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Tornado Watch in Joplin

Aired May 23, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Tonight, out of the blue, nature's fury.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, gosh. That is a monster tornado.


MORGAN: The heart of a city ripped apart.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We huddled down over her daughter out in the elements up against a wall.


MORGAN: Families devastated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were already in our last seconds here, and we were just praying for God to, you know, take us quickly.


MORGAN: The death toll climbing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We felt like King Kong was trying to snatch the roof off. The whole building started to shake. Our ears started to pop.


MORGAN: Incredible stories of survival.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought we were going to be sucked up the chimney.


MORGAN: Now, Joplin, Missouri, holds its breath and wonders: is it over yet?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was crazy. I've never seen nothing like that a day in my life.


MORGAN: Why now? What's really going on?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is destroyed. Completely.


MORGAN: Twisters, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis. Where will Mother Nature strike next?

Plus, eyewitness accounts from storm chasers and the latest reports from the ground.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got debris on the ground right here. We got debris on the ground.


MORGAN: This is a special edition of PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT.


MORGAN: Good evening.

Joplin, Missouri, is under another tornado watch tonight. The National Weather Service says there's a 45 percent chance of a second tornado outbreak, just one day after a deadly twister ripped through the central town and killed at least 116 people, tying it for single deadliest to hit American soil since the National Weather Service began keeping records 61 years ago.

Today, survivors are wandering through rubble of neighborhoods today, while 1,500 police and firefighters from four states dig through the wreckage. They found seven people alive today. They hope to find more, but many fear the death toll will surely rise.

These extraordinary pictures show you just how bad the situation is. You are looking at what used to be Joplin's Walmart. Superstore took a direct hit from a tornado and is reduced to nothing but rubble at a time when the store was crowded with weekend shoppers.

St. John's Regional Medical Center also took a direct hit, blowing out the glass facade and scattering X-rays -- this is extraordinary -- as far as 70 miles away.

I want to go straight to Joplin live and Sam Champion. He's ABC News' weather editor. He joins me now.

Sam, I mean, scenes of utter catastrophe in Joplin. Bring me up to speed with the latest news there.

SAM CHAMPION, ABC NEWS WEATHER EDITOR: Piers, I'll tell you, it's a hellish out in Joplin tonight. There is lightning dancing in every direction across the sky, the kind of rain tonight that you get in a hurricane you are getting in this town. The kind of rain that they just don't need after what appears to have been an EF-4 tornado. One of rare, 1 percent of tornadoes ever recorded.

That kind of strength pops into this town about three-quarter of a mile wide and runs for at least four miles, and some are estimating six on the ground. Now, this doesn't just skirt the edge of town. It runs right through the middle of town, wiping out the entire southern section of the town, just turning it into bare trees and basically just a bunch of shattered timber and cars that are balled up. Not cars that are blown across a parking lot, but turned into balls of steel.

It is just an incredible scene here in Joplin, Missouri.

MORGAN: I mean, some of -- we're hearing stories of hail stones bigger than golf balls raining down on Joplin, aside from all of the other stuff that was going with the tornado. And that sounds really terrifying.

CHAMPION: It is terrifying. And you got to understand that these people just last night at about this time were stumbling out of the debris of their home, Piers, and didn't know where they were, didn't know where their loved ones were. They finally caught their breath during the day today and then they've been pounded after -- by one, two, three severe thunderstorm events during the day today, with very similar characteristics.

So, those large hail stones, you were just talking about the strong driving wind. And these punishing cold rains as well. It's made it very difficult for the teams to look for people that they are hoping may be alive in the rubble that's here in Joplin.

MORGAN: And, Sam, I mean, we are seeing a death toll at the moment of 116. That ties the worst ever figure that we've seen for direct hit by a single tornado. From what you've seen on the ground in Joplin, would you expect that death toll figure to rise?

CHAMPION: Sadly, Piers, I really want folks to have hope. If they have not been able to contact a loved one, if there is such a scene of chaos here that I would like for them to still have hope they may see that loved one alive. But when we tour the damage and just on that side down the hill, there is nothing there.

And we are told that when you look there, you can see the horizon for miles. And we're told that they were giant homes and big apartment complexes and there were big shopping centers.

So, that number at 116 about doesn't surprise me. And do I believe it might be higher? Personally, Piers, I think it really might be.

