Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Search and Rescue in Joplin, Missouri; Clash of Political Styles?; New Information on Pilot in Air France Crash Mystery; Twister Reached Nearly 200 Miles Per Hour; "An Apostrophe Got Lost Along the Way
Aired May 23, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much.
Happening now, survivors pulled from the ruins of Joplin, Missouri a day after a monster tornado flattened much of the city. This hour, astounding pictures and powerful stories of disaster in the heartland. A major hospital takes a direct hit, making it harder to help the living and find the dead.
Our correspondents are at the center of the rescue and recovery operation in Joplin right now. We'll have the latest.
And the toast of Ireland -- President Obama enjoys some lighter moments overseas, even as he teams with -- he has to deal with the tornado devastation back here at home.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: It's been almost 24 hours since the people of Joplin, Missouri handled in terror in their basements, in their bathtubs and in the doorways, as a powerful tornado tore through their city. Officials now say 116 people were killed. Many, many more were injured.
This makes this storm tied for the second deadliest twister on record in this country. The toll, though, is expected to climb. As one resident puts it, everybody's going to know people who are dead.
A massive rescue operation is underway. It's been hampered, though, by more bad weather. And officials are deeply concerned about gas explosions, because many pipes are damaged.
Despite the obstacles, success today. The governor says there were seven rescues. In some cases, entire families were pulled from the rubble alive.
Local officials say at least 2,000 buildings are damaged, including one of the city's two hospitals.
Brian Todd is joining us from outside that hospital. He's joining us live now -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you can see, we're getting another thunderstorm. They have been rolling through here all day today -- driving rain, lightning, thunder really hampering rescue efforts. It's hard for these teams to search grid by grid like they like to do and pick out rescuers.
However, we do know that they have rescued seven people today. That's a positive. On the negative side, a confirmed 116 people dead, more than 400 injured now.
We're going to truck into this building here that took a direct hit. This is
Johns Regional Medical Center. The whole front of the building sheared off and some of the tops have been taken off, as well. Up here, you see these cars that are just right on top of each other -- an SUV and a van on top of a pickup truck here. It is a mess. Mangled cars tossed on their sides, tossed on top of other cars, are all over the place here.
And here's a look, Wolf, at the juxtaposition between what gets hit and what doesn't. Look at this neighborhood over here. Everything is flattened, trees uprooted. And everything is just basically brick, mortar, boards just all over the place.
And then you truck to your right a little bit. Look at those set of town homes over there. Those were -- those got some damage to the roofs, but otherwise didn't get much damage. So, you know, these -- these tornadoes are very fickle Wolf. And right now, this rain really hampering rescue efforts.
BLITZER: All right, Brian.
Thanks very much.
Brian Todd working this story for us.
We're going to get back to him shortly
Meantime, a pastor who survived the tornado says he doesn't know which was leader, the wind outside his church or the praying inside.
Lisa Sylvester is here with more of these very dramatic pictures and stories -- Lisa.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is just completely unbelievable. We are talking a tornado hitting square on a city where eyewitnesses -- this tornado was terrifying. We have dramatic pictures and sound, as the tornado moved through Joplin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. Oh my gosh. There it is. There it is. SYLVESTER (voice-over): The monster tornado whipped up winds of 190 to 198 miles per hour. You can't see much here, but listen as the tornado howls through, captured with a cell phone camera.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Heavenly Father.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Jesus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys all OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SYLVESTER: Isaac Duncan was among those huddled with about 20 others in an industrial refrigerator.
ISAAC DUNCAN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Everyone was kind of just deciding what to do and all of a sudden, the glass in the front of the building just got sucked out. Basically, the only thing that was left standing was the cooler that we were in. Everything -- everything around it was gone.
SYLVESTER: Houses and businesses left behind like broken twigs. Joplin, St. Joseph's Hospital lies in tatters.
BETHANY SCUTTI, JOPLIN RESIDENT: The floors are (INAUDIBLE) just absolutely devastated. The windows have blown out. There's debris hanging outside of the windows.
SYLVESTER: Everything out of place, including this wheelchair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's indescribable. I -- I don't know what to say other than that. I've never seen anything like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm 22 years old. I have a wife and two kids, 14 months old. We lost everything in the tornado. We're just trying to salvage what we can.
