screen of other news stories that we've covered before that have been simply remarkable. And the one on the far right is in China. It's Guangjao (ph), China.

Is there something to the terrain where you are and where this house is that left anyone to believe this was a possibility?

ZARRELLA (via telephone): Yeah, I mean, there's no question about it.

I think, if you look at any -- if you look at Florida as a whole, much of Florida is on limestone bedrock, and I hate to have (INAUDIBLE) just screaming at me that I might be wrong.

But what I understand is that when you have limestone as the foundation underneath and much of the state, again, limestone, so a lot of sinkholes in Florida, you can have -- when you have a lot of water running through that, it erodes the limestone away and, once the limestone is eroded away underneath a particular spot, you know then whatever is above it if the ground isn't stable enough can collapse.

And because of Florida's -- literally what Florida is built on, it's one of the prime states where there are a lot of sinkholes. Texas, you mentioned, Louisiana, there's sinkholes, and it just has to do with what's literally under the ground holding everything up, you know, the kind materials that this area is built on.

BANFIELD: Just remarkable pictures that we've been seeing, and, obviously, this story is evolving, as well, so, John, stay on it for us if you will, please.

And certainly our hearts go out to the Bush family that has had to endure this just bizarre and tragic loss.

John Zarrella reporting for us live in Florida.

The last best chance to head off $85 billion worth of indiscriminate federal spending cuts is taking place right there as we speak.

President Obama meeting with leaders of Congress with just less than 13 hours to spare. Between now and 11:59 p.m. tonight, the president will be forced to order almost every federal program to trim its budget by 9 percent to 13 percent unless, and it's a big unless, he and Congress agree on a better way.

Have I mentioned that most lawmakers are nowhere near the White House, nor the Capitol. They have already left town for the weekend.

We're going to get a live report from the White House in just a few minutes.

A new launch from private space company SpaceX. There's the Dragon capsule blasting off a short time ago, heading to the International Space Station. It never gets old. Never gets old.

No people are on board, but it is carrying some snacks, fresh apples, and things like mouse stem cells for experiments. The supplies are to arrive at the space station Saturday morning.

Jodi Arias crying on the witness stand, but getting absolutely no sympathy from the man who may have caused it, the prosecutor. The tearful and tasteless, twisted testimony, coming up next.


BANFIELD: So, I've got a little bit of breaking news to tell you about a story I literally just told you.

We showed you the launch of the SpaceX, the Dragon capsule, that was -- it looked fairly successful this morning.

We are just now getting tweets from the CEO of the company responsible, Mr. Elon Musk, who we've interviewed and talked to several times before. He's saying there's a problem now and that actually the thruster pods are having an issue.

They haven't been able to -- and I'm just going to have to tell you in their language. The system inhibiting -- is inhibiting three of four from initializing, which might mean there is only one thruster pod that's initialized. They've got three more that they need to and they want to -- they actually want to command the inhibit override.

But, apparently, they've got to wait until two thruster pods are active. So, we'll keep an eye on that for you and let you know what's happening.

In the meantime, we have another live camera, as well, at the White House. A critical meeting was under way. Now, some comments from the House speaker. Let's listen.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This discussion about revenue in my view is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington. I did layout that the House is going to move a continuing resolution next week to fund the government past March 27th. And I'm hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time. The House will act next week and I hope the Senate will follow suit. Thanks.


BANFIELD: Well, that was quick. Perhaps not as quick as the meeting may have been. We're told the official meeting with congressional leaders got under way - it was supposed to get underway at 10:00, got underway at 10:18 this morning. A lot of people have said this was all about optics, though, because come on, what are you going to do on Friday when Congress is gone and Congress is the only magic bullet to stop the spending cuts from going into place - $85 million worth of spending cuts.

Here's how it works. Congress set this crazy target, a real punishment to force themselves to actually come up with a deal. They couldn't come up with a deal. And lo and behold, they got the punishment. Officially it's an executive order that the president has to sign and he has until 11:59:59 tonight to do so. We're not assuming for a moment that this will be something public that he does, sign the executive order that cuts a massive percentage of agencies across the country and their budgets, up to 13 percent I think it is - between nine and 13 percent. Correct me if I'm wrong. But obviously something that even four critical leaders of Congress and the president can't stop from happening if Congress isn't there to vote. There were two bills yesterday, both of them not expected to pass. Both of them did not pass. Again, mostly intended for optics.

But many say that the president may be trying to look as though this is a last minute attempt to achieve peace. However, like I said, no matter how happy and friendly that meeting could have been, and who thinks it is, there was nothing they do have done to stop the cuts.

However they can still be stopped as where he move forward. These cuts you won't feel today. You won't see them today. But you will start seeing them very soon. There is a specific time line for when furloughs will begin, when TSA, for instance, when TSA operators may not be as numerous at the airports that you travel in. Many have said this will be intense for the economy to try to weather.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, find out if there is anything more that the House Speaker said that would have led to any kind of deal breaking. Back after this.


BANFIELD: So we were able to just get to the House Speaker John Boehner as he was commenting live outside of the White House about his meeting. It was fairly quick meeting. Presumably over by now. I can tell you this. He said that the discussion about revenue that would be increasing tax revenue in order to come to some kind of a detente with the Democrats, he said in my view is over.