And, Sam, we can see the weather conditions with you now are atrocious. We're hearing that there's a 45 percent chance of another tornado hitting Joplin, which would be an appalling new blow for them. But we're also hearing there are threats of tornadoes in wider area, possibly to Dallas and other cities, Kansas, I'm hearing.

What are you picking up? And what do you think is going to happen over the next few hours?

CHAMPION: Well, what we've seen is there's a stationary front really. It's an incredible setup. You've got this cold air that's much colder than normal into the northwest. It's got a 200 percent snow pack still up in the mountains there. And you got record-setting heat into the Southeast. Temperatures are -- not even southeast, Washington, D.C. is going to 90 degrees for the first time this year already.

And right on the border, right on the edge between that unusually cold air and warm air, you got a powerful jet stream. So, where that air clashes, you have this amazing lift to create these strong thunderstorms. That clash zone, that zone where the storms are developing, is not moving. Not for tonight. Not for tomorrow. Not for tomorrow night and probably not for the following day.

So, exactly what we have tonight is what these folks will have to endure for two, maybe three more days.

MORGAN: You've got -- our hearts go out to these people.

Sam, if you could just stand by for a moment. I want to bring in Jeff Piotrowski, who is a storm chaser.

Jeff, you were actually chasing this very storm. What did you see? Has there ever been anything quite like this before in your storm chasing career?

JEFF PIOTROWSKI, STORM CHASER (via telephone): Yes. (INAUDIBLE) back in '99. You know, there was the most intense storm is that how fast the tornado came down on the southwest side of the city, and then how fast the width of the tornado literally exploded from just a few hundred yards wide in the first 30 seconds on the ground to almost a mile wide and about two minutes later. And that's what I witnessed.

And then (INAUDIBLE) tornado, moving, you know, through the city at close to 50 miles an hour at mile wide, EF-4 tornado, created tremendous damage is what we witnessed. You know, yesterday in Joplin, and that's what we witnessed this powerful tornado that moved through the city of Joplin.

MORGAN: Jeff, obviously, you're an experienced storm chaser. You do this for scientific reasons and you collect very valuable research by doing this. But there must have been moments last night when you were fearful for your life, wasn't there?

PIOTROWSKI: Yes. One of the things that happens with this tornado when I was going down 20th Street there in central Joplin, heading east on 20th Street, toward the Joplin High School, the tornado widened so wide, it's moving to the east. The north edge of the tornado was about six blocks north of me. And as it continued rapid expansion not moving to the north, but tornado getting wider north and south, the tornado almost came up to 20th street and had debris hitting the vehicles (INAUDIBLE) as well as cars were being picked up and spun at me and then hurled back southward into the tornado as the tornado continued to track just south of 20th Street through the heart of the city of Joplin.

MORGAN: Jeff, obviously, the weather there is still very, very bad. We're hearing there's a 50-50 chance of another tornado tonight in Joplin. What kind of a device given all of your experience would you give to the people of Joplin, given what may happen in the next few hours?

PIOTROWSKI: Well, I think tonight, I mean, basically, looking at the weather pattern, I was out this afternoon chasing in northern Oklahoma, but there's a stationary front and there's what we call overlay, a lot of storms and hail and wind which will continue through the evening hours and then the bigger concern is going to be tomorrow. Tomorrow, we have a large area from, all the way like northern Kansas along the I-35 corridor, which it includes the cities like Wichita, Kansas, (INAUDIBLE), down to Oklahoma City, down to Dallas, over to Shreveport, Little Rock, Portsmouth, Joplin, Kansas City, we expect a significant wide scale tornado outbreak with very long track and damaging tornadoes.

So, tomorrow, they have to be extremely on guard because computer models show that there could be significant tornadoes coming out of Oklahoma into southwest Missouri, as well as across southeast Kansas. And this is very concerning for everybody in the weather business and everyone here needs to be on full alert especially tomorrow evening as the storms come out of central Oklahoma and central Kansas, move toward southwest Missouri later early evening and late afternoon, and be on guard because tomorrow will be long track tornadoes and maybe significant tornadoes as well.

MORGAN: Jeff, what we're hearing is that this is already statistically the 11th worst tornado season that America has seen in recorded history. But, obviously, it's not over yet and it could rise up that ladder quite sharply and quite quickly.