SYLVESTER: The tornado cut a path four miles long and left an unbelievable trail -- mowing down anything in its way. But out of this, amazing stories from survivors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was trapped in the bathroom, because all the dining room furniture came in and -- because I thought it was buried. And it was -- it was a very, very long tornado.
DOUG HUNT, JOPLIN RESIDENT: We've got a lot of people that have died and this city is a resilient city. And I'll tell you, it was very humbling all through the night. Nobody could sleep, but we could hear emergency vehicles driving in from areas hundreds of miles away. So it's a sad time for our city. But at the same time, you know, we're thankful for the people that are coming together and helping.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
SYLVESTER: Now the focus, of course, is on the search for survivors. But as we heard Brian just telling us, the weather has been a factor there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A heartbreaking, heartbreaking story.
I want to go back to Brian.
He's got the governor of Missouri on the scene for us -- Brian, I hope you can explain to us what they're doing and what the latest information is.
TODD: Wolf, back here now with Governor Jay Nixon.
He just stopped on the scene here. He just gave a news conference a short time ago. governor, first tell us, this is, you know, another driving rain storm, one of many.
How is this hampering the rescue effort?
GOV. JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: It's been very difficult for first responders crawling over these broken houses, broken buildings to try to find the living people that are below them. We saved seven people today. We hope there are others down there. We're going to cross every foot we've got here to make sure we get as many survivors as possible.
TODD: can you give us more detail on the seven people pulled out today?
NIXON: They were both in buildings, where there was businesses, as well as some homes. There were a couple of families who were in basements that went down there -- heard the signals and went down. They were saved. Some of the businesses, the walls just came -- came in and they were able to find pockets. We believe there are other folks out there that are unaccounted for. We're going to go across every square foot of this with the hundreds of firefighters, hundreds of first responders from all over the region that have volunteered to come here and help us lead.
TODD: Do you advise people to try to come back and sift through their homes or is it just too dangerous right now?
NIXON: Well, we want to make sure we get the rescue done first. I mean we will make sure they're safe here. We -- we have 265 guardsmen at work with local law enforcement. We have 110 troopers here. This will be a safe scene.
But what we need to do is make sure the entire area is swept one more time by the people that know what they're doing, the folks at Task Force 1, the firefighters know, there's -- in case there are people down here that -- that can be saved. We want to make sure we give them every chance to be saved.
TODD: What's the thing that most worries you at this very moment?
NIXON: I mean it's -- the thing that worries us most is this weather making it difficult for us. If there are people down underneath these -- these buildings, underneath these piles of -- of -- of rubbish that are breathing that we need to get to.
TODD: Governor, best of luck.
NIXON: Thank you.
TODD: Thank you very much for joining us.
We appreciate it.
Wolf, you hear the crackle of thunder right now. This weather is really hampering the rescue efforts, as the governor said. They're warning people, don't go back to your homes just yet, it's just too treacherous out here.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Please give our best to all the people of Joplin, Missouri right now and thank the governor. We'll check back with him, as well.
The strength of the Joplin tornado is now classified as a four on the enhanced Fujita scale -- that's what it's called -- meaning that winds reached almost 200 miles an hour. Only about 5 percent of tornadoes in the United States are above a two. Last month was the worst month for tornado deaths since the Doppler network was deployed back in the early 1990s. It saw three tornadoes reach Level 5, 12 reach Level 4.
Let's bring in our severe weather expert, our meteorologist, Chad Myers.
What's going on here -- Chad?
Is this extraordinary, all these tornadoes that have been so devastating?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It is -- it is, without a doubt, extraordinary. And yesterday, there was only one major tornado. And we -- we talk about it all the time when we say, yes, there's a tornado risk today. And there was one big tornado yesterday and it hit a city. And that's always the risk. Even if there's only one, sometimes the tornadoes will find the towns.
