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Marines Battle Fires in California; MERS Virus Spreads Inside U.S.; Eric Holder, Michelle Obama Target 'Subtle Racism'; Nigeria, Neighboring Countries Partner to Look for Kidnapped Girls; Four Teams Vie for NBA Finals Win

Aired May 18, 2014 - 06:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A young high school student just taken just a short time in life here. It's tragic. It's tragic. And if we can help find the truth and justice in that, that's what we're here for.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CO-HOST: As southern California smolders from devastating wildfires, Marines are working to combat the flames and the smoke. CNN rode along for a view from the air.

CHRISTI PAUL, CO-HOST: Subtle racism is more dangerous than outright bigotry. That's according to Attorney General Eric Holder, in a speech that he made at Morgan State. Coupled with the first lady's remarks in Topeka, is this the administration taking a stand on segregation?

BLACKWELL: And we are one race away from breaking a 36-year-old Triple Crown drought. Can California Chrome pick up where Affirmed left off?

Your NEW DAY starts now.

PAUL: You know, it doesn't matter if you're still in your PJs. You're allowed. Just sit back and relax. I'm Christi Paul. We're glad to have you with us.

BLACKWELL: I'd be in mine.

PAUL: I know.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to have you this Sunday and welcome to your NEW DAY.

And we start this morning with the destructive wildfires in southern California. Firefighters there, they now seem to have the upper hand, thanks to the weather, cooler temperatures, lighter winds -- helped them gain containment of three more fires.

PAUL: Four are still burning, though, the largest one at 42 percent containment.

Now it scorched 15,000 acres, and in some areas a lot of residents have been given the all clear to return to their homes, try to assess the damage and see what's left there, but three of the fires converged on Camp Pendleton. And officials say that nearly 20 percent of the Marine base has burned. There had been no casualties, though, which is the most important thing, and no buildings damaged.

BLACKWELL: But you see, Pendleton has an advantage. Because they've got an experienced fire-fighting force on the base already, and they're ready for action.

PAUL: Our Indra Petersons takes a closer look at how they're getting the job done.


INDRA PETERSONS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: This is the airstrip the Marines use to battle these blazes. In all, they dropped a half a million gallons of water and 150 round trip, and we just went along for one of them.

(voice-over): A wall of flames closing in on a Marine airstrip. A military base under siege.

COL. WILL HOOPER, 3RD MARINE AIRCRAFT WING: I watched as this thing marched from about a half a mile away almost to within 200 meters of us. And I could feel the Heat on my face as this thing approached.

PETERSONS: Enter the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and 22 helicopters ready to battle the flames. On this flight, we're headed for a lake on the base with a 300-gallon bucket in tow. Our chopper is guided by a crew chief manning a door in the chopper floor known as the hellhole.

From our window you can see the delicate balance as other choppers lower toward the lake. Our pilot does the same, lowering the bucket till it's submerged. Once it's full, we head for the fire line.

(on camera): (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

GRAPHICS: Right now, we're flying directly over the fire line. You can actually see how badly burned this area is after these fires.

(voice-over): Again using the hellhole and a lot of precision, the crew chief spots the right moment to make the drop. On his signal, the water is released.

In all, these choppers made over 900 drops. At the fire's peak, Captain Bradley Gibson pulled it off with zero visibility.

CAPT. BRADLEY GIBSON, PILOT: You see your lead aircraft go into smoke, and he just disappears. You don't know if he's going straight ahead. You don't know if he's coming out to the left. You don't even if he got his bucket dropped off or not. So the best you can do is hope.

PETERSONS: The smoke so intense it cut off the main water supply on the base, forcing the crews to move elsewhere.

This video shows a Marine chopper hovering over the Pacific Ocean.

(on camera): So you just went along on one ride, but in all, these Marines have spent 250 hours in the air fighting these blazes. It helped them get the upper hand on this fire, and the cooler weather here is only expected to help even further.


BLACKWELL: All right. Indra Petersons, thank you so much.

PAUL: Yes, earlier we talked about how the weather was cooperating, at least yesterday for these firefighters.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Today, will it continue? That's the question. Let's bring in Alexandra Steele here in our severe weather center. What it's looking like today?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, I mean, it's cooperating in the short term, but it's really the longer term that's the problem and here's why.

This is the pattern. It's called what you can see a blocking pattern. An area of high pressure in control and blocking, meaning this is the Jet Stream, so as any moisture comes in from the Pacific, this jet acts like a wall, and it pushes all the moisture to the north, thus leaving California, for the third winter in a row, incredibly dry.