In all your time, how bad would you say what you've been seeing is by comparison to other seasons?

PIOTROWSKI: This is definitely one of the more intense seasons. We're seeing more EF-4s and EF-5 this year than we normally do. This is the more intense tornadoes. And the unfortunate thing is those tornadoes on the 27th in Alabama, and you have an Ef-4 to EF-5 again moving at 40 to 50 miles an hour and it very densely populated areas, you're going to have mass casualties.

And that's what happened on numerous occasions this year. That's why the death toll is what it is. And that's what we have much (INAUDIBLE) You can have an EF-4 out in the plains in a wheat field, it really doesn't hurt anybody. But if you get an EF-4 tornado through a heavily populated area like we saw in Joplin yesterday, these kind of catastrophes are going to happen and this year, the conditions are right for continuation of strong violent tornadoes even as we go to the rest of May, and probably even well into the month of June and part of July based on current weather conditions across the central --

MORGAN: OK. I'm sorry. I'm going to have to interrupt you. There's that's been invaluable information. Thank you very much.

But I'm going to go straight now to two people who survived the tornado in Joplin last night. One is Tom Rodgers, with his daughter, Olivia, who barely escaped with their lives. I think they can hear.

Can you hear me, Tom?


MORGAN: Obviously, we know conditions there are very bad. The communication is very bad from Joplin because of all this appalling weather you've been having.

Tell me exactly what happened to you.

I'm not sure if Tom -- I'm not sure if he can hear me. Can you hear me, tom?

T. ROGERS: Yes, Piers.

MORGAN: Sorry. I know the communication is very bad. We've been having trouble all day. It's obviously terrible weather still in Joplin and will only get worse.

Tell me, Tom, what happened to you last night? Talk me through the experience you and your daughter had in the tornado.

T. ROGERS: Piers, we heard the first tornado sirens go off. And just from watching some of the radar, we knew that that one was going to be -- going a little bit north of us. It's just when we heard the second set of sirens that we actually knew that we might be in for something a little bit worse from watching the radar on television.

Normally, I'm the type of person, Piers, that's going to go out and I'm going to take a look, and I'm going to kind of watch the storm. But just to set an example for my daughter, we ended up taking cover because I wanted to teach her that's exactly what we do when we hear the sirens.

It probably wasn't 15 seconds after we entered the bathroom underneath the stairwell that we took cover, that the lights began to flicker, and then we started to hear the freight train that people describe actually happens. It was just a little bit after that that --

(CROSSTALK) T. ROGERS: Yes, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MORGAN: I was going to say, obviously, Olivia is with you, Tom. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for her.

T. ROGERS: I'll definitely let her answer that question. How terrified were you during that process?

OLIVIA ROGERS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I was very scared. I thought me and my dad were going to be gone. We lived through that terrible tornado.

MORGAN: I mean, the desperate situation for you. Obviously, we can tell behind you, Tom, that the weather is atrocious tonight and deteriorating again. Are you fearful, along with other people in Joplin, that you may get hit by another tornado?

T. ROGERS: It's just made it very difficult to be able to locate people. We've got a lot of volunteers that are trying to do the work and they just -- they can't get in because of the weather. It's really working against us. And it looks like we got more coming tomorrow.

We've been absolutely decimated in the neighborhood that I was at, Piers. It was an absolute war zone. A lot of elderly people in that neighborhood, and, Piers, from the amount of wreckage that was left that we crawled out from underneath, we were absolutely, by the grace of God, allowed to live and there's a lot of people that weren't. But we're just very thankful to just have one another and to know that all that stuff that was lost can be replaced.

MORGAN: I mean, Tom, I'm seeing pictures while you were speaking there of just appalling scenes in Joplin. It's like Armageddon has hit your town. I mean, I just don't know how you're all going to start rebuilding.

Have you even thought about the rebuilding process?

T. ROGERS: To be honest with you at this point we're just focused on just being so thankful and I think there's a lot to be said for, if we could just as -- if we could just as easily forget our troubles, as easily as we forget our blessings, things would be far different. So, we're very thankful, very thankful.

MORGAN: Well, Tom and Olivia, thank you so much for taking time to talk to me. It's an absolute miracle that you survived. And I agree with you. You just got to thank God and pray for the others who have not been found yet. I'm sure there are more trapped in this rubble. This looks horrific there.