I'm going to draw this out for you, because it looks like a classic mesocyclone. We call it a super cell tornado. That right there is the town of Joplin, Missouri. Right here, Joplin, Missouri. This is the other side. We talked about Doppler radar. The wind going away and around, spinning around Joplin, Missouri at about 135 to 140 miles per hour last night. It was truly an extraordinary cell that we have -- we didn't see it all. But the rest of the night, it was the only one. But right now, there's a potential for some more weather in Western Oklahoma. But tomorrow, Wolf, tomorrow is the day -- tomorrow is the day that we could have significantly more tornadoes. And here's why. Because there will be warm air at the surface and there will be cold air aloft. Like a hot air balloon that rises because you fill it with the gas and the hot air gets hotter, the air goes up, the balloon goes up. There goes the cell. And this is a towering cumulus now. When it begins to rain, it would be a cumulonimbus cloud, just changing because of the rainfall. But as it spins, if it's all by itself, like that one cell was yesterday in Joplin, it can spin a tornado out the bottom. And that's what we're going to watch for the risk today and for a better chance for tomorrow.
The one in Joplin was called an HP or a high precipitation thunderstorm. What that means is that if you were standing right here trying to look at the tornado that is right here, you'd never see it, because it's wrapped in rain. It's shrouded by rain. You would see the rain cell going around, but you can never tell that there was a tornado inside. Maybe that's why so many people died.
Otherwise, you know what, when you get a big tornado like that going through a big city, sometimes you just can't survive it unless you're underground. And not everybody has basements there.
BLITZER: Well, this raises the question, because we're told that there was 24 minutes of warning when people were alerted -- guess what folks in Joplin, a tornado is on the way.
If there's another tornado heading toward a -- a city or a town, remind our viewers right now, Chad, what they must do if they hear a tornado is heading their way?
MYERS: If you're in an apartment building -- let's just -- let's just start from scratch. And there are pictures that you will see throughout the night and maybe even into tomorrow, of a three story apartment building. But the top floor is missing. It's gone.
If you're on that top floor, you're -- you're not talking to me today. But if you know your neighbor on the first floor, you're just fine, because that was a survivable place, down at the bottom of the -- the elevator, down the bottom of the stairwell, in your neighbors' place, at the lowest level.
If you were in a basement, you're probably fine.
But I'll tell you what, Wolf, probably 70 percent of the people yesterday did everything right. They were inside. But the homes literally were shifted off the foundation. There was no place left for you to be safe from Joplin, Missouri downtown, right here, this red zone, the zone of destruction here, because the pictures that we see, as we look down from the helicopter shots, we can see the slab where the house was, but we can't see anyplace for anyone to be safe, because the house is completely gone.
The trauma of being hit by your own house as that house was swept off its foundation or swept off the slab, is what killed people yesterday. Sometimes some storms are so big, you just can't survive. You do what you can. You do everything you can. You put a bicycle helmet on, put a motorcycle helmet on, a football helmet on. Get on -- get under the stairwell. Usually, it's the strongest place. It's where the biggest beam of wood are.
Get down. Get underneath a -- a pool table, an air hockey table. Cover yourself up with -- with foam pads. Grab all of the cushions off the couch and put those -- those cushions between you and the walls to try to strop -- stop that trauma, as you get pushed around, if your house does get a direct hit.
Now, that said, there was 80 percent of the town north of here and 20 percent of the town south of here that didn't get hit at all, not one bit, not one bit of damage. But if you were in the wrong place -- and people were, obviously -- in the town of Joplin, you are going to -- you're going to either get injured or you're going to get killed.
BLITZER: Great advice from Chad, as usual.
Chad, thanks very much.
And a lot of people were involved. About 50,000 people actually live in Joplin, Missouri. About 400,000 people live within a 40 mile area around Joplin. Tourism is a major business so is health care. Both will clearly be affected by this devastating storm.
One of Joplin's claims to fame, the legendary bank robbers, Bonnie and Clyde, had a hideout there. Many people wrongly believe the city was named after the famous ragtime musician, Scott Joplin. It actually was named after the founder of the First Methodist Congregation, the Revolution Harris Joplin.
A lifelong resident of Joplin says the city now feels like the twilight zone. He'll join us to talk about the harrowing moments when the tornado hit and the photos of destruction he's been taking since then.
And a volcano makes a mark on President Obama's trip overseas. We're taking a closer look at the highs and the lows of his journey to connect with his Irish roots.
BLITZER: The ever contentious issue of Middle East peace -- or lack thereof, I should say, is on Jack Cafferty's mind right now.
Jack is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: President Obama was in Ireland today, the first leg of a six day trip to Europe. And as he travels to Britain, France and Poland, U.S. tensions with Israel and the overall instability in the Middle East will likely be a recurring theme of discussion in the coming days. The president is still trying to navigate around some comments he made in a speech last Thursday suggesting that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian people should begin with the borders established before the 1967 war in which Israel captured the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Palestinians claim that some of that land is theirs.