Now, California's wet season is in the fall and the winter, so they've been incredibly dry last fall, the winter, the spring as well. So we haven't really seen a major change. And the problem is, there's really no rain relief until we get into October potentially, any drought-breaking relief.

So there's the western pattern. We have seen a change, of course, the short term, but the big picture will not change.

This year 2013 has been the driest year on record. So we're going to have a really incredible season as we head toward the next six months, because we're working on this very dry pattern.

So relief is on the way. Again, the short term. We've seen the winds change direction. Now we're seeing a flow off the ocean, bringing in some moisture, bringing in humidity.

Also temperatures are 20 degrees cooler than where they were, but we still have, of course, this critical fire danger because in essence, the ground has been set. The stage has been set, and everything is so dry.

But we again will see the pattern change and things will improve, but the big picture for the country, warm conditions moving through the south, through the east. So we are going to see temperatures certainly warm up along the Eastern Seaboard this coming week, but for the West Coast really, first time in a century the entire state in a severe drought or worse. BLACKWELL: All right.

PAUL: Alexandra Steele, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Now for the first time we know of, someone has picked up MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, inside the United States.

PAUL: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says an Illinois man caught the virus from another American who had just come back from Saudi Arabia. Here is the good news: the new patient was barely sick and apparently is already well. Fortunately.

BLACKWELL: Well, here's CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, good morning.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, Christi, this is now the third person in the United States who's been found to have MERS, or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Now, this third person, it's a little bit different than the first two, and I'll tell you why. The first two people, they were infected. They got infected in Saudi Arabia. Then they got on a plane and came here. This third one -- this third one became infected in the United States, so this is now the first case of someone becoming infected on U.S. soil.

And here's what happened. This third case, he had a meeting with one of the first two cases, a gentleman in Indiana. So this new case, a man from Illinois, and the man from Indiana, had a meeting late in April for 40 minutes. They sat and they talked. They were within six feet of each other. They shook hands, and that was their own physical contact that we know about.

Then the next day, they had another meeting which was even shorter.

So two meetings, one 40 minutes, one even shorter. The only physical contact that we know of was a handshake. That apparently is enough to share MERS from one person to another.

This is a little bit different, I think, in many people's minds than what was said before. Before, doctors were referring to MERS as something that, in order to get it, you had to have close contact, you know, someone who lived in your household or the kind of contact that a doctor and a patient would have repeatedly over time.

This is a little bit different, and I think it will definitely raise concern for some people: Can I get MERS just from having a business meeting with someone?

Now, having said that, it is important to note MERS is not a virus that is super easy to transmit person to person. It's not like the common cold, or the flu or measles. You still need to have contact. You can't get MERS, from what we know, by just passing someone in a hallway.

But still, this is a new virus. It's only been around for two years. It's only been in this country for a couple of weeks. So doctors are still learning more about how MERS is spread, how it's contracted. And experts I've been talking to said they expect to see more MERS cases in this country in the future -- Victor, Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

PAUL: You know, 60 years after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling that banned school segregation, Attorney General Eric Holder says segregation is recurring now. Today.

BLACKWELL: Holder was speaking to graduates at Morgan State University in Baltimore yesterday. He also told them that subtle racism is more damaging than hateful outbursts from people like L.A. Clippers coach Donald Sterling.

He said, and this is a quote, "Proposals that feed uncertainty, question the desire of a people to work, and relegate particular Americans to economic despair are more malignant than intolerant public statements, no matter how many eyebrows the outbursts might raise."

PAUL: Holder also said that subtle racism cuts deeper and endures long after the headlines fade.

And here's the thing. You know, first lady Michelle Obama made these similar comments on Friday at a high school in Topeka, Kansas, where she, too, marked the 60th anniversary of Brown. And she told students that, despite the Supreme Court's landmark desegregation ruling, many schools have pulled back efforts to integrate.

BLACKWELL: So here's the question this morning. Has school integration fallen apart? We'll ask our experts later this hour. HLN contributor Jason Johnson and University of Georgia associate professor Shanika Williams, they're going to join us in studio. You don't want to miss this conversation. It's coming up in just a few minutes.

Neighboring countries unite with Nigeria to help bring home the more than 200 girls who have been abducted by this terror group, Boko Haram. We've got a live report on new regional efforts from this summit in Paris.