T. ROGERS: Well, we just ask that the viewers would be praying for those that have been hurt much worse than us and those that have been lost. We just ask for their prayers.

MORGAN: Tom, thank you very much. And to Olivia as well.

ROGERS: Thank you.

MORGAN: When we come back, the incredible twister fate that saved an entire high school graduating class from a tornado's fury.

And later, star weatherman Sam Champion on this season of wild weather. What is behind it?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's indescribable. I don't know what to say other than that. I've never seen anything like it.


MORGAN: That's what is left of Joplin's high school.

Anderson Cooper is live in Joplin tonight in Missouri.

Anderson, these are quite desperate scenes. The pictures are really horrific. You got there the last few hours. What are you making of what you're seeing?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": It is really -- I mean, as you said, it's obviously horrific. What maybe the pictures don't show is just the weather that is still -- the weather system that's still affecting this area is making it very difficult for those who are out searching for people who may still be alive trapped underneath the rubble. It is cold here. There has been a driving rain here throughout the day, severe thunderstorms, major lightning. We've seen huge lightning strikes all around us over the last several hours.

And the bad weather, Piers, is expected to continue into tomorrow. Whoa! Huge bolts of lightning just there.


COOPER: I don't know if you saw any of them behind me. Yes.

MORGAN: That's scary.

COOPER: You can imagine what this does for anybody that may be trapped -- yes, you can imagine what this is like for anyone who maybe trapped underneath rubble still and may still be alive who is going to have to spend the night here in the driving rain. It will give them access to liquid, something to drink, which is obviously good for anybody who's trapped. But with the severe weather, the cold, it's really difficult.

And for rescuers, it makes their job just all the more difficult. They are still out there for many hours searching for people. The last I heard, they had found seven people alive.

But, at this point, we still don't have a count for how many people may still be missing. We have not been able to get a count like that. I'm not sure if you've heard anything that's newer information than I have, Piers.

But, on the ground here, we haven't heard anything.

MORGAN: Well, I mean, I'm just seeing these images and it just seems impossible to me that this death toll will remain at 116 because you're just seeing vast sways of the region just decimated. I mean, it's like a scene, like I said earlier, sort of Armageddon scene, really appalling pictures.

COOPER: Yes, and it's very strange. I mean, you walk through some of these areas that are just completely destroyed. And I mean, it is -- it is destroyed as far as the eye can see. And I'm on kind of a hilltop, miles -- just for miles, and all you see now sticking above the horizon are the shredded trees. It really is a sort of post-apocalyptic-looking.

And again, you walk through some neighborhoods and you don't hear anything except for the wind blowing and the sound of the rain and the occasional clap of thunder. It's a very eerie feeling. It's really sickening kind of silence that you hear.

Again, I mean, I've been to -- we've all witnessed a lot of disasters. This is really a different kind than certainly I've seen before, just for hitting such a heavily populated area, and you really get a sense in just looking at the images, looking at the destruction, of the power of this tornado as it touched down, Piers.

MORGAN: Anderson, if you could stay with us, we're going to move to Sam Champion quickly.

Because, Sam, I think what's striking about what Anderson has been saying is that the devastation we're seeing -- I mean, this is really out of the ordinary, isn't it, with these tornadoes? I mean, what we're seeing in the last two weeks, there was one -- two weeks ago, which was just as powerful. We're now seeing this.

It seems like this is getting worse. Am I right to think that? Or from a meteorological point of view, is this kind of what happens every few years?

CHAMPION: Well, Piers, it's -- we always expect this clash of air masses in spring and as the warm air wants to overtake the cold air of winter. But this has been highly unusual.

Earlier in the broadcast, you were talking about the number of EF-4s. You've got to remember that since we've been keeping records since 1800s of storms and weather in this country, the number or the percentage of EF-4 tornadoes is about 1 percent of all tornadoes. And now, here, just within about two weeks of each other, we have EF-4s and EF-5s that are miles wide and long track tornadoes that stay on the ground for long periods of time.

So, this is highly unusual and much like you would look at a flooding situation and you would say, oh, that's 100-year flood. This is certainly a 100-year tornado situation if not then some. But what we've got to remember about this is that we can build homes that will survive tornadoes. We truly, truly can.