The suggestion by President Obama angered the Israeli people and created an uncomfortable meeting between President Obama and Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House on Friday.
Sticking with the pre-1967 borders has been a long held U.S. presentation, but it's not stated very often. Yesterday, the president spoke before AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, in an effort at damage control. He reiterated that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians ought to start with those pre-1967 borders but he said they should just be used as a starting point and that land swaps should eventually be part of the plan in order to be fair to both sides.
Netanyahu will address AIPAC tonight.
President Obama has said that he's trying to jump-start these peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in order to slow growing momentum for a declaration of a Palestinian statehood at the United Nations this coming September. The president hopes to convince his European counterparts to vote against that idea while he's on this trip to Europe.
But tensions between the two long time allies remain high and the rhetoric coming out of Israel has suddenly gotten quite a bit sharper.
Here's the question -- is President Obama making U.S. relations with Israel worse?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack.
President Obama has just departed Ireland, where he was welcomed with open arms by thousands -- some of them potentially distant -- very, very distant relatives, I should say.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some breaking news. The president has to leave Ireland early because of some volcanic ash from Iceland that may ground air traffic here in Europe. He's probably sorry to be leaving so soon. With his poll numbers sagging back home, he was wrapped here in a warm Irish embrace.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HENRY: (voice-over): The president did not seem to have the luck of the Irish when his motorcade tried to roll out of the U.S. Embassy in Dublin. But it was a mere bump in the road, as Ireland seemed lost in Obama mania, including an adoring campaign-style crowd at College Green.
ENDA KENNY, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: Today, the 44th American president comes home. He is the American dream.
HENRY: And with his Irish eyes fixed on some 40 million Irish- American voters back home...
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm happy to be in Ireland. I'm happy to be with so many akoya (ph).
HENRY: -- the president milked his roots for all they're worth.
OBAMA: My name is Barack Obama...
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- of the Moneygall Obamas. And I've come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way.
HENRY: He also could not resist a sly reference to the birthers, as he discussed the scrutiny of a presidential campaign.
OBAMA: They check out your place of birth.
HENRY: The president was not born in Ireland, but his grandfather's grandfather was -- in the tiny town of Moneygall, where thousands waited hours in rain, hail and heavy wind just to shake hands with the president and first lady.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome home, Mr. President.
OBAMA: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: welcome home.
HENRY: There were hugs for the president's closest relative here -- 26-six-year-old accountant, Henry Healy, who earlier admitted to CNN there's not much of a resemblance.
HENRY HEALY: The only similarity I now see is that I've got a camera in front of my face and the president has one every day in front of his.
HENRY: There were signs saying, "Is feidir linn," Gaelic for "Yes, we can," and iconic posters from the 2008 campaign in Ollie's Pub.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you ready for one?
OBAMA: Oh, boy. You tell me when it -- when it's properly settled.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll keep...
OBAMA: I don't want to...
OBAMA: I don't want to mess this up.
HENRY: And you could see visions of a future campaign commercial, as the first couple knocked back some Guinness. Then Mr. Obama slapped some money on the bar, saying that he wants the world to know the president pays his tab.
Now it's on to the U.K., France and Poland for some more substantive discussions about the war in Libya, Mideast peace and the lingering global recession -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry travel with the president.
Getting back to our top story, it was torn to pieces by the deadly tornado. Just ahead, new insight into what was happening inside that Joplin, Missouri hospital at the very moment the twister hit.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story -- a monster, monster tornado and now 116 people are confirmed dead. Hundreds of other people are injured, many of them very, very seriously.
A freelance photographer who lived in Joplin his entire life has been capturing the devastation through his camera lens.
Eddie Atwood is joining us on the phone now from Joplin.
Eddie, first of all, tell us how you survived this tornado.
EDDIE ATWOOD, PHOTOGRAPHER, JOPLIN RESIDENT: Well, I would say mostly by luck. I -- I seemed to have dodged the bullet twice, as I was trying to make my way home to -- to try to avoid the tornado and -- and the hail that accompanied it. And I would say mostly by luck.
BLITZER: So walk us through what happened.