PAUL: And later, oh, yes, you can call her a winner. California Chrome, one step closer today to winning the Triple Crown after taking the Preakness.


BLACKWELL: Thirteen after the hour now. West African leaders have agreed to now work together against this Boko Haram threat. They met in pairs to talk about ways to bring more than the 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by the militant group back home. PAUL: Yes, meanwhile, the U.S. is using drones and manned surveillance aircraft to search for the girls, and the foreign affairs committee is going to be meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue. But CNN's Vladimir Duthiers gives us -- joins us now, live from Nigeria.

So Vlad, help us understand. What was discussed at the summit specifically?


So what we know is, for the first time in a long time, African countries -- West African countries that surround and border Nigeria have a concrete plan to try to combat this rising terror threat, Boko Haram.

Now, the French president, Francois Hollande, gave some steps that he expected these countries and these leaders to follow. One was the coordination of intelligence activities amongst those countries. Also, surveillance of the border. One of the problems with Boko Haram and fighting Boko Haram is that they are able to move freely between Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. So that's something on the table.

Also, the French president stressed that there was a military presence required around elections, which tend to be violent in some of these countries. And finally, intervening when there is some kind of credible threat, when there is some kind of danger. Although he stressed that the French would not be putting any combat boots on the ground.

And that's also the message that we've heard from the United States and United Kingdom. No combat boots on the ground but a lot of intelligence sharing, reconnaissance and more surveillance of the area to try and rescue these girls, Christi.

One other thing that I thought was interesting. French -- the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, said 20,000 troops are now on the active search for these girls, Christi.

PAUL: And you said that the French president, as we heard, will not intervene militarily, because Nigeria has military forces that are able and efficient.

However, we've heard reports that the Nigerian military is afraid to engage Boko Haram, so there's a discrepancy there.

DUTHIERS: Yes, Victor. In fact the governor of Borno State, where most of these activities have occurred in the past, has said to us that the Nigerian military is outmanned and outgunned when it comes to fighting Boko Haram.

Typically, Boko Haram fighters will arrive. You know, you're talking 200, 300 fighters that storm a village. They come with rocket-propelled grenades. They come traveling in armored personnel vehicles, many of which that they've actually stolen from the Nigerian military. The military that's on the ground, you're talking usually not more than a half a dozen or a dozen soldiers with an AK-47 and one magazine clip. Not enough to meet the challenge, not enough to fight these guys. They are bold. They are courageous for standing their ground when they do come, when Boko Haram does arrive but simply not well trained, not capable to meet this terror threat, especially when they're using guerrilla tactics and using their own weapons to fight them, Victor.

PAUL: All righty. Hey, Vladimir Duthiers, thank you so much for the update.

BLACKWELL: Thanks a lot.

After the break, you're going to want to see this. It is a dream come true for a former football player who was paralyzed in a game two years ago. Well, this weekend Devon Walker got the surprise of a lifetime. The New Orleans Saints signed him to the team.

PAUL: Woo hoo!

Plus that elevator scene that's viral, wait until you see "SNL's" take on the Jay-Z/Solange snafu. Oh, it's so good. You don't want to miss it.



BLACKWELL: They're here. They are here. The long-awaited NBA conference finals, they are officially under way.

PAUL: Just hours until tip-off.

BLACKWELL: Can't wait.

PAUL: Kristen Ledlow is with us this morning for "The Bleacher Report."

Kristen, how are you?

KRISTEN LEDLOW, CNN SPORTS: I'm great. How are you guys?

BLACKWELL: Yes, it's a good conference, the NBA.

LEDLOW: I'm great, because like you said, just hours until tip- off. Finally, four teams are left vying for an NBA championship, and the Eastern Conference finals actually get started today.

The top-seated Indiana Pacers meet the second-seed Miami Heat, just like they did last year at this time. With a trip to the NBA finals on the line, the best of seven series, starts in Indianapolis as the Pacers earned home-court advantage for the matchup. It's the best regular season record in the Eastern Conference this season. Game one tips off at 3:30 Eastern. And California Chrome took another step for the Triple Crown on Saturday, racing ahead at Pimlico for the impressive victory at the Preakness Stakes. The 3-year-old colt notched his sixth consecutive win and becomes the 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown since 1978. Now California Chrome is awaiting the final and the longest leg of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park in three weeks.