But most areas where tornadoes happen, they just don't legislate that people have to build houses to withstand them because it's so expensive. If you look around a lot of these homes are built on slab foundations. And you can't survive this kind of tornado, this size of tornado, this strength of tornado, when it is coming at you if you can't get below ground. You are really not only just a regular basement, but you got to have a cement slab over your head between you and that ungodly tornado that doesn't care about taking everything with it.

But we would have to make people build like that and it just isn't something that goes down very easily even in tornado-prone areas because it's so expensive.

MORGAN: And, Anderson, let me bring you back in here. I mean, you've covered some horrendous natural disasters this year alone. And in terms of tornado seasons, to try and put this in correct perspective, is this as bad as you've seen tornado damage?

COOPER: It is. I mean, certainly -- and, you know, to see it so soon after the other storms that we've seen so far this year, you know, we're told this is going to be a very active storm season this summer. And you think back -- and even though last year, there were a lot of hurricanes for instance, a lot of them veered off before hitting the United States. So, we really didn't see the kind of storms that we've seen in past years.

But certainly just -- I mean, just -- I really have not seen something like this over such a wide area that touched down. And I think part of the problem and Sam could probably talk to this a lot better and you probably had people on earlier that talked to it, is just the slowness of this storm that in some parts it just seemed to kind of linger in places.

I'm told, over the hospital it kind of stayed -- people in the hospital said it stayed over the hospital for a minute or so. The slow-moving nature of this really added to the impact that it had on the ground.

MORGAN: Yes. And, Sam, I mean, we're hearing reports that debris X-rays from the hospital, for example, being found up to 70 miles away in people's driveways. I mean, it seems extraordinary there.

CHAMPION: Yes, that is exactly what Anderson just said. This thing seems to have been moving in slow-motion at some points and then picked up speed and moved on. But it was very slow as it moved across that hospital zone.

And when you look at the damage there, you can really tell that it stayed around for a while because there's a rolling form to the damage. That's where everything is crunched up in a ball. Things were just completely tossed and tossed and tossed, and then that tornado picked up and ran. And when it ran, it now turned into a splinter kind of debris like where we were on top of the hill all across the area.

So, yes, there's that, where it was slow, and then it certainly did pick up and move.

MORGAN: Well, Sam and Anderson, we can see lightning flashes behind you. And I think you guys better take cover for a bit. But maybe we'll come back later on. But, please, stay safe there. It looks pretty hazardous even now.

CHAMPION: Will do.

COOPER: Thanks, Piers.

MORGAN: Coming up, what you can do to help the victims in Joplin. I'll talk to the Red Cross.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. There it is. There it is. Oh, gosh. That's a monster tornado.


MORGAN: If you're just joining us, we're live with breaking news from Joplin, Missouri, where 116 people have now been declared dead following the horrific tornado yesterday. There are fears tonight of possibly another tornado hitting not just Joplin but other parts of the south.

Dallas and Kansas are in the firing line. I want to go now to Zach Tusinger. He's an attorney in Joplin, Missouri, whose aunt posted the words "oh, my God" on Facebook just before she and his uncle both died in the tornado.

Mr. Tusinger, first of all, my deep condolences on this terrible double loss to your family. These are appalling scenes that we're seeing in Joplin. If you could just tell me where you were and what you saw.

ZACH TUSINGER, ATTORNEY in JOPLIN, MISSOURI: Thank you, Piers. Thank you for your condolences. It's awful for everybody.

I was at my loft downtown. I was on my roof. I actually took a picture of the tornado, crazy foolish. After the storm passed, I headed south and I had to go on foot at a certain point, checked on my grandparents, just absolute devastation. Buildings gone everywhere.

Obviously it's going to take a long time for this community to recover. There's a lot of loss of lives, a lot of loss of property. It's just unbelievable. It's your worst nightmare.

MORGAN: You described it in a text message soon afterwards as being like a freight train. What does it feel like to be near a tornado of this devastation? TUSINGER: It's always very cliche. You hear -- it sounds like a freight train. And that's exactly what it was like. I've never been scared of tornadoes before. But I think I am now. I think everyone should be.

MORGAN: You were on Facebook just before the tornado hit. Were you in direct communication with your aunt, because we know that she posted this last awful message saying "oh, my God." She clearly realized what was coming her way.

TUSINGER: No, I wasn't. Not until later. I was on Facebook and I saw posts from meteorologists telling people to take cover and that the tornado was coming. And I saw it and took cover myself.