How much -- how much time did you have before you, in other words, to prepare for a tornado?
We know that they started giving alerts about 24 minutes in advance.
But how much time did you have?
ATWOOD: Well, at the -- at the time they started giving the warnings, I was on the southeast side of town. And I live on the northwest side of town. And (INAUDIBLE) and when I first heard the tornado sirens, I immediately started heading home. And it was just the first initial blast that -- to let people know that there was a storm coming. And in the next -- the next blast of sirens were supposed to be if there was an actual tornado sighted.
And as I made my way home, I heard reports on the radio that there was tennis ball sized hail going to be coming our way. So immediately, I -- I thought I'd better take refuge, because the dark clouds were starting to roll in.
And as I was going down South Main Street in Joplin, I almost pulled into a car wash to take shelter from the hail. And right then, a friend of mine called and he wanted me to come and pick him up and take him someplace safe. So I decided not to pull into the car wash.
And so I picked my friend up. And as I got to my house, we got in our garage just in time to avoid the hail, because that's when the storm hit. And it was pretty severe. And we took shelter.
And after the storm passed, we were headed back across town to some friends to see if they were all right. And we drove across the area that I had just drove through and saw the damage and the emergency vehicles. And I brought my camera with me.
So immediately I started walking south down Main Street from 20th toward 30th. And as I -- I got closer to 26th Street on South Main, I saw the car wash where I almost pulled in and it was just devastated. And...
BLITZER: The pictures...
BLITZER: -- the pictures we're showing, Eddie, are still photographs that you took. And they're really, really amazing, the devastating -- the devastating images that we're seeing thanks to you.
Describe the town now.
What's it like?
ATWOOD: Well, as I was saying yesterday, as I was walking down South Main Street, as I got closer to 26th, the damage just became more and more severe. And after a couple of blocks, a few blocks, it just -- it just -- it was hard to discern where you were at and it was hard to tell what street you were on. And you would look around and all you would see is devastation and debris all around you. And it was -- you know, it was more like walking through the twilight zone than it was like walking, you know, down South Main Street in Joplin. It -- it was almost dizzying. And it was the worst devastation I had ever seen.
BLITZER: It's amaz...
ATWOOD: And as I got to...
BLITZER: -- it's amazing, Eddie, how these split second decisions that you make, like, for example, you -- you were thinking of driving into that car wash, but your friend called you at the last second and you didn't. Had you gone into that car wash, you think you -- you wouldn't have survived, is that what you're saying?
ATWOOD: There is probably a good possibility that I would have, you know, have been killed or at least been injured. It was -- that area was just razed to the ground pretty much. And it was -- it was just devastating.
20th Streets and Main, where I -- where I ended up, was -- was just flattened. You could look down 26th Street and see St. John's Hospital, where normally you couldn't see anything. There were houses and trees, but all the houses and trees were just laid to the ground. And you could see St. John's where it was damaged. And looking to the east from the city you could also see the horizon line, and it was just flat where there used to be trees and houses, and it was just horrible.
BLITZER: Eddie, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Joplin. Eddie Atwood, thanks for sharing your pictures with us as well.
The governor of Missouri is asking people to pray for the city of Joplin as rescuers search for survivors in the tornado wreckage. The death toll, as we've been reporting, now up to 116. It will likely rise a full day after the monster twister hit.
Right now Missouri is bracing for a new line of storms tomorrow that could produce another tornado outbreak. Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is joining us now from Joplin.
Tell us what's going on.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, at that press conference we heard the first good news that we've heard all day, and that's that those seven people were rescued. So the search and rescue efforts are bringing in survivors. We don't know the conditions of those people, but we do know that some of them were found at various residences, and some of them were also found at the Home Depot which was destroyed in the tornado as well.
We have got local officials, state officials, federal officials all, here working together in Joplin to try and continue in these rescue efforts. But as you can probably hear the rain, and see it falling behind me, this has been the biggest issue that they are dealing with today.