It's about taking on the spending problem. Clearly the issue here, the Republicans like spending cuts but not sledgehammer cuts, the would like to see more like a scalpel. And also the House speaker said that the House is going to be moving a continuing resolution next week to fund the government past March 27th. Because we have a whole lot of deadlines coming up.

So, see some activity next week. In terms of this conversation, though, I believe that would be over as well. Pretty intransigent positions; the Democrats suggesting that spending cuts shouldn't be the only thing that there should be tax revenue increases, the Republicans saying revenue is out of the question should be spending cuts but carefully done.

Jessica Yellin, our chief White House Correspondent joining me now. I missed most of what the House speaker said because we're live, and we got it when we could. You can do a better job at summarizing it for me, Ms Yellin?

JESSICA YELLIN, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I missed some of it because I was running out to him as soon as we saw him show up, but essentially let me put this headline on it. The meeting didn't go so well. He basically said that this is not the way we should have to be negotiating on these issues. Facing these spending cuts are not the right set of spending cuts to be addressing, but they're not going to move on their position that cuts -- that spending cuts is what we need to be addressing. And essentially revenue is not really what they're looking at right now.

He's hopeful that something can be negotiated next month as we continue to take on these next battles over the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling.

I do have a little bit of news to bring you, Ashleigh, which is that the president is going to be coming to the briefing room and making a statement shortly, some 10, 15 minutes from now, 11:35 local time. And no doubt he will be pressing his case that, you know, he just wants balance and compromise and in his view, it's the Republicans who are being intransigent. Of course Republicans see it the other way.

BANFIELD: This is the $85 billion question for today anyway. Why did anybody bother with a White House meeting today when we watched as our colleague, Dana Bash, valiantly tried to get interviews with fleeing Congressmen. Did you see the pictures? They were great. I mean Dana, she's the bomb. She's running literally down the steps of the Capitol with lawmakers who are rushing for airplanes. Let me show you a clip from this yesterday and I want to ask you about it on the other side.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is your last vote of the day. Is there a concern that you all are going to leave town while these cuts kick in and you won't even be here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaker and the leadership will be here. And I'm a quick flight away. I go home every weekend to see my family.

BASH: You're on your way out. Are you on your way home?


BASH: So you won't be here in town when these cuts kick in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they call me back, I'll be back.

BASH: What do you think about the idea that you all won't be here when the cuts kick in?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to go to the airport.

BASH: Got to go to the airport? Okay.


BANFIELD: Followed very kindly by Dana Bash saying "bye." So that's why I ask. What was the point of today's meeting? Even if they had come to any kind of agreement, which no one believed was possible, nothing could be done about it anyway. YELLIN: PR. How can they not make the effort to sit down and look like they're trying to do something before these cuts go into effect? Let me show you something Ashleigh. This is just half of a report that the executive branch, Obama administration, sent to Congress last year before the spending cuts were about to kick in for the first time. They'll have to send something like this up there again today and the bottom line is the order for the cuts comes from the White House. Even though it was passed by law by Congress, the actual cuts have to be mandated by the Obama administration. So they need to make the effort to show that they at least visually tried before all of this goes in to effect.

BANFIELD: Makes me wonder why the House speaker would show up. Because a lot of people did say this was about optics. He took to the microphone, what we like to call the stakeout position, but did Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid do so, or are they leaving it all up to the Commander in Chief?

YELLIN: No, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid did not. I saw Reid leave personally. I've not seen Pelosi speak. And so they're waiting I guess on the president to make the remarks and deliver the message on behalf of the Democrats it would seem. And Pelosi I'm told has left, as well. Just to be clear, though, there is a desire by the leaders to try to cut some sort of a -- to at least make the effort to get their point of view across. So they do meet because they want their point of view represented. Even though they know they're so far apart about don't get done. So that's the value of this meeting.

BANFIELD: Hard to say no to a fancy invitation from the White House. Jessica, can you stand by for a moment? I've got the live picture up beside you of the briefing room and we're expecting the president momentarily. So I want to fit in a quick break and then catch you on the other side and hopefully get to the president just before he starts. Back after this.


BANFIELD: Welcome back. We're watching the live picture of the podium at the front of the briefing room. This was unexpected, but maybe not entirely unexpected. The president expected to be briefing us more than likely on the meeting he's just emerged from with the House leadership. As Jessica Yellin reported, it didn't go so well. But did anyone really expect it to anyway?

We're at the eleventh hour. The president is forced to sign his hand to an executive order to put into place some real brutal spending cuts, the likes of which pretty much everyone across the country will feel, although not today, soon enough. The House speaker emerged from that meeting and went right to the spot where we like to catch live interviews. And it's called a stakeout for a reason. Here is how he addressed the press at the stakeout after the meeting.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R ) HOUSE SPEAKER: -- to fund the government past March 27th. And I'm hopeful that we won't have to deal with the threat of a government shutdown while we're dealing with the sequester at the same time. The House will act next week and I hope the Senate will follow suit. Thanks.


BANFIELD: And that's how it goes. No Q&A. A statement and that's it. And again, I think we all know what were they going to achieve anyway. Today is the day Congress can't even vote because no one's there. They all left yesterday for a long weekend. And as we await the president, the criticism about the meeting today was that this was optics given the fact that these two positions are so, how shall we say, intransigent for lack of a better word, there is likely - not likely to be any kind of meeting of the minds today, or even next week for that matter.