It's just indescribable what happened. I haven't slept. It occurred and I've just been trying to update people and help where I can. I think that's all anybody can ask for. I think like everybody thinks that -- it is very tough and the weather is not cooperating. It's a very bad situation, Piers.

MORGAN: And Zach, how far away were your aunt and uncle from where you were?

TUSINGER: They were two to three miles from where I was, downtown, to the north. It's relatively undamaged now. But you go a mile south, two miles south of where I live, it's just like an eraser just a half mile wide just eliminated half the town.

MORGAN: You obviously know Joplin very well. We're hearing that the death toll is now 116 people, including your aunt and uncle, already tying for the worst ever death toll from a single tornado strike. Looking at the images that I'm looking at, which are just horrendous, given what you know of the town, would you say that there are likely to be more people that have died in this than the numbers that are being said at the moment?

TUSINGER: From things I heard from people who work at the hospital, I have to believe it's going to go a lot higher, which I hate saying that. I think that's the truth in my heart. And I think everybody knows that.

I think when this is all said and done, everyone in this town is going to know someone they've lost.

MORGAN: You've been very active, as you said, on Facebook. Social networking, as it has done in recent disasters, playing a very important role in spreading information here. What kind of thing would you like to say to other people in Joplin, particularly as the weather is deteriorating again?

TUSINGER: Take cover. It's dangerous outside. It's horrible. Until this storm really -- it's mainly search and rescue, and try to put a roof over your head. There's not much to even try to rebuild right now or try to recover from.

It's just try to stay safe and prevent further loss of life at this point.

MORGAN: Zach, thank you so much for spending the time to join us. I can only again offer my sincere and deep condolences to you on this awful loss of your aunt and uncle, two of 116, and I'm sure many more, who have lost their lives in this devastating tornado.

But I really appreciate you coming on tonight. Thank you.

TUSINGER: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is joining me now. She's live in Joplin, where the weather is deteriorating. We've seen flashes of lightning when I spoke to Anderson Cooper. Jacqui, what are you sensing there? Are you sensing there may be another tornado tonight?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Probably not tonight, Piers, but conditions we think tomorrow will be a different story. There's a real good probability that severe weather is going to break out. And that will include southwestern Missouri, including folks right here in Joplin.

So the thought of another tornado potentially is extremely frightening for these people. And there are so many people that are just hanging on by a thread and have sustained so much damage that, you know, it's a very dangerous situation, even with some strong winds.

The weather today has been a huge story not just because of the tornado, but because the weather today is impacting the search and rescue efforts. It's literally been raining all day long. You talked about those lightning flashes. There was hail this morning.

We had wind gusts of 60 miles per hour. They had to stop the rescue efforts for a while, but they've been back into it. And you can imagine with all of this rain coming down, it's made things extremely difficult for crews.

Our visibility has been extremely poor. I don't know if you can see around me, but the winds have been very strong. We're having a hard time keeping our equipment on the air as well. In addition to that, the rain has been so heavy, we've been getting flash flooding. So there are many streets and intersections across the area that are just covered in water. And so that's making things much more difficult as well.

Some of the smaller rivers and streams, we're also concerned that they could see some rises because of all of this heavy wet weather. We're hopeful, though, as we head through the late-night hours tonight, that things are going to dry up a little bit.

And most of the day tomorrow we think will be dry. But then that severe weather threat. And yes, unfortunately that danger of tornadoes comes back we think by late tomorrow evening.

MORGAN: Every sense we're getting, Jacqui, is that this is, even by bad tornado season standards, particularly bad. We seem to be seeing the Apocalyptic weather now spreading around the globe. Is there some kind of pattern here?

Are you -- from a meteorologist point of view, are you assessing this as getting worse than in previous years? Are we seeing really unusually bad weather or is it just these two incidents involving tornadoes that have come quite close together?

JERAS: Well, we're going to have to go back and go through data and really analyze things to find out exactly if there is a cause or if this is just a cycle. We see cycles of very active weather. We see cycles of very quiet weather.

But there's no question that this has been historic. We had a record number of tornadoes in the month of April. And while we've had a lot of tornadoes the month of May so far, it hasn't been record breaking. But we could be approaching records in terms of fatalities.