They had to stop those rescue efforts earlier this morning because there was two-inch hail and 60-mile-per-hour winds from a threatening thunderstorm. And now that heavy rain is moving through, a long with a lot of lightning as well. Despite that, they are continuing to go through the rubble. FEMA says that they're going to be here for the long haul.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICH SERINO, FEMA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: It's really the citizens helping citizens and neighbor helping neighbor, going around, talking to a lot of the first responders. The heroic work that the firefighters, the police officers, the EMTs and the paramedics, that they have done has been very impressive. They have lost their homes, but they have been out there for 40 hours saving lives. The work that they have done is to be commended is an understatement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JERAS: And FEMA also says that they're going to be working through the night, because they think since they found those seven people, that there are more survivors out there. So they hope that they're going to be able to get to those people as this rain comes down.
And more severe weather is in the forecast as well, Wolf. In fact, a moderate risk of severe storms, including the threat of tornadoes, is in the forecast for southwestern Missouri, including Joplin. And the storm prediction center saying they may have to even increase that risk to what they call a high risk, and we only get a handful of those each year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jacqui. Thanks very much.
Jacqui Jeras on the scene. The last thing the folks there need is more bad weather, and that's what they're experiencing, as you just saw.
To find out how you can help those devastated by the tornadoes in Missouri, go to CNN.com/impact. You'll find all the organizations and the ways you can help those in need. That's at CNN.com/impact.
And stand by for more coverage of this tornado disaster. We're going back to the scene.
Other news we're following as well, including the Taliban. They're responding to rumors that their leader may have suffered the same fate as Osama bin Laden.
BLITZER: We'll get right back to the devastation of that tornado in Joplin, Missouri.
But first, Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.
Well, we have reports of fierce new clashes in the al Qaeda stronghold of Yemen following news an alliance of foreign ministers is suspending plans to ease the country's embattled president from office. Thousands of Yemenis filled the streets over the weekend demanding President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down immediately. The U.S. State Department is closing part of its embassy there due to the fluid security situation. And just weeks after Osama bin Laden's death, the Afghan Taliban are insisting their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is alive and well despite claims he may have been killed. A spokesman for Afghanistan's intelligence agency reports Omar disappeared from an alleged hideout in Pakistan but can't confirm he is dead. NATO says there's no indication the claims are true and Pakistan calls them baseless.
Two American hikers jailed in Iran for almost two years on spying charges have been allowed to call home. The families of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal say the men are on a hunger strike but sounded reasonably well. The two are awaiting trial. A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, was released last year.
U.S. officials are calling the charge meritless.
And it was the talk of the royal wedding in April. Well, now Princess Beatrice's infamous rose-colored hat -- you know the one there -- well, it has sold online for more than -- get this -- $130,000. She donated it to be auctioned on eBay, and the proceeds will benefit Children's Charities.
Princess Beatrice is the daughter of Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson.
That is quite a hat.
BLITZER: You would look excellent in that hat.
SYLVESTER: I don't know. It would add about three or four inches to my height, so maybe.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Almost two years after an Air France plane vanished over the Atlantic, new information about what was happening on board when things went horribly wrong. Stand by.
And Mitt Romney's poll position in our new survey on the Republican presidential race. Do his rivals for the nomination have what it takes to drag him down?
BLITZER: A striking political contrast today. Look at these two images.
On one side, you see President Obama on the global stage rallying a crowd of thousands during his visit to Ireland. On the other side, the former Minnesota Republican governor Tim Pawlenty announcing his candidacy for president of the United States before a much more intimate, intimate group, we should say.
Joining us now to talk about it, our national correspondent John King -- our chief national correspondent. He's the anchor of CNN's "JOHN KING USA," which comes up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right after our show. And our senior political analyst, David Gergen.
Guys, thanks very much.
Let me get to this new poll, this new CNN/WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll. GOP primary voters -- look at this -- Romney, 33 percent; Ron Paul, 9 percent; Gingrich, 7 percent. Everybody else really down.
Giuliani, he's not even running. Pawlenty is 6 percent. Palin, 5 percent.
John, first to you. You're from New England. Is he like a native son, Mitt Romney, in New Hampshire right now?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I was in New Hampshire on Friday, spent a lot of time talking to Republicans. Governor Huntsman, the new candidate, almost candidate -- hasn't officially declared yet -- was up there.
Look, Governor Romney is by far the overwhelming front-runner in New Hampshire. He was governor of Massachusetts. He owns a summer home in I believe New Hampshire, a lake home in New Hampshire. He has 1,000 percent name identification.