And trending on "Bleacher Report," a feel-good story is starting to feel a little bit better, you guys. Former Tulane safety Devon Walker, who was paralyzed back in 2012 during a game against Tulsa, has actually been signed by the New Orleans Saints.

Now, he was on his way to lunch with his family, when they actually dropped him off at Saints rookie minicamp instead, where the team surprised him with a contract.


SEAN PAYTON, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS HEAD COACH: Obviously, he's been an inspiration to our region, our community, New Orleans, the Tulane family, and it's carried over to us at the Saints.

DEVON WALKER, SIGNED WITH NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Just to be a part of the team and just to be allowed around the players is just more than I could have hoped for.


LEDLOW: And as if Saturday wasn't busy enough, prior to signing that contract with the Saints, he actually participated in graduation at Tulane, where he earned his degree in cell and molecular biology.


LEDLOW: Pretty impressive weekend for this guy, right?

PAUL: Oh, my gosh. All in 24 hours! Right?

LEDLOW: One day.

BLACKWELL: Can you imagine that -- that drive where you think you're going to McDonald's and then you end up in training camp?

LEDLOW: Well, he said he was on his way, actually, to go get, I think, some lobster and oysters...


LEDLOW: ... with his family, and they pulled into the Saints' rookie camp instead.


All right. Kristen, thanks.

LEDLOW: Thanks, guys. PAUL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: OK. So we may never know -- maybe we'll never know what was behind that infamous elevator brawl between Beyonce's younger sister Solange and her husband, Jay-Z. And the Carter-Knowles clan is keeping tight-lipped about it.

PAUL: They're mum, but you know who's not? Folks at "Saturday Night Live." They think they have an idea about what went on that night. Take a look.


SASHEER ZAMATA, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": Now that I have you alone, I've been waiting to do this a long time. As God is my witness, I would never do anything to hurt you.


JAY PHAROAH, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE:: You know what? And to prove it we got an exclusive version of the video, this time with the audio included.

ZAMATA: It tells a completely different story, look.

Man, what a great party.

PHAROAH: I know, yes.

ZAMATA: Oh my God, there's a spider on you.

PHAROAH: What? Get it!

ZAMATA: It keeps moving.

PHAROAH: Kick it! Oh, great job. I love you, Solange.

ZAMATA: I love you, too.

PHAROAH: Hey, thanks again for that help with that spider.

ZAMATA: You know what? No problem. Put that up!

PHAROAH: Let's get back to the party.

ZAMATA: Yes, that would be fun. Oh, my God, the spider's back.

PHAROAH: Get it! I got arachnophobia. I love you.

ZAMATA: I love you, too.


PAUL: That's so creative.

BLACKWELL: Man, clearly, that's not what happened, but thank you, "SNL," for filling it in.

PAUL: It's a good take. It's a good take, nonetheless.

BLACKWELL: So this is something that I guess there is -- let's call it a drumbeat, because this is the second beat here. Attorney General Eric Holder now saying that subtle racism is worse than outright bigotry 60 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. We heard from the first lady yesterday. Political leaders are speaking out about racial inequalities. Is it part of a political agenda by the White House? Is this going to turn into some legislation?

PAUL: We will see. Also we're going to talk about that, and we're going to show you how crews train to rescue trapped miners during disasters. You do not want to miss this pretty astounding video.


PAUL: Now for an update on mortgages. Rates dropped this past week. Take a look.


PAUL: You've got some time on this Sunday morning.

BLACKWELL: Don't rush it.

PAUL: Only 28 minutes past the hour. Yes. We're glad to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Here are five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

Up first, MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, has now spread inside the United States. The CDC says a man from Illinois caught the virus during a business meeting with an Indiana man who'd just come back from Saudi Arabia. Now, MERS can be deadly. The latest case, though, was mild and did not last long.

PAUL: No. 2, more residents are expected to head home today in southern California to see what devastating wildfires left behind for them. Better weather conditions, though, helped firefighters get the upper hand on some of those fires and thus allowed officials, obviously, to lift those evacuation orders.

BLACKWELL: Three, now a source tells CNN that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is the president's choice to be the new secretary of housing and urban development. Castro -- and you probably remember this -- he gave the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Well, he's expected to be nominated as part of a cabinet shuffle that began with the retirement of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

PAUL: No. 4, the publisher of the "New York Times" is disputing claims that sexism fueled the firing of his executive editor. Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said Jill Abramson's shortcomings included, quote, "arbitrary decision making, inadequate communication, and the..."