So part of it might even just be bad luck, Piers. This was one super-cell that produced a tornado that touched down for about somewhere between three and six miles is what we're hearing. And that entire pathway happened to be where people live. If this tornado had touched down maybe 40, 50 miles west of here into a wheat field or corn field over into Oklahoma, we never would have heard about this storm or we certainly wouldn't be covering it.

So these storms have been hitting in populated places where people live, where people work. And it's just so incredible and so devastating. I've covered a lot of tornadoes and I've seen a lot of devastation, but I don't ever think that I've seen something this extreme, this severe covering such a large area.

This tornado that moved through just ripped everything to shreds in its path.

MORGAN: It's appalling, absolutely appalling. Jacqui, thank you very much indeed.

Coming up, more live from the scene of the deadly twister in Joplin. And we'll tell you how you can help.


MORGAN: You're looking at pictures of the deadly twister which struck in Joplin, Missouri, yesterday, killing 116 people. The death toll is feared to probably be on the conservative side and will raise quite significantly in the next few days.

The tornado hit just after graduation at Joplin High School, wiping it out almost completely. The senior class was spared and a terrible tragedy averted because of a scheduling quirk. Joplin holds its graduation at Missouri Southern State University a few miles away from the school.

C.J. Huff is the superintendent of schools and he joins me now. Superintendent, this was an extraordinary escape. All of the pupils from Joplin High School happened to be at a graduation ceremony away from the main school. Had they been in the building, I dread to think what may have happened. I would imagine we would have been looking at many, many fatalities.

I'm having trouble there hearing the superintendent. I think we may have to come back to him. Waiting to hear from the superintendent who oversees all of the schools in Joplin, Missouri, where we have seen this dreadful twister take the lives of over 116 people.

The fears tonight are of a second tornado sweeping into Joplin and other areas in the south, including Dallas, Kansas. Tomorrow is now feared to be a distinct possibility.

I'm now going to be joined by T.J. Holmes from CNN. T.J., you used to work I believe for an NBC affiliate in Joplin. You're now back there tonight. Have you -- in your darkest nightmares, you could never have imagined this kind of scene, could you?

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: No. I'm coming in, Piers, and parts of a town that I know so well are unrecognizable right now. You actually have a tough time -- I should say, I have a tough time getting my bearings in certain places even though I should know exactly where I am.

I have -- again, I am from the south, from Arkansas, worked in Arkansas. I've been covering tornadoes a long time. It seems cliche, Piers, but you never have seen anything like this in your life. It's something worth noting here about this town, Joplin, Missouri.

This town -- yes, it's small, 50,000 people. But this town is the economic life -- it is the engine of this entire area here in Southwest Missouri, because there are so many other towns around, Nyosho (ph), Carthage, Webb City. So many towns come here during the day.

The population of this city goes up to about 200,000, 300,000 every single day during the work week, because this is where everyone comes to actually work.

I am going toss it back to you. I think I need to hand it back over. I hear the producer saying something to me. It's important and worth noting here, Piers, this town is of vital importance. Not just Joplin, but the entire area depends on Joplin for its livelihood.

MORGAN: It is, T.J. That's a very good point to make. It is indeed that. I think the big concern now is that the rescue operation could be severely hindered by what may be coming later tonight and tomorrow. I think we're now rejoined by Superintendent Huff, who is in charge of all of the schools in Joplin.

No, I'm sorry. We've lost him again. The communication in Joplin is very bad tonight. The weather is atrocious again. Unsurprisingly, we're having a few issues there.

T.J., let me bring you back in. For someone like you that knows the people of Joplin, you've articulated very well there the importance of Joplin. But tell me, T.J., about the people of Joplin and what they're going through and what they will be going through as the next few days unfold.

HOLMES: This is a town that enjoys -- everybody comes together for the Friday night basketball or football game, to watch the young man that baby sits your kid or the young woman who is a babysitter. Everybody in this town knows everybody.

That's why they say it's impossible that -- every person in this town knows someone who has been killed now, with numbers over 100 now for the number of killed. This is the kind of place where people might leave for a while but they always come back. They don't come back because they don't have another choice to. They come back because this is what they know. This is home. This is familiar. This is family.

It's so personal to them here. These are the kind of people you have here. No doubt, they'll come together. They will build this place back up again. But to see what it is right now -- and Piers, as we were driving in, we saw a sign that said Range Line Road closed between 7th and 32nd street. That might not mean a lot to people that are listening.