He ran last time, and so he is by far the front-runner. Other than that, I wouldn't put too much stock in the early polling except to say Romney, at this point, has to win New Hampshire. He's the big front- runner. He's probably not going to compete full time in Iowa because of the social conservatives out there, so New Hampshire is the make- or-break state for Governor Romney.
BLITZER: So will other Republicans basically ignore New Hampshire looking at these numbs?
KING: No. They will try to take Governor Romney out.
They will come after him. Somebody will get a springboard. Somebody will get a bounce out of Iowa.
Now, Governor Romney still may compete in Iowa. We'll see. It's early. But as of now, they are not looking to compete heavily to win. They want to place or show in Iowa, maybe, but they're not going to be out there all the time.
Somebody gets the bounce like Governor Huckabee did in the last campaign. Then John McCain had to hold New Hampshire. That was his state last time. And he did.
Remember, he had Governor Romney in the race then. And that was the interesting dynamic. This time it is Governor Romney's state.
Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, I was up there last Friday with him. Interesting to watch because he's picking up a lot of that old McCain network. John McCain twice won the state of New Hampshire. Governor Pawlenty is hoping to win Iowa, springboard into New Hampshire. But, Wolf, it is so, so very early. But there's no question -- and David knows this because he's in the neighborhood up there -- New Hampshire is critical to Romney.
BLITZER: And take a look at this number, David. I'll put it up on the screen.
"Among GOP primary voters, are you satisfied with the choice of candidates for the 2012 Republican primary?" Nine percent say they are very satisfied. Forty-two percent say somewhat satisfied. Twenty-eight percent say somewhat dissatisfied. Fifteen percent say they are very dissatisfied.
A lot more candidates look like they are dropping out than dropping in, David.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: They sure do. And those look like pretty lukewarm responses from Republican voters. Nine percent being very satisfied is hardly what you call a ringing endorsement.
And to go back to John King's point, Mitt Romney right now has to be considered the clear front-runner in the entire race, because the kind of poll numbers you see in New Hampshire are mirrored by his fundraising numbers. Now, he has about the same sort of size lead over the other candidates in terms of his capacity to raise money, and he's been around the track before, which makes a big difference in a race like this.
Where I do think -- these two early states are going to be important, Iowa and New Hampshire, because someone is likely to come out from Iowa and New Hampshire together as the anti-Romney, as the leader of the alternative. If there is anybody but Romney, a coalition of voters, that is the person who has to sort of be on top of that going towards South Carolina.
I agree with John, it's very, very early. But Mitt Romney has built up quietly a substantial war chest and a substantial lead.
BLITZER: And I would like both of you to weigh in on an unrelated subject, U.S.-Israeli relations right now. The president had a chance to revise and amend his earlier statement on pre-'67 lines with agreed -- mutually agreed land swaps.
This is what he told the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By definition, it means that the parties themselves, Israelis and Palestinians, will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That's what mutually agreed upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was pretty well received with that line. So is all that damage, all that tension, over with?
KING: No. There's still some mistrust in the Israeli government of the White House position, and there's still some mistrust in the pro- Israel Jewish community, if you will. There are some American Jews who don't like Prime Minister Netanyahu. You know this better than I do.
But what the president said there, it is well understood. Yes, it is well understood, but he didn't say that in his original speech.
The Israelis want it very clearly defined, that, you know, there's a basic framework, go back to where they were at the end of the Clinton administration, roughly 1967, but both parties will make some deals and some trading. The president was not that clear, and that's what had Prime Minister Netanyahu saying, one, why do you have to say this now, I wish you wouldn't say it at all. And number two, if you are going to say it, give the full explanation.
BLITZER: David, why do you think the president decided to raise this whole issue now?
GERGEN: Well, I think he was under some pressure if he wants to head off this vote in the U.N. to show some progress that -- you know, the vote on the U.N. is about recognizing Palestine as a an independent state. And the U.S. is very opposed to that, wants to talk the rest of the world into not doing that, especially the Western Europeans.
He had to show something to the Western Europeans this week, that, look, we're trying to get something started here, we're trying to be very reasonable, we have pushed the Israelis some. But I have to tell you one other thing, though, Wolf. In contrast to the way that Obama pushed Netanyahu early in his administration on settlements, Netanyahu pushed back and Obama retreated.
This time, Obama stood his ground. I think he helped himself by going to AIPAC and saying, I'm not retreating from what I said.
BLITZER: David Gergen, thanks very much.