But Range Line Road in Joplin is the Magnificent Mile for Chicago, Fifth Avenue for New York, Peach Tree Road in Atlanta. It is the life blood of this community.

So the very last place you would want a tornado to hit, not that you want it to hit anywhere, but for it no knock out Range Line Road and that chunk of this community, that is Joplin. And that is gone right now. That says a lot about what's about to happen.

Of course they are going to come back, Piers. We know these places are resilient. Right now, this town is hurting. And right now, we have misery on top of misery.

You can see this rain is shooting sideways in many places now. And it's just making a mess here on top of the mess they already have. You see these lightning flashes. We jump at them just about every time. An amazing show going on in the skies right now, Piers.

Misery on top of misery tonight.

MORGAN: T.J., I think you should take cover. We saw a massive lightning strike behind you. It looks another appalling night there in Joplin. My hearts go out to al of the people there. It's really shocking scenes. We'll come back to you a bit later on. Thank you very much.

We'll be right back after a short break with more breaking news from Joplin, in Missouri, where the scenes after this tornado are really quite desperate.


MORGAN: Looking at devastating images from Joplin, in Missouri, where a twister yesterday has taken the lives of 116 people so far. The death toll is predicted to rise, probably quite significantly. You can see why from these appalling images.

Also the weather map tonight showing worrying signs of potential further tornadoes. Not just in Joplin, Missouri, but other areas of the south, including Dallas, Kansas. It's going to be a rough night tonight and probably a rougher day tomorrow.

Nature's fury is also striking elsewhere tonight, in Iceland, where an erupting volcano is spewing ash into the atmosphere, potentially causing havoc in British airspace. President Obama has already been forced to leave Ireland early to beat the cloud of volcanic ash.

Joining me now is the president of Iceland, Olafur Grimsson. Mr. President, thank you for joining me.

Obviously a very serious situation with this volcano. It's a different volcano to the one that we saw last April. Tell me what is happening on this occasion. How bad do you think the situation is?

OLAFUR RAGNAR GRIMSSON, PRESIDENT OF ICELAND: Well, listening to the disaster on the tragedy you have just been describing in the United States, we are fortunate here in Iceland that nobody has been hurt, nobody has been killed. And in terms of the human condition, everybody is safe.

Of course, there are difficulties for the local community. But over 95 percent of Iceland has been leading a normal life. The ash goes up in the air and might go to other countries, as you were just mentioning.

But listening to you describing to what's happening in the United States, we can be blessed here in Iceland that this hasn't really caused any damage to the people. But, of course, great difficulty for the farmers and the local people, especially the sheep farmers.

MORGAN: Mr. President, I really appreciate you giving us an update on the situation. I suppose the only question I'd like to follow up with, because we have got this huge breaking story in America involving this tornado, is what kind of effect do you think this volcanic eruption will have on air traffic over the next few days?

Last time, we saw at least two weeks of chaos throughout Europe. Are you anticipating a similar situation this time?

GRIMSSON: No, no, definitely not. The flights started from Iceland yesterday afternoon -- or actually this afternoon. And, in fact, in terms of Europe, this is not going to be anywhere like what happened last year. It's a -- it's a different eruption. And I think Europe is also better prepared to deal with it.

There might be some difficulties in Scotland and in Scandinavia, but, fortunately, I think we can truly say the nature of this eruption will not cause similar disturbances as last year. But, of course, it is a monumental eruption. It's the biggest one we have had in that area of Iceland for 140 years.

MORGAN: Clearly a serious situation. Mr. President, thank you very much for spending the time. If you don't mind, I'm going to go back to Missouri, where the weather is deteriorating again. I want to get a quick update.

After this break, we'll be back with more breaking news from Joplin in Missouri.


MORGAN: That's all for us tonight on a quite desperate day for people of Joplin, Missouri; 116 are now confirmed dead. The death toll is going to rise. To help the victims in Joplin, text "Red Cross" to 90999 to make a 10 dollar donation, or visit to donate, to give blood or to volunteer.

And I think everyone should just say a prayer for those people. The weather is deteriorating again tonight. If looks like it's going to be horrendous tomorrow. we now go live to Anderson Cooper with "AC 360." He's in Joplin, Missouri now.