John King, we'll see you at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on "JOHN KING USA."
And this important note to our viewers. CNN's New Hampshire presidential debate is only a few weeks away. Join us Monday night, June 13th, as the Republican hopefuls square off on the issues, only here on CNN.
Holding out hope. Just ahead we're going back to Joplin, Missouri, where residents are desperately searching for loved ones lost in the rubble
BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is President Obama making U.S. relations with Israel worse? Marilyn says, "No, he's not. President Obama knows what he is doing. He is trying to get something going between Israeli and the Palestinian people. The fact that the Israeli prime minister went ballistic shows you that he is not ready for the peace talks. He only wants things to go his way."
Josh in New Orleans writes, "I think Israel has been taking advantage of America's relationship to do almost anything they want against the Palestinians. President Obama's calling them out on this. If anything is making the situation worse, it's a lack of compromise in the peace process."
Arp in Brandon, Mississippi, "It's about time someone in America politics spoke truth to power. The festering sore that is Israeli relations with its neighbors must be resolved if there is to be any hope of peace and stability in the region. So far, the U.S. has insulated Israel from having to face the ultimate reality of a Palestinian state. Israel won't change course unless forced to reassess what's in their best interests and ours."
Ed in Maryland, "I think it's kind of like telling the people of Arizona that we're going to go back to the pre-Columbus borders. I can see where people might get upset."
Rob writes, "Perhaps the question should be re-framed. Is America better off amending its policy with Israel? Do we consider Israel an ally? Sure. But hasn't the relationship been a little one-sided? We give, Israel takes."
"Other than the fact that Israel represents the lone democracy in the Middle East, what tangible benefits accrue to the United States over this relationship?"
Lou writes, "Obama's not going to coddle Israel like so many other politicians have. I think he's doing it for their own safety. With the uprisings all over the region, and Israel's friends growing smaller, the writing is on the wall for them. They have to come to the table before it's too late."
And Bit in Prattville, Alabama, "Let's wait and see, Jack. Since the world didn't come to an end Saturday, and President Obama didn't get blamed for that, there's still hope for the United States and Israel."
If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.
The Joplin tornado, we are mapping out the path of destruction.
And new information on the whereabouts of the pilot -- yes, the pilot -- when an Air France jet mysteriously vanished almost two years ago.
BLITZER: Almost two years since the dramatic disappearance of an Air France flight over the Atlantic, we now know what may have been happening on board in the moments before it went down.
BLITZER: And joining us now from London, our own Richard Quest.
Richard, some new details are emerging about that mysterious crash of Air France Flight 447. What are we learning?
RICHARD QUEST, HOST, "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": It's a leak, supposedly, from the BEA, which is the investigating authority, that say says the cockpit voice recorder shows that the captain was not in the left hand seat or, indeed, in the cockpit, at the time the original incident happened. Apparently, according to the cockpit voice recorder, he can be heard entering the cockpit. He can be heard instructing the two pilots flying the plane how best to save the aircraft.
Now, when asked directly, the BEA say they have absolutely no comment on the report, and they refuse to even entertain questions about it. But if true, then we're starting to get what we always knew we would, Wolf, which is very, very strong, good intelligence about what was happening on the plane and ultimately the cause of the crash.
BLITZER: International flights though, as you well know better than most, usually have a large cockpit crew. There are other pilots in there.
How important is it or was it that this pilot apparently was not in the cockpit as things were beginning to unfold?
QUEST: Not important at all at one level. It depends on the mechanisms and on the rules and regulations of the country and of the airline. Any flight over seven or eight hours would have at least one extra relief pilot, a first officer.
Now, the flight from Brazil to Paris is 10 or 11 hours, so it had three cockpit crew. And the relief captain, or the relief first officer, would take the place of one and then the other, allowing them to rest during the flight.
That is normal. It is entirely to be expected because, Wolf -- and this is the crucial part -- the crew's element of the flight is the safest. Once the aircraft is at altitude -- in this case, 34,000 or 35,000 feet, it's on its trajectory heading there, very little course change, very little altitude change. You're literally monitoring the systems throughout the night. So the pilot -- the captain being out of the left hand seat, providing he is close by, providing he can get back in again quickly, that would be the norm.
BLITZER: We'll continue to watch the investigation, together with you.
Richard, thanks very much.